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The city fit for no-one: Inside the ruined ‘capital’ of the Islamic State group (1)

Quentin Sommerville is on the streets of Raqqa with Syrian Democratic Forces.

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There is a moment in the journey into Raqqa when you leave the real world behind. After the bombed-out Samra bridge, any signs of normal life vanish. Turn right at the shop that once sold gravestones – its owner is long gone – and you are inside the city. Ahead lies nothing but destruction and grey dust and rubble. This is a place drained of colour, of life, and of people. In six days inside Raqqa, I didn’t see a single civilian. They are somewhere inside, trapped by the so-called Islamic State and the Western coalition’s bombing campaign. IS uses them as human shields, and as bait, to lure out the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). It seems that not a single building has escaped the onslaught. Many have been crushed, flattened, or knocked to one side by the Western coalition’s air strikes and artillery.

It is a barrage that never ceases. More than two dozen air strikes a day, and hundreds of shells fall on the city. Their target is the last men of the Islamic State. There may be as few as 400 left. The SDF, which is made up of Kurds, Arabs – Muslims and Christian – and Yazidis, among others, has been making good progress since the offensive began in June. It has IS surrounded. And with Western air power pounding from above, its front-line advances are chewing through neighbourhoods. It is only a matter of time – perhaps a month, maybe two – before IS in Raqqa is swallowed whole. This was the capital of the Islamic State’s unrealised caliphate. It was home to half a million people. But now it is fit for no-one. IS is already making propaganda capital out of the destruction. America says this a war of annihilation. Raqqa is the battleground and the victim. Quentin Sommerville is on the streets of Raqqa with Syrian Democratic Forces.

He finds a city devastated by IS rule and Western-led bombardments.

Civilians are trapped – with many being used as human shields.

“The Islamic State was a spectre of terror that had taken over our lives for four years. We grew tired and we despaired. Life had stopped. The only escape was to drown ourselves with work.”

Hatem (not his real name), a shopkeeper in his early 30s, is one of the several hundred civilians who, in mid-August, took the risk and escaped a city plunged into death and destruction. When the SDF announced the Raqqa operation, Hatem says the people of the city were happy, if apprehensive, about the Kurdish role. However, the news coming from SDF-controlled areas was encouraging. “We heard about Tal Abyad becoming relatively stable. Prices of basic staples and foodstuff were decreasing. A barrel of diesel in Tal Abyad dropped to 12,000 liras (£15). In Raqqa it was nearly quadruple that,” the shopkeeper says. But it was the participation of the US-led coalition that the people of Raqqa were most excited about. The advanced weaponry, they thought, would spare them the grind of the urban warfare IS had been preparing for.

“When a coalition air strike took out that French jihadi near the Clocktower Roundabout, I went shortly afterwards to check the scene,” Hatem, whose shop was near the drone strike, says.

“He’d been consumed by flames in his own car. No-one else was killed. There was no shrapnel damage to be seen. We were excited because we thought it was this technology that the USA was bringing into the fight.”

But the excitement was short-lived, as displaced people from the city of Tabqa started flooding into Raqqa. Tales of an “indiscriminate” bombing campaign, flattened buildings and hundreds of alleged civilian deaths rattled the local population. In June, Raqqa’s siege was completed and the US campaign was in full swing. Civilians were trapped inside with IS fighters.

“America is a superpower. It was supposed to use laser-guided bombs and precision munitions. What did we get instead? Massive bombs, mortar rounds and countless artillery strikes. Is that how you liberate Raqqa? You’re murdering civilians instead,” Hatem says, his voice now quivering with a mix of anger and despair.

Airwars, a group monitoring civilian deaths in Russian and US-led coalition air strikes Iraq and Syria, says that US-led forces dropped 5,775 bombs, shells and missiles in Raqqa in August alone, resulting in at least 433 likely civilian casualties.

Ahmad, a Turkey-based Raqqa activist has documented the deaths of at least 750 civilians in the city since June – 520 of which he says were in coalition air strikes. Airwars, on the other hand, says at least 1000 Raqqawi civilians have been killed since June. The coalition has conceded four civilian deaths during the battle for Raqqa. It says it has adhered to strict targeting processes and procedures aimed to minimise risks to civilians. As ever, the Islamic State group was quick to use civilian deaths to its own advantage and pumped out one propaganda video after the other showing burnt corpses and maimed civilians. Lawyer Obeid Agha al-Kaakaji became the face of his bloodied city. With a deep gash across his forehead, Obeid’s face appeared caked with blood and dirt. His thick white hair and long beard were stained brown. The white of his eyes had disappeared behind a disoriented, tormented gaze. He was once a proud lawyer, known across the city of Raqqa for his philanthropy and concern for the downtrodden.

