Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: Faceless Militiamen Take Fight to Al-Makura's Village

Lafia — Kwandere, a sleepy settlement, but home to one of Nasarawa's fastest growing town, was hit last Thursday, by the notorious gun violence that has affected not less than 12 different villages in seven local government areas of Kokona, Doma, Nasarawa Eggon, Keana, Obi, Nasarawa, and now Lafia, capital of the state.

It was not less than five straight hours of mayhem, beginning from about 12pm to about 5pm when security personnel were able to repel the fighters who were said to have wielded guns, machetes and other dangerous weapons, to add to charms they adorned themselves with.

Almost three days after, it is still difficult to say who attacked Kwandere, and why. There has been long silence from the official quarters, yet government and heads of the various security agencies in the state, as well as paramount rulers have had a State Security Council meeting since then. The meeting was presided over by the governor, Umaru Tanko Al-Makura. But no straight answers came from the meeting, other than the usual vows about how they (government and security agencies) would go after the perpetrators and bring them to book.

There are also no straight answers about the death toll, in what has fueled speculations, with the media stating various and conflicting figures based on the speculations. While government media including NTA and the state-owned NBS have been giving vague reports, the independent media, especially newspapers have churned out figures and reasons for the attack, to the extent of stating the identities of the attackers.

Some reports blamed Ombatse, a spiritual and militia group of the Eggon tribe which has its headquarters in Nasarawa-Eggon. Ombatse is widely blamed to have had a hand in much of the campaigns of violence which have hit the state in recent times: Assakio in Lafia, Angwan Kuje, Angwan Alaku and Angwan Railway station in Keana, as well as Agyaragu in Obi, Bassa in Kokona, Rutu, Burumburum and Barkin Abdullahi in Doma, and now Kwandere in Lafia.

Other reports blamed Fulani mercenaries. Fulanis have equally been widely blamed for several attacks: Agbashi and Rutu, as well as Burumburum and Barkin Abdullahi in Doma, Igah and neighbouring communities in Nasarawa-Eggon, Bassa in Agwada, and Oshugu, a community in Loko, and Oseni, Gidan Musa, Olegecho and Udenin-Magaji in Udege area of Nasarawa, and now Kwandere.

Only last weekend, Nasarawa attracted mixed reportage of the bloody crisis that reportedly claimed dozens in some communities including Rutu, Burumburum, Mararaba-Awange, Adoja and Igah communities at the border between Doma and Nasarawa-Eggon. The Alago, Agatu and Gwandara ethnic groups were said to be the target, but the leaderships of Eggon tribe, and Fulani, respectively, blamed each other as the aggressor.

It was said that Alago and Gwandara people were first attacked at Igah in Nasarawa-Eggon, in what led to their fleeing to the neighbouring Burumburumm and Doma, as well as Lafia. But the fleeing persons were trailed and waylaid along the road between Mararaba and Burumburum, and killed either with machetes or burnt to death in a pick-up van in which they were fleeing on Sunday morning.

By evening of the same day, another attack was launched on Burumburum, with the village head, Alhaji Aliyu Adago killed with machete, just as other more persons including two children were also killed.

But the Fulani and Eggon leaderships are pointing accusing fingers at each other, with Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, a Fulani socio-cultural group accusing Ombatse of launching the attacks, while Eggon Cultural Development Association (ECDA), claimed Fulani-sponsored mercenaries to carry out the attacks.

Mohammed Hussaini, state secretary of Miyatti Allah alleged that Ombatse carried out the serial attacks, and killed Alagos and Gwandaras. "You know it is not every Eggon that are fighting. Some Eggon people formed Ombatse to fight Fulani and every tribe in the state. Recently, they killed hundreds of Fulanis in the bush, and displaced thousands of cows. And when the government asked Fulanis to return to their places and recover their cows, Eggons have been launching series of attacks and killing our people and Gwandara and Alagos", Hussaini said.

