I must express my frustration as Nigerians continued to refer to perpetrators of the violence in North-Central Nigeria as “unknown gunmen”. Why should gunmen be unknown for years? They kill innocent people and destroy their means of livelihood and yet they are unknown. We have security agents mandated to ensure the safety of all citizens, spanning from the military to paramilitary agencies, we have intelligent units and yet these killers remain unknown.
Hamid Umar told me in AYOUROU in Niger Republic-Mali border during my investigation that ‘ISIS members returning from Syria and Iraq have moved from Mali to Niger to Nigeria and across West Africa’. ISIS fighters have arrived Nigeria.
Why are Nigeria’s cattle herders turning to jihadists like most gunmen in the so-called Islamic State in the greater Sahara, who operate along the sand-swept borderlands like Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and others? The transition of herdsmen from vigilantes protecting their cows to jihadists capable of carrying out complex attacks is a story Africans and Western powers would do well to heed, as their pursuit of violent extremism in West Africa becomes ever more enmeshed in long-standing ethnic and clan conflicts.
What is happening in Benue, Taraba, Nassarawa and other middle-belt States in Nigeria is more than a strive between herdsmen and local farmers; it has gotten to the level of terrorism. African Islamic militants trained in Syria and Iraq now walks freely in North-Central Nigeria. Terrorists attacked the camp of Mobile policemen, Mopol 13 in Benue, killing two officers by slitting their throats. Do you call people who could invade the camp of mobile policemen in a guerilla manner and overpowered armed Mopol mere Fulani herdsmen? They are terrorists not herdsmen; they are elements of ISIS fighters.
Between 3,000 and 6,000 so-called ‘foreign fighters’ – African citizens trained in Islamic state terror camps – have returned to Africa and pose a “completely new challenge and Nigerians are calling them herdsmen. Nigeria is currently facing the highest terror threat in more than a decade. I am warning of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) or other terror groups attack in Nigeria.
There are concrete indications that terrorists are systematically using the stream of herdsmen to come into Nigeria undetected. We can expect ISIS or other religious terror groups to stage an attack in Nigeria with the aim of achieving mass casualties among the civilian population and that the risk of attacks by individuals has also not diminished.
Terrorists are infiltrating Nigeria under the guise of herdsmen. These worries are substantiated and confirmed in February after several killings in Benue, Nassarawa, Taraba, Edo, Delta and others which signified that ISIS militants had arrived the country pretending to be herdsmen. A bomb explosion was reported to have killed one person in Edo State, according to a statement from the state government.
The statement issued by the Government House, Benin City, said the explosion occurred in Okpella community, Etsako East Local Government Area, while a bomb-making facility has also been discovered in the area.
Up to 6,000 Africans who fought for the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group in Iraq and Syria could return home, the African Union’s top security official warned late last year, calling on countries to prepare for the threat. Smail Chergui, the AU’s commissioner for peace and security, said African nations would need to work closely with each other and share intelligence to counter returning militants.
“There are reports of 6,000 African fighters among the 30,000 foreign elements who joined this terrorist group in the Middle East. The return of these unscrupulous elements to Africa poses a serious threat to our national security and stability and requires specific treatment and intense co-operation between African countries”, Chergui told a meeting in Algiers, according to the Algeria Press Service News Agency.
10,000 foreign fighters joined the Sunni extremist group after it seized vast swathes of Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate in 2014. But the group has suffered a severe losses to both its territory and military capabilities last year.
Terrorism is one of the biggest crimes against humanity. Every such crime deserves to be named appropriately, and nations experiencing such, owe it to their citizens to act swiftly and decisively against terrorists. What we have experienced so far with the “Fulani Herdsmen” is nothing short of terrorism and it is high time government handled it with the seriousness required for such a grave situation, not only to protect the lives and property of her innocent citizens, but also to preserve the tribal identity of the many real Fulani Herdsmen who are simply looking for livelihoods.
January 21, 2018: Security service organisations, including the Department of State Service, have in a report submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari said they have identified an Islamic State in West Africa network operating within some North Central and South-south sections of Nigeria that is using foreign terrorists and recruiting young men, fighting and killing innocent persons ostensibly to exacerbate tensions along the country’s ethnic, religious and regional fault lines.
According to a Presidency source, this discovery was made following the arrest of several suspected attackers made up of Fulani herdsmen, government-sponsored militias, militants and other miscreants in Benue State.
Among those in custody were many who spoke none of the Nigeria languages, but the French language. This is the first time that security officials have confirmed that the Islamic State in West Africa members are operating as a unit in Nigeria and the level of their penetration of the country. The source revealed that a “good number” of the Islamic State terrorists have been arrested not only in the Benue valley but significantly in several towns in Edo State, specifically in Akoko-Edo, Okpella and Benin as well as Okene in Kogi State”.
Gov. Samuel Ortom of Benue, said that security agencies did not take proactive measures to protect the state against its aggressors after several complaints of planned attacks reported to them. Ortom made this known recently in Makurdi at a stakeholders meeting to discuss the security situation in the State.