“As a lawyer, Obeid was the caretaker of the family’s assets and wealth in Raqqa,” his Saudi-based relative Hani tells the BBC. “When the siege closed in during Ramadan, he refused to leave, preferring to help people in need.”

The BBC tracked down a former neighbour of Obeid. Ziad (not his real name) witnessed the coalition air strike that hit the al-Kaakajis’s house. According to Ziad, IS fighters had commandeered the house during the last week of June and set up a camouflaged mortar position in the courtyard.

“They hid it right under the tree. They used to come every couple of days and fire a few rounds towards the east of Raqqa,” he says.

“We tried to talk them out of it but they got angry and accused us of being apostates.”

On 22 July, at about 10:30, a coalition air strike targeted Obeid’s house as Ziad was coming to visit the family for their usual morning chat and coffee. That day, IS fighters hadn’t shown up to man the mortar, he says. “Just as I was about to knock on the door, I heard this terrifying noise and then everything turned black. It felt like a hurricane had picked me up and slammed me into the wall behind. I tried to run for cover, but then that’s when the second missile struck,” Ziad says. Lightly injured, but severely bruised, he picked himself up and headed towards the rubble to help survivors. He recognised his other neighbour, Abdellatif al-Sheikh, but he was already dead.

A relative of Obeid’s, I’tidal, was in agony.

“She was lying there, her legs contorted, mangled. She was begging me for help. I can still hear her whimpers asking for help. But I couldn’t do anything. She died there,” Ziad says. Six people survived, Obeid among them. He was right outside in the courtyard when the missiles hit. A wall had collapsed on to him. Ziad says the lawyer didn’t look seriously injured, only “dazed and confused”. He transported him to an IS-run hospital in the west of the city.

“They only tend to their own. As soon as they realised the injured person is a civilian, they stop caring. His injury becomes the lowest of their priorities – even if it’s life threatening,” Ziad says.

Obeid, with his lost and haggard look, quickly came to the attention of the IS propagandists. But he was soon discarded. His condition started deteriorating the second day. An internal injury was suspected. Three days later he died, untreated and uncared for. Ziad is still angry about that day.

“We know that for IS, the blood of civilians is very cheap. But is it the same for Americans? There was no-one operating the mortar that day. There were no IS fighters nearby even. It was there for nearly a month and their drones were flying night and day. Why bomb us? Why?”

His question may never be answered.

For Hatem, the shopkeeper who was excited about the US-led campaign, Raqqa was fast becoming a death-trap. At first, people he didn’t really know were being killed. But as time went by, acquaintances, friends and relatives were dying. “There were 20, 30 civilians being killed every day. People were getting buried under the rubble of their own homes,” he says.

Islamic State fighters, he says, were getting aggressive with the locals. At one point, they stopped sending bulldozers and trucks to move the rubble and rescue civilians.

“They’d ask, ‘You want me to sacrifice the life of a brother for a corpse?’ How can you argue with animals like that?”

One day in early August, stuck at home with no electricity and nothing to do, Hatem began counting incoming thuds and bangs.

“I started at 10 in the morning. By seven in the evening, I had counted more than 290 explosions. The bombing was becoming relentless.”

And so he began plotting his escape.

For the next 10 days, he began monitoring the route he planned to take, where IS had laid mines and at what time there were fewer fighters around. He chose to go south, past the Intercity bus station, past the Central Bank and to the bombed out Old Bridge. A date and time were chosen, and close-knit friends and family were asked to join. In the early hours of 12 August, under a Moonless sky, a group of 40 people had gathered near the Clocktower Roundabout to embark on their perilous journey to safety.

“We took that chance because we all felt that to stay in Raqqa would be our death sentence,” Hatem says.

“We set off at 02:55. We had elderly and disabled people among us. It took us nearly 90 minutes to walk one mile. By 04:30, we reached the bridge and stayed under its ramp,” he says.

Had IS caught them, they would have been executed.

“At the first break of light, we started moving again waving a white flag. The SDF saw us and sent us boats to take us to the other bank,” he says. Hatem sent word to another group waiting to take the same route. Out of the 302 civilians who set off the following night, 12 died stepping on IS mines. For Hatem safety came at a price. The SDF detained the men and started asking them about IS positions in the city.

“We left 5,000 civilians behind,” he says. “Those positions are hidden in built up areas where our friends and relatives still live. Are they going to bomb them?” Asked whether he did reveal the positions, he replied: “I can’t go on remembering any more. This is very painful. I have to go and have some coffee and a cigarette.”

