Taraba is one of the most endowed states in the country with more than 50 mineral resources and a fertile soil that supports the cultivation of varieties of crops ranging from tree plants such as cocoa and avocado, palm tree to cereals such as maize, rice, sorghum, soybeans, millet and groundnuts.
The favourable atmosphere in some parts and the land mass attract a lot of farmers to the state. The state, over the years, has suffered from communal and inter-tribal crises but this latest onslaught by the Fulani “terrorists” that has lasted for over two years now has been described by many as the worst in the history of the state.
Since December 2013, armed Fulani men have been invading the state through the Nasarawa and Benue axis. They have killed more than 1,484 people in the state between December 2013 and June 2015, according to a report of the Nigeria Security Conflict and Analysis Network (NSCAN).
The report indicated that over 500,000 people have been forced out of their homes and made to take refuge in neighbouring Benue State, even as over 2,400 others are living in camps in Bali and other areas across the state.
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A visit by Saturday Tribune to the four camps in Bali, located at Legislative Quarters, St. Paul Catholic Church, NKST Church and Tiv Traditional Council Hall where over 2,400 Internally Displaced Persons are currently living, revealed a pathetic story of Nigerians in their own land.
Seventy-three-year-old Mrs Esther Nachigh lamented that life had become meaningless since the killing of her husband and two children by the marauding Fulani men.
“Life has been terrible for us. Most of our people who were killed during the crisis were not buried because the attackers laid siege to our communities. Most women are now widows and children orphans. Many have been maimed and left vulnerable. Look at the condition of our children. Most of them are without clothes. We can’t even feed them. Our people are still being killed and we can’t even recover their corpses for burial.
“Despite government’s efforts at ending the crisis, our lives are still not safe here. We are Nigerians, not foreigners and if we can’t be guaranteed security in our land, then it is unfortunate,” she lamented.
Mr Adamu Magaji, a victim who lost three sons and two teenage daughters to the swords of the “terrorists,” narrated his ordeal to Saturday Tribune.
“I have been in Taraba all my life. My seven children were born in the state. We started hearing about the attacks by Fulani herdsmen but we never imagined we could be victims since we had not provoked them in any way. To my greatest surprise, they attacked our village in the dead of night and killed more than 50 persons, including five of my children. My children did nothing wrong. Our homes and farms were destroyed as we ran for our lives. Life has never been the same again. My wife died a little less than a year later because of heartbreak.”
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The Fulani herdsmen have been named the forth deadliest terrorist group globally, ranking next to ISIS, Boko Haram and the al-Qaeda.
Their activities were hitherto predominantly herding their cattle and because of the nomadic nature of their lifestyle, they could be found in almost all parts of the country where there is grazing for their cattle. In recent years, however, they have exhibited such a high proclivity to violence and other criminal tendencies such as kidnapping, armed robbery, cattle rustling and other crimes.
In Taraba, like other states, their path is simply trailed with blood and tears of helpless farmers and traders.
When the terror group attacked Agatu village in Benue State, recently where it massacred over 500 people and sacked eight villages, the attention of the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, was caught and he visited the scene. There the IGP alleged that those perpetrating the dastardly acts were not Nigerians but foreigners who take advantage of the country’s porous borders to come in and graze their cattle.
According to Ali Yohana, who narrowly escaped being killed by the “terrorists” when his village was attacked last November, there is more to the problem than provision of pastures for the cattle.
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“What is happening now is a revival of the Uthman Dan Fodio jihad of over a century ago. Fulani people are very vindictive and could wait for any length of time to accomplish their demonic plans. You will notice that the worst hit areas are those around the then Middle Belt that resisted the jihad. That is why they are targeting Benue, parts of Taraba and other areas.
“The attacks are on the increase now that Buhari is the president and you can see that his body language approves of what they are doing. He has not even come out once to condemn the attacks or at least condole with the families of the victims,” he said.
Speaking in the same vein, Isaac Igbalagh, a secondary school teacher, alleged that the herdsmen were only carrying out the bidding of their bosses in high places.
