Several days of attacks in February’s final days killed hundreds of people and sent thousands fleeting from largely Christian areas of Nigeria’s farming belt.
On the night of Feb 21, at least 500 people were killed in the mainly Christian area of Agatu in the central Benue state of Nigeria. That’s according to local sources, although the figure could rise even higher – due to continuing violence and the fact that locals and relief workers still cannot get full access to the area due to security concerns.
Eleven days after bands of Muslim Fulani nomads launched systematic attacks on local communities, they still occupied at least six villages they’d seized, confirm relief and media workers – the first who managed to reach the area. Local media report that spokespeople for the herdsmen’s association told the police chief their action was provoked by the Agatu people killing “10,000” cows.
Members of this first mission said they saw no dead cattle at all. One of the team, carrying an amateur video camera, captured disturbing evidence of the human deaths, however, and sent this report, voiced by WWM staff.
‘‘What is going on is jungle justice! It’s survival of the fittest. We are just a local government. Small place! Sir. I just want to point out this: as we are going we will see a lot of devastations that have been done to us
(Akpa Iduh, Agatu Community leader, also Chair of the Peace and Reconciliation Committee set up by Benue State to, alongside Fulani community leaders, stop the attacks).
REPORTER: About 20,000 people are thought to have fled the wave of attacks which some locals say is the worst massacre by mainly Muslim Fulani herdsmen since 2010 – when 400-500 died near Jos. Victim after displaced victim told us how the attacks began in Okokolo village in Agatu local government area, and then continued daily in neighbouring villages, leaving them nowhere to run.
Dr Sunday Ochoche, our mission leader and Executive Director of the Victims’ Support Group, set up in July 2014 to support victims of the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency in NE. Nigeria, was shocked by the scale of devastation.
“I’ve been to a number of crisis spots in this country. What I’ve seen is comparable to the damage caused by Boko Haram in NE Nigeria”.
(Dr Sunday Ochoche)
REPORTER: What we saw was unnerving – the tales of victims could not capture the extent of the devastation. Traveling mile after mile on bumpy dirt roads, we saw no sign of human beings, in village after burnt-down village.
Local officials explained that fear of repeat attacks kept them from coming back to bury the bodies still littered in the villages. Survivors said the attackers had AK47s and ammunition belts. They reported that two prior official trips by army and police had ended with nothing except the firing of warning shots.
REPORTER: The narrative of the herder/farmer conflict is common. But there are undercurrents of an apparently bitter religious battle for domination. Fulani herdsmen are mainly Muslim and the Agatu farmers are mostly Christian.
After our mission, the Nigerian government suspended non-military visits to the region. Soldiers were deployed there just in time to forestall another attack, on March 5, when herdsmen set fire to yet another village.