Peace on the Plateau

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After the recent bloodbath Plateau State, peace is gradually returning to the state, as evidenced by the relaxation of the curfew imposed on the affected areas. Seriki Adinoyi writes that this has been achieved through the concerted efforts of both the federal and state governments, and some well-meaning individuals

It was, indeed, a bloody week in Plateau State last fortnight when over 200 persons were murdered in night attacks carried out in 11 villages in Barkin Ladi, Riyom and Jos South local government areas of Plateau State by suspected Fulani herdsmen. However, to try to counter a rising feeling of angst and hate that had been instigated by the killings, virtually the whole country rose in condemnation of the attacks. Individuals and groups from across the country visited the state to commiserate with the government and the people.

Before the Attacks

Prior to the attacks, Fulani herders in Barkin Ladi community had issued a press statement, and had also complained to the police that their cattle were missing, and that five of their kinsmen were allegedly attacked on their way from Kara market in Jos South LGA to Barkin Ladi, adding that the kinsmen have been missing since then. They also charged the police to ensure that they were rescued. The police immediately swung into action in search of the missing persons, promising to rescue the victims alive.

Attack

Despite the immediate action taken by the police, the following day, the herders massively struck and killed the Beroms that had gone to mourn their kinsmen that were earlier killed in a previous attack. The perpetrators didn’t stop there; they went back, got prepared and launched night attacks on about 11 villages simultaneously, killing over 200 persons. According to them, their missing relatives and cattle, was to justify the planned attacks.

The villages attacked include; Gindi Akwati, Ruku, Kura, Rapps, Kinshan, Gengere, Heipang, and Gana Ropp. There have been conflicting death figures in the aftermath, but the state Governor, Mr. Simon Lalong placed it at over 200.

Eyewitness

Narrating what happened, President of Gashish Development Association (GDA), Mr. Francis Chung, said the attackers, who were masked swooped on the people at about 11pm on Saturday night and shot sporadically at the villagers leaving them in the pool of their blood.

Also speaking, member representing Barkin Ladi in the state House of Assembly, Mr. Peter Gyendem, had a similar story, describing the situation as worrisome.

An eye witness that narrowly escaped from Gana Ropp village, Mr. Joshua Gwom said a clergy, Reverend Musa of the Assembly of God’s Church, his wife and granddaughter were all hacked to death by the attackers. He added that women and children were worst affected. He also noted that CAPRO School of Mission in Gana Ropp was also badly hit.

More Deaths

Emotions ran very high, especially with the high number of deaths and the gory sight of the corpses of victims, which littered the community. The crisis immediately escalated to Maraban Jama’a and Angle-D in Jos South LGA where the youths from the Berom community began to stop commuters passing through Jos, beating, maiming and killing any Hausa-Fulani passenger on board.

Muslims and Christians suffered alike in the outrage, leaving additional deaths in its trail. To curtail further escalation, the state government had to impose a dust-to-dawn curfew on the three restive local government areas as an immediate measure to curtail the escalation.

This is even as Lalong, who during the outbreak of the crisis, was in Abuja to attend the All Progressive Congress (APC), National Convention, immediately cut short his stay at the convention to return to tackle the crisis. Many believe that these moves by Lalong really went a long way to arrest the escalation.

Federal Government’s Intervention

Many see it as heart-warming that the state and federal governments have made concerted efforts to douse tension and calm frayed nerves since after the crisis.

The visit of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, and indeed the follow up visit the next day by President Mohammadu Buhari went a very long way to reassure Plateau people that they were not alone in the trouble.

During the visit, the duo extensively highlighted not only the steps they were taking to deal with the problem at hand, but also the measure to prevent its reoccurrence.

The president also tried to dismiss the religious connotation that was already creeping into the crisis, noting that, “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.”

He assured the state that he will not relent in his responsibility to protect the lives and properties of every Nigerian and would not run away from it. He went further to hold closed-door meeting with leaders of the Berom, Fulani, and other aggrieved tribes, where he appealed to them to prevail upon their followers to sheathe their swords.

Buhari said that having sought to be president four times, “it is my responsibility to protect the lives and properties of every Nigerian and I cannot run away from it.”

While commiserating with the people 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, urging leadership at every level to be awake to their responsibility of driving the peace process.

The major stakeholders from Plateau state that attended meeting 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.

For short term solution, which requires immediacy, Buhari directed a military deployment of Artillery Wares, Air Patrol Combat Helicopters, Intelligence Surveillance and Recognisance Aircraft, as well as the deployment of a Special Police Intervention Force supervised by the DIG Operations to ensure restoration of order.

The presidency also conveyed some measures of hope to the people, with the pronouncement that a N10billion Special Intervention Fund has been set aside as palliative for farmers in flash points of recurring attacks and violent inter-ethnic conflicts that have been ravaged on account of same.

