by Masara Kim, Jos
At least ten people were killed in a midnight attack by suspected jihadists on a small Christian town in central Nigeria’s Plateau State on 26 November, according to local officials.
An unspecified number of assailants armed with AK-47s invaded Taegbe in Bassa local government area (LGA) killing residents and burning houses and food barns, said tribal leader Ezekiel Bini in a telephone interview. Three others were seriously wounded in the attack which affected chiefly women and children, Bini said.
Terrorists attempting to foist a caliphate on the central region were responsible for the attack, according to Rev. Fr. Blaise Agwom, Executive Director of the Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace (DREP) Center, a non-governmental organization which organized a peace meeting for Fulani Muslims and Christians in Bassa on 21 October.
Leaders of the Fulani tribe at the meeting signed an agreement to cease attacks on Christians. However, on 23 November Fulani militiamen killed two farmers in Ancha village in the same area of Bassa, and survivors of the latest attack say they were attacked by their Fulani neighbours.
Fulani Muslim militias have been blamed for the killing of thousands of Christians in Plateau State.
Local Christian leaders had, in an article published on Nigeria Report, rejected the peace deal as a smokescreen intended to encourage them to relax their guard.
Residents attacked in their sleep
In the 26 November attack, the peaceful farming town of Taegbe, located on the boundaries of Plateau and Kaduna states, was disturbed by loud gunshots while residents slept, said Bini. The presence of tall shadowing mountains with a crescent moon as the only source of light prevented escape, he said.
The attackers, who Bini said were speaking Fulani dialect, shot nine people who were trying to escape – killing six and wounding three - and burned four others to ashes in a house where they were sleeping.
Twenty houses including food barns were burned down by the attackers who, according to Bini, operated for close to an hour without the military intervening. “The military arrived five hours after the attack,” said Bini. “All calls to the military base located two kilometers away from the community were not responded to.”
History of attacks
“It later transpired that the military checkpoint was deserted at the time of the attack. We have yet to get answers to explain the sudden disappearance of the military unit commander when the attack occurred. We are beginning to wonder if the military conspired with the attackers to kill our people who were just struggling to return to their homes after being displaced in the last two years,” Bini said.
Six people were killed by the Fulani in Taegbe town on 14 October 2017 under the watchful eyes of the military, according to newspaper reports. The newspaper Vanguard reported on 21 October 2017 how the military ignored distress calls during the attack, which came a day after the state government imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the LGA.
The curfew, according to an official statement, was to prevent attacks on Christian villages that had become a daily occurrence since the killing of 25 in Ancha village in the north of the LGA on 7 September 2017 – the anniversary of the 2001 Jos riots which left close to 1,000 Christians dead. A further 29 were killed on 15 October 2017 in a government school occupied by the military in Nkiedoro, six miles from Taegbe.
Criminals “collaborating with terrorists”
The latest attack was carried out by “criminals that are bent on instilling fear, pain and sorrow” in communities, said State Governor Simon Lalong. In a statement received from his press director, Makut Macham, on 26 November, Lalong said he was outraged by the attacks, which he noted were persistent.
The attack was carried out by militants linked to Islamic fundamentalist groups – Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) – according to Agwom. “There are criminally-minded people who are collaborating with these terrorists to carry out these attacks,” said Agwom in a telephone interview.
“I strongly believe that terrorist elements have infiltrated our settlements. I remember when we had [similar] attacks in July and August, those who engaged the assailants in battle said the people they saw don't even look like Nigerians and they were speaking strange languages.
“I feel there is criminality and there is collaboration with bad elements who are within. Those strange faces – ISWAP, Boko Haram - cannot come into our communities without the involvement of insiders,” Agwom said, alleging that the terrorists are colluding with the military to carry out the attacks.
Failure of military to intervene
“They [the military] make more money when there is chaos,” Agwom said. “Whenever there is an attack, there is always an allegation that the attackers wore military uniforms. It is possible that Boko Haram can decide to wear military uniforms. Criminals and bandits also do the same. But sincerely speaking, like the last attack we had in Bassa, there was this cry and desperation on the part of the locals for the soldiers to intervene but it was clear that they were not ready to. So, one wonders why they are there if people are being attacked just meters from your base and you cannot help them,” he said.
However, the spokesperson of the military task force in the state, Major Ishaku Takwa, said troops set out to intervene during the attack but were delayed by bad roads.
“Our nearest base to the village is 6 km away but the road to the place is too bad for our vehicles. It took us over an hour, and by the time we got there, there were already seven casualties and the attackers had left,” he said in a telephone interview.