Plateau Under Siege

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Seriki Adinoyi writes that many communities in Plateau State are still under attack from suspected herdsmen

If one lives in Plateau today, it is difficult to know what to believe considering the discordant tunes by stakeholders who should give the citizens the true situation of peace and security in the state.

Governor Simon Lalong had clearly told the world that there is serene peace in Plateau. He went further to tell his colleague governors how he achieved the peace in a Plateau that became a theatre of war in recent years before his administration.

He had even courageously invited investors to turn to the state and put in their investments as he reassured them of adequate security.

On how he achieved the ‘laudable peace’, Lalong said it was all about inclusiveness in governance, where all and sundry, including the Hausa/Fulani are allowed to participate actively in governance. By this, according to the governor, no one feels left-out. That was his simple recipe for peace.

The governor also admonished fellow governors of other states, especially in the Middle Belt where the citizens had not known peace because of their harsh stance on anti-grazing law to reconsider their position and pipe-down and accept fellow countrymen to co-exist with them.

Just recently, he also budgeted N250 million for the “development and maintenance of ranching” in the state against the outcry of citizens that urged him to allow herders, like other farmers, pay for whatever they needed for their farming. The citizens believe that if government would have to pay for ranches, it should equally pay for poultry and piggery farming since what was good for the goose should be good for the gander. But Lalong in his wisdom, and his effort towards the peace of Plateau decided to accord herders the special priority given the prevailing circumstance of farmers/herders clashes, which was another laudable one, if only to get peace. He believes that when all things are properly put in place in terms of ranching, asking the Fulani nomads to leave the farmers’ crops alone would not be a hard task.

But how have all these efforts paid off? Is there now the desired peace in Plateau? Yes, according to the governor. But, security reports clearly disagree with him.

Starting from the third week of January, 2018, citizens of Bassa, Bokkos and Riyom local government areas have known more of violence than peace. On a daily basis, especially in Miango communities of Bassa Local Government Area, the people buried their loved ones in droves, houses were burnt and reduced to rubbles, the people of the communities rendered refugees, and farmlands mercilessly destroyed. No thanks to Fulani herders who were supposed to reciprocate Lalong’s kind and all-inclusive gesture.

Villages such as Rafiki, Jebu-Miango, Tafi Gani, Ariri and Nzhweego among many others came under heavy attacks, and those that managed to escape fled the communities completely.

A local evangelist, Mr. Jerry Datim, who spoke on the carnage said, “No fewer than 72 persons were killed in renewed attacks on about 14 Miango villages in Bassa Local Government Area this year alone, where several houses and vast farmlands have also been destroyed by Fulani herdsmen, who have vowed to dislodge the natives.”

Datim expressed disappointment that the state government has maintained silence over the killings pretending that all was well, alleging that political leaders in the state have failed to protect the people from the Fulani attackers because they fear that President Muhammadu Buhari may move against any politician that goes against the Fulani who are Buhari’s kinsmen.

He said after the November 2017 attacks in the same communities, some spirited individuals donated 190 bundles of zinc to the communities to roof their burnt houses, but lamented that the roofs have been burnt again.

Datim said the internally displaced villagers, whose houses and farms have been destroyed, are now taking refuge with their relatives at Kabon and Tudun Wada, both in Jos North Local Government Area, adding that they’ve been displaced from their ancestral homes, and their means of livelihood destroyed.

Another broadcast Evangelist, Rev. Jacob Gidado ‎who was also in the village to sympathise with the people, called on the federal government to protect Christians against incessant killings, saying Christians, especially in the Northern Nigeria have been persecuted beyond measure.

The renewed onslaught allegedly began with the Chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders of Nigeria (MACBAN), Mallam Nuru Abdullah, complaining vehemently in a press statement that some of its members had lost cows and sheep at Ganawuri in Riyom Local Government Area and Rafiki in Bassa Local Government Area, alleging that they may have been stolen by the natives of the area. MACBAN also petitioned the STF Commander, the IGP, and the National Security Adviser on the same issue.

In response, Irigwe Development Association (IDA) denied knowledge of the lost cattle, adding that the people do not rear cattle as their occupation was farming, and that it had nothing to do with the stolen cows.

