Amnesty International Nigeria says at least 1,126 villagers were killed in the north by rampaging bandits within six months.
The rights organization said the killings occurred between January and June 2020 in Kaduna, Katsina, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba and Zamfara States.
Amnesty, in a statement on Sunday, said it interviewed dozens of victims and witnesses who painted a grim picture of killings and abductions and how security forces often arrive hours after attacks have ended.
. It alleged that failure of the authorities to bring killers to justice and protect rural dwellers had fuelled the killings and abductions.
Amnesty said it also documented how farmers, rights groups, and activists were subjected to intimidation, arrest and torture for speaking out against the attacks or asking government to help protect the people.
“The ongoing failure of security forces to take sufficient steps to protect villagers from these predictable attacks is utterly shameful,” the statement quoted Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, as saying.
“In addition to the security forces’ failure to heed warnings or respond in time to save lives, the fact that no perpetrators have been brought to justice leaves rural communities feeling completely exposed.
“The president claims he has repeatedly tasked security agencies to end the killing so that Nigerians can go to bed with their eyes closed, but clearly nothing has changed,” Ojigho added.
Killings, abductions, displacement in rural communities
While quoting witnesses, Amnesty said in a well-coordinated move, attackers stormed villages on motorcycles and heavily armed.
They shoot sporadically at people, set houses on fire, steal cattle, destroy farm produce and abduct villagers for ransom.
It said at least 380 people had been abducted for ransom during attacks in Kaduna, Niger, Katsina, Nasarawa and Zamfara states in 2020, mostly women and children.
It added that relatives of those abducted sold all their belongings to pay ransom to the gunmen and those unable to pay are mostly killed.
The worst-hit villages, according to Amnesty, are those in southern Kaduna, where, it said armed men killed at least 366 people in multiple attacks between January and July 2020.
During one attack in Unguwan Magaji in Kaduna State, security forces arrived at the scene but left when they saw the sophisticated ammunition the attackers were using. By the time they returned, at least 17 people had been killed, Amnesty said quoting a witness.
A farmer in Kukum Daji whose son was killed during the attack informed Amnesty International: “My son was 20 years old, he had just gotten admission at University of Jos. He was at home due to the Corona pandemic, then the attack happened. When I saw his dead body, my body became very weak, I started feeling dizzy, I thought I was going to fall, my whole body was on fire but there was nothing I could do, I just told myself that am leaving everything to God. I will never be happy again in this life for losing this boy. His death has really affected me”.
In Taraba, the rights organization said at least 77 people have been killed since January 2020 in the ongoing ethnic conflict between the Jukun and Tiv ethnic groups.
On 28 May, at least 74 people were reportedly killed in Sokoto state, when gunmen attacked four villages in Sabon Birni Local Government Area, the Amnesty International said.
In Katsina, the AI warned of a loomingh umanitarian crisis, as violence had forced many farmers and their families to flee their homes.
It said at least 33,130 people in the state were in displacement camps, and others have gone to stay with relatives in urban areas. Thousands of farmers could not cultivate their farms during the 2020 rain season because of fear of attacks or abduction.
A 50-year-old farmer in Batsari Local Government Area of Katsina State told Amnesty: “Our village has been attacked several times. Not once, not twice, but 10 times. To farm is even a problem, the bandits have stopped us from going to our farms, we only cultivate the farms close to the house but our farmland in the bush, we can no longer go there to farm, they stopped us from going there. My family farm that was not cultivated this year is more than 300 hectares of land.”
Amnesty International wants killers punished
Amnesty urged the Nigerian authorities to independently investigate all these deaths and ensure accountability by bringing the perpetrators to justice.
“Spate of these killings is an evidence of failure of authorities to protect the people. Inability of authorities to bring attackers to justice is fueling dangerous conspiracy theories that only escalate the violence.
“The government has an obligation to protect its population. The rising death toll in the north of Nigeria shows just how badly the authorities are failing in this responsibility,” the Amnesty International said.
When contacted yesterday for comment over the Amnesty International’s report, the spokesman of the Nigeria Police Force, Frank Mba, declined comment.