Abu Abdo drives around central Raqqa in an armoured car that once belonged to Islamic State fighters. It’s as ugly as it’s uncomfortable. The unit’s Humvee is in for repair, after IS, in a common tactic, shot out the radiator. Also, Abu Abdo complains, the air conditioning doesn’t work. There is only one seat inside, the driver’s, and it is reserved for the Arab SDF commander. Abu Abdo is from Manbij in northern Syria, he is 24 but looks decades older.

His unit is small, a ragtag bunch fighting in sandals and using Chinese-made AK47s. Almost no-one has a complete uniform. They are a militia, not an army. But they work well together, coordinated and fearless. Some of the fighters are very young. I ask one how old he is. He smiles and shakes his head. Like many young men and boys here in Raqqa, he knows not to answer. Abu Adbo hunches over the steering wheel, his beard almost touching the wheel.

You can see some (IS) bodies here.”

He points them out like a tour guide as the vehicle trundles along. The streets are strewn with rubble, but bulldozers have cut a path through the debris. There is no sign of life anywhere. The only sounds are shelling and sniper fire. The homemade armoured vehicle is hot and noisy inside, riding in it is like being rolled down a hill in an oil drum.

“We got this vehicle when we attacked a Daesh [IS] base,” Abu Abdo says. “We attacked them suddenly. They had no time to take their armoured vehicle, so now it belongs to us.” I ask if it is wise to ride around the city in an IS vehicle with coalition aircraft and drones overhead?

“Before we go out we inform the operations centre and we tell that this vehicle is ours,” he says.

“And we have a flag on the vehicle, a Syrian Democratic Forces flag. The jets can see that this belongs to us,” he adds.

As we rumble along, I point out that there is no flag on the vehicle. He pauses for a moment, and then remembers: “We stopped there earlier and our men took the flag off.” He radios ahead to the next checkpoint to warn of our arrival. He takes us to a high building, near Naim roundabout, at the city’s centre. This is the edge of IS control, the front line. The vehicle lumbers across a street watched by IS marksmen. Abu Abdo wants to get as close as possible so that it is safe to get out. He misjudges and crashes with a loud thud into a pillar. I worry that the building, already half destroyed by coalition air strikes, will collapse. We climb out and enter the building, a former private hospital. His men there have piled up furniture at the bottom of the stairwell, in case IS rush the building.

Further down the street, the black flag of the caliphate hangs from a building. The day is hot and still and the flag doesn’t move. It’s easily within reach, but in the direct line of sniper fire. For now, the SDF dare not remove it. They are trying to take Naim roundabout, the centre of Raqqa, the heart of the caliphate. It’s an important tactical point, overlooking many roads in an area that was full of shops, cafes and offices.

Now it is called the Circle of Hell.

The SDF has another reason for wanting to retake it, there their comrades and friends were crucified and beheaded by IS. When the roundabout falls, they say, they will truly cleanse Raqqa of the murderous Islamic State. IS fighters have mined the buildings and the roads, so few have been cleared. They’ve left motion sensors in some buildings so that when SDF forces enter, or open a cupboard door, a bomb detonates. Every home and workplace has been damaged. Even a captured IS weapons store has been left untouched for fear of booby traps. Abu Abdo shows me a camouflage balaclava, it’s one of the few things they retrieved from there.

“Their snipers have control of the rooftops. Keep your head down.”

A call comes across the radio. One of his fighters has been shot and is trapped in a nearby street. When we get there the man can’t be reached. He has been hit in the chest. IS snipers are firing at the end of the street, and Abu Abdo’s men are pinned down. They are desperate to get to the injured fighter, but every time they move closer, more shots ring out. Suddenly there are two big explosions nearby. IS has dropped grenades from drones. The SDF fighters run and take cover in nearby shops. Abu Adbo pulls out his walkie-talkie, and looks at his phone.

He calls up a map of the street and reads out the coordinates. He looks at me. “Air strike,” he says. Everyone is told to take cover. The injured fighter, his name is Nadin Abu Aziz, is still trapped on the road. He isn’t moving. I duck into an electrical shop, its shutters have been forced open. It’s quiet outside, as the men wait patiently for coalition aircraft to take out the IS gunman. We hear warplanes fly close and low, but no bang. The SDF fighters continue to wait. There’s no sign of life from the trapped fighter.

