Terrorists who brutally killed a group of cattle herders were motivated by a new policy from the Islamic State in West Africa Province to “protect farmers” in areas over which the group exerts control, HumAngle understands.
The terrorists killed 21 herders in two attacks in Kukawa, Borno North East Nigeria, on July 25, in what observers said was evidence of a fresh, violent policy direction.
It is an indication that the Islamic State affiliated terror group has entered the conflict between farmers and herders in Nigeria in a particularly bloody way, local sources told HumAngle.
The attack made headlines because of its brutality. The herders were killed with machetes, their headless bodies left on the ground.
A member of the local volunteer security force familiar with ISWAP’s activity, told HumAngle that the Fulani herders had been grazing their herds on crops belonging to farmers who have returned after years of being displaced to other areas by violence.
In the past, terrorist violence over the last decade has forced many internally displaced persons (IDPs) to flee to Maiduguri. But now sources familiar with the ISWAP-controlled territory said the massacre was carried out to “protect the farmers.”
According to initial media reports the group, riding on 17 motorcycles, arrived in the Kukawa area and launched a deadly assault, killing 15 herders. After the massacre the insurgents went towards the Doro and Kalla regions, suspected to be the location of their camp.
Later in the night, the terrorists attacked another group of Fulani herdsmen in Kukawa, resulting in the deaths of six more herders.
The horrific scenes forced the remaining herders in the area to flee, with some managing to recover only four bodies in the aftermath.
“Several bodies were left to decompose in the wilderness,” said Bukar Ajimi, a member of the local volunteer security outfit.
“They accused the herdsmen of trespassing on their territory,” said Ajimi, during a phone interview with HumAngle.
Ajimi explained that the terrorists deliberately refrained from using firearms to avoid drawing attention from the soldiers. Instead, they resorted to using machetes to behead many of their victims.
Recently, the leadership of ISWAP imposed a ban on fishing, farming, and cattle rearing in the Kukawa area, except for those who paid certain taxes and fees. This measure allowed the group to exert control over agricultural activities in the region.
“The recent killing of those herdsmen can be seen as a punishment. They [the herders] deliberately destroyed the farms that belonged to the local population. The terrorists had permitted the locals to farm under the condition that they would receive a certain percentage of the yields or some fees,” explained Ajimi.
The attack was part of a policy based on preferring people who pay their “taxes”, and punishing those who don’t, Ajimi said.
“Whenever a farmer raises concerns about the destruction of their farmlands by the herders, ISWAP terrorists respond by issuing warnings to the perpetrators, urging them to stop grazing on the people’s farms. They threaten that failure to comply will result in the terrorists eventually targeting them.
“The Fulani herders were our second source of misery around Lake Chad because they attacked our farmlands and disrupted our livelihoods while the ISWAP terrorists targeted our lives,” explained Aisha Yakubu, a middle-aged woman who recently escaped from the Doron Baga enclaves in Kukawa local government.
In the past, ISWAP has extracted levies from herders too. It is unknown if the group of herders had paid any levy, but as the outcome was so brutal it is likely they had not.
“Life in the hinterlands of Kukawa has been extremely challenging due to the activities of both the herders and the ISWAP terrorists,” said Aisha Yakubu, a middle-aged woman who recently escaped from the Doron Baga enclaves in Kukawa local government.
“Since our return to Baga and Kukawa, we have been unable to engage in farming or fishing without fear. We constantly face the threat of being killed by ISWAP or experiencing the destructive actions of armed Fulani herders who destroy our farmlands without any consequences or regard for our rights.”
The vicious attacks by ISWAP have instilled fear throughout the region, causing many internally displaced persons (IDPs) to flee to Maiduguri to escape the imminent threat of starvation. These IDPs, both men and women, had previously expressed their grievances about herders’ cattle grazing on their farms and destroying their crops yet to be harvested. With the herders now being targeted in these attacks, the situation has worsened, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the region.
Moreover, the strict enforcement of ISWAP’s control over farming has compelled herders to flee the Lake Chad region and seek safer locations in Cameroon, Niger, and Chad.
For years Nigeria has been mired in a conflict between migratory herders and settled farmers over land use. The conflict is spread across the country, and is typified by tit-for-tat retaliatory violence.
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