Noteworthy is the fact that Plateau state is a beneficiary of the several measures put in place towards security; the Nigeria Police recently established a new Mobile Police Squadron in the Southern Zone of the State, and the Nigeria Air Force has also established a Rescue Search and Combat Command at Kerang in the Central Senatorial District of Plateau State, all in bid to activate crises response time.

Governor’s Charge

On his part, the governor further charged SEMA (State Emergency Management Agency) to immediately attend to the victims that are now displaced into IDP camps. He also personally undertook a visit to hospitals where injured victim were admitted, reassuring them that government was with them all the way.

The governor also lamented the displacement of settlements in the state saying that his administration would not tolerate land grabbing in any part of Plateau. He said those fighting, killing people and destroying their settlements with the intention of taking ownership of such places would not be allowed to do so. “If you think you can chase people out and grab their land we as a government would not allow you to own the land,” he added.

He disclosed that his administration was working out modalities for prosecuting land grabbers to discourage the act. He also appealed to the federal government to provide materials and funds to enhance the return of displaced persons back to their homeland. Those were indeed soothing words to the traumatised victims.

Condolences

Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo and Senate President Bukola Saraki, also separately visited Jos to commiserate with Lalong and the people.

Obasanjo urged the federal and state governments to identity the root cause(s) of insecurity and deal with them so that people would get reprieve from the incessant violence plaguing the land.

He said, “We offer our condolences to the bereaved families, all we can say is that God knows the best. Even in my time, we had problems but not in this magnitude, we thought we were dealing with them as at that time but the earlier we deal with it, the better. I believe we can find solution, we must find solution.”

Saraki also conveyed the condolences of the National Assembly to the people, assuring that they would be there for the state in whatever way the state will need them for assistance.

He called on the people to work together with the governor to overcome the challenges, tasked security agencies to fish out the perpetrators of the heinous crime and urged the Governor to be fair and just in handling the situation.

The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) also shunned party divide to stand with Lalong promising to join hands with him to overcome the challenge.

The forum, which presented an undisclosed sum of money to the state government to assist the IDPs in the state, lamented the violence across states in the country, noting that they are determined to overcome insecurity so that the people do not rise up against the governors.

Speaking on the behalf of the forum, its Chairman, Gov Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State disclosed that the last meeting the forum had was centred on issues of insecurity in states which seek to undermine the Nigerian state.

Accompanied by the Governors of Delta, Imo, Nassarawa, Sokoto, Benue, Bauchi and Deputy Governors of Akwa Ibom, Edo, Oyo, Kaduna and Ondo, Yari said, “At the last meeting, we discussed issues of insecurity extensively as it is happening in almost every state. We condemn what happened in Plateau State and other states; we are looking at how to fight on a common front to defeat the challenges seeking to undermine the Nigeria state.

“Between March and June in my state, we had 115 incidents and 435 people lost their lives, our people are suffering. Within two hours, 235 people were killed, 80 found in one place. In Plateau State since 2012, this is the largest. These people must be brought to book because people have taken things for granted for too long because no one was brought to book, this must change.

“I have done my best, so have my colleagues, the unfortunate thing is that security agents are not there until the deed has been done. We must do something as leaders; else the next target would be us, because people may turn against us. We will have a day interface with the security chiefs to make them understand our plights and sit up or we will have no option but to ask the president to drop them.”

Also speaking, Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, warned that until government at both state and federal levels take a decisive action against the attackers to serve as deterrent, they will continue in their criminality. He encouraged Lalong to continue in his good works to restore peace, assuring that the Forum is with him.

Before the forum’s visit, Gov Tanko Al-Makura of Nasarawa state had visited with his council of chiefs from the state to condole with Lalong and donated the sum of N10million to support in catering for the displaced persons.

Governor Ishaku Darius of Taraba state also led a delegation to stand by the government and people of Plateau. Adams Oshiomole, National Chairman of the APC and Rt Hon Yakubu Dogara, the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives were also among the people that brought the message of hope to Plateau people. Those that also visited were CAN and Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigerian PFN in solidarity and offered to stand with the state in prayers.

Pathway to Healing

Though traumatised, Plateau people have seen practical love demonstrated towards them. They have also received assurances from the federal and state governments. This has gone a long way to begin the process of healing and calming frayed nerves.

Plateau people seem to have left behind them all that happened and chosen to move on with their lives, in the hope that the governor would succour and protect them from further attacks. This places a whole new responsibility on Lalong, who is the state’s chief security officer, even though he cannot give orders to any of the security agencies under Nigeria’s pseudo-federal system.

Lalong must now device effective means of working with the security agencies to secure his people.