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Soldiers Stand Down, Forcing  Civilian Guards To Face Terrorist Fire South of Jos

Scores of Deaths Prevented by Volunteers Dubbed as ‘Vigilantes’

By Masara Kim

One year into his Administration, President Bola Tinubu is facing criticism for failing to stop armed attacks by terrorists on civilian towns.  A former Presidential candidate in the country, Peter Obi on May 22 expressed worry over the “growing number of these heinous attacks” which he said have become “too many.”

“Again, I call on the government to rise to its responsibilities of securing the lives and property of Nigerians with corresponding actions,” said Obi, the candidate of the Labour Party in the 2023 Presidential elections that brought Tinubu to power.

Mr. Obi was reacting to a mass village raid 157 miles south of Jos (Plateau State capital) which killed scores on Monday, May 20.

The actual death toll from the attack remains unclear. Both local and western press have reported 40 casualties. But residents tell TruthNigeria as many as 60 people, including three citizen guards, were killed. Police have provided a much lower figure, claiming several terrorists were killed during the attack.

The attack in Wase county  (Local Governance Area) followed a series of bloody clashes between residents protecting their communities and kidnap-for-ransom terrorists fleeing military airstrikes in the country’s northwest, according to security experts speaking to TruthNigeria. The area is home to a multimillion-dollar mining park and a large swath of forests stretching across the terror-battered northeast and northwest regions of the country. These forests provide sufficient cover for terrorists moving between states with large caches of arms, according to military sources speaking to TruthNigeria on background.

It is dominated by the Jukun, Tarok, Hausa and Fulani ethnicities who turn to  farming to bring a major livelihood for the majority -Muslim residents.

Governor Caleb Mutfwang condemned the attack as “utterly deplorable and completely unacceptable,” in a statement on May 22.

Mutfwang acknowledged that the violence undermines ongoing efforts to protect residents, especially farmers, who are just returning to their fields for the incoming wet-season farming. 

In recent months, foreign terrorists speaking the Fulani dialect have launched multiple attacks in the area aiming to capture territory, according to a criminal intelligence and security consultant in Abuja, Yahuza Getso.

The Fulani, a predominantly Muslim tribe with more than 20 million members in West Africa, have produced some of Nigeria’s most influential elites. Yet, terrorists identifying as members, have been accused of genocidal massacres, killing six times more Christians than Boko Haram according to the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, a UK-based nonprofit. Between January 2023 and January 2024, Fulani terrorists killed more than 8,222 Christians across Nigeria, according to Intersociety, an international monitoring group in Onitsha, Anambra State.

The militant groups belong to a dreaded clan of the Fulani tribe which has its origin in Sudan, said Getso. 

“They belong to the Sullubawa dynasty,” said Getso, Managing Director of a private-security firm, Eagle Integrated Security and Logistics Company Ltd Abuja.

“They are ruthless and are known across the northern state of Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kaduna as troublemakers,” said Getso to TruthNigeria. “Everywhere they go, they either infiltrate the semi-nomadic Fulani residents to start attacking other tribes, or they will attack them and take over the place,” Getso said. “They were flushed from Taraba, Gombe, Bauchi and Adamawa where they attempted to settle, after the government pushed them out of the northwest. Some of them initially moved to Mali and Burkina Faso, but when they started causing trouble there, they were flushed out again, and now they are trying to capture new terrorists in Plateau State,” said Getso.

“It is very unfortunate that we have a lot of ungoverned spaces in Nigeria,” said the Plateau State Commissioner of Information, Ibrahim Musa Ashoms. “It is quite disheartening that people will come from somewhere else to kill people in another state and be happy,” said Ashoms to TruthNigeria.

The attacks in Wase have been overshadowed by ongoing massacres in Christian communities in central and northern Plateau State, TruthNigeria learned. More than 1,300 people have been killed this year in attacks concentrated in Mangu, Bokkos, and Barkin Ladi counties, according to Amnesty International.

