[INVESTIGATION] In May, gruesome photos and videos from attacks on Nasarawa communities were widely circulated; here is what happened

IN the middle of May, visuals of mutilated, burnt bodies and mass burials were circulated on social media. These images were accompanied by different captions ranging from gruesome attacks on a community to an entire village wiped out overnight. What was constant in the narrative was that attacks happened in Nasarawa state. Many of the posts stated it was Takalafiya village.

To this end, The ICIR Marcus FATUNMOLE, accompanied by Olayinka FATUNBI, went to several communities in Nasarawa state to investigate.

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I. Takalafiya.

The sounds of a few remaining animals abandoned by fleeing residents of Takalafiya showed that the tragedy that befell the community was still fresh when The ICIR reporters visited the village on Tuesday, May 23.

Sighting the reporters, goats bleated, pigs grunted, and ducks quacked in the hope of getting something to eat. The animals looked hungry. In a community once full of life and activities. Only the animals’ sounds interrupted the silence in the area.

A duck in a cage in Takalafiya after the crisis that befell the community in May.<br />Photo credit: The ICIR
A duck in a cage in Takalafiya after the crisis that befell the community in May.
Photo credit: The ICIR

Their owners were victims of an attack launched by suspected herders on the community on Thursday, May 11, in which 40 people reportedly died.

Others who survived the carnage fled and have yet to return.

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Apart from the few animals, all that remain in the village are debris from burnt homes and a few buildings spared by the assailants.


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Among the casualties of the early morning attack were five children and three adults burnt alive in their homes, and others slaughtered while fleeing the crisis, said many survivors who spoke with The ICIR outside the community.

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The survivors, mainly farmers, fled to neighbouring communities after having their relations killed and their means of livelihood severed by the tragedy. They now worry about where and how to restart their lives.

One of the houses burnt in Takalafiya.<br />Photo credit: The ICIR
One of the houses burnt in Takalafiya.
Photo credit: The ICIR

However, the attack was a mystery to them. They wondered why the attackers pounced on them, killed their kinsmen, set their homes and relations ablaze, looted their homes and rustled their animals. They claimed they had no issue with anyone or group and never experienced any assault on their community.

Since the tragedy, they have lived with relations who they said had supported them with food, clothing and other necessities. But they fear such support might not last.

Takalafiya is roughly 50 kilometres from Gitata, a major town in Karu LGA. It takes a motorbike about one hour from Gitata to reach the community. Gitata is about 33.6 kilometres from Keffi and 153 kilometres from Kachia, Kaduna State.

Mountains surround the environs, and there are small rocks. The sand is mainly loamy, making crop farming a good business in the area. There are also a few rivers supporting crop and livestock farming. 

A wide range of land previously used for farming lay fallow, overgrown with weeds. An indication that people have not been farming in the area since the attack occurred. 

Another burnt home in Takalafiya.
Photo credit: The ICIR

Though the community lacks infrastructure like tarred roads, power, water and school, the residents had lived there for decades. The ICIR crew saw some herders, mostly Fulanis and cattle grazing in the bush and on the road. They have some huts on the path leading to Takalafiya, but the indigenous people had fled.

We lost everything – Residents

One of the survivors, Isa Abu Awudi, said, “We had lived in peace in Takalafiya. One morning, they just came to attack us. We could not do anything. They killed many of our people, and others ran away. The assailants burnt our houses and took everything, including food and motorbikes. They were all burnt. I’m yet to find my family members.”

Atiku Sardauna, one of the bereaved at Takalafiya
Atiku Sardauna, one of the bereaved at Takalafiya

Another survivor, Atiku Sarduana, who spoke to The ICIR about the onslaught outside the community, said he lost 11 relations to the carnage. 

“One day, many of us were sitting around at the market square at noon and saw the assailants storm our village. They started attacking and killing us. They killed my father, brothers and other relations. We had never faced any problem like this before,” he said.

“They took away our belongings and burnt our houses. We have since not got food to eat and could not work on our farms. We’ve been roaming the streets, seeking means to survive. 

Isa Abu Awudi, one of the bereaved at Takalafiya
Isa Abu Awudi, one of the bereaved at Takalafiya

Awudi corroborated what Sardauna said: “We had lived in peace in Takalafiya. One morning, they just came to attack us. We could not do anything. They killed many of our people, and others ran away. The assailants burnt our houses and took everything, including food and motorbikes. They were all burnt. I’m yet to find my family members.”

Why was Takalafiya attacked?

