Warring communities in Taraba resolve to end crisis, writes Shehu Adamu
They came to the meeting still nursing ill feelings that had trailed the crisis but left after the five-hours of deliberations presided over by Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku happy and satisfied that the right decisions had been made and appropriate steps taken towards achieving sustainable peace in their communities. It was a stakeholders meeting on the recent herdsmen/farmers crisis in Sardauna Local Government Council Area of Taraba State called and presided over by the Governor to get to the roots of the crisis and to find appropriate and a lasting solution. It was attended by representatives of all the major communities in the council area. Leaders of all the communities represented were given the opportunity to speak and they all told stories of the remote and immediate causes of the crisis. All the stories shared one major theme which is inadequacy of land for grazing and farming.
Human population has grown tremendously in their various communities in the Mambilla area in recent years. And so also is the population of cattle, sheep and goats. A lot more people are now farmers too and they are in need of farm lands. The need for land either for grazing or farming has exceeded the demand. This has heightened the pressure for land for farming and grazing over the years. The pressure from these demands developed into a keg of gunpowder which is easily ignited even by issues that are not directly related. In the recent case, it was the arrest of a member of one of the communities for a suspected crime. Rumours and un-informed guesses on the motive behind arrest heightened tempers on both sides of the divide and eventually exploded into fighting which resulted in some deaths and destruction of property.
Governor Ishaku who was abroad at the time of the crisis told participants at the meeting that he was not happy with the happenings in Mambilla. He said he has a special spot for Mambila in his heart. “I launched my campaign in Mambilla. The first of the five non-performing companies I have so far revived is the Highland Tea Company in Mambilla. The hydro power project which is today supplying un-interrupted power to the tea factory and neighbouring communities is one of the major projects I inaugurated in the early days of my administration. I will not fold my hands and watch Mambilla – one of the greatest gifts to Africa – be ruined by crises”, he said. He urged members of all the communities in Mambilla to exercise restraint so that peace will reign.
Ishaku said the only way crises can end in the area is for the people to forgive each other and told them of his plan for Mambilla which is to make it the pride of Nigeria and Africa. This plan will not materialise if crises persist there, he said. His speech evoked a new spirit of compromise and understanding and soon the tension that had hitherto enveloped the large Executive Council Chambers venue of the meeting melted.
The meeting threw up several suggestions for permanently resolving the crisis in communities which included land redistribution, review and implementation of existing land allocation laws, increase in ground rents and implementation of existing reports on land use in the state. Governor Ishaku used the opportunity to educate participants on the proposed Open Grazing Bill now before the Taraba State House of Assembly and advised them to study its provisions properly before reacting negatively to it. He said the bill makes elaborate provisions that will take care of all the competing interests of herdsmen and farmers. This was followed by his decision to set up new committees on the crisis, in addition to the judicial committee he had earlier announced. One of them is a 14-member committee to be made up of leaders of the various communities in Mambilla while the second is a Truth and Reconciliatory committee whose membership and terms of reference the governor will announce after he has been properly advised on the modalities. The Judicial Commission of Enquiry is headed by Justice Nuhu Adi and it has three weeks to submit its report to the government.
The decisions brought smiles on the faces of the participants. The reason is that the steps taken by Governor Ishaku have not only been fair to all the parties but are the most realistic way forward for permanently resolving the crises. They left for their various homes with the good news that the issues will be comprehensively addressed.
In the days and weeks ahead, a lot will be happening to actualise these decisions. Government’s determination to pursue every available option for achieving peace in the area is apparently unwavering. Governor Ishaku left nobody in doubt about his desire to see an end to the crisis in Mambilla and in the whole of Taraba State. That is the reason peace is a major item on his rescue agenda. It is also the reason for his popular mantra of “Give me peace and I will give you development.”  The people of Mambilla must now give peace a chance. They should cooperate with the various committees set up by the government by going before them to state their position on issues. It is important to emphasise that the current peace process should not be allowed to degenerate into a breakdown of law and order.
So far, security agencies deployed to the area have done an excellent job of restoring normality to the area. They should ensure that the situation is stabilised quickly so that normal business activities which have started can be totally normalised. In the conduct of their duties, they should be fair and firm and should give no impression through their actions that they are sympathetic with any of the sides to the conflict. In the same vein, all the sides to the conflict must shun inflammatory utterances that could send tempers flying again. This is a period of soberness, a time for reflection and a time of forgiveness and accommodation by all the people of Mambilla and Tarabans in general.