You are not forgotten, Baroness Cox tells refugees
A leading British Parliamentarian, Baroness Caroline Cox. has told victims of Islamic Fulani herdsmen attacks in Anguldi refugee camp in Jos, Plateau State, central Nigeria, that they are “not forgotten”.
Baroness Cox’s visit, one of the many to the crises ridden region of Nigeria, was to get first-hand information as well as to assess the challenges faced by the people as a result of the protracted killings by cattle herdsmen in the Middle Belt region of the country. In June this year, attacks by the Fulani claimed hundreds of lives and displaced more than 38,000 people who are now in 14 refugee camps in Plateau state.
Cox visited the Anguldi camp where the condition of the refugees is still deplorable more than four months after the attacks; women and children sleep in a large open hall, on mattresses on the floor with no mosquito nets to prevent malaria. The smell from the make-shift toilet is strong meters away.
Baroness Cox sat listening to the stories of women who lost everything, including husbands and children to the Fulani Islamic militia attacks. The reoccurring theme in the stories told by women from different villages, was that the attackers were Islamist Fulani who were well trained and coordinated in their mission.
The women from at least seven different villages said the Fulani militia came in large numbers and in different vehicles, carrying automatic weapons and were in three groups. One of these groups was formed of gunmen “dressed in black with hoods covering their faces” armed with AK 47s and other “bigger guns with magazines, ” according to one witness, Ayop Ajose, who lost her husband in the attack.
Those in black hoods did the shooting and were in front. The group right behind them wore red and carried machetes.
“They were hacking and killing people, making sure that those that were shot were finished off,” said Lydia Bode, who was also widowed in the attack. She suggested that this group wore red, “to conceal blood splashes on their clothes as they butchered their victims.”
Helen Titus From Ex-Land village, who said she laid flat on the floor and prayed with her children as houses were torched but escaped unscathed said, “The third group didn’t wear any uniforms and they were carrying petrol bombs. They were in vehicles. They were going house to house, looting and taking away anything they found valuable and then setting the houses on fire thereafter.”
The attack on 14 villages lasted three days, 23 to 25 June, and went for more than five hours to a whole day in some villages.
Margaret Peter, a mother of five told the Baroness Cox how she lost her home and members of the family. She lived in Ngar village when it was attacked by the Islamists. “We were in our village when we got phone calls of the attack going on in Ex-Land, a village not too far from Ngar, we saw the smoke raisin from the distance as the village was being burnt. There was panic everywhere. At about 2 pm the Fulani attackers reached our village. They came in numbers. There were gunshots, then you hear the several shouts of ‘Allahu akbar!’ And then lots of gunfire. Many ran to the bushes and well killed while those that thought they could hide in their rooms were burnt alive.”
Margaret added, “We also lived with other Muslims in the village. The attack was on the Christian section of the village. No Muslim or their houses were attacked. Many Christians then ran to homes of Hausa Muslims for safety and protection yet the Fulani Islamists went after them to the houses of the Hausa Muslims were they hid and demanded that the Muslims must bring out the Christians to be killed. Those that were sent out were killed.”
“Many others ran to a mosque to hide. Looting and killings were going on but the Imam, Abdullahi Adamu, took many Christians into the mosque for safety. The Fulanis came and demanded that the Imam release the Christians to be killed. The Imam said he would not. A long argument ensued and the Imam said he had lived with the Christians and within their community for over 35 years, with their parents and now the children, and had never had a quarrel or issues with the Christians.
He said he would not therefore betray them now and insisted they would have to kill him first before getting into the mosque. He said he will have no blood shed in his mosque,” Margaret said.
The Baroness asked about the rest of her family and Margaret said, “I called my sisters cellphone, Naomi is her name, she lived in the village not too far from me and we had been communicating during the attack, but this time a Fulani answered the phone. We later saw that she was raped and her wrists cut off before she was shot through the heart,” she said with tears welling up in her eyes.
“They took my brother, his wife and all their six children, tied and slaughtered them like animals. 18 people were killed in the house that day, the rest were all burnt alive,” Margaret said
“A Muslim saved my life and my four children. I took refuge in their house,” Margaret told Baroness Cox with a deep sense of appreciation.
“Always know that you are not alone in your suffering and you are not abandoned.” Caroline Cox said. “You have friends in Britain and all over the world who are praying for you.”
Hassan John is West Africa Editor, GCN and Priest of the Anglican Diocese of Jos
Image Crédits: Author