Lagos-based journalist, ‘Fisayo Soyombo recently traversed the perilous villages of north-central Nigerian state of Plateau to unravel the brutality of years of ethnocentric killings. In this guest post, he shares chilling pictures that capture the venom of the killings as well as his personal experiences partaking in the sorrows of families of victims. Click on each of the photos to read the story behind them. The only thing worth repeating is how perilous this trip was, and how easily the journalist could have fallen into an ambush by any of the warring factions. Thankfully, he didn’t.
For more on the Boko Haram and other skirmishes in Northern Nigeria, here’s a long read.
Daniel Zitta (L) and Head of Nyapkai Village (R). Nyyapkai, in Langtang Local Government, was the first village I visited. And it was here that my attempted visit to Wasetofa Village was shelved. “Wase”, as the motorcycle rider who conveyed us to Nyapkai said, “is gateway to heaven”.
- Half-a-year after her son was gunned down in Dipbong Village, octogenarian Nandir Vongchak says her life has been “filled with sorrow”. That is how she described her misery since the killing of her son in June 2013. Face stony and carriage emotionless, Nandir’s most pressing worry is guaranteeing the education and survival of her three grandchildren. Who or what will soothe her sorrows?
Nandir’s three grandchildren… What does life hold for them?
The hut where Nandir and her three grandchildren live
The resting place of Nandir’s son
Hand-around-the-arm shot with Grace Nansoh, whose “close-to-50-year-old” dad was shot, sliced and burnt to death at a farm in Zamcha Village, Wase Local Government. Grace says she doesn’t want to miss her dad, but admits that she does, especially as she has now taken on her father’s responsibility of shepherding her four siblings.
L-R: Grace and her four siblings, aged seven, eight, 10 and 15, respectively. The eight-year-old in the middle raises her eyes towards Grace, as though acknowledging that with the death of their father, Grace, 23, is now her mortal all-in-all — her “Jesus Christ on earth”, to parody the words of infamous Rivers State legislator, Evans Bipi.
Sixty-three-year-old Danladi Pasayashi discusses attacks in Kukah, a village in Shendam Local Government once inhabited by more than 5,000 people but is now left with less than a hundred.
A section of the burnt yam market in the village, touted as the biggest in the entire country (About 20 to 40 trucks lifted yams from the market daily before its destruction.). Ever since the building of a makeshift market, only five to six trucks are able to load yams daily.
There is hardly a harsher tragedy than having their nonagenarian grandfather and 22-year-old brother both butchered and macheted to death in just one day. Now, Bolka Nanan and Rotji Nanan are desperate to evacuate Kukah, the village where they have lived all their lives.
With Mr. Ryang Dantong, whose immediate elder brother, Senator Gyang Dantong was one of more than a hundred people killed in July 2012 at the site of the mass burial for more than 300 others massacred in Matse, Riyom Local Government. In Plateau, the rich also cry.
The footpath during the 59-minute motorcycle ride to Mile-Bakwai Village, where I find Marene Uttawal, the 105-year-old whose incredible daily toil on the farm was halted by news of the killing of her son and grandson in an attack. On learning of the killings, Marene suffered paralysis in her lower limbs, and has been bed-ridden since.
A journalist’s attempt to enliven a 105-year-old woman rendered paralysed and bed-ridden by news of the killing of her son and grandson. Did it work? I thought so, which was why it became a ritual I repeated with every other victim of the killings.
With Anatu Sunday, 67, who lost her 20-year-old boy in an attack
After losing her husband in an attack on the plateau, Lami Adamu, 45 (L) says the world has become “so lonely”. Jumai Adamu, 40 (R), who lost her husband and son in one fell swoop, says she finds herself tottering on the brink of “losing consciousness” anytime she thinks about the damage.
A house in Mile-Bakwai vandalised in an attack
Cattle grazing on either side of the footpath, during the bike ride to Ket Village, in Barkin Ladi Local Government
Two women, two downcast faces. One has lost her husband, the other has her husband of just five days bed-ridden at the traditional bonesetter’s after suffering gun injuries both legs during an attack.
