SPECIAL REPORT: Attacks, Hunger, Occupation and Government Complicity in the Middle Belt Region of Nigeria
By Steven Kefas
When my brother and friend, Beevan Magoni of Nigerian Info FM informed me of a planned media tour of the attacked communities in Zangon Kataf local government area of Kaduna state, I didn’t know what to tell him. Visiting communities under terrorrists attacks in Southern Kaduna is something I have been doing since 2017 but this time around I wasn’t sure whether I should go with them or not. This is because just last week the terrorists operating in Southern Kaduna wrote a letter to a Kafanchan based Humanitarian Pastor, Gideon Mutum, and in the threat-laden letter, they promised to ‘hunt Stebin Kefas down’. I told Beevan to give me two minutes to do some thinking and get back to him.
I called him back two minutes later to inform him that I was joining them for the tour. Deep inside of me I knew it was more or less a suicide mission because the area is still very much under siege with no security on ground. I weighed the risks vis-a-vis the need to have firsthand information on the level of destruction going on in the area.
Our first point of call on the tour was at Ungwar Jaba, an agrarian community that was attacked by the terrorists last week. The community which is about 5 minutes drive from the popular Samaru Kataf roundabout was attacked in broad daylight, with no intervention by the security forces. In a particular compound we saw a bullet shell lying on the ground.
Three villagers told us how the local Fulanis that had lived with them for quite sometime suddenly parked their belongings on the day of the attack and left the community. This has been the trend in virtually all the communities that have been attacked since 2013. Local herders, some of whom have lived in Southern Kaduna for decades would park and leave, and, shortly after their departure, such communities would then come under heavy assault from the terrorists. That was the case in Ungwar Jaba. Shortly after the local Fulanis left the community, the terrorists struck with precision, inflicting maximum damage on the community. This invariably means that their is a collaboration between the local Fulanis and the mercenaries employed to carry out the attacks.
One thing that caught my attention the most during our tour was the level of destruction the terrorists left behind in all the communities they attacked. Roofs and windows of buildings are ripped off by what looks like explosives. Some villagers confirmed that the terrorists made use of a powder-like substance in blowing off buildings. That is another proof that the terrorists have advanced from what they used to be.
These attacks and destructions are not limited to Southern Kaduna, as Benue, Plateau, Niger and Nasarawa states are also having their fair share of the carnages. Just yesterday I read in the papers a message from the Plateau state governor, Simon Lalong, condemning the destruction of farmlands by marauding herdsmen in Plateau state.
Southern Kaduna where I come from isn’t left out, as terrorist herdsmen have often times destroyed farmlands during attacks on agrarian communities. This brings to mind the saying that, hunger is a weapon of war; it is also a testament to the fact that the terrorists carrying out these crimes against humanity understand vividly the concept of hunger in war.
Only one whose agenda is to take over your land would kill you, destroy your home and your farmland thereby erasing every trace of you from the land he wants to occupy.
During our media tour in Zangon Kataf local government area on 23rd of July, 2021, we noticed that most communities in Zango Kataf have been completely deserted by their original occupants and farmlands with crops on them abandoned, giving the herdsmen ample opportunity to graze on them freely. I was heartbroken and I asked one of our tour guides what would happen to the beautiful crops. He said to me “the herdsmen return to graze after successfully displacing the people from their communities”.
It was in Gwantu, Sanga local government area of Kaduna state last year that I interviewed a young man who told me how his ancestral village is currently being occupied by herdsmen after their community was attacked some years back. My friend and brother Barrister John Ayuba Gwantu was a witness to that interview. The young man confirmed to us that the herdsmen occupying their community are well armed which makes it impossible for them to even contemplate a return.
Isn’t it ironical that such is happening in a nation that is supposed to be governed by law? How do I, Steven, explain to my unborn children in the future that they don’t have a village to visit simply because their ancestral communities were at some point in time taken over by terrorists?
All the villages we visited which were recently attacked in Zangon Kataf do not have any security presence, they are left alone at the mercy of the terrorists who actually promised to return to complete their ‘mission’. Ironically, driving through Zango Urban from Kibori we saw numerous fortified security checkpoints leading into the tiny Hausa/Fulani community. Then my curiosity prompted me to ask again: have there been any attack in Zango Urban? Why the heavy security presence and none in the areas prone to attacks? No one could provide any answers but then we all know the answer.
This further proves that the government of the day is not interested in ending the attacks against the Southern Kaduna indigenous people, the attacks seem to be in tandem with their preconceived agendas.
At the country home of the Atyap Paramount ruler, the terrorists took time to destroy the home completely, burning down all the cars therein and blowing off the building.
In Chikun local government area of Kaduna state for instance, there are dozens of communities displaced and currently being occupied by terrorists. You read me right, I said dozens, maybe over 40, 50 or more communities. Yet we claim we have a government in place.
Chikun local government is one of the worst hit areas in Kaduna state. Many indigenes of the local government now live in neighbouring Niger state as IDPs after fleeing their communities due to incessant attacks by terrorist herdsmen.
There was a story of a nursing mother in a Chikun community who was fleeing from herdsmen attack via the Kaduna river that extends to Niger state. She eventually got to the bank of the river and asked a canoe man to get her and her baby across the river only for the canoe man to be shot midway by the terrorists. The canoe man, the mother and her baby all perished. These are the kind of stories you don’t get to read on the pages of newspapers.
In Kajuru local government area of Kaduna state, the story is the same. We’ve heard of how mothers were butchered with foetuses ripped apart by the terrorrists in sheer display of barbarity and inhumanity.
In all of these, not a single person has been prosecuted for these obvious crimes against humanity. Isn’t that ironic? Well, it isn’t, because the government obviously is not ready to stop the killings. This is the same pattern all across the Middle Belt.
The people of the Middle Belt are therefore left with only one option which is self defense. They must rise in unity and defend whatever is left of their communities. Article 51 of the United Nations Charter guarantees the right to self defense especially under violent aggression as is the case in the Middle Belt Region.
Steven Kefas is a Citizen journalist, a Human Rights Defender and a public affairs analyst