Controversy has trailed the killing of 38 herders in the Rukubi community of Doma Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, allegedly by military operatives.
The herders, multiple sources said, were killed while returning from Makurdi, the Benue State capital, where they went to retrieve over 1,000 cows seized by the Benue Livestock Guards.
It was gathered that after the payment of fines amounting to N29m, some of the livestock was released to the herders by the guards and they were sadly trailed and killed while offloading the cattle shortly after they reached their destination in Nasarawa State.
Daily Trust gathered that the killing of the herders on Tuesday night has raised tension in Benue and Nasarawa state.
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Rukubi is located in Nasarawa State, which borders Benue State.
Tension was high yesterday in the Hausa-dominated Wadata vicinity of the Makurdi metropolis in Benue State over the killings of. The northern elders have condemned the incident which they said was as a result of ethnic profiling.
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Nasarawa State governor, Abdullahi Sule confirmed the killings in an exclusive with Daily Trust. He also urged the family of the victims to be calm, assuring them the matter would be thoroughly investigated.
The governor said there were conflicting reports as to the number of victims.
“The government is doing everything possible, as I told you, I have not slept since yesterday (Tuesday) when this happened. I have been on it. I got up early in the morning, I spoke with the leader of the Miyetti Allah national, I spoke severally with the Miyetti Allah leader in Nasarawa State and I spoke with the security agencies.
“We sent the army and police on condolence to the people, the deputy governor also went and met these people, our two major traditional rulers were there for the funeral prayers.
“We are doing everything possible on our side to make sure that we douse the tension,” he said.
The governor said the information was that some herders got their cows arrested by the Benue State government as a result of the anti-open grazing law.
“They went and paid the penalty to the Benue State government, and they came back to the border where they were told to come and wait to receive their cow, so while they were waiting, the bomb exploded. There were all kinds of allegations, initially, they thought it was an airplane that came and bombed the place, but now it has been established that it was a drone that was sent.
“A drone was sent, we do not know who sent the drone, was it security agencies or other people we don’t know? I spoke with the governor of Benue, and I also spoke with the security agencies. Nobody is claiming responsibility that they sent the drone. So that is the true position of things,” he said.
Asked about the number of herders killed, he said, “That is very difficult to determine because various people are giving different numbers, the Fulani said 38 of their people were killed, they came for the burial in Doma this (yesterday) afternoon. The Emir of Lafia was there, Andoma of Doma was there and my deputy governor was there, sitting down there and starting to count bodies will generate another tension, so they did not.
“In Benue, the governor also told me that some bodies were brought to Benue. He even said some people were unhappy with him, because they are thinking he is responsible, so they started tearing up his posters and things like that, he can tell you those things himself anyway. So anybody giving you any particular number right now may just be exaggerating. It has to be fully investigated before we can get the exact number of the people.”
The governor said he had called on Governor Ortom to release the remaining cattle.
Both the Director, Defence Media Operations, Maj.-Gen. Musa Danmadami and the Air Force Spokesman, Air Commodore Wap Maigida could not be reached last night for comment as calls to their mobile phones depicted “unreachable”.
They did not respond to text messages also.
How Air force killed our innocent members – MACBAN
The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) has blamed the killing of the herders on the Nigerian Air Force.
Spokesperson for the association, Muhammad Nura, in a statement, said 30 pastoralists were killed by the Air Force, calling for a thorough probe of the incident.
He said the herders were killed by operatives of the Nigerian Air Force Base in Makurdi.
“Those killed had gone to Makurdi to retrieve about 1,250 livestock impounded by the Benue Livestock Guards after paying a fine of about N29m for violating the anti-open grazing law of Benue State.
“After paying, the pastoralist had hired vehicles from Makurdi to convey back their seized livestock to Rukubi and it was in the process of offloading their livestock that the Air Force came and bombed the vehicles and those within the vicinity.
“This is the third time that the Air Force is being involved in strafing livestock between the border of Benue and Nasarawa states in the last year,” the association said.
It described the action as not only condemnable but “A war crime under the Geneva Convention that prohibits the wanton killing of livestock.”
Calling for a thorough probe of the killing, the association said information available to them shows that the Air Force must have been informed about the release of the livestock from Benue Livestock Guards custody.
Daily Trust reports that the Nasarawa State governor, Abdullahi Sule, was represented by his deputy, Dr. Emmanuel Akabe, during the mass burial of the victims in Doma, the headquarters of Doma LGA of Nasarawa State.
We’re devastated – Victims’ relatives
A kinsman of one of the victims, Bello Abdulsalam, a lawyer, said one of those killed, Jallat Danbata, was his cousin and that they went to redeem their cattle which were earlier impounded by the Benue State government, adding that it was while they were offloading the animals that they were killed.
“It was while they were offloading the cattle that a fighter jet came down and dropped a bomb on them killing 42 of them, one of them was my cousin’s brother; his name is Jaallat Danbata, 41 of the deceased are Fulani,” the lawyer said.
The leadership of Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS) operating in the three states of Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba, hadn’t responded to calls over the incident as of the time of this report.
But, a reliable military source, who craved anonymity, said that the incident was connected with an ongoing military operation ordered by the Defence Headquarters following increasing killings, kidnappings and terrorism by the Darul Salam/Boko Haram elements running away from troop onslaught in the North East and North West parts of the country.
Killings portray worst evil of profiling – NEF
The spokesperson for the Northern Elders Forum, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed last night described the killings of the Fulani herders as “The worst evil of profiling and stereotyping.”
He said, “When you target Fulani that have not done anything wrong and killed close to forty according to reports, there is no language to use other than to say it is condemnable and irresponsible.
“We do not want this incident to be swept under the carpet. It is not right. Fulani should be held responsible and accountable for what they do wrong and those who killed them (Fulani) without any reason should also be held to account.
“This killing cannot be treated as one among many that we have walked away from.”
Asked why such incidents kept happening, Dr Baba-Ahmed said, “I think it is because we have done nothing about past killings. That area, Nasarawa, Plateau and Benue has been a killing field for a very long time.
How many people have you heard being brought to book because they have killed innocent Fulani or Fulani who have committed atrocities? Hardly if there is any. Laws have been passed (by the Benue State government) that you cannot put cattle on the ground; and it is very expensive to move them in vehicles.
“Sometimes communities take the law into their own hands. Government agents sometimes kill people and cattle are taken away from Fulani until they pay millions of naira. This is wrong, it is condemnable and we must raise our voices against it.”
He said if the security operatives were involved in what happened, clearly something must have gone wrong and it must be investigated.
“Definitely something has gone wrong in this particular killing. For the air force to bomb people who are Fulani, whatever their assumption…This number of people bombed to death in the most horrible way, something has gone wrong. This must be investigated, we want to know what happened,” he said.
By Ismail Mudashir (Abuja), Hope A. Emmanuel (Makurdi) & Umar Muhammed (Lafia)