By Masara Kim
[Jos] Running battles between terrorists and self-defense guards in Nigeria have killed at least 24 people since a solemn memorial was held for victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
Nigeria’s First Lady, Oluremi Tinubu, on 12 September took a trip to comfort victims of terror attacks that have killed more than 350 residents in Plateau State. At least 80,000 people forced from their homes were sheltering in 11 makeshift camps in Mangu, the seat of Mangu county, where the attacks have concentrated, according to officials. As many as 18,000 were camped in a primary school in the town.
But Mrs. Tinubu ended her visit 42 miles away at the Government House in the capital city of Jos where she handed a check of N500million ($680,209.50) to Governor Caleb Mutfwang for the victims. Her show of empathy for the victims of terror was welcomed by many.
A day prior to the visit on September 11, 16 bodies were recovered just 3 miles southeast of Mangu city where a fierce firefight had ensued the previous night between terrorists and civilian guards defending their community.
Six attackers were eliminated during a 40-minute firefight, in which ten civilian guards, commonly known as vigilantes, made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the 200 residents of Kulben village.
Eight more people were killed in nearby Bokkos- and Barkin Ladi counties on 12 September, mere hours after the First Lady’s visit. Of those 8 fatalities, 5 were vigilantes who bravely fought the invaders, providing sufficient time for residents to escape.
TruthNigeria had published a series of advance warnings of attacks in the affected areas since September 9.
Pipe guns vs assault rifles
The battle in Kulben, a lush-green, farm town located in the Kombun district of Mangu county, saw 15 vigilantes taking on an estimated 50 terrorists armed with assault- and sniper rifles, according to witnesses interviewed by TruthNigeria.
Armed with homemade single-shot firearms in the dark of night, the volunteers sheltered from bursts of fire from the terrorists and countered with single shots from their pipe guns. They succeeded to repel the attack before the military arrived five hours later, residents told TruthNigeria.
The spokesman for the Nigerian army in Jos, Captain James Oya, could not be reached since he had blocked TruthNigeria’s phone lines Aug. 7 after it reported on the military’s shooting of unarmed civilians the same day in Mangu. TruthNigeria reported that three local residents protesting army failures were gunned down by the soldiers during a loud demonstration by thousands of displaced residents who had gathered at the military forward operating base. The protestors demanded accountability over an attack that killed four residents the previous day just 1 mile away from the base.
Jidauna Moses, a member of the self-defense team that defended Kulben village in the evening of Sept. 11, recounted that the battle near the Mangu-Bokkos border started around 9 pm local time. The exchange of fire began after two vigilantes were fatally ambushed while guarding the southern outskirts of the town. When the remaining members of the team gathered to intervene, they were greeted by a “rain of gunfire” according to Moses.
“They were more in number and were better armed,” said Moses in a telephone interview.
“They probably had snipers among them,” Moses said. “Most of our members were killed by headshots,” he said.
Despite their limitations, the villagers managed to take out six of the attackers, forcing an early retreat by the invaders according to an intelligence source speaking to TruthNigeria.
While it lasted, the battle provided sufficient time for women and children to escape, another member of the volunteer team, Clement Mulapshak who supervised the evacuations told TruthNigeria.
“If not for what they did, the entire village would have been consumed,” said Mulapshak to TruthNigeria by phone.
“While they were battling around the bridge, we were moving women and children out to the nearby villages and by the grace of God only one woman who ran in the wrong direction was injured by a stray bullet,” he said.
The attackers spoke the Fulani dialect, Mulapshak said.
‘Reprisal Killings’ Claimed by Fulani Spokesman
The Fulani ethnicity is one of West Africa’s largest ethnic groups with an estimated 10 million members in Nigeria. A radicalized faction of the majority-Muslim group is responsible for six times more deaths than Boko Haram according to the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), an international nonprofit in the United Kingdom.
The leader of the Fulani tribe in Plateau State, Nuru Mohammed, denied any involvement by his tribesmen in the attack at Kulben. On the contrary, he told TruthNigeria, six of his Fulani members were killed in unprovoked attacks close to the battle scene the following morning on September 11.
“They were on their lawful businesses in their homes when they were attacked and killed,” said Mohammed. “Two people are still missing up to this time,” said Mohammed by telephone.
“They cross-carpeted from the Mangu area to the Fulani settlement in the Bokkos area along the border with guns and machetes, burning houses and killing our people. They burned two houses, killed 38 cattle belonging to our people, rustled 500. This morning we recovered 103 but the remaining ones are still missing,” he said, accusing the military of complicity.
“I have lost confidence in the military, because when they are supposed to intervene they will not,” he said.
Terrorists are losing, says Senator
Diket Plang, the Senator representing Mangu at the Nigerian Parliament told TruthNigeria that the incident in Kulben has convinced him that terrorists are losing their battle against poorly armed civilians in Plateau.
“I do know that we are gradually overcoming these types of attacks, because the tempo and scale of damage compared to what used to be when it first started has reduced,” said Plang. “There were a couple of other attempts before this one, but they were neutralized,” he said. “They no longer have an easy ride as they used to,” he said calling for increased vigilance.
“We are hopeful that the military have increased their attention and are improving security in that place. We only need to be more vigilant because when these bad elements are being checked from one axis, [area] they have a way of looking for soft targets,” he said.
Masara Kim is an award-winning conflict reporter based in Jos and is the senior editor of TruthNigeria.