Nigerians led by President Muhammadu Buhari are enraged by the latest killing of 43 rice farmers and abduction of tens of others by Boko Haram terrorists in Borno State, northeast Nigeria.
News of the attack on Saturday morning which slipped in as a rumour, was confirmed when Mr Buhari publicly expressed grief over the incident.
The farmers were attacked in Marrabati and Hammayya villages near Zabarmari in the Jere Local Government Area of Borno State.
The insurgents, who have been on the rampage since 2009, were also reported to have destroyed the rice plantation after killing the farmers.
On his verified Twitter account, President Buhari said, “I condemn the killing of our hardworking farmers by terrorists in Borno State. The entire country is hurt by these senseless killings. My thoughts are with their families in this time of grief. May their souls rest in peace.”
He said the government had supported the armed forces with materials and necessary support “to take all necessary steps to protect the country’s population and its territory”.
The victims of the attack had gone to harvest their rice when they met their deaths.
The Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), a body assisting the military in tackling Boko Haram and other terrorists in the region, reported that the farmers were gathered before the assailants shot many of them at close range and beheaded others.
Reports say that the victims were labourers hired from Sokoto State and that soldiers were pursuing the terrorists.
A distraught Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum asked to see the bodies before they were buried on Sunday.
The 51-year-old professor of soil and water engineering, said: “It is disheartening that more than 40 citizens were slaughtered while working in their farmland. Accept my deepest sympathy over this carnage, once again, that affects every human with a conscience.’’
He said he discussed with the military how to track the insurgents and rescue the abducted farmers.
“Our people are in very difficult situations. They are in two different extreme conditions; if they stay at home they may be killed by hunger and starvation. If they go out to their farmlands, they risk getting killed by insurgents. This is very sad.’’
Mr Zulum reiterated his appeal for the Nigerian Federal Government to recruit more youths into the (CJTF), and hunters into the Nigerian military and civil defense, so they can join Agro Rangers in the protection of farmers.
“We need many boots to protect farmlands and our youths understand the terrain. We will not lose hope because we have to remain optimistic about ending the insurgency,” he said.
Nigeria’s former Vice President Atiku Abubakar described the incident as heart-breaking.
“Words fail me. The lives of our citizens should be worth much more than this,” he said.
He said that a reorganisation of the nation's security architecture is long overdue.
On her part, former education minister, activist and politician Oby Ezekwesili told President Buhari, "43 of your citizens were just beheaded within the territory you swore an oath to defend and you are telling us “I am hurt”. Please don’t be hurt. Be hot in your pursuit of justice for the dead. Be hot against evil in the land."
In its reaction to the killings, Amnesty International (AI) condemned the targeting of civilians, describing it as contempt for human life.
Via Twitter, AI urged Boko Haram to “end its campaign of vicious and unlawful killings of civilians”.
Since 2009, over 35,000 people have been killed in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, the epicentres of the insurgency. Social infrastructure has also been destroyed, especially in Borno, the seat of Lake Chad and which shares a border with Chad, Cameroon and Niger.
In addition, more than two million Nigerians have been displaced.
As the insurgency festers, the activities of bandits in northwest states, have hampered Nigeria’s food security goal and enhanced poverty.
The latest killings came three days after Sultan of Sokoto and President General of Jamaatu Nasril Islam, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar lll, reported that bandits killed 76 people in Sokoto in one day.
The Supreme of Nigerian Muslims said most of the reports on the insecurity in the northern part of the country are not reported because the region lacks a strong media presence.
Speaking at the 4th Quarter 2020 meeting of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council in Abuja, the monarch said the insecurity in the north has become so worrsome that people are afraid to travel short distances.
“It is regrettable that no strong media platform can report this story to the world,” he said, adding that residents no longer go to their farms, which threatens food production.
“People think the north is safe but that assumption is not true. It’s the worst place to be in this country because bandits go to villages, households and markets with AK-47 rifles,” he said.
“I am not only a traditional ruler but also a religious leader, so I am better-placed to tell the story.’’
On Saturday, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai, declared that under no circumstance would the army allow the occupation of any part of Nigeria by terrorists.
The defence headquarters said the air force had knocked out more hideouts of the terrorists in Borno State.
He spoke at the 62nd passing out parade of the Nigerian Military School, where he pledged adequate security for Nigerians as they go about their businesses.
“I assure all Nigerians that the Nigerian army is committed to the unity and indivisibility of this country and would do everything humanly possible to ensure that no part of this country is occupied by criminal elements,” he said through the army’s chief of administration, Major General US Yakubu.
“The army, as you all know, has been involved in various operations and exercises in support of civil authority. To mention particularly, is the maintenance of internal security in addition to its constitutional role of protecting the territorial integrity of Nigeria,’’ he added.
Northern elders have joined their Southern counterparts in asking President Buhari to sack the service chiefs without further delay as “they are no longer useful”.
Meanwhile, chief spokesman of Defence Headquarters Maj-Gen John Enenche said in Abuja that air raids were conducted on Friday in Ngwuri Gana, along the Gulumba Gana-Kumshe axis, and in Tumbuma Baba on the fringes of Lake Chad, both in northern Borno.
He said the air strikes were conducted under a new subsidiary operation dubbed “Wutar Tabki II”.