Plateau State is in the news again following a gale of attacks and killings that have so far claimed no fewer than 50 people, writes Seriki Adinoyi
A renewed violent attack came the way of the people of Plateau State, nearly after almost two years of relative peace. Although not anything unusual when compared with some of the experiences of the past, the people were no less alarmed still with the way and manner the latest attack was quick to spread, leaving in its trail, monumental havoc. Put succinctly, what happened in the last few days was a clear indication that though there might have been relative peace, the merchants of violence had their mercenaries prepared in the event of the slightest provocation.
The state has a history of over a decade and a half of violence triggered either by ethnic, religious or political tussle, with attendant destruction of lives and property. And for a state that still prides itself as ‘home of peace and tourism’, what has been seen in the past over a decade describes it in the exact opposite. The crises have been multifaceted, which has made it difficult for successive governments, from the days of Senator Joshua Chibi Dariye to proffer any lasting solution to it.
Interestingly, whilst the attacks hardly occur among the indigenous tribes of the state, it has always been the Hausa-Fulani settlers taking on each of the tribes, one after the other. And after their decades of sojourn and business activities in the land, they would rather prefer to be called indigenes, and demand to be given the rights accruable to the indigenes, especially when the issue involved is political.
One common characteristic of all the crises is that they easily snowball into religious violence, irrespective of their initial causes. This is because the natives, who are predominantly Christians and the Hausa-Fulani, who are predominantly Muslims, would always whip up religious sentiments to attract sympathy and support.
In 2001, the sectarian crisis over the ownership of Jos, especially Jos North degenerated into serious mayhem that claimed many lives in the wake of it. It eventually culminated into the razing down of the famous Jos main market in 2002. The market, which was a commercial nerve centre for all the states in the entire Northern region and beyond had since been in ruins.
The setback caused by the destruction of the market is one that Plateau has struggled endlessly to overcome 10 years after without success, as no government has been able to re-build it till today. Successive governments, including the current one, have made frantic efforts without any headway.
Not only were lives and property lost in the crisis, it marked the beginning of wounds that have refused to heal as a people that once lived peacefully together now totally resent one another due to mutual distrust.
The Yelwa/Shendam crisis of June 2002 and the repeat in 2004 started as inter-communal conflict between the native tribes in the Southern part of Plateau and the Hausa-Fulani in the area. But it soon snowballed into a huge religious crisis, leading to the burning of churches and mosques in the area, with many lives lost in the aftermath, and declaration of a state of emergency by the federal government. This further deepened the already existing suspicion and hatred among the people, leading to many of them relocating to be amongst the people of their faith for fear of being victims of reprisal attacks.
This gave way to the 2008 post-local government election violence that claimed over 800 lives. It started like a political disturbance, when a group of youths alleged that they were being manipulated during the collation of the election results in Jos North Local Government Area. It soon metamorphosed into a religious riot, leading to full blown crisis that led to the burning of worship places and property including the Bukuru food market.
Governments at both the state and the national levels constituted panels of inquiry to unearth the remote causes of the various crises but the reports were never implemented. Among the panels constituted at various times were The Nikki Tobi Panel, Fiberesima Panel, Bola Ajibola Panel, Emmanuel Abisoye Panel, and even the one constituted by the House of Representatives. All ended up on the shelf as none was ever implemented, although it was alleged that some sacred cows were indicted.
Sincerely, this has been the bane of the unending crises in the state, as people who felt terribly hurt by the loss of their loved ones and property continued to see those alleged to have been indicted in their misfortune move freely unpunished. In fact, some indicted persons allegedly got juicy federal government appointments rather than being sanctioned.
Since the 2008 crisis, Plateau has suffered huge casualties especially in the villages, as those who felt that they didn’t get justice in spite of the series of panels resorted to self-help. They mobilised themselves into groups for attacks and counter-attacks leading to more casualties in the villages.
While these happened in the villages, Jos the capital city was merely sitting on keg of gunpowder. Any slight provocation easily degenerated into serious mayhem. One of them was in 2010, when a man whose house was destroyed at Dutse-uku in the city centre in 2008, went back to re-build his house, and in the process, he was attacked by his neighbours of a different faith, leading to another round of riot that claimed hundreds of lives.
A Berom village of Dogo Nahawa was thereafter attacked and over 200 killed. A settlement in Kuru predominated by the Hausa-Fulani was also attacked and close to 200 people were also killed. And the circle continued. Since then, Jos became a hotbed for killings in both night and broad day attacks of men in their farms and women, children and the elderly in their homes.
At a point, the government of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan had to declare a state of emergency too in some local governments after a serving Senator, Dr. Gyang Dantong, and a state assemblyman, Mr. Gyang Fulani, died in a village, where they had gone to mourn those that were killed the previous day. They were in the village when some attackers swooped on them, and as they scampered to safety, they met their deaths.
The attacks and killings continued until the end of the administration of former Governor Jonah David Jang in 2015. Many blamed the crises on Jang, whom they described as stubborn and unyielding to the voice of reason. They added that Jang hated the Hausa-Fulani and did not carry them along in his government, and consequently, they paid him back by embroiling the state in series of crises and making it ungovernable for him.