Mr. Ive Gulu, the publicity secretary of IDA, however alerted the security agencies of the threat by the Fulani to attack the communities, requesting that they be proactive to avert the imminent attack.

In a press statement, Gulu described the claim by MACBAN as a ploy to find a reason to carry out its sinister plan of attacking the community again. He said, “We would like to state here that MACBAN has become so predictable in its operations. As such, we view statements like this as part of a sinister plan to launch attacks on our innocent communities. We therefore urge for vigilance from all and sundry, especially security operatives, who are saddled with the duty of protecting lives and property.”

But the military Special Task Force (STF) on security in the state reassured that it was on ground to avert any fracas. The Commander of the STF, Major General Anthony Atolagbe also assured the villagers of their security.

The state Police Command, on its part, also said it had deployed its men of its intelligence unit to investigate claims by MACBAN and IDA, allaying the fears of the villagers.

But unfortunately, the soldiers and police deployed to the communities could not do much to avert the attacks or even arrest any of the attackers as they would always have escaped before they get to the scenes of the attacks.

The state Police Commissioner, Mr. Undie Adie quickly summoned a security meeting of stakeholders in the state; community leaders, traditional rulers, religious leaders, youth leaders, and representatives of farmers and herdsmen where he called on them to eschew violence and bitterness, and embrace peace and allow the past to go.

But the Irigwe youths said that Fulani had killed their kinsmen and that they should stay away from their communities for sometimes to allow them mourn their dead before they return to graze in the area.

The Fulani who initially disagreed to that, eventually agreed to steer clear of the area. But the CP however asked the Irigwe youths not to overstretch the mourning period.

But the following night after the meeting, the herdsmen struck again and killed more people. The attacks continued on daily basis with several people killed in Kpala, and other villages in the community, including women returning from Jos market.

Reacting to the killings, National President of IDA, Mr Sunday Abdu said, “The herdsmen also destroyed all our dry season farm crops put in place by the Irigwe farmers. They put their cattle on the farms to eat and destroy all the crops.” He described the incessant attacks on Irigwe communities as a deliberate pogrom to wipe out the race from the map of Africa, urging the authority concerned to come to their aid to end the carnage.

Meanwhile, the member representing Rukuba/Irigwe constituency in the state House of Assembly, Mr. Peter Ahile said as a representative of the troubled constituency, there was nothing he could do to protect the people other than appealing to government, as the responsibilities of protecting lives and property rests on the governor of the state.

He said: “As a lawmaker, I can only talk. The governor as the chief security officer of the state is the one that can enforce security; he is supposed to come out and address the people of the state. I don’t have the security apparatus. We are only calling on government to take action because it is the responsibility of government to protect lives and property.”

In Bokkos and Riyom local government areas, the natives also engaged violently with the Fulani, with attendant deaths and destruction of property.

Seeing that the security agents appeared handicapped, the valiant youths of Miango then took it upon themselves to fight the attackers and in the course of it, they captured five of them. But the soldiers quickly rescued them from the youths before they could lynch them. They quickly whisked them from the village to the STF headquarters in Jos.

Abdu, however expressed worry that the soldiers who rescued the Fulani attackers from the youths were reluctant to parade them before the public. But the soldiers said those arrested must first be profiled before they are released to the police, who will then parade them.

But shortly after, the Police said it had arrested a Fulani herdsman, Bala Yahaya Mohammed who conspired with three other Fulani and killed their kinsman, Mohammed Ibrahim, rustling 15 cows and 14 Sheep from their victim.

State Commissioner of Police, Adie, said, “On the 26th of January, 2018, one Alhaji Ibrahim Usman of Sabon Layin, Jos reported at Laranto Police that on the 24th of January, 2018, that he was called on phone by one Bala Yahaya Mohammed to him at Zaria road cemetery, which he did. And that Mohammed handed over to him 15 cows and 14 sheep for safe keeping in the pretense that he was going to look for his child. And that he, Usman, waited for Bala to come back for his cows, but to no avail.

“Preliminary investigation at the division later revealed that the cows and sheep belong to one Haruna Ibrahim of Agigi in Basa Local Government Area of the state which were stolen in connivance with some other herdsmen.”