II. Kwaja.

Attack on Takalafiya, ripple effect of crisis in another community, findings suggests

Two arguments surfaced for the attack on Takalafiya.

First, the community allegedly harboured fleeing residents of  Kwaja, a neighbouring village where a Fulani herder was purportedly attacked.

The herder, Jibo Alhaji Ali, 18, was attacked by unidentified persons while on his way to Kwaja village.

He later died at a private clinic in Gitata, a major town in Karu LGA.

“There’s a crisis between the Takalafiya people and the Fulanis because Takalafiya community accommodated the people of Kwaja where their son was attacked. That’s why that thing happened,” a source said.

The source, who pleaded anonymity, said upon realising that Kwaja people took shelter in Takalafiya, after fleeing their homes over fear of possible attack, the attackers swooped on the community, killed scores of its residents and set its houses on fire.

A statement the police in the state sent to The ICIR confirms the attack on the herder and his death.

The ICIR reports that none of the people interviewed in Takalafiya told this organisation that the community harboured anyone having issues with herders. They claimed they never had any problem with anyone, and peace had reigned in their environs.

III. Tattara-Mada.

Then comes the second account. In late March, a young man visited his mother in the Tattara-Mada community in Kokona LGA. He wasn’t living with his mother, who hailed from the village, but with his siblings in Keffi, a major town in the state.

He went with his brother to the farm, hoping to return home early. The two men got to the farm and met some herders grazing their cattle, allegedly on their sugarcane farm.  After exchanging heated argument with each other, the visiting young man and one of the herders engaged in a fight. The young man hit the herder’s head with a hoe; The ICIR gathered.

Unknown to him, that fight would end up making him a killer.

One of the houses burnt at Tattara Mada.
Photo credit: The ICIR

The Fulani herder fell and was rushed to a nearby hospital. He died five days later.

Several residents interviewed by The ICIR said the Fulani community in the village demanded that the community produce the killer who fled the community after the fight to enable them to hand him over to the police. 

The community could not produce him to the Fulanis for two weeks.

When all entreaties by the Fulanis failed, they reported the matter to the leader of Garaku town, who oversees the area. The monarch allegedly threatened to invite the police to arrest the young man’s mum and other relations if he remained at large. The threat, they said, forced his family to produce him and handed him to the police.  By then, it was too late, as the embers of the crisis were already glowing faster than imagined.

An engine destroyed by inferno at Tattara Mada community.
Photo: The ICIR

Herders allegedly killed a villager in retaliation

Another young man from the village did not return from the farm days after the young man was handed over to the police. The community launched a search party for him. He was dead when they found him, far away from his farm.   

Some youth in the community headed to the Fulani’s compounds on the village’s outskirts and accused them of the killing as retaliation for their son’s death.   

The Fulani’s allegedly brought out guns and shot one of the villagers dead. Others fled and left the community in fear.

Most residents fled the community, including its monarch, Augustine Silas, after receiving information that attackers were on their way to the village. This paved the way for arsonists to burn the houses and kill residents they met.

“The arsonists and killers mowed down everything they saw. They killed as many people as they could see. They burnt the king’s house and his car too. It was a terrible incident we had never seen in Tattara-Mada. The indigenes and Fulanis had lived together peacefully in this community for decades,” said an elder in the community, Haruna Danladi. 

Haruna Danladi, a resident of Tattara Mada

He added, “Tattara-Mada is a peaceful place where people live peacefully. I’m more than 60 years. This is the first time we are seeing this thing. People ran to Garaku. The following day, Fulani fully came here, very many, though I didn’t see them. I ran away for my dear life. They burnt all the houses you see here.”

The ICIR crew saw a building belonging to a church in the village completely burnt down.

Some indigenes who narrated the incident to The ICIR include the community leader, Augustine Silas; an elder in the community, Haruna Danladi; Youth Secretary, Isaac Danlami; and a youth, Amos Silas. Their narrations were the same.

They alleged that herders had killed other persons before the fatal attack, plus the man who died on the farm, and the other killed when the village youth protested in the Fulani community.

Augustine, the community leader, said his people had coexisted peacefully with the people of other tribes for a long time. 

“We had been living very peacefully with the Fulanis. A borehole was supposed to be dug in my community, but I took it to them just to continue to build on the peace we’d been enjoying. Some of them stay on our land free. They didn’t buy the land. We had a cordial relationship” he explained. 

Monarch of Tattara-Mada, Augustine Silas
Monarch of Tattara-Mada, Augustine Silas

“My community lost over 15 people. The ones we took to the mortuary were 12. Those were different from the ones we buried before the attack.”