That, unfortunately, was a lame one. The crises had started before Jang became governor. How he was supposed to be blamed for the 2001 and 2002 Jos crises and those of Yelwa/Shendam when Dariye was the governor still beats the imagination of observers. But Jang’s supporters believed that the Hausa-Fulani are a people that are generally difficult to please and who have made crises a lifestyle, and thrive in them. They believe that Jang did well by placing them where they belonged.
Now, it is the administration of Governor Simon Bako Lalong, who chose to soft-pedal on the Hausa-Fulani probably to win their favour so as to get the needed peace for the development of the state. As a way of carrying them along, he gave the Hausa-Fulani some good appointments and got them involved in the governance of the state. The governor also embarked on peace missions to all the tribes in the state, appealing to them to sheathe their swords. But that only paid off for a while.
His first two years in office experienced a fleeting peace, with few attacks including the murder of Saf Ron Kulere, the paramount ruler of Bokkos, Lazarus Agai, who was attacked and killed on his way from his farm. The police promised to investigate and bring the perpetrators to book, but it only ended up as usual – mere promises. The peace became an anthem of achievement for Lalong’s government as he claimed glory for the return of peace in the state. To be fair to him, several things began to change as commercial activities seriously sprang up, with investors considering a return to the state.
Jos carnival, trade fairs, and several concerts hosted at various times in Jos were a mark of the return of peace. But it was not for too long. The entire peace began to crumble since last month, and has now totally collapsed in the past days with over 50 lives lost in the most gruesome manner. No thanks to whoever murdered a young Fulani boy in a small village of Ancha in Bassa local government area of the state in September.
In a reprisal, suspected Fulani killed over 20 persons to avenge the murder. The natives, who claimed innocence of the boy’s death, had blamed it on cult activities. They had however appealed to the Fulani for calm, promising to investigate it. But before the investigation could be completed, the Fulani who perhaps became hesitant pounced on the village leaving over 20 dead.
A villager in Ancha said the gunmen invaded the community at about 1:45 am when his kinsmen were fast asleep, and attacked the people randomly, adding that the attack lasted for over an hour without resistance from the community and the security men, until the gunmen completed their mission and disappeared into the nearby hills.
Police Commissioner at the time, Peter Ogunyanwo, said the attackers were suspected Fulani on reprisal, “who went from house to house killing innocent people.” He said the Fulani had written to the Police to complain that one of their boys was killed, beheaded and buried in a shallow grave in the bush, adding that the boy had ran away from home after committing a mischief, and that after three days his headless body was found in a nearby bush.
Ogunyanwo said the police quickly swung into action and arrested five persons in connection with the murder, but that he did not expect anyone to take the laws into their hands to go on reprisal after reporting to the police and investigations had commenced. Since then, it has been series of attacks and counter attacks as the crisis easily spread.
The most worrisome, however, was the recent reprisal against the Igbos in Jos by the Hausa over the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in the South-east leading to the death of at least two. The development led to the imposition of a dust-to-dawn curfew on the state. And according to the governor, the crisis nearly deprived the state of the hosting right of NYSC National Management conference that was scheduled for that period.
A fortnight ago, one-time Head of Service in the state, Da Moses Gwom, was attacked and murdered in his own house at Dorowa in Barkin Ladi Local Government of the state by unknown persons. His murder was just one of the several killings in the state in recent days. The development forced the state government to impose an indefinite dusk-to-dawn curfew on Bassa local government area, where the killings became frequent. But it never solved the problem as killings continued daily in the area in spite of the curfew.
The security operatives were therefore accused of complicity. The people of the area alleged that they thrive in the crises, wondering why attacks and killings should continue daily in a local government, where curfew was imposed with more security men on the ground. The alleged complicity of the security agents, especially the soldiers became more likely with the recent attack on Nkiedonwhro village in which over 27 persons were summarily killed by gunmen in a primary school classroom next to the one used as operational base by soldiers on the same block.
One would wonder what exactly happened that 27 persons were shot dead in one classroom when the very next classroom on the same block was occupied by soldiers, where they used as their operational base, and no none of the attackers was killed nor arrested. Did the soldiers sleep off? Were they sedated? Did the gunshots that killed the 27 not make any sound? Did the victims not at least cry out before they were all killed? Did the soldiers go on patrol from the block and left their unarmed neighbours at the mercy of the attackers? These remain some of the unanswered questions.
National President of Irigwe Development Association (IDA), Mr. Sunday Abdu, indicted the soldiers and said they gathered the villagers for the Fulani to kill. “How can the same soldiers who gathered the villagers in one classroom next to their own claim they didn’t know when the attackers came and killed all of them in one night?”, he queried.
He said the soldiers had gathered the victims to the primary school in the village to protect them from persistent attacks in the area, adding that while the soldiers occupied one classroom, where they use as their operational base, the women and children occupied the next classroom.
“How then did the attackers come and killed the women and children without the soldiers knowing? It is either that the soldiers are conniving with the attackers to annihilate our people or they ran away and left our people to their fate. It is even more worrisome that the same local government was under curfew imposed on it by the state government when this happened.”
The fact remains that there are still unhealed wounds from past crises which need to be treated if Plateau must know a lasting peace. This cannot be covered by offer of appointments. Such will only give a temporary peace that cannot stand the test of time. The reports of the various panels of inquiry must be re-visited and those indicted punished. Then the people that have been hurt will feel that justice has been done. That way, the persistent crises would be resolved from their roots. Glossing over it will only amount to further postponing the evil days.