US Condemns Middle Belt Killings, Expresses Concern over Rising Violence

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•Attacks in Zamfara more than Plateau and Benue, says Buhari

•Osinbajo pledges N10bn for Plateau victims

•Oshiomhole demands overhaul of security architecture

•Ezekwesili marches on Aso Villa, accuses president of bias

Omololu Ogunmade, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja, Seriki Adinoyi in Jos and George Okoh in Makurdi

United States Tuesday strongly condemned last weekend’s gunmen attacks on three local governments in Plateau State, during which over 100 people, including women and children were massacred.

The condemnation came as President Muhammadu Buhari promised not to relent in his responsibility to protect the lives and property of every Nigerian even as his deputy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who visited the state on Monday, lamented the killings, describing them as vicious and horrible.

A statement by the spokesperson for the US Department of State, Ms Heather Nauert, said the perpetrators of the attacks should be brought to justice.

Reacting to the attacks, the US called on all political and community leaders to lend their voices to peace and to work together to find lasting solutions to rural conflicts.

The US said: “The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the killing of civilians and destruction of property in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region over the weekend.

“We are concerned by the recent increase in armed violence against civilians and call on all political and community leaders to lend their voices to peace and to work together to find lasting solutions to these rural conflicts.

“We join President Muhammadu Buhari and others in sending our deepest condolences to the affected communities, and in the desire to see the perpetrators brought to justice and to prevent further violence.”

The US had always expressed concerns over the wanton killings in the country. During a recent visit to Washington, President Donald Trump had told Buhari to stem the killings of Christians in Nigeria.

But Buhari, who was in Jos Tuesday, disabused the minds of those reading religious connotations to the killings, claiming that the killings in Zamfara State were more than the number of deaths recorded in Plateau and Benue States put together.

The president, who after a closed door meeting with state government officials, security agents and traditional leaders in the state, assured Nigerians that he would not relent in his responsibility to protect the lives and property of every Nigerian.

“The killings in Zamfara State were more than the number of deaths recorded in Plateau and Benue States put together and therefore should not be seen to be a religious crisis,” Buhari said, adding: “It is my responsibility to protect the lives and property of every Nigerian and I cannot run away from it.”

While commiserating with those that lost their loved ones, he stressed that anyone found with a weapon must be arrested and prosecuted.

He also appealed to the people of the state to bury their differences and work together for the peace of the land.

He urged the leadership at every level to be awake to their responsibility of driving the peace process.

The president was accompanied in the visit by Governors of Kebbi and Niger States, Ministers of Defence, Interior, Information and Culture, and Security Chiefs.

The major stakeholders from Plateau State in attendance were senior government officials, national and state assembly members, traditional rulers, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Ja’amatu Nasril Islam (JNI) and a cross section of the leaders of thought.

Speaking earlier, Governor Simon Lalong said the attack was very disturbing and alarming because it had left behind in its ugly trail the painful loss of over 200 people, besides the humanitarian challenge confronting thousands of displaced persons whose houses and crops had been burnt and completely destroyed.

He said: “Your visit is no doubt comforting, coming less than 24 hours after the visit of Mr. Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo. This visit gives us the confidence to open up the grief in our hearts today, given the punctuation of the peace, which we have worked so hard to achieve in the almost three years of our assumption of office.

“The gory pictures of the killing of innocent citizens, women and children continue to torment our hearts and it sends the serious message that something drastic needs to be done comprehensively, to nip once and for all the ugly menace of attacks that has come to be associated with suspected militia herdsmen. These reoccurring attacks have regrettably opened up space for all manners of criminality by criminal elements and conflict merchants, who engage daily in cattle rustling, theft, banditry, gun running and other forms of crimes amongst our citizens.”

Given the number of villages that had been completely ravaged, Lalong argued for the inclusion of Plateau in the North-east reconstruction fund, but this did not find the favour of the legislature.

“Now that you have seen the enormity of the peace building responsibility in our hand, we wish to plead with you to give Plateau State a special consideration in this regards,” he told the president.

Osinbajo Pledges N10bn Relief Fund

Vice-President Osinbajo, who had visited the state earlier, described the killings as horrible and promised that the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) would make relief materials available to victims along with N10 billion fund approved for rehabilitation of farmers of affected communities by the president

He said: “The DG of NEMA will ensure that this is done as relief materials are provided in various areas where they are required. We have also talked about the N10 billion fund, which the government approved for the rehabilitation of farms and farming communities; the farmers in particular.”

Osinbajo pledged that the federal government would find permanent solutions to protracted cases of insecurity in the country and simultaneously ensure that perpetrators of Plateau killings were brought to book.

A statement by the vice-president’s spokesman, Mr. Laolu Akande, said Osinbajo condemned the killings, describing them as unwarranted.

