Despite the efforts of the Plateau State Government and security agents to end the brutal killings by rampaging marauders, attacks have continued in some communities. Seriki Adinoyi reports

July was, indeed, a bloody month in Plateau State, as over 200 persons were murdered in night attacks carried out in 11 villages in Barkin Ladi, Riyom and Jos South local government areas of the state by suspected herdsmen. Given the concerted measures applied then by the federal and state governments, in conjunction with security operatives, peace reigned for a while. For about a month, Plateau experienced peace. They were no incidences of attacks and killings. That was until recently when fresh attacks began again.

Fresh Attacks

Barely had September rolled in than the assailants struck again. At Lapandet Community in Dwei Du area of Jos South Local Government Area, the marauders struck on Sunday night. The attack left 13 persons dead and 12 others severely injured.

An eye witness from the community, one Emmanuel, who said 13 persons were killed, added that the gunmen had invaded the community in a Hilux van about 8:30 pm and opened fire on persons at a relaxation spot in the premises of a hotel in the area. The gunmen also reportedly shot several other persons outside the premises while driving away.

Confirming the killings, the Spokesman of the Plateau State Police Command, Mr. Tyopev Terna, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), said, “On the 02/09/2018 at about 2030hrs, the Plateau State Police Command, Jos, received a distress call to the effect that unknown gunmen attacked Lopandet Dwei Du Area of Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State.

“The command immediately mobilised to the scene of crime. On arrival we discovered that some people were shot. The victims were immediately rushed to Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) and Plateau Specialist Hospital.”

Meanwhile, the community was still reeling from an attack last week when Sunday’s incident happened. In that incident, a pastor, his wife and three children were murdered by the bandits suspected to be cattle herders. They had swooped on Foron in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of the state. Aside the pastor’s family that was wiped out, three other victims met their death when they went to pick their phones from the pastor’s house, where they had gone to recharge their batteries.

That was not all. About three days earlier, the driver to the Speaker of Plateau State House of Assembly, Mr. Azi Magaji and a security guard at the Jos University Teaching Hospital, Mr. Edward Ankpa were equally murdered by unknown gunmen within that neighbourhood. Before then, about three persons were also murdered at Rukuba road in Jos North Local Government Area.

Suffice to say that it has been a line-up of deaths in the state where the government has continuously preached peace and made many efforts in collaboration with security agents, Civil Society Organisations, and religious bodies to enforce such peace.

Security Breach

After the massive killing of over 200 persons in the same Barkin Ladi Local Government Area, the state government had engaged several stakeholders to deliberate and re-strategise on the ways to return peace to the state. With the attacks, security agents have not relented on its drive towards securing the people, so much that the military Special Task Force (STF) charged with security of the state literarily moved its headquarters to Barkin Ladi that has been the tinder bolt. Yet the most recent killings occurred in the same Barkin Ladi local government.

Something must really be wrong somewhere; possibly a missing link in the strategy being employed by both the state and the security agents.

At Foron, where the Pastor with Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN), Rev. Adamu Gyang Wurim was wiped out with his family, the state police command confirmed that a total of eight persons were killed, while three others were injured, 95 houses burnt, and 310 cattle stolen in the attack.

The police spokesman, in a statement, said, “The police received information that some communities in Foron District of Barkin Ladi LGA namely; Abonong and Zayit were under attack by unknown gunmen. The command quickly mobilised to the communities. But while the police were approaching the areas, the attackers sighted them from afar and fled the scene of crime.”

He said that property and food stuff were also looted and destroyed, adding that the command has deployed more personnel to the areas to prevent further attacks.

But this promise of deployment of troops and personnel has remained a repeated narrative from the security agents each time there was an attack. The attackers would always have completed the attacks, before the police arrived the scene. In the same scenario, the attackers would always have escaped before the arrival of the police or the soldiers. For many industry watchers, this scenario should have been aborted a long time ago and replaced with proactive ambush for the marauders.

It was the same scenario that played out in the case of the speaker’s driver. The police while confirming that the killing occurred in Zarazong community of Jos North Local Government Area of the state, had added, “At about 9pm, we received a distress call that there were sporadic gunshots at Zarazong area of Jos, a community that houses Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH). Immediately, the police mobilised to the area.

”On arrival, Mr. Azi Magaji, the driver to the speaker and Edward Ankpa, a security guard with JUTH were found dead. They were immediately rushed to JUTH, where they were confirmed dead by the doctor on duty.”

The police added that Mr. Kopdi Monday and Mr. Nenman Popdak, also security men on duty at JUTH Gate-4 were also found with gun shots and were rushed to the same hospital. “The police immediately commenced investigation to unravel those behind the attack, while we urge the public to avail us with useful information that will help in tracking down the perpetrators.”

