Seriki Adinoyi, in Jos, looks at the killing of a first class traditional ruler in Plateau State by unknown gunmen
The peace of Plateau State was disturbed recently when unknown gunmen ambushed a first class traditional ruler, the paramount ruler of Bokkos, the Saf Ron Kulere, Chief Lazarus Agai, killing him and his two aides, including his police orderly.
The first suspects were the Fulani herdsmen in the area. The suspicion was rooted in the way the monarch was killed, which the youth of the area alleged was similar to the pattern of killings by the herdsmen. They said the assailants, with masked faces, suddenly emerged from the bush and shot at the monarch’s vehicle when he and the others were returning from his farm at Sha, killing him and the two others.
That account was, however, contradicted by another report that Agai was not shot but rather strangled and his body left floating on a nearby stream.
Everyone knew the killing of such a prominent man, who had been on the throne for over 42 years, was going to elicit crisis. So everyone was on their guard. Even the governor of the state, Mr. Simon Lalong, who was away from the state on leave, had to cut the holiday short. He hurried back to take charge of the situation.
Lamenting the murder, the senator for Plateau North senatorial zone, Senator Jonah David Jang, condemned the renewed onslaught on the people of the state “by those who are hell-bent on dispossessing us of our God-given heritage.”
A statement by Jang’s aide, Comrade Clinton Garuba, described the murder as heart-rending, “especially at a time when our dear state is going through a challenging time when his wealth of experience and the core values which he stood for are direly needed.”
Many believe Jang’S statement was also pointing at the Fulani herdsmen, who had in the past wreaked similar havoc on communities in the state. Jang further reiterated his call on Plateau people not to cede their land for grazing reserve to a people that will eventually turn round to kill them.
Also condemning the murder of the paramount ruler, the senator for Plateau Central zone, Chief Joshua Dariye, who incidentally is from Bokkos, appealed for calm. He charged the security operatives to unmask the perpetrators, whom he believed live in the locality.
The Christian Association of Nigeria, northern zone, also condemned the murder. It described the monarch as a devoted Christian, in a statement signed by its chairman, Rev Yakubu Pam. He lamented the way Christians in the North were being killed and tasked President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure that Christians were protected across the northern states.
The state government in a statement signed by the governor’s Director of Press, Emmanuel Nanleg, equally condemned the killing. It reassured the people that those bent on rubbishing the peace the government had achieved for the state will fail. It also appealed to citizens to keep calm, saying the security agencies are working to expose and punish the killers.
The governor, who visited the community, also appealed to the youth to sheathe their sword and allow the security agents do their work. He reassured that the enemies of Plateau that would not want peace to reign in the state will be put to shame.
The state House of Assembly also condemned the murder. The Assembly said it was tired of hearing the concept of unknown gunmen charged the security agencies to bring the perpetrators to book. Following a valedictory session for the monarch, the lawmakers said his murder could not be swept under the carpet as another unknown gunmen attack.
Unsurprisingly, the Fulani herdsmen in the area, being the first and immediate suspects, were to bear the brunt of the youths of the community. The irate youths unleashed mayhem on them and their property, destroying and burning their settlements. They quickly escaped and took refuge at the police station in the area.
Several people, including the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Mohammed Sa’ád Abubakar III, condemned the reaction of the youths, querying how they immediately concluded that the herdsmen were the assailants even while investigations were still on-going.
Though the Sultan was in Jos for a separate reason, he seized the opportunity to condemn the murder of Agai, whom he described as “our brother”, and the needless attack on the herdsmen. He lamented that “the press just jumped into conclusion that he was killed by herdsmen without waiting for the police to investigate.”
The sultan said, “Whoever did that is a criminal and he must be fished out and dealt with. That is why we should all resolve to come together, whenever a crime is committed by anybody, whoever that person is, let us call him a criminal and we all come together and bring that person out and deal with him, no matter how big he thinks he is, no matter which tribe he belongs to, no matter which religion he professes.”
He charged the security operatives to ensure that the murderers were uncovered and dealt with as criminals.
