Last weekend, no fewer than 106 people were killed in Kanam Local Government Area of Plateau State and houses burnt by terrorists. In this interview by ISAAC SHOBAYO, the chairman of the council area, Alhaji Dayyabu Yusuf Garga, speaks on the attack and the general security situation in the area.
The attack on villages in Kanam Local Government Area where more than 100 people were killed was a shock to many Nigerians. What led to the attack?
I am yet to recover from the shock, considering the number of people that were killed in a most brutal and barbaric manner. It happened on Sunday afternoon when the people of the council were either on their farms or carrying out other legitimate businesses. These terrorists, in their numbers, on motorcycles, well-armed, invaded four villages and communities and went on a shooting spree, running after people on motorbikes and shooting people at random. They burnt down several houses and markets and carted away foodstuffs and domestic animals. On Monday, we buried 106 people, mostly youths. As I am talking to you, more bodies are being recovered from bushes while there are many people in hospitals with varying degrees of wounds receiving treatment.
In short, people of the local government are traumatized. Quite a lot of them are now without shelter. Our major priority now is security which the government has provided to some extent. Right now, we have security men everywhere but we want them to remain here permanently so that we have lasting peace and confidence to move about. Also, we need urgent supply of food because foodstuffs were stolen by the attackers. We also need materials to rebuild burnt houses. Medical attention is also needed.
Had the local government ever experienced anything like this before?
We had never experienced anything of this magnitude, although in the past few months, we had a few cases of kidnapping for ransom but we had never experienced anything like this in any part of this local government. This is the first time. I pray this never happens again.
The general belief is that the terrorists attacked the villages through the abandoned game reserve in the local government. How true is this?
We are aware of that they had been hibernating in the forest. Several attempts had been made in the past by the security operatives to dislodge them from the forest. Two months ago, the military went to flush them out but they returned after the military left. We fear that this forest might become the second Sambisa forest in Nigeria. The military should intensify efforts to flush them out otherwise the forest might turn out to be another security challenge for the government. The earlier the better. Our findings revealed that the attack was carried out by the terrorists in this forest. It was planned in such a way that they intend to annihilate the people of the villages. They killed people randomly. Farmers who were working on their farms were caught unawares and were gunned down or matched. It was a barbaric attack intended to exterminate the people.
The casualty figure is high. Does it mean the security operatives did not come in time?
The condition of the roads leading to the villages where the attacks took place is deplorable and so it takes so long to get to those places. The situation was compounded by the destruction of telecommunications equipment to prevent the villagers from calling for help from neighbouring villages. So, while the killings lasted, the people could not communicate with the relevant authorities to come to their aid. As the people were running in fear, the terrorists were shooting at them and setting their houses on fire. They were on motorbikes and this made it easy for them to catch up with the fleeing villagers. Within two hours, they killed more than one 100 people. Many of those who came from other villages to assist the injured were also gunned down. Bodies of many who were initially declared missing were later found in the bushes and on their farms. It is, however, difficult at this moment to give the exact number of those who lost their lives because more bodies are still being recovered. On Monday alone, 106 people were buried in my presence.
Is it true that the majority of the slain victims were young men?
It is true they allowed women to escape. It was like they came for the men alone. Men seem to be their target. There were a few old men that were spared. I am telling you that no woman was killed. Many women are presently in agony. Many lost their husbands and children as well. It is a sad moment for us here in Kanam.
But reports say close to 70 women were abducted…
We have not received any report of abduction of anybody. There are reports of missing persons but we have started recovering bodies from farms and bushes. To the best of my knowledge, no person was abducted. They came on motorbikes and so there is no way they could have abducted anyone conveniently.
What efforts are you making to strengthen security in your area?
The vigilantes and hunters have been of great assistance to the council but right now, we have the military, Mopol and other security agencies on the ground. They have taken over the affected villages and those whose houses are not burnt are gradually returning. But for those whose houses were burnt, they are at the refugee camp at Garga.
What do you want the government to do concerning the forest serving as a hideout for the terrorists?
The military should comb the forest and flush out the terrorists once and for all. The government should establish security outposts in all the borders around the forest so that anyone going in and out of the forest will be questioned. It is also important to note that the forest is bordered by three states, namely, Bauchi, Taraba and Plateau.