Inside the electrical shop, there is a man-sized hole in the wall. A pneumatic drill lies on the floor. Through it is another store, and a stockpile of bottled water, and food. There’s enough to last a year. Beyond that, another gap in the wall, into another building, and a room with a bed, a stove and a motorcycle. This was an IS hideout. It spans three buildings and the IS fighter would have been able to have access to all the floors above including the roof. IS has created thousands of these firing positions across the city. Mindful of IS booby traps, I don’t explore any further. Outside I can hear coalition jets flying low and close. The strike hits the targeted building precisely. Like the others in the street, it is a ruin. Time and time again, entire buildings are taken to kill a single fighter.

It’s unsurprising so little of Raqqa is left. The SDF lacks the manpower to clear buildings themselves, so coalition bombs do the work. A thousand coalition sledgehammers, smashing down on a nut, building after building, street after street. The IS gunman is no longer shooting, he’s either dead or gone. SDF fighters rush to Nadin Abu Aziz, they pick him up and awkwardly place him in the back of the former IS armoured car. His eyes are closed, and it looks like the IS marksman shot him in the chest. When Abu Abdo returns with the news that Nadin is dead, no-one is surprised, but still they stop, stare and fall silent. One young fighter takes a crucifix from under his shirt and holds it while mumbling a prayer. Another crouches down in the street and says nothing. The Sun is beginning to set and the men are exhausted. But this is not an unusual day, says Abo Abdo, shaking his head.

“Yesterday we were supposed to receive some civilians but one of us was killed. We went to help families and babies, and one of us was shot in the head.”

IS fighters were hiding, in disguise, among the civilians. “They attacked us with their men dressed as women, and there were big numbers, like a hundred,” he continues. “We guessed that they were civilians, and they also had children with them, and suddenly the civilians and children went to the side of the road, and then they started to fire at us”. Civilians in Raqqa, there may be as many as 20,000 in IS territory, are used as bait as well as human shields. “We’ll keep going,” says Abu Abdo. “We will sacrifice our blood for Raqqawi’s and our people inside, because they are having a tough time, a really tough time.”

Raqqa is the doomsday city.

Special Report

Nigerian Govt’s Crocodile Tears Over Rwandan Genocide: Saying No To Another Bloody Match To Kigali In Nigeria

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A photo of Rwandan genocide used to depict the story [Photo credit: NPR - npr.org]

Nigeria is likely the next target of the second coming genocide on African Continent unless the country reverses itself through its present central political leaders from another ‘bloody match to Kigali’. Intersociety holds that the circumstances or factors that led to the Rwandan Genocide of April to July 1994 are very much visible in Nigeria under the present political dispensation.

Genocide in the world over does not erupt overnight; rather it is hatched over a long or short period of time until it explodes. It can be protagonist or antagonist and in the case of Nigeria, there are already silent antagonist genocides ongoing. They emanate from the central Government of Nigeria through deliberately designed hash policies targeted at certain ethnic nationalities and religious groupings and Government backed non-state actor violent entity-the Jihadist Fulani Herdsmen.

Specifically, there are Government genocidal policies against Shiite Muslims, Northern Christian minorities and citizens of Eastern Nigeria; all perpetrated through the hydra-headed monster policies of structural, physical and cultural violence. Such Government genocidal policies are systematically executed through policies of structural, physical and cultural violence including political exclusion, imbalanced security appointments, militarization, militarism, racial profiling and discrimination and cultural or identity stigmatization or degradation.

There is also Government backed non-state silent genocide through systematic massacre by Jihadist Fulani Herdsmen of members of Christian faith in Northern Nigeria. In all these, the affected ethnic nationalities and religious groupings are likely in a verge of exhausting their patience and toleration. Running out of patience and toleration could catastrophically and calamitously lead to radical vengeance or reprisals; leading to war of anyone’s enemy against anyone or everybody’s enemy against everybody (genocide); defying controls through Government and its military and even humanitarian agencies until it reaches a point of exhaustion. The above symbolizes the Rwandan Genocide of April to July 1994.

Therefore, the 2019 25th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide is unique in Nigeria not only because it raised domesticated awareness and concerns in the country, but particularly because of the crocodile tears shaded by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The 25th Anniversary was marked with the Government of Nigeria sending its Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, to Kigali to join others in saying “never again to genocide in Africa”; yet signs are obviously everywhere that the same central Government of Nigeria is warily or unwarily breeding or condoning the breed of same genocide in the country.

Having studiously followed the patterns and trends of the Rwandan/Burundian politics since 1990s through our Board Chair (with verse knowledge in international affairs),Intersociety is not a newcomer in matters that caused the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 and the pre Genocide massacres or killings that took place in Rwandan and Burundi dating back to 1966 after their partitioning and independence from Belgium in 1962 and afterwards. We are aware, too, of the violent roles of the military in the political crises of Rwanda and Burundi and acutely disproportionate gaps between the population of Hutus (84%) and Tutsis (15%) and devastating roles played by the former using “population superiority” and consequent “balance of terror” strategies adopted by the latter using asymmetric military superiority and domination.

