No fewer than 36 persons were killed in two separate attacks in Nasarawa and Zamfara states between Wednesday and yesterday.
While 20 herdsmen attending a funeral rite were allegedly killed by soldiers in Keana local government area of Nasarawa state, 16 citizens were hacked down by yet-to-be identified gunmen in Zamfara state.
The killing of the herdsmen in Nasarawa is feared to be a major threat to the recent truce reached between Fulani herdsmen and Tiv farmers in Benue state through the mediation of police authorities.
Recounting what happened in Keana, Ardo Sodangi Saudi, the Fulani community leader, in whose house some of the herdsmen were allegedly killed by the soldiers, told newsmen in Lafia, the Nasarawa state capital yesterday that over 50 herdsmen were slain by the rampaging soldiers.
But most sources told our correspondent in Lafia yesterday that at least 20 herdsmen were confirmed killed in the alleged attacks by the soldiers.
Our correspondent saw only 9 dead bodies of the slain Fulani at the cemetery of the Dalhatu Arab Specialist Hospital in Lafia, but Ardo Saudi alleged that the soldiers had denied relations access to the affected areas to enable them retrieve the remaining bodies of their kinsmen he claimed were killed by the soldiers.
Our correspondent gathered that soldiers drafted to the state in the wake of the military intervention by the federal government in the North-central zone, over the incessant crises involving Fulani herdsmen and Tiv farmers, Wednesday morning, stormed Fulani settlements in Keana local government area, shooting and killing indiscriminately.
Musa Adamu, a resident of the area, told our correspondent that soldiers conveyed in six Hilux vans and two armoured tanks, arrived Keana at about 10.30pm Tuesday but that early Wednesday, the army stormed a Fulani settlement located along Giza road, Gidan Ardo Sodangi, where they opened fire on sympathizers that gathered to observe the Islamic funeral rite of a relation who had died of natural causes.
Eyewitnesses said the soldiers who carried out the operation in commando style, also raided the main Keana town, storming the Local Government Secretariat road, where they allegedly killed two more herdsmen behind the Government Girls College, Keana.
Alhaji Bala Matawallen Keana, who spoke to our correspondent on phone, lamented that the soldiers went into the town without informing the local authorities and proceeded on their operations, a situation he described as unacceptable in a democracy.
“They should have at least called on the Osana of Keana to inform him of their presence in the area”, the Keana traditional title holder said.
Meanwhile, members of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) have raised alarm over an alleged threat by the soldiers to “kill every herdsman residing in either Benue or Nasarawa state”.
Haruna Garus Gololo, Secretary, MACBAN, Benue state, who spoke to our correspondent at the DASH Mortuary, Lafia, expressed fears that with the “cold blooded murder of herdsmen by soldiers drafted from Abuja”, the peace initiative earlier entered into between herdsmen and farmers may collapse.
“Now that the federal government has sent soldiers to kill us, let it be known that as Nigerians, we will not allow the matter lie low as we are taking up the matter before the international community”, he stated.
When contacted, Director of Defence Information, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, said in a text message to one of our reporters that: “No such report has been lodged from anywhere. It will be investigated to confirm if those you said carried out the attack are soldiers indeed.
“This is certainly not the purpose of the operation there. You have to be sure that the incidence is not one of the atrocities of the armed gangs. This is being investigated please”, the general said.
Meanwhile, formation commanders of the Nigerian Army have moved to the various states of their responsibility to conduct operations aimed at addressing deteriorating security situation in parts of the North-central geopolitical zone.
A statement signed by the Defence spokesmen said troops deployed in Benue state have already cleared camps of all armed gangs in three local government areas of the state.
The statement also said normalcy has been restored in Guma, Gwer West and Agatu LGAs, adding that some arrests and recoveries have been made in the process.
The statement added that the ‘Operation Restore Peace’ mission has destroyed militant camps and recovered arms in Plateau and Kaduna states.
“2 AK 47 rifles were recovered after an encounter with troops of Special Task Force and the armed gangs in their enclaves in Shimankar in Plateau state.
“In Kaduna state, militants’ camps in Ladduga, near Kachia, were destroyed while arms were equally recovered in Maigungume Hills in Niger state,” he stated.
Meanwhile, at Maitsaba village of Zurmi local government area of Zamfara state, gunmen numbering about 40, who were suspected to be on revenge mission killed 16 people while setting scores of houses on fire.
A victim of the attack who said he escaped death by the whiskers, said the gunmen laid siege to the village around 12:00noon and opened fire on everybody at sight, killing seven people.
Nine others who were on rescue mission from a neighbouring village were also killed, the source said, adding that the attack seemed to be a reprisal following the killing of a suspected notorious cattle rustler by the aggrieved inhabitants of the village some weeks ago.
It would be recalled that a video clip in circulation on handsets in the state recently had featured a gunman displaying dangerous firearms in which he boasted that any village that dared to kill one Fulani would lose 120 people in return.
When contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), DSP Lawal Abdullahi, said the police commissioner’s convoy was on its way to the village for on-the-spot inspection promising to get back “as soon as possible”.
In a related development, a police patrol team and some Naval personnel attached to a retired former Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Samuel Afolayan, engaged in a brawl at Omu-Aran, headquarters of Irepodun local government area of Kwara state.
An eyewitness who narrated the incident to newsmen said: “I was standing right here and the police patrol team accosted the Naval personnel, who had come to the market with wife of retired Vice- Admiral Samuel Afolayan. I think there was a kind of misunderstanding between them and within a few seconds the disagreement had turned into a physical combat before the intervention of the Army”.
It was gathered that it took the intervention of the military patrol team which was on a special assignment in the town to control the fracas 30 minutes after it started.
Responding to our inquiries, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in Omu-Aran, Mr. Adamu Zawah, described the incident as “unfortunate”.
He said that the situation had been brought under control and urged residents to go about their lawful activities.