Now, were the Fulanis the first to attack? Or were they the initial victims simply meting out revenge? I don't know, but the latest news report of the Nigerian army invading a Fulani village in Nasarawa state yesterday morning and killing 30 people, shooting at every Fulani in sight, was troubling (full report here).
According to the report in Premium Times newspaper, Fulani organisation Miyetti Allah confirmed that over 30 Fulani people were killed, mostly old men who were unable to run when the soldiers started firing. The group's secretary Muhammed Husseini accused the Nigerian Government of complicity in the killing and is planning to sue the government.
“I’m presently in the mortuary receiving corpses. They killed over 30 of our men for no reason. This is genocide and we will approach the International Criminal Court, ICC,” he said.
Some of the dead recovered from the invasion
The military had deployed troops to Nasarawa, Benue and Kaduna following attacks on several communities in the states by suspected Fulani herdsmen, leading to the death of scores of people.
Fulanis in rural areas of the North are often victims and perpetrators of attacks, mostly because of age-old territorial disputes and other slights they feel other tribes had perpetrated on themselves and their cattle and property. Some Fulanis are on the rampage over disputed grazing fields for their cattle, and stolen cattle, whilst the town dwellers are also aggrieved when their crops are eaten and trampled on by Fulani cattle.
Ethnic-based enmity is alive and seething in Nigeria y'all.
So the Fulanis attack, and other tribes retaliate; other tribes attack, and the Fulani retaliate. But it seems the Fulani are the ones doing more of the attacks these days. Also, various unconnected Fulani communities and attackers that may not even be Fulani across Nigeria that engage in violent disputes with their neighbours may be called 'Fulani attackers,' making the situation seem even more rife, and the Fulani even more deadly.
On-going disputes in places like Nasarawa, Zamfara and Benue State have caused many villagers to flee after alleged Fulani gunmen storm their locales at night or early in the morning, shooting and killing at random. Recently, a group of 24 Fulani men were arrested with a truckload of guns, machetes, bows and arrows and knives.
However, for decades the nomadic Fulani lived amongst other tribes in peace, inter-marrying and becoming friends. In this report of refugees fleeing from Benue to Abuja following Fulani attacks, one old man said:
"I had to pack and leave with my whole family because I saw the fighters coming in and my Fulani neighbours told me they cannot guarantee my safety if I decided to stay. I have lived there all my life and I don't have anywhere else to call home but I had to leave because the mercenaries were already forming a base there.
"We (Tiv farmers) have never fought with Fulani herders here before. Whenever there are squabbles, we the elders from both ethnic groups come together and settle amicably, so it was strange when they asked me to leave. But they insisted they don't have a problem with us, that it was their people from Benue that asked them to tell us to leave."
Things seem to be heating up.
A taxi driver, upon hearing I was from Adamawa State, beamed and told me he was also from Adamawa (but he wasn't Fulani), then after some pleasantries, he told me of a horrifying visit to the state recently. The car he was travelling in broke down, and as evening had approached before it was finally fixed, both the other passengers in the car and himself were extremely worried because it was general knowledge that the road at night was patrolled by armed robbers.
They travelled on regardless, and soon came to a road block made of sharp materials that punctured the car tires, manned by Fulani men wielding machetes. I asked if he was sure they were Fulani, and he said it was obvious, as Fulanis have a distinct look everyone is familiar with.
They were forced to alight from the car, lie on the ground on their stomachs and remain silent as the Fulani men ransacked their pockets and car and took away all the valuables: their phones, his bag, money etc. If he had tried to escape they would have been killed, as the attackers were known for chopping people up with their machetes.
He said the men also carried locally made guns and communicated by making clicking sounds to each other, and they looked as if they were 'high.' The taxi driver and the other passengers were forced to sleep in the bush until morning when they walked the rest of the way to their destinations.
Now this conversation happened some months back, and my memory can be hazy sometimes, and I've had similar conversations with a variety of people about such car-jackings, although only the taxi driver specified Fulani attackers. So I'm not sure if the following details were told to me by this taxi driver or by someone else, but is interesting to note nonetheless: one of the passengers was a female who lied to attackers that she had HIV to prevent being raped; the carjackers were wearing amulets and other charms that prevented them from being injured by bullets.
So, certain parts of Northern Nigeria aren't too safe right now, what with the sporadic yet increasingly common 'Fulani gunmen,' and Boko Haram insurgents. I'm loathe to imagine that they could be linked, especially since the attacks are similar in nature: young men (sometimes dressed in black or fatigues) with weapons surround a settlement at night and kill indiscriminately, setting fire to houses before escaping in motorcycles, trucks or on foot.
With Boko Haram, questions have been raised (by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan even) about who pays for the sophisticated weaponry (AK47s etc) and brand new vehicles (convoys of Hilux trucks, motorcycles and vans) that aide in their terror campaigns.
Northern leaders recently alleged that helicopters have been seen repeatedly dropping weapons, food, medicine and other equipment in areas occupied by Boko Haram, implying that the militant group had wealthy financiers as well as informants in the military, police and other security agencies.
This leads on to another incident narrated to me by a taxi driver (they are excellent disseminators of information in my experience wherever I am in the world.) This one was from Borno State, and although he had the look and demeanour of a Muslim, I was surprised to learn he's a Christian. He told us his father and other family members were killed recently by Boko Haram in Borno. They surrounded his village one night and started killing people shouting 'Allahu Akbar' before fleeing in a convoy of Hilux trucks.
Then a couple of weeks later, he was supposed to pick me up the coming Monday to work (our car was at the mechanic's) but was unable to make it as he had to travel to Borno with his wife and baby girl, as his father-in-law was one of those killed by Boko Haram in this attack in the state.
It was tragically incredible to note that I knew someone who was personally affected by Boko Haram in such a chilling way, and I felt so bad for the young man, whose family had been so ravaged by the terrorists.
Abuja is still relatively safe (except for this shootout recently), but living in a country where people are regularly killed by a group from your tribe in places not too far away from you, as well as the on-going murders of innocents by state-sponsored enemies of the state is certainly unnerving.
But as Leonardo DiCaprio's character in Blood Diamonds said, "TIA. This is Africa."