We are also fully grounded with circumstances that led to the abolition of monarchies in the two countries few years after their independence, the existing identical tribes of Hutu, Tutsi and Twi in Rwanda and Burundi, the favoritism policy of the Belgian colonial masters towards Tutsis owing to their reported historical links with the Israel’s Ham tribe, the ancient agrarian rift between the Hutus (crop farmers) and Tutsis (cow and livestock farmers) and regimentation, militarization and radicalization of the rift by Hutu and Tutsi political extremists; the disadvantageous economic, political and military structure control by Tutsis courtesy of the Belgian colonial masters, to mention but few.

In the Rwandan Genocide proper, which saw the death of 800,000-1m Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 100 days (7th April-21st July 1994) and additional post Genocide death of over 200,000 mainly in neighboring refugee camps owing to diseases and rival rebel attacks; Intersociety is not unaware of the conspiratorial roles of “the three musketeers”(France, UK and Belgium) as well as the Catholic Church through its heartless nuns in the Genocide. The butchery was so brutish, total and exhaustive that the then Commander of the RPF rebels, now President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, told a foreign radio station that had asked him to explain why the killings suddenly stopped “that the killings have stopped not because of changing of heart but because there are few people left to be killed”.

Genocide Does Not Erupt Overnight

The Rwandan Genocide was bred or hatched over a long period of time with decades of butcheries caused by Tutsi and Hutu led coups and counter-coups, election rigging crises, political segregation and exclusion as well as acute domination of economic resources and political offices. The undue favoring by the Belgian colonial masters of the Tutsi population and their elevation to the two countries’ plum positions including key military posts had forced the majority Hutu population to resort to group violence-leading to structural, physical and cultural violence against the Tutsi population. The Tutsis were stigmatized (cultural violence) as “cockroaches” that must be cleansed or wiped out (“nettover”).

The Tutsis retaliated through their stronghold of the military by launching several military coups and putsch killings targeting Hutu political and military leaders and officers. There were counter-retaliations and massacres organized by Hutu political leaders and extremists, forcing Tutsi population to flee en masse into Uganda and other neighboring countries where they settled as refugees. Such massacres were reported to have taken place in 1966, 1972 and 1978; running into 1980s. While in refugee camps, Tutsi and Hutu refugees formed or joined rebel groups in countries like former Zaire (Congo DRC) and Uganda.

In Uganda, the generation of current President Paul Kagame of Rwanda had belonged to Rwandan Tutsi citizens who fled their country to escape the 1972 and 1978 Hutu organized massacres and settled as refugees in Uganda; from where they were conscripted into the National Resistance Movement (NRM) of the then Ugandan Rebel leader, but now President Yoweri Museveni and assisted him to overthrow the then Ugandan military Government of Generals Tito and Basilo Okello in 1986.

The Tutsis were so visible in the Museveni’s NRM that his earliest Chief of Army was a Tutsi refugee and senior rebel/military colleague of current President Paul Kagame, who rose to become a Brig Gen in Ugandan Army under Museveni. Together they formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) that ended the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 through their “famous match to Kigali” from the Ugandan-Rwandan borders; forming the present economic reformative but dictatorial Government headed by him in Rwanda since July 1994, a period of 25 years.

From the above, therefore, factors that led to the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 are also very visible in Nigeria; meaning that Genocide is loading in the country unless such destructive factors are constructively addressed or totally eliminated. It is a clear case of crocodile tears for hatchers of state actor and non-state actor genocide to join the rest of the world in marking the remembrance of one of the most calamitous human tragedies of the recent times in faraway Rwanda. Religocide and ethnocide are the most dangerous and intractable types of genocide; more dangerous and intractable than war genocide. And the two are being hatched in Nigeria under the present central Government headed by Retired Major Gen Muhammadu Buhari and Prof Yemi Osinbajo.

Under the Buhari/Osinbajo Administration since June 2015, Nigeria has become one of the most dangerous countries for professing Christianity and Traditional Religion. Right to ethnic identity including ethnic minority is also under serious threat in Nigeria. The Administration has provided insecurity and other unsafe conditions for Christian Ethnic Minorities in Northern Nigeria. The Administration has also encouraged or directly introduced imbalanced citizenship including lopsided constituency delineation, creation of scanty polling centers, voter deprivation and intimidation and disproportionate security or police protection ratios, etc against Nigerian citizens of Northern Christian origins and southern Christians residing in Northern Nigeria particularly those of Eastern Nigeria comprising Southeast and South-south.

