The resurgence of brutal killings in the North Central geo-political zone, which increased since May 2023, claiming over 1200 lives within three months, has become a major threat to the N28 trillion Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the six states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) puts the GDP of the six states in 2021 as N4.58 trillion (Niger); N4.27 trillion (Benue); N3.69 trillion Kogi); N1.86 trillion (Nasarawa); N1.50 trillion (Plateau) and N1.38 trillion (Kwara).
The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has a GDP of N10.6 trillion according to figures released by the NBS for 2017 year making the GDP of the six states and the FCT amount to N28 trillion.
The increase in banditry, kidnapping, and insurgency in these states has jeopardized activities in agriculture, tourism, and hospitality industry, among others in the North Central in the last few weeks.
Findings from the region since May 2023, according to The Guardian investigations showed that no fewer than 1,200 deaths were recorded from banditry, kidnapping, herders-farmers crisis and the unknown gunmen syndrome within the period.
Over 45 million Nigerians in the zone have suffered greatly as more people escape to neighbouring regions in search of peace.
Latest data from the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) equally showed a disturbing trend of reported killings within the region.
The NST catalogs and maps political violence based on a weekly survey of Nigerian and international press relying on press reports of violence. Their report however cited the dearth of accurate reporting across certain regions, death tolls are imprecise, and accounts of incidents vary.
Senator Sani Musa disclosed that about 90 villagers in Paikoro, Shiroro and Rafi local governments within his constituency in Niger state were killed in July, 2023 alone.
In Nasarawa State, killings from May, 2023 are not less than 250. The situation got worse when 38 residents of Takalafia and Gwanja communities in the Karu Local Government were reportedly killed by herdsmen.
In that attack, the Pastor-in-charge of the Evangelical Church Winning All in the area, Rev. Daniel Danbeki, and 37 others were gruesomely murdered.
The Deputy Governor of the state, Emmanuel Akabe, led a government delegation to a mass burial the following day.
The FCT is also having its own share of renewed attacks by bandits. The Kuje Area Council, which houses the Kuje maximum Prisons, is among the flashpoints where Kidnappers operate almost on a weekly basis.
In May, no fewer than 15 persons were kidnapped by gunmen at the 1, 000 Housing Estate along the Pegi community in Kuje Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory FCT, Abuja .
The Kubwa extension area around one of the Abuja railway stations is another point.
The dangerous dimension of kidnapping in the nation’s capital attracted the attention of some civil society organizations, which decried the seeming inactivity of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and other security agencies.
National Coordinator of the Human Rights Writers Association, Emmanuel Onwubiko, said it is condemnable that the police have failed to secure 36 states of the Federation and now the FCT, which is the seat of power.
HURIWA noted that despite the presence of the Force Headquarters in Abuja and the headquarters of the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Air Force, the Nigerian Navy, and other security and paramilitary agencies, bandits and kidnappers continue to have a field day in Abuja, storm residents’ houses in estates, and kidnap them for ransom, collecting millions of naira as ransom.
“Similarly, eight other hostages were kidnapped from Lapai and Tungan Mallam villages of neighbouring Niger State, also in April, one of the victims was killed by bandits.
“Gunmen in May kidnapped a 52-year-old Turkish national, Erdogan Guler, and one other person in the Kubwa area of Abuja.
HURIWA added: “The glaring truth is that FCT security has been breached many times with perplexing statistics of kidnapped victims and those killed in the last one year. Kidnappings happening this frequently in the FCT is a slap on the face of the police.
From Benue State, the report is that the rise in food inflation has been largely due to recent killings by herdsmen in Benue and Kaduna which are key crop-producing states, worsening the plight of farmers who are already faced with a myriad of crises, threatening the country’s food production.
Herdsmen’s attack on Agatu, Apa, Kwande, Guma, and Otukpo Local Government Areas of Benue and Zangon Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna, had sacked farmers, as well as destroyed properties and farmlands.
Experts say the situation will worsen the country’s food crisis and derail its plan to broaden the economy through agriculture.
Aondongu Saaku, chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Benue State chapter, said several agrarian communities have been displaced in Benue, with farming activities under threat in a state that produces over 10 per cent of the food consumed in the country.
“This is the time farmers are planting in the state, and many have stayed away from their farmlands because of the numerous killings,” Saaku said. “This will create a shortfall in food production in the state, and prices will surge further.”
“We have over 2,000 farmers from Benue in IDPs’ camps now owing to the killings. The situation is pathetic, and the Federal Government is not doing anything about it,” he added.
Data from NBS show that the country spent N1.9 trillion in 2022 importing food, while growth in the sector slowed to 1.88 per cent, its lowest rate in the last decade.
“Lots of farmers have abandoned their farmlands for fear of being kidnapped,” said Ibrahim Kabiru, national president of AFAN. “Farmers should be able to carry out their farming activities without any form of fear and harvest without having to pay bandits. These are crucial in preventing a food crisis.”
