Wole Ayodele, in Jalingo, reports on the efforts of the Taraba State governor to ensure peace in the state

To keen watchers and followers of events in Taraba State, the recent suspension of four district and three village heads by the governor, Mr. Darius Ishaku, would finally bring to an end the altercation between Senators Emmanuel Bwacha and Yusuf A. Yusuf, both representing the state in the National Assembly. Announcing the suspension of the chiefs, the state government stated that they had been allocating and selling lands and residencies of internally displaced persons to migrants who relocated to Taraba from other states, particularly, the northern states.

The affected chiefs, who were suspended for three months, according to the statement from the state government, are the district heads of Kungana, Takalafiya, Maihula and Tella as well as the village heads of Sabon Dale, Sandirde and Taka all in Bakundi and Gassol chiefdoms in Bali and Gassol local government areas.

According to the governor, the action of the chiefs constitute serious security threat to the state, as it is capable of sabotaging the current peace efforts of the administration, which is aimed at restoring peace to the troubled areas of the state so that the internally displaced persons can return to their homes.

Prior to their suspension, Bwacha, who represents Taraba South senatorial district in the Senate, had raised an alarm on the floor of the Senate over the influx of strange people into the state, most of whom he disclosed were being ferried into the state in truckloads and buses. Bwacha, who is equally the deputy minority leader in the Senate, called on security agencies to investigate the development and take proactive measures to prevent any escalation of the already volatile security situation in the state.

But Bwacha’s counterpart, Yusuf, representing Taraba Central senatorial district, countered and alleged Bwacha was just crying wolf. To Yusuf, there was no basis for the alarm. He urged the Senate and security agencies to disregard Bwacha’s alarm, stressing that he has been informed by the state Commissioner of Police that there is no such influx into the state. But it was an assertion that was later debunked by the CP, Mr Shaaba Alkali.

Reacting to the controversy, Alkali revealed that the state police command had intercepted several truckloads of strange people, who were asked to return to where they were coming from after being screened at the police headquarters. The police commissioner, however, noted that the migrants were not Boko Haram members but just fleeing states that had come under intense attack by the military in a renewed bid to flush out the insurgents. He urged the senators to leave him out of their politics, saying he is not a politician but a professional police officer.

But justifying the suspension of the chiefs, Ishaku revealed that his decision was based on security report available to him that the affected chiefs had embarked on indiscriminate selling of lands belonging to persons displaced by internal crisis in the state. He specifically accused the chiefs of encouraging the influx of migrants from other North-east and North-west states into the state by allocating to them land belonging to IDPs, who are mainly Tiv, with the primary aim of preventing them from returning to their homes.

“The actions of the chiefs have become very worrisome given that my administration has been battling to resettle the IDPs and promote peaceful coexistence among the people of the state and I cannot fold my hands and watch this trend continue,” the governor warned. “This development has given rise to a spate of arm robbery, cattle rustling, kidnapping and other criminal activities in the state.”

Meanwhile, not a few residents and stakeholders in the state have drawn a link between the massive influx of the strange persons and the recent increase in criminal activities in the state, particularly, kidnappings being witnessed across some local government areas of the state.

First to be kidnapped recently was Hajia Beli Manu, mother of the state deputy governor, Alhaji Haruna Manu, who was kidnapped from her residence at Mutum Biyu in Gassol Local Government Area on February 8. Her abductors were said to have stormed her house in a convoy of motorcycles about 11.30pm and shot sporadically into the air, killing one person in the process. She was eventually released 24 24 hours later after her family, reportedly, paid an undisclosed sum of money as ransom. Though, the police authorities stated that no ransom was paid before her release.

Less than five days after Hajia Manu’s kidnap, specifically on February 14, another high profile indigene of the state, 78-year-old Mallam Umaru Audu, father of a prominent politician, Alhaji Umaru Bibinu, was kidnapped from his residence at Bibinu village, Donga local government of the state. Audu was eventually released by his abductors after the payment of an undisclosed sum ransom. The kidnappers initially demanded N10 million.

Similarly, on March 1, a retired officer of the Department of State Security, Mr Hosea Danjuma, was kidnapped at his residence in Baissa, headquarters of Kurmi Local Government Area about 1.45am by unknown gunmen. Danjuma, who last worked in Badagry before retiring in 2015, was later released after three days in the abductors’ custody following the alleged payment of N5 million to his abductors. The security authorities maintained that no ransom was paid.

Besides kidnappings, there has been a sharp increase in the rate of armed robbery, car snatching and theft as well as cattle rustling particularly in the south and central senatorial districts in recent times.

To confirm and corroborate security reports that the increased spate of criminal activities may not be unconnected with the recent influx of people to the state, a Fulani group, Tabbital Pulaaku International, has accused Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association in Taraba of conniving with other Fulanis from other states to massively move into Taraba and cause disaffection among communities in the state. Chairman of Tabbital Pulaaku International, Bello Baminjani, who stated this in Jalingo while fielding questions from newsmen when he led members of his group on a courtesy call on Ishaku, accused Miyetti Allah Association of not working for the well-being of its members, but working to advance their selfish interests.

Bello alleged that Miyetti Allah in Taraba were conniving with other Fulanis from other states to cause disaffection among communities in Taraba, saying Tabbital Pulaaku International, which is known for peace, cannot identify with such dubious activities of Miyetti Allah in Taraba.

With the proactive measures taken by the governor, which have raised the hope for peace among communities in the state, many are optimistic that the protracted ethno-religious crisis as well as the rising criminal activities across the state would soon be brought to an end.