The just held 2019 Presidential Poll has also thrown up or singled out Nigeria as one of the most dangerous countries to cast a presidential vote as a minority Christian or Igbo Christian residing in the North or Southwest. The Poll saw the places dominated by Igbo Christians in Lagos and other parts of Southwest as well as Kano and Nasarawa’s Sabon Gari, Jos, Jalingo, Maiduguri, Kaduna and other Igbo Christian dominated areas of the North being heavily militarized leading to Government hired thugs and brigands raining the areas with sundry electoral violence including burning of polling centers, tearing of ballot papers, snatching of ballot boxes, prevention and intimidation of voters, etc.

It was so bad that Government and its officials or its movers and shakers came out boldly to claim responsibility and even went to the extent of shutting down major Igbo dominated markets; threatening them with death and loss of properties (wares) unless they vote for Government candidates or stay away from voting. During the Governorship poll in Lagos, for instance, many, if not most Igbo registered voters stayed away from voting to avoid death or loss of their properties. In Plateau State, Igbo traders in Jos stayed off their shops for several days, if not weeks for fear of Government oiled post-election violence; likewise in Jalingo, Taraba State, to mention but few.

The national security policy of the present central Government of Nigeria is only comparable to that of a failed State. The policy not only defies modern day definition but it is also analogous and genocide friendly. Despite human security concept that rules modern democratic world, Nigeria’s national security concept begins with militarism and militarization and ends in ethnic chauvinism and religious bigotry. The Buhari and Osinbajo’s national security policy is so downgraded that mental-man-machine security which rules today’s securitization world, is strange and alien to the same Government or Administration.

Over 17,850 lives have been lost since the present central Government of Nigeria came to power in mid-2015. The deaths involve 2,403 Government killings (Christians, Shiites and Xian/Muslim Women and Children), 6,250 (Xians killed by Jihadist Fulani Herdsmen), 4,600 mostly Muslims (killed by Zamfara Islamic Bandits including 3,526 killed in Zamfara and over 1000 killed along Birnin Gawari and its environs in Kaduna) and 4,600 Christians and collateral Muslims deaths killed by Boko Haram insurgents and allied others.

The number of those killed under street criminal activities such as armed robbery, abduction/kidnapping, murder, campus and street cultism, rape and preventable industrial and auto crashes is in thousands annually and tens of thousands since June 2015; likewise numbers killed in communal strife and those who died owing to excessive use of force by the Police especially the operatives of Police special squads like SARS, CID, Anti Cult, etc. Put together, they are in tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands since June 2015.

Genocide in the world over erupts when hatched by non state actor elements and encouraged by the sitting Government such as in the case of present Nigerian Government and its protected Jihadist Fulani Herdsmen. Genocide can also erupt when bred by a sitting Government using and skyrocketing ethnic divisions and religious bigotry all layered in the policies of structural, physical and cultural violence.

Structural violence is represented by political exclusion and segregation while physical violence is a Government policy of using deadly or excessive force against targeted unarmed and defenseless citizens on the basis of their ethnicity and faith; leading to their mass death and maiming. Cultural violence is done through Government hate speech or cultural policy including false labeling or stigmatization of particular citizens on the ground of their ethnicity or religion or degradation of their citizenship to “second or third class”.  In all these, the present central Government of Nigeria headed by Buhari and Osinbajo is fully or inescapably liable.

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Health

New fears over animal tuberculosis infection in Nigeria

– over 10% of cows and 43% of herds have tuberculosis

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Photo of an abattoir in Nigeria used to illustrate the story [Photo credit: Guardian NG]

Photos of uncooked meat, sold in some markets in Nigeria, capture a rising threat to public health coming from indiscriminate slaughter and consumption of animals infected with tuberculosis. The photos are emerging barely three years after a study by World Data Atlas showed that tuberculosis death rate of Nigeria had increased from 60 cases per 100,000 people in 2002 to 62 cases per 100,000 people in 2016, recording an annual death rate of 0.28 %. A similar study by researchers at the Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Ibadan, conducted between 2013 and 2015 revealed that in Nigeria, over 10 percent of cows and 43 percent of herds have tuberculosis.

TB infected meat

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), despite the significant progress made over the last decades, TB continues to be a top infectious killer disease worldwide, claiming over 4,500 lives a day. Nigeria is one of the countries on the list of 30 high burden TB, TB/HIV and MDR-TB countries as compiled by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Nigeria emerged 7th amongst the high TB burden countries globally and 2nd in Africa. The problem of TB in Nigeria has been made worse by the issues of drug-resistant tuberculosis and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. With animal tuberculosis thrown into the mix, there can only be a rising index.

