Taraba Killing Heightens Spectre of Violent Attacks
The spectre of violent attacks on targeted communities hardly ever anticipated, predicted or prevented might have spread to Taraba State in the north east of Nigeria where figures of casualties ranging from 18 to 40 are being quoted in the media. On Sunday, 18 farmers were specifically reported hacked to death on their farms by unknown assailants. Reports credited to the police describe the attack as the handwork of unknown persons in the area yesterday morning while the victims were on the farm. This is contradicted by other snippets which said the farmers were killed in their sleep at Dan-anacha in Gassol Local Government of the state. David Misal who spoke for the police confirmed the incident, assuring of police intervention to fish out the perpetrators. The Sunday disclosure did not contain details of attempts at flight to safety by conflict victims such as women and children or the scale of destruction of farms, houses and personal belongings.
This manner of attack has been a regular feature of insecurity in contemporary Nigeria, the most recent and most notable being Southern Kaduna in Kaduna State. While the latest violence in Taraba State appear a clear communal conflict involving Fulani herdsmen and Tiv farmers, the questions around recent phenomenon of violence have revolved around whether these are spontaneous or contemplated; who the perpetrators might be and why. While there is some consensus that it is not spontaneous because of the systematic manner of execution and the armament involved, there is no such consensus on the perpetrators. The role of Fulani herdsmen has been at the centre of the debate.
Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State complicated this debate recently when he implicated Fulani herdsmen from neighboring countries in the case of Southern Kaduna. While the governor’s pronouncement had the unintended but positive consequence of exonerating ordinary Fulani herdsmen from complicity in the phenomenon of herdsmen violence in contemporary Nigeria, it nevertheless set tongues wagging on what some conflict management experts call the strange diplomacy of tracing perpetrators to their countries of origin but only to pay them ‘compensation’ and beg them to stop cross border banditry in Nigeria rather than two things happening. One is compiling and handing over the details such as the time of violence and evidence of involvement of perceived perpetrators to the security agencies with the authority and capacity to deter invasion while the other is the Federal Government lodging a formal protest to the country (ies) concerned. The strategy of paying compensation and begging the perceived perpetrators was thus considered an aberration.
In apparent realization of the strangeness of his diplomacy, the governor changed the narrative almost a week after the initial reports. Samuel Aruwan, the governor’s media aide explained that the governor said no such a thing as paying the invading herdsmen to stop violence on Nigerian soil. Instead, it was compensation for cattle loss during a previous violence, a peace initiative which he traced to the late Governor Patrick Yakowa.
The linkage to Yakowa was bound to change the meaning of the initiative, Yakowa being of Southern Kaduna extraction. Meaning is linked to context and culture. Otherwise, central to the media reports of el-Rufai’s encounter with the media on the issue were statements capable of different interpretations:
“For southern Kaduna, we didn’t understand what was going on and we decided to set up a committee under Gen. Martin Luther Agwai (rtd) to find out what was going on there. What was established was that the root of the problem has a history starting from the 2011 post election violence. Fulani herdsmen from across Africa bring their cattle down towards Middle Belt and Southern Nigeria. The moment the rains start around March, April, they start moving them up to go back to their various communities and countries. Unfortunately, it was when they were moving up with their cattle across Southern Kaduna that the elections of 2011 took place and the crisis trapped some of them.
Some of them were from Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Mali and Senegal. Fulanis are in 14 African countries and they traverse this country with the cattle. So many of these people were killed, cattles lost and they organised themselves and came back to revenge. So a lot of what was happening in Southern Kaduna was actually from outside Nigeria. We got a hint that the late Governor Patrick Yakowa got this information and he sent someone to go round some of these Fulani communities, but of course after he died, the whole thing stopped. That is what we inherited. But the Agwai committee established that. As recently as two weeks ago, the team went to Niger republic to attend one Fulani gathering that they hold every year with a message from me,”
Dr Willie Eselebor of the Border, Humanitarian and Refugee Studies section of the Institute for Peace & Strategic Studies at the University of Ibadan interpreted this original narrative in a brief interview with Intervention to suggest a failure to respond to invasion by trapping the invaders if they are indeed foreigners and conducting a proper investigation regarding their nationalities. That, according to him, is the job of the security agencies concerned with cross border movement of people, not the Kaduna State government which has no army, SSS or immigration service. Anything outside this could raise questions in people’s mind, he said.
In a previous interview with Intervention, Dr Eselebor had hinted Nigeria’s border management crisis by saying that “We do not have a comprehensive border policy as I speak. Nigeria doesn’t even know its number of borders. There are about 87 legal ones but about 1500 illegal ones and it keeps increasing. The entire northeast is porous. It is our largest expanse of land border. Our border with Benin Republic is the smallest and safest. To police the borders is difficult because we do not have the technology, the manpower or the infrastructure. And what is the budget for the development of good border management? There are no barracks. How do you expect them to perform? It’s just too vast and technically impossible to police. Technology and infrastructure are needed”.
For Professor Bawuro Barkindo, another expert on border studies who had also commented on the problematic in a previous interview with Intervention, the answer to infiltration of criminals and those categories lie less in border management than in restoring the old communal security complex: “When we were growing up, the Ward Head informed the Village Head of any new person in his domain whom he didn’t know. The Village Head takes it up to the District Head and so on. So, within a day or two, they can tell you what is up. Now, Ward Heads are not paid salaries. I heard President Buhari talking about it sometimes in the past. Some of you may not understand what he was saying but some of us would do. It is very clear it was the function of that layer of functionaries or whatever you call them. The whole idea is to bring back the old system”.
Other experts ask whether the debate has been placed in a broader framework such that takes into consideration issues beyond ethnic and religious identities of perceived aggressors to questions of motif and essence, financiers, the West African heritage of conflict and national security threats from recent globalisation of security. Questions are also being asked why conscious mobilisation of the people in simple security strategies that safeguard communities from vulnerability, irrespective of where it is coming from, inside or outside, is missing from the conflict management approaches. And that calls for more proactive leadership at the level of community/religious leaders and the community security complex – police, SSS, Civil Defence on the one hand and immigration, NIA and the military, where applicable.
The fear is in the way the series of inter-group violence could accumulate into an explosion as the series weaken all bonds that held the society ever since.