“It is only a fool that will think this is a simple issue. These people are heavily armed with assault rifles and other military class arms that should not be in individuals’ hands and nobody questions them. If they need these weapons to protect their cattle, farmers also need the weapons to protect their farms from destruction just as we all need same to protect our lives and the lives of our loved ones. They move with AK47 and AK49 pump actions and nobody questions them.
“The IGP came out to make a mockery of us that these people are not from Nigeria. Yet they are killing Nigerian citizens in Nigeria and Nigerian government cannot do anything other than to take farmers’ lands and give them as grazing reserves. What happens to ranching of cows as is done all over the world? Just as they sell the cow to earn a living, that is how the farmers sell their farm produce to earn a decent living. One should not flourish at the expense of another. But since some people have interest in what they are doing, nobody is talking,” Igbalagh submitted.
Recounting his ordeal, 13-year-old Anthony Ochakpa said he was at school in Daanacha when they were informed that his village was under attack. He lost his parents and three siblings in the attack. He is currently under the care of a distant relative but the memory of his injured father who died of the machete and bullet injuries he sustained in the attack at the hospital a few days later still haunts him.
“When they told us that my village was under attack, I was afraid. All by siblings and my mother were killed and my father died two days later at the hospital. I still remember how they cut his body with cutlasses and the open wounds he told me were gunshots. I can’t forget that.”
At Santa Maria Catholic Hospital, where many of the IDPs are still writhing in pain, it was one sad story after the other. An eight-month-old baby, Theresa Tersoo, shot on the thigh with her mother when armed Fulani militia invaded their house on December 14, 2015 was lying hopelessly on her mat when Saturday Tribune visited the hospital.
Her mother said that they were deep asleep when the gunmen invaded the house and opened fire on them, killing two members of the family instantly.
The medical officer of the hospital, Mr Isaac Akperekpe, said there were three severe cases that needed immediate referral to tertiary hospitals but the hospital was just managing them because the victims could not afford to pay the required fees which run in millions of Naira.
The medical officer added that they had treated and discharged over 400 victims between 2014 and 2015, out of which 23 died while on admission in the hospital.
“Because ours is a faith-based organisation, many people preferred to be treated here. We had cases here that ordinarily we would have referred them to other hospitals, but they refused to go on referral because they can’t afford to pay. You know they have just return after attacks on them and they have nothing on them.
“Our financial position is seriously coming down. We have exhausted medical stocks we have on victims of crisis and we can no longer cope because of the volume of patients we do receive on a daily basis following renewed attacks on the returnees,” he said.
According to him, the hospital has received over 100 victims of attacks so far this year and the number is still rising as victims are being brought to the hospital on a daily basis.
Mr Albert, a.k.a. Presidoo, a Nigerian Brewery distributor, also in Wukari, told Saturday Tribune that his consignment, which arrived in Wukari a day before crisis broke out in the town and others in store totalling N25.12 million, was destroyed by the attackers.
Albert, who now ekes out a living selling recharge cards through a local restaurant around Takum junction in Wukari, said he had to start from the scratch to take care of his wife and three kids.
“My family members have been putting pressure on me to relocate, but Taraba is like a home and I can’t just relocate. I am trusting in God that I will make it here again and I want to appeal to both the state and the federal governments to assist us,” he stated.
The effect of the two-year-old crisis with pockets of killings still being witnessed in places like Gassol and Bali local government areas has left farms deserted and small communities like Dan-Anacha, Sabon-Gida, Ananum, Ibua and other towns are today not bubbling with human and economic activities on account of the crisis.
Taraba State governor, Darius Ishaku, has consistently asked the people of the state to give him peace and he would give them development. On account of this, most IDPs have returned to their homes but not without challenges. There are cries from many returnees that their crops which they managed to plant to keep life going have become grazing fields of the herders who sometimes kill them if they dare to stop them.
The state government recently suspended some traditional rulers in some of the troubled areas who were seen to be collaborating with the terrorists to continue the restiveness in their areas.
Tiv traditional leader in Bali Local Government Area of the state, whose people were killed and forced out of the state, Zaki David Gbaa (the Ter-Bali), commenting on the condition of his people, lamented the challenges facing his subjects.
“From November last year to date, we recorded over nine separate attacks with more than 16 deaths. Our children are out of school and most of my people are without food and shelter. We have cases of malaria and other diseases which are killing our children.
