Mob justice grips central Nigeria

In the heart of Gboko’s main market, in Benue state, central Nigeria, stains still darken the dusty corners of the car park where seven men were burned alive in broad daylight.

Their only crime was to have “light skin and look like Fulanis”, said a police officer, referring to the herders blamed for deadly violence against farmers in recent months.

For the last week, lack of street lighting has plunged Gboko into virtual darkness.

Residents have shut themselves away at home and nervous police on patrol threaten to shoot at any vehicle defying a 6pm to 6am curfew.

Near the scene of the crime, the faces of traders give away nothing and become hostile to approaches. They weren’t there that day, and know nothing about what happened, they say.


Early on January 31, a group of young men carrying sticks, stones and machetes attacked travellers waiting at the Gboko bus station. The travellers were then set on fire, witnesses told AFP.

“They were on their way to [neighbouring] Taraba state and were about to board another vehicle when someone suddenly raised the alarm, shouting, ‘Fulanis have come to kill us’,” said the police officer. “A mob of irate youths attacked them. We came to rescue them but before we could do anything they were set ablaze.”

The old door of the local road transport union is padlocked. Its president was arrested with 15 other people on suspicion of involvement in the violence.

The gruesome story says much about the ill feeling between the local, mainly Christian, Tiv farmers and the Muslim Fulani cattle herders. Cattle are moved every year from the arid north to the fertile pastures in central Nigeria, where they are accused of ruining crops. What began as a competition for access to land has been aggravated by global warming and Nigeria’s demographic explosion.

Nigeria is home to some 180-million people — the largest population in Africa — and is expected to become the world’s third most populous country by 2050.

The herders-farmers conflict has transformed into a bloody one, with tit-for-tat attacks and communal clashes.

Amnesty International said on January 31 that 168 people had been killed in violence since the start of the year. More than 100 of them have been in Benue state.

Gboko’s bus station is normally teeming with people and goods leaving for neighbouring towns but is now virtually empty.

Minibuses from a company called Sunshine Express stand waiting for travellers who are unlikely to come.

Victoria Ate, who sells cassava, is about to shut her stall even though it has just gone midday.

“The business is not moving, everybody is afraid to come through here. It’s the first time something like that happens here so people are panicking,” she said.

People in Gboko had escaped the violence that hit a number of places in Benue in the last few weeks. But frustrations are high in the town, which is home to about 500 000 people and whose only industry providing jobs is a cement factory owned by Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote.

In the traditional capital of the Tiv people illiteracy is high and most young people grow oranges, yams and plantain to survive.

As elsewhere in the state, there is condemnation of attacks by heavily armed Fulani against farming communities, as well as the perceived apathy of the federal government, which took a month to denounce the killings.

Benue state governor Samuel Ortom, a Tiv, openly criticises how President Muhammadu Buhari, himself a northern Fulani Muslim, is handling the crisis.

Last week, Ortom called for the head of the federal police to resign. He says the eight police units and some 200 soldiers sent to reinforce troops already stationed in 
Benue are not enough to stop the violence. At nearly 35 000 square kilometres, Benue state is bigger than Belgium.

“Gboko was peaceful until now but tensions increasingly spill over from one area to another,” said one Nigerian security source.

“People are responding to the attacks perpetrated on their brothers. This is very sad but jungle law now prevails.” — AFP

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Celia Lebur
Celia Lebur works from Lagos, Nigeria. AFP reporter for Western Africa Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Togo. Tweets are my own. Celia Lebur has over 1307 followers on Twitter.

Related stories

Conflict until the cows come home

Climate change and civil war are escalating tensions between South Sudan’s herders and crop farmers, who are competing over land

To object or not to object is a human right

Amendments to the Civil Union Act are unconstitutional for religious magistrates

New Zealand orders mass cattle cull to eradicate disease

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the decision was taken to 'protect the base of the economy'

Hawks to investigate Supra’s alleged cattle gift to Zuma

​The Hawks have confirmed that an investigation into allegations that Supra Mahumapelo gifted Jacob Zuma with cattle worth R1.5-million is underway

A climate of change for cash cows

Understanding why farmers in Southern Africa are reluctant to cash in their investment is key to mitigating the effects of climate change

Marikana community patrollers face continued attacks after deadly shooting

Community patrollers in the Philippi East informal settlement in the Western Cape are "tired of begging" for police.
Advertising

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

It’s not a ‘second wave’: Covid resurges because safety measures...

A simple model shows how complacency in South Africa will cause the number of infections to go on an upward trend again

Trouble brewing for Kenya’s coffee growers

Kenyan farmers say theft of their crop is endemic – and they suspect collusion

Unisa shortlists two candidates for the vice-chancellor job

The outgoing vice-chancellor’s term has been extended to April to allow for a smooth hand-over

How US foreign policy under Donald Trump has affected Africa

Lesotho has been used as a microcosm in this article to reflect how the foreign policy has affected Africa
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday