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Murder and Land-grabbing Spiral in Taraba State

Exclusive TruthNigeria Investigation

Community Leaders Accuse Authorities of Collaboration with Terrorists

By Mike Odeh James

[Kaduna] The killing of more than 20 farmers in Southern Taraba State 13 days ago portends a coming wave of attacks by mercenary-terrorists speaking the Fulfulde language, Taraba residents have told Truth Nigeria.

The hired killers – labeled by media as bandits or herders — are coming from as far away as Kebbi, Zamfara, and Nasarawa states in Nigeria, and from Niger Republic, Chad, and Cameroon in order to subjugate the longtime residents of the lands. But the so-called “bandits” steal virtually nothing, whereas they burn houses and kill as many local residents as they can, witnesses have told TruthNigeria. They appear in communities suddenly and with no cattle herds under their supervision.  Virtually all the criminals appear to be of the Fulani ethnicity, who are a minority tribe in Taraba, but a major tribe in Nigeria generally, claiming more than 10 million members. TruthNigeria is the first news platform to identify the ethnic identity of the Taraba ethnic cleansers.

Complicity of Authorities Alleged

Local leaders are accusing security forces with complicity in the attacks.

“On November 23, the Military stormed Yangtu  and disarmed all the residents, taking away all the Dane guns [homemade pipe guns] and cutlasses, and the next day, the terrorists struck,”  said the President of Southern Taraba Youth For Peace, Ambassador Rikwense Rikmuri.

“There is absolutely no trust in the police or the military,” Rikmuri said .

However, Mr. Rikmuri praised Governor Kefas Agbu for the steps he took to diffuse the situation.

The Governor visited the scenes of attacks and tried to calm fray nerves, Rikmuri said.

Conquering Attacks Began Two Years Ago

Since early 2021, more than 30 villages spanning the counties of Takum, the Yangtu Special Development Area [a state-defined area similar to a county], and Ussa counties have lost many of their inhabitants due to attacks by these conquering mercenaries who have been passed off by authorities as herdsmen and economic migrants, according to locals.

Police in Taraba acknowledged the attack on Yangtu Special Development Area but undercounted the death toll, saying 10 persons only were killed. Locals interviewed by TruthNigeria insist the deaths on Nov 24 are 20.

Mr. Francis Bala of Kpambo village lost five of his brothers to the Fulani terrorists while on their farms. The Fulanis have completely surrounded their community and deprived them of their livelihoods—farming, Bala told TruthNigeria in an exclusive chat.

“On the 24th of November, we all went to the farm to harvest our crops; however, I had to go back to our village to attend to our sick father.

Before I reached my destination, I started hearing the boom of guns and explosions left, right, and from afar.

I took cover in our village till the commotion died down, and when it did, I went to the bush where our farms are located, but what I saw were the corpses of my five brothers,” Bala said.

“The Fulanis killed five of my brothers, and they destroyed our farms. Many people lost their beloved ones too.

Samson Emmanuel, a community leader in Ruwah village, said that five predominantly Christian villages —  Tukwog, Kpambo Yashe, Rubur Ribasi, Nyicwu, and Ruwah – were burned down by the Fulanis, characterizing the attacks as religious and ethnic cleansing.

“It was a massacre, and not a fight,” Emmanuel said. “The terrorists rode down the hills on motor bikes shooting into the surrounding farmlands and killing anyone they saw,” Emmanuel told Truth Nigeria.

Since the former President, Muhammadu Buhari, came to power in 2015, Fulanis who were never indigenous to Takum, Yangtu, and Ussa started coming around in large numbers, and with their coming  came violence, according to Mr. James Kunatu, the Chairman of Takum Youth Development Association, in an exclusive chat with TruthNigeria.

“With the coming of the Buhari administration, we started noticing the influx of foreigners who spoke Fulfulde (the Fulani dialect),” said Kunatu.

“They came in large numbers, occupied our forests, and started destroying our farmlands. When we complain, they become violent, killing or maiming the farm owners. When we report them to the police, they are arrested briefly and then released without charges,” said Kunatu, adding: “This situation further emboldened them, and they now harvest our crops directly.”

Kunatu further explained that since 2017, the communities in Southern Taraba have lost more than 400 original inhabitants or indigenous owners of the land.

“Similarly, our land has been grabbed from us,” he added.

Habila Moses, a Chamba by tribe and a resident of Bete in Takum County, said that the Fulanis with superior firepower have driven other tribes, such as the Kutebs, Chambas, and Tivs, away into camps for internally displaced persons (IDP).

“They are heavily armed, not only armed, but they are so many when they come to attack. Fearing for our lives, many of the indigenous landowners have relocated to other areas, leaving the Fulanis in control,” Moses said in a chat.

Southern Taraba Under Siege

 Above: Map of Taraba State. The conflict zone referenced in this story is in the southwestern border of the State near the border with Cameroon. 

“About ten years ago, the Fulanis here were not so many; however, since 2015, we noticed that they suddenly outnumbered us,” according to Nathaniel Matthew, a community leader in Takum.

Matthew went on to narrate how communities in Southern Taraba have been overwhelmed by the huge number of Fulanis that arrived from neighboring Nasarawa State, and from distant states such as  Kebbi and Zamfara, and from nations hundreds of miles away,  the Niger Republic, and Cameroun.

“I can tell you that I lived in this area for a very long time—over 30 years. Back then, we didn’t see the number of Fulanis we are seeing today.

“One day, I asked one of the Fulani women whom I met in my neighborhood where she came from, and she said, Nasarawa Toto. Others will tell you that they are from Kebbi, Zamfara, or Sokoto States,” Matthew said.

All those who spoke to Truth Nigeria said that the Fulanis have taken over all the forests in Southern Taraba.

A common complaint of farmers is that Fulani gunmen have either stopped farmers from going to farms or killed those bold enough to go to the farm, a threat mentioned by farmers in similar straits in Kaduna, Plateau and Benue states.

Kyle Abts, the executive director of the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON), told TruthNigeria that Christians in Taraba have been under attack by Fulani terrorists for more than 25 years. Despite the numerous attempts at peace, the Fulanis have refused to embrace peace agreements.

Abts, a 14-year missionary to Nigeria who resides in Milwaukee today, said the security agencies are complicit in the ongoing attacks on the original inhabitants of Taraba.

“The Army’s 93rd Battalion has a base in Takum, less than 25 km from Lissam town and the Ussa LGA. They continue to ignore threats and attacks, or worse, they are complicit. Many people believe that what is happening to Christians in Taraba constitutes ethnic cleansing or genocide,” Abts said, however, the international community seems unwilling to call it that.

“ICON believes it needs to mobilize the United States and the international community to hold the Nigerian government accountable for these atrocities, whatever you label them. Ukraine v. Russia, and now Israel v. Hamas, are awful and deserve immediate attention, but not at the expense of atrocities that are much worse and have been occurring for longer!

Abts will join other Nigeria subject experts at a consciousness-raising rally in Hyattsville, Maryland on Saturday, Dec. 9, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Faith Clinic Church International, 8470 B, Ardwick Ardmore Rd. 20785.

Mike Odeh James is a veteran conflict reporter who covers terrorism in the Middle Belt for TruthNigeria from Kaduna.

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