“We commend the governor for his efforts to ensure that peace returns, but there are some people sabotaging his efforts because of the atrocities they committed during and after the crisis which they want to keep under cover.
“Most of our lands have either been sold out or taken over by other people. On a daily basis now, people are being brought in trucks and made to settle on our lands all in a bid to stop our people from returning to their ancestral homes. Senator Bwacha representing Taraba South in this Eighth Assembly has already raised a motion to this effect.
“We make bold to tell the people behind this that they are day dreaming. We are compiling such cases and we will soon take them to court. We are indigenes of this place and nobody can intimidate us,” he said.
The hinterlands of Dan-Anacha, Sabon-Gida, BornonKurku, Naguru and other interior villages, according to reports, are still regarded as no-go areas, especially for farmers.
Torkula Dooior, a resident of Dan-Anacha, lamenting the loss of his farm to grazers, said the Fulani herdsmen had converted their farms into grazing fields.
“We are back to square one because the Fulani herdsmen have grazed over our crops and any attempt to resist them is tantamount to inviting death. Just recently Mr Emmanuel and his wife, Mbawuan, were slaughtered after they resisted some armed Fulani men from grazing on their farms.”
But the Fulani herdsmen denied any wrongdoing, let alone being behind the killings. According to the chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Alhaji Mafindi Umar Danburam, Tiv and Jukun have been rustling their cattle in the past years in Wukari and Takum.
According to Mafindi, over 17,000 cattle belonging to the Fulani herdsmen were rustled between 2003 and 2015 in Wukari and Takum axis of the state, querying that “how do you take someone’s livelihood and you expect the person to be quiet?”
“We have lost a lot. 500 cattle of my people were rustled in Jibu ward of Wukari around March last year. Same period, at Kashimbilla in Takum Local Government Area, about 200 cattle were rustled by people suspected to be Tiv. So, you see the problem. We are not criminals or troublemakers as we are being branded,” he said.
Stakeholders in the state have attributed the persistent killings in Taraba on the issue of land, but Mr Freeman Tar disputed this narrative.
Chairman Muslim Council of Taraba State, Inuwa Jauro, who is a Fulani man, said many people had mistaken the crisis in the southern and central Taraba for a religious crisis.
“What is happening in Southern Taraba is not a religious crisis; it is on land that they are fighting. The origins of the area don’t want people coming from outside to come and settle on their land. Anybody who tells you it is a religious crisis is lying,” he explained.
But Mr Tar Freeman, who is a scholar, argued that those killing people were from states like Katsina, Gombe, Kano and Zamfera among others and were bringing their people to take over land in Taraba. He insisted that there is a conspiracy of ethnic cleansing against the Tiv farmers in Taraba.
While the blame game continues, stakeholders want the Federal Government to come to the aid of the people who have been abandoned to their fate with no hope of rescue in sight.
The Catholic Bishop of Jalingo Diocese, Most Rev. Dr. Charles Hammawa has said the killings in the state have adversely affected the economy of Taraba and Nigeria.
Hammawa wants the Federal Government to intervene in the herdsmen/farmers crisis in the country and permanently bring the ugly development which has killed many to an end.
“Taraba was badly affected by crisis between 2013 and 2015. Many lives and property worth hundreds of millions of naira were lost and even now, killings are still going on in Bali and Gassol local government areas.
“Churches, Mosques and other precious property were destroyed. We the Catholic Church alone lost seven main parishes and over 3000 out stations were burnt during the crisis. The church has tried to reach out to the people affected by the crisis, by providing food and shelter and other things to alleviate their suffering.
“But, you see, the Church and the state government cannot do it alone. I therefore, appeal to General TY Danjuma (rtd), who is an illustrious son of Taraba and chairman of the federal government committee on the rehabilitation of the Northeast affected by Boko Haram to include Taraba in the rehabilitation programme.”
The bishop wondered why other areas in the state are relatively peaceful with exception of Gassol and Bali chiefdoms and called on the traditional rulers of Gassol and Bali to make more efforts to end killings in their domain and to foster peaceful coexistence among diverse religious, ethnic and political groups in the state.