ABUJA — Thousands of villagers in Nigeria have been evacuated from their homes while the military conducts a counter-terrorism operation in Plateau State, the scene of deadly attacks earlier this month. The displaced families, now living in camps, say they do not have nearly enough food, and most people lack adequate shelter.
Abdullahi Bello, an ethnic Fulani herdsman, came to a makeshift camp Monday night after he was ordered to leave his home for a military operation he does not understand.
Besides being hungry and without a roof over their heads, he says his community of displaced families - thousands of people - is fearful that no one will be able to return to their homes.
“Everybody here is afraid," said Bello. "They don’t know what is going on. They are very afraid of that.”
Bello is using a cellphone that he says will only continue to work without access to electricity for two more days. He says the displaced villagers' cattle herds - thousands of animals - are now packed into a small area with no place to graze, so starvation is a real risk.
Activists say the military has cordoned off that part of Plateau State, and any roads that are not blocked are not secure, so no one can get into or out of the region.
Muhammadu Adamu Ardo, a community leader in a different camp, says he was forced from his home with nothing, and told he would be able to return within two days.
In his native Hausa language, Ardo says authorities told him Wednesday that he would have to wait two more weeks. Local news reports quote both of those conflicting time estimates from official sources.
The spokesman for the military's Special Task Force for anti-terrorist operations, Captain Salihu Mustapha, says the operation is ongoing and there is no official time frame for its duration.
Saleh Momale, the executive director of Pastoralists Resolve, an organization that advocates for the rights of Fulani herdsmen, says negotiations Monday persuaded Fulani leaders who initially opposed the evacuation orders that the military would protect and provide for displaced people, and that there is no deliberate attempt to displace ethnic Fulanis.
“The ministry authorities assured them that their intentions have not any interest than security surveillance, and that they want to carry out some detailed investigations,” Momale said.
Despite that, Momale says the military is not living up to its promise to provide shelter, food and protection for families who left their homes.
“Considering the harsh climatic situation in Plateau State and those condition of those camps where the people where they are seriously worried at the moment,” he said.
The evacuation comes two weeks after deadly clashes in the area on July 7 and 8 that already had displaced about 5,500 other people in the area. The Red Cross says many of those earlier evacuees fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Human Rights Watch
says nearly 4,000 people have been killed in clashes between Muslim Fulani communities and Christian Berom communities in Plateau State over the past decade, usually over land resources and reprisals.
Authorities have blamed "terrorists" for the clashes on July 7-8. Islamist sect Boko Haram, which has been blamed for more than 1,000 deaths since 2009, claimed responsibility for some of the violence.
Ardo Hazzad contributed to this report.