Town leaders speaking to TruthNigeria have linked the attacks to two unpopular gang leaders known as Gadago and Saliyu, who target both Christian and Muslim residents, including the Fulani. However, it is not clear which group was behind the latest attacks.

TruthNigeria gathers that dozens of terrorists on motorcycles swarmed a group of villages known as “Bashar” on a bright, moonlit evening on May 20, killing more than 60 people.

At least 11 people were killed in an initial attack in the market town of Bangalala, said local leader Jibrin Sarki to TruthNigeria. The terrorists launched a second assault after being repelled by police and civilian guards, killing more than 40 people in the nearby town of Zurak and surrounding villages, said Sarki, the mayor of Zurak.

“They first came around 3 p.m. and opened fire in Bandalala where people were having transactions because it was the village’s market day,” said Sarki. “Both vigilantes and DSS [members of the Department of State Services] came and chased them away, after they killed about 11 people. But while the DSS made their way back to Bashar town, about three kilometers away, the terrorists launched another attack in Zurak just as we rounded up our evening prayers around 5 p.m.,” said Sarki.

Across Nigeria, civilian guards, known locally as “vigilantes” have emerged as the first responders during terrorist attacks. These ordinary community members, chiefly armed with homemade single-shot pipe guns, have proved effective in holding off large groups of terrorists armed with assault rifles, enabling women and children to escape.

“They drove into the town in large convoys of motorcycles – three to a bike chasing people right into their houses and shooting them,” Sarki said. “Some people even ran into the surrounding bushes, but they chased after them and killed them,” Sarki recounted. “Women, children, men both young and old were not spared,” recalled Sarki, estimating more than 40 deaths in Zurak alone.

“They burned more than 30 houses in Zurak and also entered other places in the surrounding villages like Dakai, Adua and Kampani,” he said.

“If not for the intervention of vigilantes who came from different places, the entire area could have been wiped out,” he said.

Mr. Bala Yabo, the leader of a 20-man vigilante unit in Bashar, said soldiers at a military base 2.5 miles away, failed to respond to distress calls during the 3-hour raid. Despite being outgunned and outnumbered, his team became the only hope of the 300-500 residents, he said.

“These people came with AK47 and machine guns, while most of us only had pump actions and hand-crafted guns,” Yabo told TruthNigeria. “From afar, you can hear the sound of their guns and tell we were no match for them,” Yabo said in a telephone interview. “We were only about 20 or so on 12 motorcycles but these people came on over 50 motorcycles,” said Yabo.

“Yet, the soldiers told us they were not going anywhere when we called,” Yabo said. “We only had to do what we could, because there was no way we could turn a deaf ear to the screaming voices of the residents under attack,” he said, lamenting the death of three of his members during the ensuing battle.

Both Police and military officials have not responded to queries from TruthNigeria. However, in a statement shared with The Cable, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Alfred Alabo, the spokesman for the Police in Plateau state, claimed the terrorists met an “aggressive onslaught” by a combined team of security operatives.

“Some of the bandits were killed and one arrested at the Bangalala forest in Wase which is a border between Plateau, Bauchi and Taraba States,” said Alabo, without giving further details.

Mr. Ashoms has credited vigilantes for saving hundreds of residents.

“We celebrate the bravery and gallantry of the vigilantes,” said Ashoms to TruthNigeria by telephone. “For a long time in Wase, these vigilantes have been an integral part of the fight against these monstrous individuals in that area and we want to acknowledge their sacrifices,” said Ashoms. “We’ll continue to pray for them and their families, while doing our best to encourage them,” he said, acknowledging the death of three vigilantes in the May 20th firefights.

“We feel sad that people were killed but we are happy they [terrorists] were killed as well,” he said. “If they cross into other territories to kill people, they should be crushed as well,” he stated, noting that up to seven terrorists were killed in the battle.

Masara Kim is an award-winning conflict reporter in Jos and the senior editor of TruthNigeria.

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