The killing of farmers in Benue, the state touted as the food basket of the nation, has become a regular feature to the extent that nobody raises eyebrows anymore.
Between April and August alone, over 300 lives have been lost in various parts of the state. And this figure represents only the ones made public. Otukpo local government council, for instance, lost 50 persons to herdsmen attacks in the month of April. On April 4, 2023, 4 persons were killed. The next day, April 5th, the assailants attacked with more fury and this time butchered 46 to death.
But the case of the Guma local council where the herders have set up a permanent camp is even worse. On April 7 this year, 36 farmers were killed in a night attack at Ngban, a village in Guma local government council. Barely a week later, another 8 were killed at Uikpiam and 8 at Lordye, both villages are in the same local council.
On June 19, 2023, about 16 men who log wood were killed with two policemen and two residents waylaid and killed at Yelwata four days later. Yelwata is also in Guma local government council.
In Gwer West local government, six people were killed at Goh village on April 5, 2023. Nine persons were mauled down on May 13 and six more persons were killed at the Uchen community along the Naka-Makurdi road, four at Adawa on May 18 all in the same Gwer West.
Also, 27 persons were killed in a coordinated attack on Edikwu, Odugbo and Opaha villages in Apa local government council in April. 12 people on April 21 at Jato Aka, Kwande local government council and seven on May 5, 2023 at Agatu local government.
At Jootar, Ukum local government council, three people, including a lecturer at the Taraba State University were killed on June 19 this year. On July 7, over 30 persons were killed at Akpuuna in the same Ukum local government area.
In Logo local government area, 15 persons were killed on May 13, 2023. A community leader Chief Joseph Anawa told The Guardian that between June and August this year, a cursory count revealed no less than 35 persons killed at various times and places within the local government. He listed seven persons at Tswarev, 15 at Tombo, nine at Turan and four persons at Mbagber council wards.
In some local government areas, the whole council wards have been sacked and permanently occupied by herdsmen.
In Yooyo ward of Katsina Ala local government, the entire ward has been sacked for several years now. Nobody dares go to the farm. All schools within the ward have remained shut and kids thrown out of school.
In Logo local government area, Anawa said that more than two-third of the Ukemberagya/Tswarev council ward which lies between the Benue – Taraba border is displaced and occupied by herdsmen.
According to Anawa, the worst-hit council ward is Mbagber (former governor Gabriel Suswam’s village) which has been entirely sacked.
But there is a security measure, Operation Whirl Stroke, put in place by the Buhari administration manned by military personnel to safeguard life and property in the state. But Chief Anawa said that “effort by the government is grossly inadequate.”
In the past, Benue played a significant role in providing the food needs of the country. That is no longer the case. The targeted victims are the farmers. Thousands of them are displaced and idling away at the Internally Displaced Persons camps (IDPs) scattered across the state.
In Plateau State, many people have been gruesomely murdered in Mangu, Barkin Ladi and Riyom councils. In April 2023, no fewer than 30 people lost their lives to gunmen’s attacks in villages of Mangu council including Murich, Mai and Tumbi where both the natives and the Fulani live together.
The fact that the killings wore religious garb make it complicated for only the security agencies to handle.
No fewer than 600 people have been killed since May 2023 in the Plateau, a situation that is making the new government of Barrister Caleb Mutfwang of the People Democratic Party (PDP) redundant as all he could say after any attack was to urge the security operatives to fish out the perpetrators to face the full wrath of the law.
On August 10, 2023, suspected Fulani herdsmen struck at Barkin Ladi council where no fewer than 21 persons were hacked to death; no fewer than 400 people have lost their lives from May till date. Revenge and reprisal are the words they know whenever an opportunity avails itself.
The Director of Civil Liberty Organisation (CLO) North Central, Comrade Steve Aluko – Daniel, said, “Government is too soft on criminals, especially the civilian government. The government has to bear its pangs and be more pragmatic. It appears it has sacred cows. To the government, some people should not be touched, no matter what and that is why the crisis persists.
“If something drastic is not done, it will continue to manifest. Government based on security reports, should not spare anybody involved in crises, no matter whose ox is gored”, he asserted.
Former Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Jos, Prof. Dakas C. J. Dakas and a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the same University, Prof. Chris Kwaja, recommended community policing as a veritable security option in a complex and fragile community should be pursued at all levels.
He further agreed that a more robust synergy and confidence building be encouraged among established or statutory outfits like the Armed Forces, Police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and other agencies within the ambit of the Law.
Also, critical stakeholders in the state canvassed strengthening of “Operation Rainbow”, security in the state, so that the Neighbourhood Watch component can be a visible channel for intelligence gathering and response;
However, the spokesman of Operation Safe Haven (OPSH), Major Adam Umar, said that people should know that the Plateau terrain is a difficult one. He said, besides, the personnel are not familiar with the environment, adding that at times, the personnel go astray because of non-familiarity with the environment.