Take this: Mrs Esther Bitrus lost her husband, two children, grandfather, grandmother, daughter-in- law, brother and the wife. In fact, 17 members of her family were butchered within minutes when killer herdsmen brought agony, sorrow and blood to their household last weekend. Meeting her, she was looking vacantly into space and shaking her head intermittently. She was like someone in a trance. Her life will never be the same again.
Although the smoke appears fading, the affected communities are still like ghost enclaves. The surviving victims have abandoned the land of their fathers. And nobody ventures into the area as the blood thirsty gang is lurking in the shadows, waiting for who to dismember.
Coming from Yakubu Gowon Airport to Jos metropolis on Wednesday afternoon, it didn’t take long to know that all was not well with the state. Security personnel lined up the long stretch, few metres apart. There was apprehension on faces; everyone was on edge. In fact, it was learnt that few hours earlier, gunshots rented the air around the Burutu axis.
For the past couple of days, blood has been flowing freely on the Plateau. Men, women and children were massacred in dozens. A nine-month-old baby was beheaded. While the police said that 86 people died, the locals insist that criminal herdsmen killed 216 persons in 11 communities across three local government areas of the state. Scores are still missing.
Those who managed to escape the attack found refuge in churches. But their safety there cannot be guaranteed. This is because there is no sign of security in the emergency Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps visited by Saturday Sun on Thursday. There, you see elderly men, women and children roaming about, like sheep without shepherd. There, you see people who have nothing except the shirt on their back. Worse still, the state government has not deemed it necessary to visit the camps or offer them any form of assistance.
Visiting the camps, you will be moved to tears as the survivors tell the story of their journey to the land of the dead. Some of them lost entire family members.
Tales from the land of the dead
Pa Dung Ibrahim was still in shock when we met him. Although he escaped but he has become homeless as his house was completely razed. He could barely recount his ordeal in the hand of the herdsmen. He said: “The Fulani herdsmen came to the village at about 3pm and killed about 68 persons. I was at home at that time; they surrounded the village from the hills. I ran to escape and God helped me. Nothing happened to me, my family also escaped. Nothing happened to my family.”
Mr Ishaya Bulus, a 51-year-old farmer from Nghar village, was overwhelmed by emotion as he spoke to Saturday Sun. At a point, his voice lowered as he battled tears. He said that his father was slaughtered. “We were going for a burial in Kura Falls and we were not able to reach the place because it was raining and our vehicle returned home. My wife told me that she heard some gunshots and I thought she was afraid unnecessarily. So, I decided to go out of the house and I discovered that people have gathered outside and the Fulani had surrounded the village through the hills. There was nothing we could doandItoldmywifetogotomy father’s house, who was killed that morning by unknown persons. When I was returning to my house it was already locked and the only alternative for me was to go into the pigs’ house and hide myself while it was raining and the gunshots were increasing. Two of my friends, who were running for safety asked me to come out. We ran to a different village to hide ourselves. The killings started at 3pm and it continued until 6pm, still we did not go home until 11pm when everywhere was calm and the gunshots had stopped. We went to the village and discovered that houses were burnt; our brothers and sisters were all killed and burnt. The corpses were everywhere and my father was killed. They slaughtered him. My wife had to climb the roof of my house with my children and that was how they escaped,” he narrated.
Mrs Esther Bitrus, from Nghar village, lost 17 members of her family, including her husband and two children. This is her heart-wrenching story: “I was in my house; I didn’t know what was going on. Suddenly, I heard people crying and running, saying that Fulani have entered the village. They came in large numbers, they were shooting people and burning their houses, I don’t know what we have done to them. Seventeen members of my family were killed, our grandfather and grandmother were killed, our daughter-in-law, who just married was killed with the husband, five children were in a room and they were all burnt, the wife of my elder brother and her daughter were also killed, two of my children were killed and my husband among others.”
Mrs Martha Audu, also from Nghar village, said: “We were in the village and we heard people crying. When I turned, I saw fire in one of the neighbouring villages. We were watching how the village was burnt and we were asked to come out of our houses, I had my baby, but before I could come out, people had gone far. Some of the herdsmen entered into a house and 18 people were killed there and seven people were killed in another house and my son was among them.”
Lami Francis, from same village, said: “We were at home and we sighted fire burning in one community. We stood and watched, we didn’t know what to do. The Fulani were packing the properties of the people and moving with them, and burning the houses. After then, my friend and I started singing praises and praying to God. After they finished from that village, they came and surrounded our community. We could not do anything but we were moving gradually to hide ourselves. Our youths did not have any weapon for self-defence. We divided ourselves into different rooms and the security people that were close to us noticed that we were not going to be safe. They asked us to run out, before we could come out, I heard gun- shots and we moved to where the security were but they were shooting towards that direction. We jumped into a maize farm and we moved to Yelwa. My elder sister, whose son had escaped returned because his mother was still in the room. As he returned, he was killed there with his sister, mother, grandmother, the wife of his elder brother and his wife, who was pregnant, they were all killed. So many people were killed in the village, about 18 people in one house were all killed. We ran towards a mosque and the Imam opened the Mosque and asked us to go in. Those who entered the mosque were safe while those who were outside were killed.”
While Mrs Hannatu Danjuma escaped, the whereabouts of her husband remain unknown. She said: “I was in the farm when the incident happened. A Fulani man came to me and said I should go that the village is not peaceful. I wanted to continue with my work but he insisted that I should go because I was going to be killed. Suddenly, I saw vehicles coming from Barkin-Ladi and they were saying there was violence at Gindi-Akwati. From there, I left for home and I saw people outside. After a while, I was told that a neighbouring village, Swai, had been burnt down. After then, I heard gunshots and I ran into a muslim house. We were about 50 in one room, and the man came and asked us to run out into the mosque. When I was running, my husband was behind me, I don’t know where he followed and until now, I don’t know where he is.”