The list is endless, and while the police and soldiers always arrive late after the attackers had escaped, the state government keeps holding peace conferences and seminars to unravel the immediate and remote cause of the killings, and the citizens left to continue to lament in their griefs until the next community is attacked.

Even with the relocation of the headquarters of the military task force to Barkin Ladi, killings have continued across the local government and the neighbouring Daffo in Bokkos local government.

Chronicles of Deaths

Lamenting the recent incident, member, representing Barkin Ladi constituency in the state House of Assembly, Hon. Peter Gyendeng said, “The attackers, armed with machetes and AK47 rifles reportedly stormed the village at about 8pm, shooting sporadically and burning houses, and also killed another two in the process.”

Chairman of the Berom Youth Movement (BYM), Foron branch, Mr. Thomas Tsok also said, “They first shot at two young men walking out of the deceased pastor’s residence where they had gone to charge their phones, killing them.”

Four other people, according to him, were shot in the following morning in Fan and Bek villages leaving them in critical condition in the hospital. Tsok said the herders also destroyed farmlands and a church building.

Another attack at a mining site in Wereh village, Ropp district of the same B/Ladi LGA had resulted in the killing of one and wounding of another. Six other villages of Loh-Fan, Loh-Pwat, Nafan, Sagas, Nzom and Ude villages were also attacked on the same night according to the member representing Barkin Ladi/Riyom constituency in the Federal House of Reps, Hon. Istifanus Gyang.

He said, “These attacks are coming at a time the people are yet to recover from the massacre of over 200 persons in the same B/Ladi LGA with thousands of the displaced victims still languishing in IDP camps. The unfortunate thing is that the perpetrators of these attacks continue to execute their agenda with reckless abandon without an appropriate response by government.”

As expected, the deaths aroused the anger of the affected communities. Women from the bereaved communities gathered at the Special Task Force (STF) Headquarters in Barkin Ladi, protesting the attacks. They also reportedly blocked the highways through the area demanding for justice. But they soon retired to their homes to await the next fate that will befall them.

Government’s Effort

Government on its part had continued to to engage stakeholders urging them to embrace peace. It had organized a three-day peace and security conference with the theme: ‘the resurgence of violence in Plateau State: Towards a multi stakeholder partnership for peace and security’, organised by the State Peace Building Agency.

At the conference, Lalong said his administration was committed to implementing the white paper from the Berom and Fulani peace committee, adding that it was a panacea for building inclusive peace based on the recommendations of the conflict parties.

Various Civil Society Organisations were also on hand to proffer possible solutions to the insecurity in the state. To encourage Muslims and Christians in the state to live together in peace, Lalong also disclosed that arrangements have been concluded for President Mohammadu Buhari to receive and give National Honour to an 83 years old Chief Imam of Nghar village, Gashish district in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State, Alhaji Abdullahi Abubakar, who reportedly rescued 300 Christian natives on June 24 when suspected Fulani herdsmen invaded the community and killed over 200 persons.

The Christian natives were said to be running for safety from a neighbouring village when the Imam hid them in his house and mosque thereby saving their lives. The governor publicly eulogised the old Imam to serve as an encouragement to others to live in peace and protect one another irrespective of their religions.

Lalong said, “The president has told me to bring to him for a handshake, which will be followed by a national honour. I was also preparing what to do for this man. Although he is already in his old age, but God knows why he did it at that age – for us to study and also know how to maintain peace, not only in Plateau State but Nigeria in general.

“What he did, not only saved the people of Barkin Ladi LGA, not only Plateau state, but I think the whole of this country because 300 lives is not a small number. So, Alhaji Abdullahi Abubakar, only God will reward you for what you have done.

“We are waiting for that process of meeting the President for a handshake and national honour. Having a handshake with Mr. President at the age of 83, I think the man will be happy, even if he is going to his grave; something has happened in his life.”

Addressing Agitations

To address various agitations over the alleged occupation of the homes and farms of the natives by the herders after the people were attacked and chased away to Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, Lalong also recently constituted and inaugurated two separate committees to work on the safe return and resettlement of all IDPs to their homes and provide for the immediate humanitarian needs for the victims of the crisis.

United States’ Position

Deputy Chief Mission and Charge de Affaires of the US Embassy, Mr. David Young, during a visit to Jos, also said that the circle of violence and attacks, reprisals and counter reprisals has taken horrific tolls on the people of the state which has affected both Muslims and Christians, adding that working for peace can save lives and that is the most sacred thing in the world.