Chris Mamman, national president of ECDA, alleged that Fulanis attacked the four villages and killed Eggons, Alagos and Gwandaras. "Will Eggons attack and kill Eggons? Fulanis are the attackers. They killed many of our people. They also killed Gwandara and Alago people like they did about two weeks ago in Agbashi were they leveled down a town, killing Agatu people. We know the Fulani people we have been living together. The attackers are mercenaries who come and attack and run back while a cabal blames Eggon people", Mamman said.

State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), confirmed "only three persons were confirmed killed", as he added that "the matter is still being investigated; we can't say who attacked who, and for what reasons until we complete our investigations."

When the governor's hometown of Kwandere was hit last Thursday, the two groups launched similar accusations against each other. The skirmishes spilled into Lafia, the state capital, where the Ombi I area, adjoining Kwandere, was put in panic.

Authorities including the state deputy governor, Dameshi Barau Luka - who was compelled to make a state-wide broadcast on the state owned NBS - could not confirm details including death toll. But it was learnt that many were killed between Angwan Amanza where the two ethnic groups first clashed; and Kwandere where the fight heightened; as well as Ombi I area of Lafia, where tension built, sending residents into fleeing.

Displaced persons who ran into Lafia, said the two ethnic groups which have had weeks of bloody clash launched attacks against each other in neighbouring villages, compelling one to enter the governor's hometown with an attack, in order to awaken government's attention.

They said the clash which also saw many properties destroyed either by burning, or mauling down, spilled into Kwandere, after one side retreated and fled into the town to take refuge.

"Our people (Gwandara of Kwandere) have nothing to do in the problem between Eggon and Fulani, but we were attacked this afternoon. We had to run for our lives. But our town is still burning. Many people have been killed", a displaced person who fled with his family told newsmen in Lafia.

Al-Makura left the state earlier on Monday, to Abuja, where he proceeded to Lagos for talks on the merger between opposition political parties. Before he travelled, the governor had led displaced persons taking refuge in most places including Lafia and Kwandere, back to their places, and assured of security.

The attack on his hometown came three days after he left the state. Displaced persons also said they were waylaid along two major roads leading to Lafia, from Kwandere, as they tried to flee their homes, into Lafia. They said the fight dragged into the two major roads linking either College of Agriculture and Nasarawa State Polytechnic on one side, as well as Railway Line, respectively, blocking passage.

By about 3pm, tension grew at the college and polytechnic, with reports of gunmen sighted near the two institutions. At the same time, a group of injured persons fled into the Lafia Police Area Command, beside the state polytechnic, sparking rumours that some students were affected.

Mukhtar Wakeel, spokesman of the polytechnic, confirmed the rumours in a telephone chat with Sunday Trust, but said the fight never affected students, just as he dispelled rumours that students hijacked the skirmishes to torment trouble along Lafia-Akwanga Road.

Meanwhile, Eggon and Fulani leaderships in the state, continued to blame each other, with ECDA alleging that Fulanis started the fight, while Miyetti Allah alleged that Fulanis never had any clash with Eggons, but that Eggons opened attack on Gwandara people of Kwandere.

Chris Mamman of ECDA said his inquiries showed that a group of Fulani gunmen attacked Eggon people, and ran for protection in Kwandere, sparking up the attack on Kwandere, where he said Fulani and Eggon fought.

Mohammed Hussaini of Miyetti Allah said his investigation showed that Eggons carried out attack on Gwandara people in Kwandere, and denied that the attack had anything to do with Fulanis.

State police spokesman, DSP Michael Adah confirmed the hours of skirmishes, but declined to state details including death toll on that day. He said the command sent men there, leading to the arrest of six persons with an AK47 riffle and other dangerous weapons. By yesterday, he said a total of eight persons were arrested with dangerous weapons.

But he added: "we are trying to find out the actual cause. We are also trying to ascertain the identity of the attackers." He said the suspects arrested sustained varying degrees of inquiries from the fight, and were receiving treatment in hospitals, making it difficult for police to extract information from them. He also said the command had already sent detectives round to gather intelligence on the causes and the identities of the attackers.

Meanwhile, governor Al-Makura's media aide, Iliyasu Ali Yakubu, yesterday, debunked reports that Fulanis attacked Kwandere, and that 50 were killed. He said Fulanis herdsmen did not attack Kwandere."

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