Adie said the suspects conspired and killed one Mohammed Ibrahim, a cousin to Haruna Ibrahim, who was tending his (Haruna) cattle, adding that the case has been charged to the state Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (CIID), Jos. He said Bala has confessed to the crime.

The natives, who claimed innocence of Fulani cows were thereby vindicated.

Considering the daunting security situation in the state, the Plateau State Independent Electoral Commission (PLASIEC) recently announced the indefinite postponement of the state council election slated for 17th February, 2018.

The chairman of PLASIEC, Chief Fabian Ntung said, “We received communication from security operatives that the prevailing atmosphere in the state cannot guarantee a peaceful election and we were advised to postpone the date of the election.”

He added that “Before now we were very prepared to conduct the local government elections come February 17, 2018; our materials had been made available until the report came from security operatives.”

But the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and many other groups expressed surprise that the same Plateau which the governor claimed has a serene peace was now not secure for elections.

Mr. Damishi Sango, state Chairman of the PDP queried how PLASIEC, a state government agency, suddenly realised that Plateau was not safe for local government elections after Lalong had proclaimed to the world that Plateau was very peaceful, adding that there was a disconnect in their claims.

He posited that it was either that the governor has been lying about the true security status of the state or PLASIEC was deliberately shifting the polls because the APC had not finished perfecting their rigging strategies for the elections.

He said, “As a political party, we find PLASIEC excuse of postponement of the elections as not only laughable, but most unfortunate, here is a state that has returned to peace following the appointment of a Hausa/Fulani as a Commissioner in the Simon Lalong-led administration. We find it not only surprising but embarrassing that PLASIEC is now advancing security concern as the reason for the said postponement of the election.

“It is abundantly clear that the APC government in the state has either been feeding Nigerians in general and the people of Plateau State in particular with falsehood regarding the security situation in the state.”

But corroborating PLASIEC position, a source at the state Police headquarters in Jos described the details of the latest security report on the state as “worrisome”, maintaining that “no responsible government or security council would have allowed the elections go ahead when an intelligence report indicates clearly eminent dangers and plans by some unpatriotic elements to use the occasion to cause mischief.”

He commended the state PLASIEC for heeding to the advice of the security agents to shift the elections billed to hold on February 17, 2018, adding that the report shows that some local government areas, especially in Plateau North and Plateau South senatorial zones were rendered veritable flash points for violence, and the perpetrators have planned to factor into the opportunity of any disagreement or altercation to unleash such confusion that will cause real break down of law and order with severe implications for peace.

He added that with the frequent attacks and killings in Bassa, Bokkos, Riyom, and Barkin Ladi local government areas, no responsible government would have undermined such advice from the security agents.

“Given the bloody activities of herdsmen and hoodlums in recent times, especially in the Middle Belt region of Nigeria, it is feared that any breakdown of law and order at this time could escalate easily and degenerate into such sectarian commotion that will take a huge toll on human lives and the desired environment for social, political, and economic development,” the source observed.

But a Coalition of Civil Society Organisations in a state rather berated the state government and PLASIEC for always finding reasons to shift the council elections in the state, urging them to meet the yearning of the people by giving them democratically elected leaders.

The coalition, on the platform of Plateau State Coalition on Electoral Reforms and Good Governance (PLASCER), charged PLASIEC and the state to respect democratic tenets by allowing the citizens to choose their leaders at the local government level.

The CSOs warned the duo to “act responsively by taking proactive measures in providing the secure atmosphere needed for the conduct of a free, fair, credible, acceptable and violence-free local government elections as soon as possible so that Plateau citizens will not be perpetually denied their constitutional rights of service delivery that would enhance good governance at the third tier of government which is closer to the people.”

PLASCER added that, “PLASIEC should as a matter of urgency and priority, work on a new date for the conduct of the postponed elections and make it known to the general public to give Plateau citizens a renewed hope in the independence of the election management body and to boost citizens’ confidence in the government’s ability to protect lives and property.”

The group said PLASIEC’s claim on security was lame, “because we know that this security explanation for postponing the election is just a hoax to deceive the people,” adding that “we live among the communities and we know that its claim is false.”

With the killings still going on in the villages, peace cannot be said to have been achieved. So government must do more in this regard.