Two military aircraft have killed over 1,000 cows in multiple attacks on Fulani settlements in Keana and Doma local government areas of Nasarawa State.
Fulani leaders and some of the victims told Daily Trust that the attacks were launched between Thursday, June 10 and Sunday, June 13.
Some young Fulani herders tending the cattle sustained injuries while over 500 cows that strayed into neighbouring Benue State have not been recovered yet, victims and witnesses said.
Some sources said hundreds of cows were killed in Giza Development Area of Keana Local Government on the grounds that the military operation was to dislodge bandits from the areas.
It was gathered that Sunday's operation lasted for three hours and caused tension in the areas as farmers and Fulani herders deserted their homes for fear of being killed.
Our correspondent in Lafia, Nasarawa State, was told that over 1000 cows were killed and several others left wounded.
"The aircraft that carried out the operation were under the command of Operation Whirl Stroke of the Nigerian Air Force Base Makurdi in Benue State," a source said.
The sources said "some bandits shot at a military aircraft; that was what triggered the bombardment of the entire area. One of the gunships was painted in Nigerian Air Force colours while the other one was painted in army green colour."
However, some Fulani leaders said the attack was without any provocation.
The acting Chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) in Nasarawa State, Bala Mohammed Dabo, said hundreds of cows were also killed between Kwatanbala and Akwanaja in Doma LGA.
"In a separate attack on Thursday in Kuduku of Keana LGA, Alhaji Jigawa lost many cows during the siege. We sat with military officials in Nasarawa State. The commander here represented the overall commander in Benue and he promised that he will escalate the matter to the relevant authorities.
"We pleaded that they should halt the unprovoked siege and killing of cows in Nasarawa State. A governor from neighbouring Benue should stop dictating what is happening in Nasarawa. The Fulani are the most hated people in Nigeria because nobody is speaking for us. We are being killed and maimed and our source of livelihood destroyed without provocation.
"The anti-grazing law in Benue State is just an alibi... It is meant to force the Fulani to extinction. The federal government should rise up to the challenge and salvage our people," he said.
The Fulani leader also denied encroaching into Benue territory where there is an anti-grazing law.
"There is no justification for gunships to come to Nasarawa territory and kill cows. It would have been different if they were killed in Benue," he said.
Another victim, Ibrahim Adamu from Akwanaja ward in Kwatanbala of Doma LGA, said 40 of his cows were killed by the gunships on Thursday.
"Our cows had come back home from grazing when the aircraft came and killed them around 6pm. We are in real pain and we pray for help from whatever quarter we can get it. The cows are our source of livelihood," he said.
The Chairman of Coalition of Fulani Youths Groups of Nigeria (CFYGN), Abdulkareem Bayero, said terrible things were happening in Nasarawa State and have not been reported.
"We are calling on the authorities to intervene on the terrorism against the Fulani. There is no anti-grazing law in Nasarawa and therefore no justification for the air force gunships to come and bomb hundreds of cows of innocent Fulani herdsmen.
"The onslaught has been ongoing for long, the latest started on Thursday. Apart from the cows killed in Awe and Keana LGAs, hundreds of others have fled into Benue State and the locals there have rustled them.
Cattle owners transporting their injured cows in Nasarawa State on Sunday
"We need the support of the federal government; we want compensation for our people. Peace will continue to elude the country if this kind of lawlessness will continue," he said.
The youth leader in Keana, who gave his name as Ya"u, said: "Around 6am on Sunday, two aircraft from the side of Benue launched sporadic attacks and killed our cows.
"When they came for the second time, around 9am, at a time our people were trying to salvage some of the injured cows, they started bombing them again. More than 500 cows are now missing apart from the hundreds killed.
"We are in distress, we need urgent intervention. Government must talk to the military to stop the offensive. We are compelled to suspect that the government at the centre is also complicit because only the federal government has the power to dispatch aircraft to go and bomb a target.
"We are living peacefully in Nasarawa, we don't have any case with the host communities and we have never been suspected of banditry or kidnapping but our people are now the target of attacks; we are in serious disarray," he said.
Another victim, Idrissa Zakaria, said he lost over 50 cows, adding that the first attack was launched between Katanbala and Akonoja.
He said the gunships moved to Giza in Keana LGA. "The gunship will come low and shot at the cows; some of the boys tending the cows were also injured.
"We suspect Governor Samuel Ortom of having a hand in this... He is the one who is giving the military resources to attack us," he said.
Military aware of Buhari's shoot-on-sight order
Governor Ortom in his response to the allegation that the Nigeria Air Force (NAF) aircraft was bombarding and killing cows belonging to herders in border areas of Benue and Nasarawa states said that the military was aware of President Muhammadu Buhari's order to shoot-on-sight.
Ortom, through his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, added that the people being chased out of the forest were terrorists and not law-abiding Nigerians.
"Remember that Mr President recently gave an order that anyone with AK-47 should be shot. The military is aware that terrorists and bandits bearing AK-47 have occupied the forests from where they come to attack and kill innocent people. Those people being chased out of the forests are terrorists, not law-abiding Nigerians," Akase said.
On the part of NAF in Benue, the Command Public Relation Officer (CPRO), Wing Commander Chris Erondu, when contacted, directed our correspondent to the media office of NAF headquarters in Abuja for comments on the matter.
When contacted on Sunday, the spokesman of the Nigerian Air Force, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet, told one of our correspondents via telephone that it was not the personnel of the force that carried out the operations.
He said: "That operation in Makurdi is a Defence Headquarters' operation not an Air Force operation. I wouldn't even want to comment on that. It was operation Whirl Stroke under Defence Headquarters. It was a joint operation. The best person to talk to is DHQ."
But the Acting Coordinator, Defence Media Operations (DMO), Brig.-Gen. Bernard Onyeuko, when contacted, did not answer calls to his phone.
Gabkwet, however, described the report that anybody or any animal was killed as "false" noting that banditry activities were already spiralling in the Benue State capital, Makurdi, where some bandits wielding AK-47 were mingling with the locals.
According to him, "the story is totally false. There are some banditry activities not far from Benue State; somewhere very close to Makurdi. It is between Makurdi and Lafia. So, our helicopter went there and tracked some bandits we saw with AK-47.
"In fact, nobody was killed and nothing happened. The bandits ran into the city. Of course, our trackers picked them out but they later went back again. In clear terms, bandits ran into the city and mingled with the locals."
Farmers, herders affected
It was gathered that farmers and Fulani herdsmen in Giza Development Area who are living at the border area between Nasarawa and Benue states have started migrating from their respective homes of abode to the state capital for fear of the military bombs.
Sources said many of them have abandoned their farmlands and cattle as a result of the alleged bombardment of bandits and kidnappers' camps.
When contacted, the Director of Personnel Management in Keana LGA, Galadima Abubakar, said he was not aware of military presence or bombardment of bandits and kidnappers.
Efforts to reach out to the Commissioner of Information, Culture and Tourism, Dogo Shama, to get the Nasarawa State government's side of the story proved abortive as several calls to his phone did not go through as of the time of filing in this report.
Also contacted on phone, the Police Public Relations Officer, Nasarawa State Command, ASP Nansel Ranham, said the command was not aware of bombings in Giza and other locations.