His septuagenarian father, Pa Tsok Gwom, his wife, son, daughter in-law, two children and two grand children — eight family members in all — were shot to death in an attack on ket Village, Barkin Kogi Foron District in Barkin Ladi LGA of Jos, Plateau State in November 2013. One month on, Solomon Pagyang Gwom says he may “run mad” any moment…
The mass grave that is the resting place of all eight
My guide, a rider and I journey on a motorcycle from Pagyang’s Ket Village to Rawurum, expecting to spend no more than 15minutes on the road. But the trip nearly turns awry, as we soon discover we had been misled. We journey through undulating footpaths that were rough and rocky at times, but slippery and punctuated by streams at others. We stop to push the cycle across rocky streams on two occasions and our faces are many times slashed by thickets and shrubs encroaching on the footpath. More than an hour after, my guide and I are enduring cramps, while the rider periodically protests against our defiance to continue at all cost. In the end, after riding for a total of 2hours and 14 minutes and with sunset approaching (putting us at risk of being attacked ourselves), we arrive at Rawurum, and proceed straight to the house of Luka Bula (pictured), who was murdered with his wife and five children — the youngest a five-month old in whose mouth gunmen placed a gun and pulled the trigger. Photo shows the blood-splattered walls of the house where they were murdered.
Serah Dung sees no reason in living. She says “it is better for me to die” than live without her parents and three siblings, who were all gunned to death in Kungte Village, Jos South LGA of Plateau State.
Remains of the house in Tatu Village, Barkin Ladi Local Government where 48-year-old Chollom Irmiya Deme and six members of his family — including his 37-year-old wife who was seven months pregnant — were murdered. Inexplicably dissatisfied with just gunning them down, the assailants proceeded to set their bodies ablaze. Five of the corpses were seared, while the sixth was charred beyond bodily identification.
The spilled blood of Chollom Irmiya. “The killers shot him in the stomach”, a neighbour had recalled chillingly. “Then they crashed a mammoth stone on his head; they broke his head into pieces”.
Blessing, 10, continues to ask if her family members “are still coming back”. Her father, mother and three siblings were gunned to death in Tatu Village in November 2013. The attackers killed four-month-old Felix — the youngest of the children — by holding a gun over his crotch and pulling the trigger.
An incredibly courageous woman. Three of her children (aged 10, seven and five) were gunned down in one night, yet she says “God is in control”.
From marriage to wreckage: Five days after he married his tender, impressionable 19-year-old bride whose beauty was just unfurling, Istifanus Sati was shot in his right thigh and the left leg by attackers. With his father killed in the same attack while he himself is bed-ridden at the traditional bone setter’s, his mother is widowed and his wife lovelorn.
I was still in Plateau on 17th December 2013 when gunmen attacked a compound in Larwin Village, Heipang. Five people died instantly, and one later: Pam David (25), Jerry Dalyop (five), Miracle Ishaya (three), Deborah Ishaya (five)), Judith Emeka (three) and Promise M. C. (three). The following day, I turned up at the burial. All five who died instantly had been interred before my arrival, but I witnessed the lowering of Jerry (pictured) — he survived for some hours until he gave up at the hospital — into an adjoining grave.
Chundung Dalyop, the mother of Miracle and Deborah, was so disconsolate she lacked the strength for many words. “I feel highly aggrieved with what happened. Only God can comfort me; and God alone can avenge the killing of my children”, she said. “I leave all that has happened into the hands of God. But truly, emotionally, I feel the pains so greatly”.
In Jos town, animals and humans cohabit peacefully. Isn’t it such a wonder, therefore that humans can’t cohabit peacefully with one another?
Please share these photos if you can. That way, you would have informed someone else of the utter barbarity of the Plateau killings, in the hope that we can build a coalition of voices crying for urgent government intervention.
All photos courtesy of the journalist. (c) December 2013