Corroborating the sultan’s view, the state chairman of Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Mallam Nuru Mohammad, blamed the press for the attack on the herdsmen. He said the press was too quick to suspect herdsmen before the police investigations were concluded. He lamented that “our homes have been utterly destroyed and burnt”, urging the police to bring the youths to book.
Security Agents’ Draconian Reaction
Not pacified by the several appeals from different quarters, the irate youths went after the Fulani the following day. They demanded to lynch the Ardo (Fulani leader) of the area, but the security agents would not succumb to that. And as they engaged in fracas with the security agents over the Ardo, the security men shot and killed four of the youths on the spot and injured several others. The youths retreated, went and prepared and launched an attack on the police station in the area. Then another two among the youths were killed.
To prevent an escalation and breakdown of law and order, the state government quickly imposed a 24-hour curfew on the area.
Since after the incident, reactions and suspicions over the identity of the murders, and the killing of the six youths by the security agents have continued to reverberate.
Many believe that the security agents should have been more civil with the youths considering that it was their monarch that was killed. They said it was bad enough that the community lost their paramount ruler and two others, adding that killing additional six people in the community was unpardonable. They alleged that the same Fulani had killed two village heads in the area recently and wondered how the same security agents that could not protect the people would turn round to kill them.
But the security agents alleged that they could not fold their arms and watch lawlessness in the name of reprisal against the Fulani. They added that they would have also been blamed if they allowed the hoodlums to kill the Fulani leader in their custody, a development that would have escalated the already bad situation.
Spokesman of the security agents, Captain Ikedichi Iweha, said following the killing of the traditional ruler by unknown gunmen, “some youths blocked the roads leading to Bokkos and started burning tyres and harassing innocent citizens. The situation got out of hand when the youths attempted to lynch the Ardo of Bokkos, but security operatives swiftly came to the rescue of the man and other innocent citizens and it was in the process that some of the youths opened fire on the security operatives. This development prompted the security operatives to fire into the air to disperse the youths and in the process some of the youths lost their lives while some security operatives sustained various degrees of injuries.”
Though there is currently a semblance of peace in the area, it may only be temporary, as the youth appear determined to take their pound of flesh. They are probably yet to be convinced that there monarch was killed by the Fulani.
The latest development has seemed to yet again bring the on-going controversy about the issue of establishing grazing reserves for the herdsmen – rather than have them set up ranches for their animals – into focus. The indigenous Plateau people have reiterated their resolve not to accommodate grazing reserves in the state. They say they will not host a people with the kind of murderous tendencies the Fulani herdsmen have exhibited in the state.
But people have continued to appeal to the youth to understand the Fulani may not be responsible for the traditional ruler’s death.
An elder statesman, who preferred anonymity, said the Fulani were not likely to be the killers of the monarch. He said whenever the herdsmen had problems with neighbouring Barkin-Ladi and Riyom communities they usually ran to take refuge in Bokkos under Agai. “How can the same Fulani turn round to kill the man that provided refuge for them in times of trouble; what do they stand to gain?” the elder statesman wondered.
He urged the security agents to look beyond the herdsmen in their investigation, bearing in mind that there could be some other groups that may have committed the havoc for other reasons. “Who knows, such people could have committed the havoc for selfish motives, such as eyeing the stool of the traditional ruler,” he added.
Also trying to exonerate the Fulani, some believe the enemies of the herdsmen may have killed Agai, knowing that he loves the Fulani and may have supported the grazing reserve policy in the state.
Amid the conflicting suspicions, the police have promised to bring those that killed the traditional ruler to justice. Deputy Inspector General (DIG), Operations, Mr. Joshak Habila, appealed to the angry locals to exercise patience, as “two wrongs cannot make a right”.
Habila said the police were deploying more policemen, including CIDs to Bokkos, for reinforcement. He also said there would be helicopter surveillance in the area.
But Plateau citizens have sufficient reasons not to trust the police and other security agents and their promises. Several attacks have occurred in the state where many lives were lost without anyone being apprehended. All the citizens got were promises upon promises. They fear that this latest killing may go the same way others went.
The onus is on the police and other security agencies in Plateau State to prove the suspicious natives wrong.