According to him, the state government’s only intervention in the disaster was mattresses it brought with some food, once. The government set up a committee on the crisis, through which he said the government gave N1.5 million for the burial of the casualties.

“Since the deputy governor came, we’ve never heard anything from the government. The local government chairman did not support us in any manner,” alleged the community leader.

He claimed that Fulanis in his community packed out silently before the attack. He also said the Fulani leader denied knowledge of the attack. 

Car and house of Tattara Mada’s monarch, Augustine Silas, burnt in the crisis. Photo credit: The ICIR

“The head of the Fulani denied. He said his people didn’t know anything about the mayhem. He told me that if they had wanted revenge for their son’s death, they would have done it since. We didn’t know it was a game plan, allowing me to deceive my people that they should not run away when they heard of the planned attack,” he stated.

He told The ICIR of his personal experience of the crisis, “As you see me, I don’t have anything. Even the clothes that you see there, it’s people that dashed me.” The ICIR crew saw his home and car in the village completely burnt down.

He expressed fear that his people would face starvation in the coming year because they could not farm because of the crisis.

Meanwhile, he said his people would not revenge because they already signed a peace accord with the Fulanis. 

“Peace is going to return to our land. Our people don’t take revenge in crisis, and we don’t look for trouble. We only believe that whatever comes our way, God allows it. We’re not troublesome people. Everybody knows us. There is nothing like revenge on this issue.”

To confirm his pledge, he invited the Fulani head to his house in Garaku shortly after speaking with The ICIR. The Fulani leader, Daga Waziri, appeared within minutes.

Smiling at each other, the two leaders said they had been friends for years and would sustain their friendship and ensure peace return to their community.

Waziri refuted claims that his people were responsible for the attack.

His words, “I was born and raised here, and till now, I am still here. I have spent over 40 years here. We’ve never had issues with the people of Tattara-Mada. We’ve always been living peacefully. We do things together. I would say this is the devil’s work because nothing would make us quarrel with the people of Tattara”.

Fulani leader in Tattara Mada, Daga Waziri

“When it happened, everyone took to their heels; we also ran and left our houses. They left their houses too. To be honest, we are not happy with this. Everyone has been asked to return to their rightful place and live just as we always did. That was why I returned even after I ran.

“Individuals have been returning in bits. As we’re all returning, I want us to be patient with ourselves and co-exist like we used to. This has passed. That’s all I know. Let’s all come back, live peacefully, and join heads together. If we do that, nothing of this sort would ever happen again.”

Police deployed officers on a ‘permanent’ mission to community

At least six police officers have ‘permanently’ been deployed to Tattara-Mada by the state Police command.

The officers have a patrol van with them in the community. They live at the community’s primary health care centre, abandoned over the crisis.

Getting food and water is a major challenge for the officers because they must get to Garaku before getting them.

The ICIR interviewed Tattara Mada’s monarch, Augustine Silas and the Fulani leader in his community, Daga Waziri, at the former’s house as they promised to rebuild peace

It takes a motorcycle about 40 minutes to ride from Garaku to Tattara, and it will take a vehicle more time because of the condition of the road.

IV. Angwa Barau, Maigini.

Crisis spread to Angwa Barau, Maigini village

Several villages in the Karu and Kokona LGAs were affected by the crisis. Some residents abandoned their communities because of fear of possible attack. Others left after arsonists attacked their villages.

Most residents who spoke said the same people carried out the attacks across the settlements. They believe it was a coordinated onslaught.

Among the communities is Angwa Barau (a neighbouring village to Tattara-mada), where 11 people were said to have died

 The ICIR crew saw charred remains of homes. The crew met only three indigenes in the community out of about 500 they said lived there. 

Maryama Yarou, an indigene of the community, said eleven people died. He’s a teacher in the village’s dilapidated and only public primary school.

Maryama Yarau, resident of Maigini Village

According to him, the attackers came in the afternoon, killing residents and burning houses.

Yarou, 56, and father of six is the assistant village head. 

After the incident, he rented a room for his children in Garaku, hoping they would return if things improved.

“We’d been living peacefully with the Fulanis here. When the crisis started, we ran out of the village. My people cannot come here for now because of fear. If you look at the community, the place is just empty. Our fathers lived here. We were brought up here.”

Yarou still fears that the attackers could return. “We still live in fear till now. We are not comfortable as we used to be. We don’t know whether they can come back again.”

