On January 2, gunmen whose identity are still unknown, attacked Tawari, a town hosting the Bassa people and Gbagyi, Ganagana and Hausa-Fulani tribes in Kogi State, killing over 20 of its inhabitants and setting several buildings in the town on fire. The paramount ruler of Tawari Kingdom, Alhaji Idris Alhassan Yusuf, in this interview speaks on the attack, how he escaped; the relationship between the Ebira, Bassa, Gbagyi and Ganagana tribes that made up Kogi Local Government Area where Tawari is situated: Excerpts:
What are the immediate and remote causes of the problems in your domain?
The remote cause of this problem is not something I can explain because I have no tangible reason from anybody. My thinking is that it has something to do with people lording over other smaller tribes. And as people get educated, they began to know their rights and the dominant factors in the North did not take kindly to such people.
The crisis in Nasarawa State spilt over to our place and Bassa Local Government in Igala land. Our local government was one of the most peaceful local governments because we live together; we work together and do everything together.
Politically, we are being marginalized. Now that we are educated and want to get our rights, the dominant politicians, natives in the local government, are not happy about it. The crisis took one way or the other. I am not here to point accusing fingers at anybody but to say nothing but truth. What has happened, we didn't expect it because we have been very friendly to each other.
Today, as the Kogi State is, all the councillors are one tribe - Ebira. All the special advisers to the governor, special assistants, commissioners, name it, they are all Ebiras; only one councillor in our local government is Bassa. Gwaris are not there, the Hausa-Fulani dotted around us are not there. It is a total domination of one tribe against the rest. I hope the governor will rectify these problems.
When this problem started, a lot of people lost their lives in Bassa Local Government, a lot of our people lost their lives in Nasarawa State.
Now in Kogi State, people are encroaching into our local government to create more problems and people think it is Fulani. Everybody that cannot sleep with his wife, they will say it is Fulani herdsmen whereas we are the cause of our problems. The world must know and come to our aid. We are left in the bush.
When you look at these issues, killings in certain communities, as a royal father, one may ask, is it because you have not been given political space or what is the problem precisely?
This problem has been on for a very long time and I have never in the history of my life suspected either Ebira or Gbagyi or the Bassa or the Fulanis. As these things continue to happen, we begin to have clues. I am not saying that Ebiras attacked us because, in our local government, we have been living harmoniously together.
Who really attacked your domain?
Personally, I did not see, I did not believe that they are Ebiras. It is believed, widely by the people that they were hired killers and they were after me. If I'm silent, that race is finished because God knows I am very straightforward.
Are you saying that you do not know the identity of those who carried out the attack on your domain?
Before God and man, I cannot say these are the people who carried out the attack. But people claimed that it is as if they were Fulanis. That was why I said initially that anybody that can't sleep with his wife would say it is Fulani. I don't have to point an accusing finger at anybody.
But you said you were the prime target?
Yes, I was.
Why do you think some people want to eliminate you?
In any society you are, there must be those who love the way you do things, there must be those who hate the way you do things. That is my perception. Those who hate me might be the ones who want to eliminate my people and myself to have their ways. If I tell you how I escaped, you will be surprised. I was hiding behind my wardrobe when they entered my room and punctured my bed with a knife. My telephone was ringing and I refused to pick from 11:45pm till 5 am.
You reportedly said 25 people were killed in that attack. Was it a selected or indiscriminate killing?
It was selected killing. Of the 25 persons killed, two were Gbagys and the rest were Bassas. The eight people that were in the hospital, seven are Bassas, one is Gbagyi. I have gone around and gave each sick person N50, 000 to help offset their medical bill.
When we paid him (the governor) a visit, I went there with 45 royal fathers under our three districts and he asked us to establish a committee to look into what happened and the damages done so that he will be briefed. We have done that but we are yet to submit the report.
Also, I perceived that the assailants wanted to eliminate everyone in the village. This is because I don't see any reason they should go house to house and kill men and leave women. And the men they killed were those who would take over from us when we are gone; they are mostly the young people.
Before the January 2nd attack, was there any altercation between your community and any other neighbouring community? Was there any issue you could trace to the incident?
Not at all! The Ebiras in my local government are not the troublesome people at all, they are very friendly. The problem is from another state which is Nasarawa State and Bassa Local Government around Igala. They are the ones having crisis but we and our Ebiras in Koton Karfe have no problem. So, it is a spill over from somewhere.
Have you experienced any issue between livestock farmers and sedentary farmers in your community?
The only time we had this problem was when the community told me cows were eating their food. On Friday, I invited them (the Fulanis) and say 'please, Fulani, this is the information I received, make sure you rear your cattle where in the bush and leave the food because when they eat up the food, both you and the owners would have nothing to eat', and the Fulanis always prayed and said that they are very happy with the way I handled their matter. As a royal father, everybody must be yours.
What is the level of destruction and where are your people now?
Now, you cannot find up to 20 people in my town. The whole of my town is full of military that were sent by the governor of Kogi State to protect us.
Where are the people?
They all fled. Most of them are in FCT, some went to Niger State and others have fled to Lokoja, Ekiti and Ondo. As I am talking to you now, you cannot count up to 20 people in my village including the Gbagyi, Bassa and the Ganagana. Also, other villagers around have fled because of fear of being attacked.
But what about their houses, are they intact?
They were all burnt down. In fact, I can tell you that in Tawari town, 80 per cent of the houses and the villages around have been burnt down completely. The assassins were so wicked that they blew off the four tanks we have for water. Presently, we don't have water to drink. Few people that are remaining are fetching from well. They blew off the two churches, they blew off the schools. Both primary and secondary schools were levelled down. They broke all the glasses of the dispensaries. They smashed all the glasses of the mosque and murdered the Imam, the deputy Imam, my secretary and the APC leader.