By Akanimo Sampson
Despite the latest protest by the Nigerian Army against the Amnesty International that it was, together with the Federal Government, an accomplice in the death of close to 4,000 people in the farmer/herdsmen crisis, the group remains unshaken.
Founder of the international human rights group, Peter Benenson, in a seeming tacit response to the protesting armed security force said, ‘’only when the last prisoner of conscience has been freed, when the last torture chamber has been closed, when the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a reality for the world’s people, will our work be done.’’
Amnesty International is boasting of being a global movement of more than seven million people who take injustice personally. ‘’We are campaigning for a world where human rights is enjoyed by all’’, the group said.
According this rattling rights group, ‘’through our detailed research and determined campaigning, we help fight abuses of human rights worldwide. We bring torturers to justice. Change oppressive laws. And free people jailed just for voicing their opinion.’’
In 1961, Benenson, a British lawyer, was outraged when two Portuguese students were jailed just for raising a toast to freedom. He wrote an article in The Observer newspaper and launched a campaign that provoked an incredible response. Reprinted in newspapers across the world, his call to action sparked the idea that people everywhere can unite in solidarity for justice and freedom.
This inspiring moment did not just give birth to an extraordinary movement. It was the start of extraordinary social change.
For the Nigerian Army however, the country’s wing of the global rights group which hitherto has been well respected ‘’has deviated from the core values, principles and objectives of the original Amnesty International domiciled in the United Kingdom’’, the Army said on their Twitter Page.
The group on Monday claimed that the Nigerian government failures fuel escalating conflict between farmers and herders as death toll nears 4,000, pointing out, ‘’the Nigerian authorities’ failure to investigate communal clashes and bring perpetrators to justice has fuelled a bloody escalation in the conflict between farmers and herders across the country, resulting in at least 3,641 deaths in the past three years and the displacement of thousands more’’.
According to the fire-spitting group, ‘’the government has displayed what can only be described as gross incompetence and has failed in its duty to protect the lives of its population and end the intensifying conflict between herders and farmers. The authorities’ lethargy has allowed impunity to flourish and the killings to spread to many parts of the country, inflicting greater suffering on communities who already live in constant fear of the next attack’’.
Nigeria’s Director of the group. Osai Ojigho, said ‘’our research shows that these attacks were well planned and coordinated, with the use of weapons like machine guns and AK-47 rifles. Yet, little has been done by the authorities in terms of prevention, arrests and prosecutions, even when information about the suspected perpetrators was available.”
They started documenting clashes between farmers and herders from January 2016. Between August 2017 and September 2018, researchers conducted 10 field trips to 56 villages in five states.
Amnesty says their report is based on 262 interviews with victims, eyewitnesses, community leaders, medical practitioners, religious leaders and government officials, including members of the security forces. Researchers also analysed 230 documents, including medical records and reports by the security forces.
Continuing, they said villagers in all the areas visited by their officials described losing everything as their homes were burned and their food supplies carted away by attackers. Since 2016, both sides in the conflict have increasingly sought to destroy each other’s livelihood with herders setting fire to farms and farmers engaging in cattle rustling.
For Ojigho. ‘’the root cause of this conflict has nothing to do with religion or ethnicity; it is largely about land and access to grazing. But in some places, because of the failures of the security forces, competition over resources is used as a pretext to kill and maim along ethnic or religious lines. The conflict has also been dangerously politicized by some state government officials who have inflamed tensions by embarking on a blame game along political party lines’’.
Between January 5, 2016 and October 5, 2018 not lesser than 310 attacks were recorded. They were most frequent in Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Taraba and Plateau states. Other parts of the country including Enugu, Ondo, Oyo, Delta and Edo also recorded attacks.
The group is claiming that their researchers uncovered a pattern of appalling killings by both farmers and herders across Adamawa, Benue, Taraba, Kaduna and Plateau, pointing out that on June 17, 2017 one of the deadliest attacks on Fulani communities in Taraba state began. It lasted four days with dozens of dead bodies found in the bush afterwards.
‘’My wife was slaughtered, they opened her stomach and brought out the baby and slaughtered it. My kids were slaughtered also. I was with their dead bodies for three days in the bush before the soldiers came. My father was burned in front of the mosque where he prayed. They killed him there and burned him’’, an eyewitness told Amnesty International
In the Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of Benue state, villages began 2018 under attack by armed gangs, who arrived in the early hours of 1 January. The attack, which went on for 11 days, resulted in at least 88 deaths, although the state government was only able to bury 73 bodies.
An eyewitness also told them: ‘’Up to 120 people (were) dead, some are farmers in the bush but we have not recovered them. It was through the efforts of the Benue State government and security agents that 73 bodies were recovered and buried. More corpses are still out there while some have been buried already in the villages.’’
The group said they interviewed 21 women in communities affected by the attacks. Many spoke of losing their husbands and having to take care of their children alone. On February 20, 2017, Zilian village in Kaduna state was attacked. One woman described how she ran and hid in an old latrine pit. Her husband was killed in the attack and her 6-year old daughter was severely burnt.
She said: ‘’When they left, I dragged myself out of the pit and went home. My thoughts were that my kids were already burned to death in the house but I needed to confirm. When I got home, everywhere was under fire. They burned the house and everything was on fire and still burning. I saw my husband’s corpse on the floor and fire had caught his leg, so I moved him from the fire.’’
In Kaduna and Zamfara states, what started as clashes between herders and farmers has turned into a total collapse of law and order, with armed gangs raiding villages, kidnapping people for ransom and killing hundreds of people in recent years. Villagers told Amnesty International that they were regularly confronted by attackers wielding machine guns and assault rifles.
They took photographs of different ammunition casings from the scenes of attacks in Adamawa, Kaduna and Benue states, and received photographs of other casings from Plateau state. In all cases, weapons analysis showed that the attackers were likely to have been armed with machine guns like the PKM and G3, and AK-47 rifles.
Amnesty International shared their findings with government authorities and requested information from the Ministry of Justice, Nigerian Army, Nigeria Police Force and the governments of Adamawa, Benue, Enugu, Kaduna, Plateau and Taraba states. ‘’Only Enugu State Government responded to our request, saying five people are being prosecuted over the killing of 12 people in Nimbo community in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area, which was attacked on April 25, 2016’’, the group said.
Ojigho again, ‘’authorities must investigate the slow response time of security forces that has resulted in shockingly high casualties. As part of this process, the security forces’ leadership should scrutinize the role of individual commanders, while governments across the affected states must provide appropriate compensation to the victims of the conflicts.’’