How TB is transmitted from animal to human

Ms Daphne Peter Habila, a Veterinary Doctor with Paws and Claws Consult, Abuja

Tuberculosis can be transmitted from animal to animal, animal to human and human to animal, according to Ms Daphne Peter Habila, a veterinary doctor with Paws and Claws Veterinary Consult in Abuja who spoke to SATELLITE TIMES.

“Animal tuberculosis is a disease caused by organisms belonging to the family Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex(MTC). It affects animals such as cattle, sheep, goat, dog, birds, horses and even wild animals such as buffalo, bison, elk, lions, etc. The disease is zoonotic – which means it can be transmitted from animals to humans, humans to animals, as well as between humans and between animals. Tuberculosis is a highly communicable disease and humans can become infected when they consume unpasteurized dairy products from infected animals, raw or undercooked infected meat, when there is a break in the skin and the organism finds its way into the body and through inhalation of the organism from an infected animal.”

Difference between human to human TB and animal to human TB

“The major difference between human to human and animal to human TB is the species of Mycobacterium organism involved and their routes of transmission. Tuberculosis is life-threatening but often not treated in animals. Although the primary organism responsible for human tuberculosis is Mycobacterium tuberculosis, humans can equally be infected with other species such as Mycobacterium bovis which causes bovine tuberculosis in cattle and is equally fatal in humans especially when an individual is immune-suppressed.”

Identifying TB infected meat

TB infected meat

“A TB infected organ can be identified by the appearance of whitish nodules on the surface (resembling small stones) which makes a gritty sound (like cutting through sand) when a knife is used to cut through the meat. Nigerians should be educated on the dangers of consuming TB infected products by knowing how to identify TB infected tissues using the characteristic nodules (as shown in the picture above).”

Intervention

 “Since animal tuberculosis is equally as fatal as human tuberculosis, intervention should be aimed at controlling and ultimately eradicating the diseases in both animal and human populations. In animals, the test and slaughter policy, that is meat inspection at abattoirs, should be strictly implemented; humans who are more at risk such as veterinarians, herders, butchers, should be periodically screened, tested, and positive persons treated. Very importantly, infants should be given the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine early in life. Also, there should be regular surveillance of both human and animal population alike. Workers at slaughterhouses should regularly be educated on the dangers of consuming and selling infected animal products.

And the government should consider paying compensation to those whose animals will be condemned as a result of TB infection, the same way compensations were paid to poultry farms affected by bird flu.”

Animal TB and HIV/AIDS interventions

Steve Aborisade [Photo credit: Mr Aborisade’s Facebook page]

According to the WHO, HIV-infected people are 30 times more likely to contract TB than those who have not acquired HIV. In trying to understand what happens when TB comes first before HIV, SATELLITE TIMES spoke to Steve Aborisade, the Advocacy and Marketing Manager at AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF).  Aborisade said that if TB comes first, it can impact on HIV in the sense that a high prevalence of TB can lead to more incidences of new HIV infection.

 “Any condition resulting in weakened immunity automatically makes HIV transmission highly probable. TB is, however, an opportunistic infection in people living with HIV, but they are prone to getting TB because of their low immunity. Getting TB in animals is not impossible but rare of the incidences we have. Naturally, millions of people have latent TB in them but not active TB, and it can be anybody since it is airborne. But it may become active once the immunity is weakened by malnutrition, alcoholism and other diseases.

“We have very effective treatment even though we are now faced with multi-drug resistance TB. I think the angle of TB from consumption of animals should be carefully handled, not to create unnecessary panic for a disease which little is known by majority of the people,” Aborisade cautioned.

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Special Report

Yelwan: A community where trees are classrooms

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As the number of out of school children surge across the country, many communities with no presence of educational infrastructure, now turn to tree shades as learning centre. Satellite Times visit to communities in Nassarawa State reveal the harrowing experiences of children who travel several kilometers every day to get education.

Sa’adatu Umar is 15-years old. Her first school experience was July 2016, then; she was 14. Like other children in Yelwan community, education is an unnecessary luxury.  No child is enrolled into formal school in Yelwan, parents looked eager to put their wards into school but there are no schools in the community. The closest primary school is about 5 kilometers away on a bushy, lonely and dangerous path.

“We only need a normal classroom to be built for our children” says Mallam Adbulahi, the community head of Yelwan. Abdulahi points to an open space where community school can be sited.