His community was attacked around 3 p.m., the same day Tattara-Mada was burnt. 

“The attackers – all men and over 300 – trekked into the community, set it on fire and started pouncing on residents and killing them. They also took away the people’s belongings,” Yarou stated.

Herders overrun Barau community with cattle after the attack. Photo: The ICIR

Yarou suspected herders as the perpetrators. He said the government in the state took no action since the incident occurred.

Another community affected by the violence is Maigini village, also a neighbouring village to Tattara-mada. Residents have deserted the settlement. The ICIR saw herders and an old man exchanging words after the herder’s cattle grazed within the community.

The village leader’s son, Sunday Audu, said of the crisis, “One day, we just saw the Fulani people come into our village and they started shooting guns. Everybody ran away. They took away our property and packed everything. They killed two of our people. Even at night, we returned to sleep; they still returned and chased us away. 

Sunday Audu, son of Maigini chief

“We are more than 100 in the village, but everybody ran away. We are no more up to ten people in the community.”

Police say 14 people died in Takalafiya, Kwaja, silent on killings, arson in Tattara-Mada, others 

Despite media reports and residents’ claim that about 40 people died in the attack on Takalafiya, the police in the state said, the casualties were 14. The force kept mute on whether its officers arrested anyone concerning the attacks.

The ICIR contacted the Police spokesperson in the state, Ramhan Nansel, a deputy superintendent of police. He declined speaking on the attacks. He forwarded a statement he mailed to journalists shortly after the attacks on Takalafiya and Kwaja.

Fulani settlement in Maigini village. The ICIR

Part of the statement reads, “On 11/5/2023 at about 2200hrs, information was received that one Jibo Alhaji Ali, 18yrs and Fulani by tribe was attacked by unidentified persons while on his way to Kwaja village, Gitata.

“Upon receipt of the information, Police operatives attached to Gitata Division raced to the scene and rushed the victim with a machete cut on his head to Na-Allah private hospital, Gitata, where he died while receiving treatment. 

“Sequel to the above, information was received that Tarkalafia and Kwaja village were attacked. Reacting to the above, the Commissioner of Police, CP Maiyaki Baba, deployed police operatives comprising mobile police personnel, a counter-terrorism unit, and the military to the area where fourteen corpses were recovered and taken to the hospital and subsequently buried.”

Nansel refused to respond to questions on attacks on Tattara-Mada and its neighbouring villages.

One of the farms around the houses in Maigini village. Photo: The ICIR

The Special Adviser to the Nasarawa State Governor on Security, Timothy Maikasuwa, declined to speak on the matter.

He referred The ICIR reporter who spoke with him on the phone to the Secretary to the State Government or the Governor, whom he said could only talk about the issue. 

The Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Ibrahim Addra, directed The ICIR reporter to the Police when asked about how the state government handled the crisis, supported the victims and what it was doing to avert a recurrence. He said, “Why are you not speaking with the Commissioner of Police?”

When confronted that the government is responsible for protecting its people from such attacks, he said, “You are right, but I’m not in a position to speak on the matter.”

The local government chairman of Kokona and Karu also refused to comment on the killings.

James Thomas, Karu LGA chairman, in response to a text and Whatsapp message said he was in Lafia, the state capital.

He also did not respond to the request to meet him in Lafia for an interview which was sent to him as text and Whatsapp messages.




     

     

    Some of the hungry animals in Takalafiya.
    Photo: The ICIR

    Similarly, the Kokona LGA chairman, Auwal Adamu, declined to react to the killings. The ICIR reporter called his telephone number and sent him text and Whatsapp messages. He did not respond.

    ***

    The leaders of Tattara-Mada community in Kokona Local Government Area (LGA) of Nasarawa State, Augustine Silas, and the head of the Fulani community in his village, Daga Waziri, are wondering how a minor disagreement between their subjects on a farm metamorphosed into bloodletting, arson and looting in the village, allegedly spilled over to other communities and claimed scores of lives in neighbouring settlements – Angwa Barau and Maigini – and then to Takalafiya and Gwanja villages, in Gitata District, Karu LGA in the state.

    In August 2021, The ICIR reported how the farmers-herders crisis fueled insecurity in Plateau State. In another report, two months later, The ICIR also reported how herders invaded a community in the state in a reprisal attack, despite military presence.

    Marcus bears the light, and he beams it everywhere. He's a good governance and decent society advocate. He's The ICIR Reporter of the Year 2022 and has been the organisation's News Editor since September 2022. Contact him via email @ [email protected].

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