Young also observed that the killing of innocent people is simply not acceptable whether in Plateau, Zamfara, Benue, Borno, Delta or Taraba. He said, “We must agree that these criminals who commit these terrible acts of whatever kind must be caught and prosecuted. We must break the circle of impunity that fills grievances on our side and leads to reprisal attacks”.

He also called on effective law enforcement agents to arrest and prosecute criminal actors that do evil, adding that it is absolutely essential that those arrested be made to properly face charges in court, because bringing criminal action to justice is the first step to stop violence.

He warned, “Nigeria’s population is growing; about the fastest of any country in the world. In 30 years, the population of Nigeria will grow from 190 million people today to over 400 million people, and much of this population growth will be across the North and Middle belt of the country. So the challenges we face over land and resources aren’t going to get easier but harder.”

Complexity of the Crisis in Plateau and Middle Belt

On her part, Isioma Kemakolam, programme coordinator of Justice and Security Dialogue (JSD) of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) identified persisting economic inequalities, marginalisation, decline of trust in formal and informal institutions, security and governance challenges and weak relationships, as the causes of crises in Nigeria.

She observed that, “With the complexities of these challenges, communities are further divided and relationship with the state deteriorating with a backlash of widespread acts of terror by community groups against one another; tension and new attacks occurring with more frequency and with a larger scope of targets.

“It is for this reason that we want to review our security architecture, mobilize a community of change that will utilise Plateau Roadmap to peace and the USIP JSD state level dialogue as part of tools to overcome our security challenges.”

CAN’s Reaction

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), after a two-day summit in Jos on the way forward, said, “In view of the violent character of farmer-herder relations in recent time and the disadvantages of open-grazing of cattle, ranching policy should be encouraged.”

They also emphasised the need for proper Peace and Conflict Impact Assessment (PCIA) and Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) before the implementation of the proposed Ranching framework. Indeed, government and critical stakeholder should engage communities through strategic advocacy and sensitisation. There is also need for periodic review of the implementation of the policy.

CAN also resolved that in view of the clamour against hate speeches, marginalisation, injustices, poverty and unemployment, there is need for the promotion of good governance at all levels, respect for human rights and rule of law.

The summit also identified the need for conflict analysis by the church and church leaders towards effective understanding of the complex trends and dynamics of violence in our communities was highlighted. Participants recommended for the institutionalisation of the mechanism for sustainable peace, security and development.

According to CAN, government, the church and development partners should drive the processes of resettlement through reconstruction, reintegration, rehabilitation, demobilisation and disarmament of the affected communities.

While identifying proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons and the emergence of violent militia groups as part of the problems, CAN called on government to strengthen border and forest security and management across the country. It also recommended that government and the church should put in place mechanism for effective conflict early warning and early response system across the region.

Pledge

In spite of these complexities, the state government said it was not about to give up on its determination to provide absolute security to its citizens. In a statement by Commissioner of Information and Communication, Mr Yakubu Dati, the state vowed to end attacks on communities, assuring that it is intensifying collaboration with security agencies to bring to an end the activities of criminal elements, who are bent on taking the state back to the dark days.

On the recent attacks, Dati said, “Governor Lalong has directed security agencies to leave no stone unturned in ensuring that the perpetrators of the dastardly act are brought to justice.” He reassured that various peace initiatives are being put in place by the Governor to ensure lasting peace in the state.

He added that government was reviewing criminal justice act in the state is to ensure criminals are tried in the state, urging the citizens not to give up on the state’s cherished values of peace and hospitality.

Also speaking, the Gbong Gwom Jos, Da Jacob Gyang Buba said “We must take note of the realities we are faced, and consider the contemporary issues and workout something positive”, warning that Nigeria should not be a lawless country, and that there is no community that can develop without peace.

Way Forward

Experts say beyond the talk shows in conferences and summits, and setting up of committees that have not helped much, decisive action must follow to forcefully eject these bandits whose habitation is now in the caves, especially in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area where the attacks have been persistent.

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) must be implored to carry out aerial surveillance and air strikes to flush out the bandits from their caves like it did in recent weeks in Zamfara.

The state government should also strengthen the state security outfit, Operation Rainbow, which was created by the former Governor of the state, Jonah David Jang to beef more security in the communities and serve more or less as the state- owned police.

Government must sincerely answer the pertinent question that agitates everyone; is it true that attackers now of Fulani descent occupy the homes and farmlands of the natives they drove away from their ancestral homes, while they languish in IDPs? If the answer is yes, what has government done to reclaim the homes and farmlands of the natives for them? There cannot be peace where injustice reigns and the people are oppressed. Government must rise up to its duty of protecting the rights of the citizens.