Amnesty International and the Zamfara State government have disagreed over the security situation in the state, where there have been reports of killings and kidnapping in recent times.
In a statement on Tuesday by the Director of Amnesty International in Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, the human rights watchdog alleged that thousands of people have been displaced by a conflict which began in 2012, as a result of the clashes between farmers and herdsmen.
“This is Nigeria’s forgotten conflict. The authorities’ failure to act has left villagers in Zamfara at the mercy of armed bandits, who have killed hundreds of people over the course of two bloody years,” said Ojigho.
She also said 18 villages in the Mashema, Kwashabawa and Birane districts of Zurmi Local Government Area (LGA) of the state were attacked on last Friday, leaving at least 42 people dead while 18,000 residents of the affected villages were displaced.
The Amnesty International Country Director said while the displaced persons were taking refuge at various locations in the Local Government headquarters, 15 people were kidnapped in Maradun LGA the following day.
She added that residents of some affected villages claimed to have been warned ahead of attacks on the phone and that they have also been asked to pay huge sums of money or risk being killed or abducted.
She said, “When we visited the region, villagers told us that they had pleaded with the government to help them after receiving warning letters from the bandits ahead of attacks but had received no protection.
“The Nigerian authorities have repeatedly claimed to be tackling the situation, but the mounting death toll tells a different story.”
Ojigho claimed that their findings showed that the deployment of troops to the affected villages by President Muhammadu Buhari has yet to stop the killings in the state.
She noted that although it was the third time since November 2017 that the Federal Government had deployed the military in response to attacks, villagers told Amnesty International that this has not translated into protection for remote, vulnerable communities.
“Previous military interventions have failed to end the killings, especially in rural areas of Zamfara. At least 371 people have been killed in Zamfara in 2018 alone, and 238 of these killings took place after the deployment of the Nigerian Air Force. The government is still neglecting the most vulnerable communities in this region,” claimed the director.
She revealed further that during a five-day visit to Zamfara by Amnesty International, villagers lamented that they felt helpless and on edge, as they constantly brace themselves for attacks.
Ojigho quoted a villager from Gidan Goga as saying, “Before Ramadan, the bandits called with the same number they called me with two weeks ago and said if we didn’t pay them N500,000, they would come and kidnap me or the village head. Right now, we are living in fear.”
She said a senior police officer in the state also told them that the police lacked the logistics and manpower to deal with the crisis in the state.
“The crisis in Zamfara is making life hell for villagers, yet it is clearly low down on the list of government priorities,” Ojigho alleged. “These killings must stop immediately, and those suspected of criminal responsibility must be brought to justice in fair trials.”
“The Nigerian authorities have a responsibility to protect the lives of everybody in the country, including people in poor and rural communities,” she added.
However, spokesperson for the Zamfara State government, Ibrahim Dosara, told Channels Television in a telephone interview that the report by Amnesty International was disappointing.
Dosara accused the human rights group of bias in its report, insisting that the government and security agencies in the state were working tirelessly to ensure the safety of the citizens.
“I was highly disappointed; disappointed in the sense that Amnesty International is an international organisation whose responsibility is to ensure justice on all sides but unfortunately, there was no justice in it. This is because, despite the fact that they have made their researches, they were unable to hear from us.”
“We have been up and doing, we have been on our toes to ensure the security of lives and property of people. For me and for the government of Zamfara State, this is not only cheating but also an attempt to blackmail and discredit the effort of the government of Zamfara in tackling insecurity in the state,” he added.