“We will look at how to implement several of those suggestions as we go along. Some include the permanent positioning of security agencies in certain communities that are prone to these types of violence. And we intend to see how we can put in place permanent security, especially the police, and in some cases, military deployment in some of those places where flashpoints tend to be on a frequent basis. And we’ve agreed to some locations where this security deployment ought to be made,” the statement further quoted the vice-president to have said.

According to the statement, Osinbajo disclosed that some arrests had been made and assailants would face the wrath of the law as he enjoined affected communities to ensure that such horrible acts do not continue.

He said: “We must condemn killings of any kind. It doesn’t matter whether these killings are by herdsmen killing villagers, or whether it is villagers who in one way or the other have killed others, including herdsmen. I think it is important that we condemn these killings, in particular these killings that have taken place where so many people have lost their lives in the last few days. There is no reason at all why anyone who commits these offences will escape.”

Ortom: Hold Miyetti Allah Responsible

The Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, described the renewed killings in Plateau State as barbaric, inhuman and unfortunate.

The governor, who faces similar killings in his state, commiserated with Lalong and the entire people of Plateau State over the attacks, saying the perpetrators of the evil acts should not go unpunished.

He urged security agencies to arrest for prosecution, the leadership of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association who, he said, had claimed responsibility over the killings.

Ortom assured Lalong that Benue State would continue to stand with the people of Plateau State in prayers until the orgy of violence over the state and other parts of the Middle Belt was brought to an end.

The National Council of Tiv Youths (NCTY) also condemned the killings in Plateau State even as it called the federal government to bring to book those who perpetrated the heinous act.

It equally called on Nigerians and the international community to take note of the recent alarm raised by some Nigerians that the present government of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was out to hunt and muscle the opposition.

The group while briefing journalists Tuesday in Makurdi, said rather than clampdown on opposition leaders like the former Governor of Benue State, Dr Gabriel Suswam, who was picked up recently by the Department of State Services (DSS) over security issues in the state, the agencies of the federal government should go after identified evil doers.

Oshiomhole Demands overhaul of security architecture

While taking over the mantle of leadership from Chief John Odigie-Oyegun Tuesday, the newly-elected National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, charged the federal government to urgently rejig the country’s security apparatus to stop incessant killings by criminals.

In apparent reference to the rising incidence of herdsmen killings, the new APC chairman said the administration never envisaged the magnitude of the current security crisis.

He said what APC promised in 2015 was to address the security challenge posed by the Boko Haram insurgents, saying it had made considerable progress in this regard.

“We must now review our security architecture to deal with new forms of criminality as they arise. People will also agree that the level of kidnapping was much higher in 2015, but it has substantially reduced. But as you deal with one issue, new issues emerge and so, because the environment is dynamic, policies reflected in our manifestos must be subjected to constant review and ensure that they meet changing reality,” he said.

Ezekwesili Marches on Aso Villa

A former Minister of Education, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, was one of those who joined the fray against the killers Tuesday, leading a one-man march to the Presidential Villa to demand an end to the gruesome bloodletting in some parts of the North-central.

She accused the president of colluding with the herdsmen in the Plateau State conflict.

Her letter addressed to the president was titled, ‘Time to act: enough is totally and truly now enough,’ contained 18 demands.

Ezekwesili accused Buhari of bias in the killings in Plateau State and for making statements that endorsed the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association’s justification of the killings as a mere retaliatory act for lost cows.

She said: “Your bias in handling the killings and abductions of certain segment of Nigerians is all too obvious and unbecoming of a leader of diverse nation like Nigeria. All Nigerian lives matter. Stop your cold and visible lack of empathy toward a segment of your citizens who are daily killed with impunity. Stop the seeming troubling endorsement by your administration of the repugnant admission by an organization that it kills human beings who are your citizens for their own lost cows.”

She also said the president should sanction the Inspector General of Police (IG), Ibrahim Idris, if the latter failed to arrest the patrons of the cattle breeders association, who allegedly made the statement and their members, who were assigned to execute the so-called ‘retaliatory attacks’.

Ezekwesili commenced the walk at about 12:15 pm from Eagle Square, with a handful of sympathisers, including Aisha Yesufu, the Co-Convener of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) group.

Tempers, however, flared when the procession which branched off Shehu Shagari Road towards the Presidential Villa, was stopped by uniformed and plain-clothed security men along Circular Road.

Journalists following the procession were turned back. Also riot policemen seized the banner held by Ezekwesili while there was bitter verbal confrontation between Yesufu and some security men after her phone was confiscated.

After the de-escalation of the row, the crumbled banner, with varying messages like #Endthebloodflow; #Endthekillings and #Wherearethekillers, was returned to Ezekwesili.

She subsequently read her letter containing her demands addressed to the president and dropped it to be delivered at sentry inside the Villa.