There are more than 200 children who are not enrolled in school, the request to site a school in the community has not been heeded, the community have written to Keffi Local government, they have appealed to prominent politicians in neighbouring town who only visits during election, no one has responded to their call for educational shelter but determined to give hope to the children, the community heads tasked each household a sum of 1000 naira per month. This contribution enabled them purchase writing materials – black boards, mats and a 3,000 naira stipend to a volunteer teacher.

With no shelter yet, about 200 yearning children who had never been to school are excited to have a chance at education even if it is offered under the shades of trees. “About 90 children rushed to take a front spot at the ‘new’ Yelwan primary school on the first day of school’ remarks Adbulahi, an elderly community head.

Even Abdulahi, not sure of his own real age but wished he had a chance at education, he explained how his lack of education had cost him a decent life. “If I had attended school, I would have been a big man today” Abdulahi said through an interpreter. Every strand of his wrinkled face bares his pain “I now know the value of education and we are determined to get this children education” said Abdulahi.

The ‘new’ Yelwan School is sheltered under two large trees. The two large trees represent class A and class B.

When Satellite Times asked the Musa Muazu, the social welfare officer at the Keffi Local government, he admitted that the local government had received requests for shelter but there were no funding for the request. “We are aware of the situation here, when we got their request and visited, we decided to make recommendation to the State Universal Basic Education, SUBEC.” Said Muazu.

Musa Muazu, Social Welfare Officer, Keffi, Nassarawa State

Yelwan community is a reflection of the poor state of education in Keffi, many public schools visited were in dilapidated conditions with overcrowded classrooms, poor ventilation, open or leaking roof. There is deficiency of both physical and mental infrastructure. The teaching staff too are least qualified, delivering lecture in local Hausa dialect.

In Keffi, the sight of children wandering barefooted in torn clothing and clutching empty stained food bowl dots the town. For a state that has signed the Child Right Law, it is disturbing to observe an open disregard for that law.  It appears that families are only concerned about their own children and government about politics, not the people.

Knowing the power of traditional institutions, Muazu through the Social Welfare Department once engaged the Emir of Keffi, one of the most revered traditional ruler in the state “We are using our traditional rulers to ensure that children go to school, no matter the condition of the school, we will play our role and hope that the government will play their role of providing infrastructure” he said, narrating how the Emir of Keffi has become an advocate of child education.

As reported, a man had shipped 27 children into Keffi from Katsina under the guise of enrolling them into an Islamic school. However, his real intention was to make the children make money for him.  So he put them out on the street, handed them a bowl each and issued a daily target for food and money.

Luck ran out on him after he physically abused one of the children. The news got to the Social Welfare Officer who reported the incidence to the Emir of Keffi. The outraged members of the emirate council ordered a public punishment to serve as a deterrent. The man was whipped in the public and the children were withdrawn from the street and reunited with their parents in Katsina.

Abugye Community

Like Yelwan, Abugye community too has no school shelter. This community is in Keana local government, lafia, Nassarawa State.

The road to Abugye community is rough and dangerous. This community seats in the heart of a thick forest. There are no electricity, no clean water, no medical centre and no access to mobile telephone signal.

Abugye is home to more than 300 school age children, some of whom have been withdrawn from school because of the pain of travelling 3 kilometers to the nearest school.

“You can live here without money” says Yahaya Ibrahim, 37, the spokesperson of the community who claim he has not used money for exchange of any goods or services. “I have not used money for more than 2years, everything we need is here” he enthused.

The community may have everything they require for their nomadic lifestyle but it is lacking in the essentials for building their minds and their future. They lack schools for their children.

Adama Yahaya treks 3 kilometers everyday to school. She hurriedly makes her way through the rocky; narrow path that leads to the nearest primary school in Abugye, a fulani community in Keana Local government area of Nassarawa State.

Adama Yahaya

 

Adama is 7 but she does the chores of an adult. Her day begins as early as 5am. She accompanies her young mother to the stream to fetch water, she combs through the woods to fetch fire wood and by 7am, she begins a long journey to school.

Adama is one of the few girls in the community whose parents refused to withdraw from school. “She is very smart” says her 37 years old father of 8 children.  “I want to become a teacher, so that I can teach a lot of children in my community” Adama said with glittering smile.

Satellite Times learnt that many children of school age do not attend school in Abugye community because of the long distance and the fear of exposing the children to reptile attack.

The rate of child neglect and abandonment in Keana is high; it gives an idea of the real situation in Nigeria.

In 2003, the Child Right Act was signed into Law; it was also domesticated in about 24 States of the federation.

Still, more than 10 million children are out of school in Nigeria, the rate of abandonment, high incidences of child abuse, public and institutional disregard to the rights of vulnerable children and neglect remain constantly on rise.

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