NewsWest AfricaA Reporter's Diary in the Middle Belt - Day 1

Tue,18Sep2018

Posted on Wednesday, 11 July 2018 15:33

A Reporter's Diary in the Middle Belt - Day 1

By Eromo Egbejule in Jos and Barkin Ladi

A Reporter's Diary in the Middle Belt
Yesterday – Sunday 8 July – morning, I sat down as a first-timer at an unusual church service, soaking in both the Word and the despair in the air. Around and about me were displaced people who had fled death and desolation in their villages all around Plateau State, escaping to Jos, the state capital. This was a makeshift camp, home to 2,000-3,000 survivors of an ongoing crisis between pastoralists and sedentary populations in central Nigeria, the country’s agrarian base.

 

The latest episode of violence happened in Barkin Ladi, less than 50km south of Jos, in late June. According to various reports, more than 200 people were killed and 300 more were wounded as gunmen invaded communities and proceeded to murder people indiscriminately. More than 100 people met their death as they were returning from the funeral of a community leader. It was apparently retaliation for the killing of some herdsmen and their cattle at a nearby market the week before.

Killing spree
In the days after the Barkin Ladi incident, youths from these communities were reported to have gone on a killing spree of passers-by who remotely look Muslim, whether of the Fulani ethnicity or not. Also, the police – who are yet to make a proper dent on this case – are now questioning drivers of Opel Vectra taxis, the German-made saloon car that is common in these parts. This is because the car trailing the herders who were murdered was a Vectra. I saw two flagged down at a city junction while the tricycle I was in was let to go without any fuss.

Jos, a perennial flashpoint for trouble in Nigeria, is often romanticised for its lush scenery as well as the cool and temperate climate that attracts Europeans and is suitable for strawberries and apples to grow in. Some of these foreign settlers include tin miners and Christian missionaries who found refuge in the rocks, like those currently displaced.

Seeking refuge
It seems fittingly ironic that the Nigerian Institute of Mining and Geosciences campus on the edge of the city now houses displaced people embroiled in a crisis with presumably the herdsmen, also settlers. It is one of five camps across the state, each holding an average of 1,000 people, one camp official told me. If there are camps for displaced Fulani and other settlers, no one knows yet.

The dynamics of the complex herdsmen-farmer conflict have mostly been reduced to a narrative of the former alone killing the latter. However, what remains clear is that the number of indigenes who have become victims far outweigh those of the herders. There have been reprisal attacks by communities tired of waiting for government help or simply needing food and resolving to get it by any means possible. There have also been bandits with unknown sympathies, masquerading as herdsmen, raiding villages with sophisticated weapons and as some allege, military idiosyncrasies. This has prompted The Africa Report to begin this month-long diary project to delve into the many angles to the crisis through the viewpoints of the parties involved.

Who are the helpers?
The camp official mentioned above asked me to come back later in the week as many were in post-service meetings and needed to cook and wash for their children afterwards. There was no visible sign of any government presence and the first set of relief materials came from religious bodies including the state chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria, which have stepped in.

During the church service, I noticed that only a few men and boys were present as the clergyman, likely a member of the Berom ethnic group, preached in Hausa, the unofficial lingua franca of the northern region.

Missing men
On my way into Jos, a doctor friend who works at a private hospital had given me bone-chilling news. A 22-day-old baby was on their roster. The baby's mother had been killed by the same herdsmen who shot the infant in its feet. As is the case with a few other survivors, no one knows the whereabouts of its father.

Where then have all the men disappeared to? Ndi Kato, a member of the Middle Belt Forum and a politician from the neighbouring state of Kaduna offers an unsettling explanation. “[They are] dead, back home protecting the crops hoping to salvage something small for their families or in the bush trying to protect the communities and most likely about to die.”

 

 



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