No Medicare for victims
Alex Thomas Azzue, medical personnel from Nghar village, told his story thus: “I had a clinic in Nghar village, which was mostly affected by the attack. It was at about 11am when the whole thing started. Be- fore the incident, some Fulani herdsmen came and said something was going to happen in the community. We started imagining what was going to happen. It was a Barkin-Ladi market day but suddenly we saw them running back, saying that the village is not safe. Everybody came out from their house and we stood at the main road. Before we knew what was happening, we started hearing gunshots, everybody running away. We know the people that carried out the attack because when I was coming out of my clinic, I saw somebody that I know. He was the one who burnt my car. They started moving from house to house, killing people and burning their properties. There was no Fulani house that was burnt. They killed every human being they see, there was a nine- month-old baby that they shot and cut off his head.
“I don’t stay in the village with my family. They live in Jos because I am from Bokkos LGA. People are trying for us, people within Heipang community are the ones feeding us, the COCIN church has been so good to us; they give us food and accommodation. We don’t have medical facilities here, we don’t have drugs and the people are complaining. There are no mattresses, people sleep on bare floor. The state government has not brought anything to us except a member of the House of Assembly, representing Barkin-Ladi constituency, who came twice with relief materials. We don’t have toilets but we use the church toilet, which is inadequate considering the number of people here. We are pleading with the State and Federal governments to assist us.”
Consider this from Yakubu Pam Choji: “I am from RCC, Xland in Barkin-Ladi Local Government Area. What took place that day was planned. We did not have knowledge of what took place but we started hearing gunshots at about 1pm that day and everybody was very scared. Some people thought of running to another community for escape but there was no exit route because the assailants had surrounded the place with heavy gunshots booming. Some of them were holding gun, sword, machetes, axe and other dangerous weapons, which they were using to break into people’s houses to bring them out to be killed. Several people were killed as a result of that. As the killings continued, the Fulani herdsmen conspired with the Hausa to remove the villagers from their respective villages. As a result of that, a lot of people lost their lives. We lost a total of 34 people in the village, houses were burnt, cars were destroyed and it was only the Christians that were affected, the Muslims were spared.
“Our rescue came through some military personnel that came on motorcycle and they started exchanging fire with the Fulani and that was how the whole place calmed down and eventually the village became quiet. It was at that time that we moved into the villages to assess the level of destruction, corpses littered the ground, many cars, houses and motorcycles were burnt. People were crying and screaming because of the destruction. Our church and the pastoral house were safe and some of our members also safe. But a Catholic Church and their pastoral house were burnt down and other structures that belong to the Christians.
“I was not affected directly and I thank God because He was the one who took care of me and my family, my children were inside the Pastoral house with some members but the Fulani went there and knocked on the door and tried to force it open but they didn’t succeed. But as they persisted on forcing the door, military men came and chased them away, and that was how my family and other members were saved. I lost so many members, though I have not taken full stock of members that I lost but approximately, I lost 28 out of the 34 people that were killed in the village.”
On what he thinks is the cause of the violence, Choji said: “It is a religious thing because we didn’t have any conflict or grudges with them. We were living peacefully but we didn’t know that they were conspiring against us. That is the truth. We have never been in crisis with them. When the herdsmen came, we were surprised to hear some of the Hausa people that we have been living with were directing the herdsmen to houses that were attacked but the truth is that we don’t have any conflict with them.”
Rev. Daniel Audu said: “I am from Ngher village where they killed about 86 people. On that fateful day, we went for a burial and we informed the security people to accompany us to the burial but they left us there. When we finished the Church service and we thought they were going to Xland to take care of what was happening there because we heard that in the morning a woman was shot and there was an uprising. But after a while, the security people came back and also left through Kura Falls but we were waiting for them to come and lead us out of the place. But they abandoned us there. I was the one that started moving in my own car. I was in front but about four vehicles overtook me. I was coming behind them; I was the first person they shot at. They laid an ambush on the road but they couldn’t get me and when I got to Bethlehem Academy, I stopped there to call people who were still behind but unfortunately their phone numbers weren’t connecting because of poor network. So, they didn’t know what was happening, they were coming innocently and they met the Fulani and five of them were killed. They shot the tyre of one of the vehicles and got the driver on his head, the four persons that were inside were also shot dead, they macheted them. I was there personally and I escaped narrowly that day.”
Chairman Regional Church Council, Heigpang, Rev. Gwom Gyang, explained how his church is caring for the displaced persons taking refuge there. “With this Regional Church Council (RCC), we have two different camps. One is in RCC, Ban, which houses 769 displaced persons made up of women, children and the aged, while in the headquarters of the COCIN RCC we have 2, 257 who are there now. Since then, we have been appreciating God because they are the people that the Lord saved. Feeding them here these days, as a church we have begged our members to contribute what they have to enable us take care of them and that is how we have been managing since they came to the church.”
Do you have the facilities within the church premises to take care of the population? The man of God answered: “We have some of them who were injured and some because of trauma they became sick and we are struggling to manage the situation. We have not received any support from anybody, not even the government for us to take care of the victims. We don’t have enough facilities, we just opened the church and it is there they keep their belongings that they were able to come with and that is why they are sleeping on bare floor, no mattresses, no blanket and the weather is very harsh and cold for the children.”