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Farmers-herdsmen crisis: Nigerian govt has done little to prevent rising killings, according to Amnesty report

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THE persisting deadly clashes between farmers and herdsmen across Nigeria are exacerbated by the failure of government officials and agencies to respond swiftly and adequately to complaints, investigate occurrences and bring the offenders to book.

This is the conclusion of Amnesty International (AI), a non-governmental organization focused on addressing human rights violations, in its report released on Monday and titled “Harvest of Death: Three Years of Bloody Clashes Between Farmers and Herders in Nigeria”.

At the launch of the report in Abuja, the London-based NGO, revealed that at least 3,641 deaths had been recorded and independently verified to be direct result of the crisis in the past three years, adding that thousands of people had been displaced and had suffered different levels of injury.

According to the 70-page report which is based on reports and studies from January 2016, 57 per cent of the deaths, that is 2082, occurred in 2018 alone. There were 814 deaths recorded in 2016, and 745 recorded in 2017.

Addressing newsmen and stakeholders at the ceremony, Osai Ojigho, AI’s Country Director for Nigeria, said the organisation’s researches found that security forces were usually positioned close to the attack locations and were mostly slow to act. In other instances, they were given prior warning about impending raids but did nothing to avert them.

“The Nigerian government has displayed what can only be described as gross incompetence and has failed in its duty to protect the lives of its population and end the intensifying conflict between herders and farmers,” Ojigho said.

“The authorities’ lethargy has allowed impunity to flourish and the killings to spread to many parts of the country, inflicting greater suffering on communities who already live in constant fear of the next attack.”

She explained that the report is based on field trips to 56 villages in five states, and the analyses of 230 documents, including medical records, security reports and media reports, as well as 262 interviews with natives, eye witnesses, community leaders, medical practitioners, religious leaders and government officials.

“Our research shows that these attacks were well planned and coordinated, with the use of weapons like machine guns and AK 47 rifles, yet little has been done by the authorities in terms of prevention, arrest and prosecution, even when information about the suspected perpetrators was made available,” she said.

“The Nigerian authorities have an obligation to protect the right to life as enshrined in the constitution and other international and African regional human rights treaties. Yet, communities told Amnesty International that when they reached out to security forces on impending attacks, no action was taken.

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“On the 2nd of May, 2018, for example, 33 villagers were killed and five villages torched in the Numan Local Government Area in Adamawa State, despite security forces being informed 16 hours prior to the attack that gunmen had started driving nearby.

“Residents of Bang, Nzumosu and Gon villages confirmed to Amnesty International that soldiers came to
their villages, but only patrolled the area briefly and then left. According to research undertaken on the ground by Amnesty International, the soldiers were deployed before and even patrolled in the area on the afternoon of 2nd May and then withdrew shortly before the attackers arrived. Villagers kept calling and complaining about withdrawal. But when they called, the number they had was reportedly switched off.

“In Nasarawa state, they wrote to the Inspector-General of Police on the 10th of March 2017 to protest against incessant attacks by herders. The villagers told Amnesty International that the police asked them for N150,000 allegedly for logistics, which they paid. Just three police officers were sent, but they refused to go to the villages, complaining of bad roads.”

AI’s Country Director also lamented the failure of various authorities, including state governments, the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Police, to respond to the organisation’s enquiries after the findings were shared with them. Only the Enugu State government gave a timely response, she revealed, to say that five suspects are currently facing prosecution over the killing of 12 people in Nimbo community of Uzo Uwani Local Government Area.

Shedding more light on the report, Seun Bakare, AI Nigeria’s Programmes Manager, said it was concluded with a number of recommendations to the federal government, state governments and the international community. One of such recommendations, he pointed out, is for government to end impunity because “the only reason why these attacks have continued is because people become bolder and bolder by the day when they are not held accountable for right violations”.

“Beyond that, there is a need for government to address the immediate root cause and the remote causes of this conflict,” he continued.

“They must ensure that members of the two communities enjoy their human right, including right to land, to water. It is also important that the government protects and addresses humanitarian needs as thousands have been displaced as a result of this conflict and entire communities have been sacked.

“It is important that the government stands up to help these communities. If we fail to help them, then the cycle continues. We have also proposed to the government that there is a need to continuously equip and train police on modern policing techniques compatible with international warring standards in order to effectively deal with the current challenges.

“Also on accountability, independent commanders should be investigated and prosecuted for attacks in areas where troops under their commands were stationed and where there is evidence that they failed to stop these attacks.”

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army, in a statement made public on Monday, accused Amnesty International of working hard to destabilise the country.

“The Nigerian Army has no option than to call for the closure of Amnesty International offices in Nigeria if such recklessness continues,” Army spokesperson, Sani Usman, said.

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