Wole Ayodele in Jalingo
For the second time in less than six weeks, the Jukun-Kona people of Taraba state were thrown into mourning on Friday, 21st June as the remains of nine of their promising young men, who were killed during an attack on their communities by herdsmen, were finally committed to mother earth.
Earlier on the 7th of May, 51 people, mostly young men, were killed in similar circumstances by herdsmen in more than 11 Kona communities, specifically Murkunu, Murtia, Yaukani, Murbai, Yawai, Somporo, Jekunuhou, Sembe, Ndayaro, Kaudad and Keshabro in Jalingo. These victims were given mass burial on May 31 after a funeral service at Catholic Church of Assumption, Kona, which was officiated by Rev. Fr Cyriacus Kamai.
As the people continue to mourn their beloved ones and wait patiently for the wounds to heal, the herdsmen launched a fresh attack on Tudiri community, a suburb of Jalingo, on Sunday, June 16, where one person was burnt inside his house. Residents were forced to flee to Jalingo for refuge.
And the following day being Monday, the herdsmen also launched an attack on Janibanibu community, a Kona village also in the suburb of Jalingo. The attackers were said to have stormed the communities in hundreds and on motorcycles to wreck havoc and displace 8,494 people.
After the attack on Jenibanibu, which was completely razed down, some Kona youths were said to have also attacked Yelwa community, largely inhabited by herdsmen and also set bonfires at Nukkai and Kasuwan Bera areas of Jalingo, forcing motorists to take alternative routes.
The action of the youths caused serious pandemonium in the state capital and people living around that axis had to vacate their homes in their thousands to take refuge with friends and relations in safer parts of the town, and in primary school premises, which were hurriedly set up as camps for displaced persons. Those that had the financial means became guests at hotels.
Security agencies, particularly the Police and the Military were very proactive as they moved swiftly to restore normalcy to the affected areas and equally prevent a spill over to other flashpoints in the state capital. Along the line, several people were arrested and detained at Police formations in Jalingo.
In a bid to arrest the situation and prevent further attacks, the state government, in a press statement signed by Bala Dan Abu, Senior Special Assistant to the governor, imposed a 16-hour curfew on Jalingo and other areas affected by the crisis. The curfew was still in force as at the time of filing this report, though relaxed to twelve hours.
As calm and normalcy gradually returns to the area, the Kona people, yesterday, conducted a memorial service for the nine victims of the attacks at St Peters Catholic Church, Nukkai, Jalingo before proceeding to Janibanibu where the dead were eventually buried in a mass grave.
In his sermon at the memorial service, which was almost drowned by wailing from the crowd of relations and worshippers, Rev. Fr. Batare Eugene enjoined the people to forgive one another and return to God who he said was the giver and taker of life.
Rev. Batare noted that the moment of grief, following attacks, called for sober reflection by the Kona people and urged them to unite against their common enemy that is trying to decimate them. According to him “I enjoin you to make peace with one another and trust God who alone can deliver us from the hands of the enemy.”
Also speaking on the occasion, the Parish Priest of St. John the Baptist Pastoral Area, Janibanibu, Fr. Cyriacus Kamai condemned the blockage of the Jalingo – ATC – Wukari road by irate youth during the crisis, which led to attack on innocent people.
Kamai, who read the message of Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama and Bishop Charles Hammawa of Jalingo Diocese, both of whom condemned the attacks on the Kona communities as well as the blockade of roads, appealed for calm and understanding among the people.
But, as the communities mourn their loved ones and count their losses after the burial of the victims, a large section of indigenes of the communities have continued to lampoon the security agencies, particularly the Army for what they described as lopsided arrests during the crisis. They accused the security agents of arresting only Kona people who were trying to defend themselves while none of their attackers were arrested.
THISDAY gathered that eighteen Kona youths and men were arrested and detained during the unfortunate incident with no record of any arrest of the Fulani thereby raising suspicions of bias and lopsidedness.
Speaking exclusively to THISDAY after the burial ceremonies, a community leader, Chief Mathew Dauda, who is the Jauro of Mayo Dasa and Attau, alleged that the intervention of the military in the crisis was nepotic.
Lambasting the Army and Police for their failure to apprehend any of the attackers during and after the crisis, Jauro Dauda, who is a retired security officer, lamented that his people suffered double tragedy by being the subject of arrests after serial killings.
According to him “Our people have suffered alot. Today, our people are living in fear and are feeling insecured and the security are not helping matter because they’re always showing nepotism and religious bias. We’re the ones being killed and we’re the ones being arrested. It is very unfortunate.”
Similarly, women, numbering over 500 took to the streets of Jalingo to protest the continuous attacks and killings by herdsmen, as well as what they termed indiscriminate arrests of their “husbands and children.”
Clad scantily in black attires, the women, who moved round Jalingo for several hours decried the taking over of their ancestral homes by herdsmen just as they demanded the release of their children who they claimed were arrested indiscriminately by security operatives that are supposed to protect them from their attackers.
In the same vein, the state government, in a press release signed by the Deputy Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Iliya Bekyu Akweh expressed concern over the role of the security agencies in the crisis particularly the Army.
The government, in the statement, in which it condemned the renewed attacks in very strong terms, said it was particularly worried over the lack of arrest and prosecution of the herdsmen by security agencies despite their repeated and unabated operations with sophisticated weapons such as AK47 rifles.
According to the statement, “Taraba State Government has condemned in very strong terms the renewed attacks on innocent citizens by Fulani herdsmen in some villages around Jalingo the state capital. The attacks are not only ungodly, unethical and barbaric but counter productive.
“The government is particularly worried by the lack of arrest and prosecution of the herdsmen by the security agencies despite their repeated and unabated operations with sophisticated weapons such as AK47 rifles.
“The government further noted with regret, the alleged lopsided arrests of youths in the affected areas and we appeal and urged security agencies especially Soldiers to be unbiased in the handling and discharge of their duties in crisis areas.”
However, assuring the people of the state of its commitment towards ensuring lasting peace for sustainable development, the government maintained that it would continue collaborating with security agencies to achieve a crime free society just as it warned perpetrators of violence to desist forthwith.
Meanwhile, fielding questions from newsmen in Jalingo, Commanding Officer, 20 Model Battalion, Serti, Lt. Col. Mohammed Adamu whose men were deployed to quell the crisis said 21 suspects were arrested with sophisticated weapons and ammunitions in connection with the attack
According to him, “There was an attack by some herdsmen around Nukkai and a swift response by security agencies repelled the attack. We recorded a huge success becauSimilarly
f the herdsmen fell to the superior fire power of our troops and their corpses have been handed over to the police.
“During the course of our operation, we intercepted 21 suspects with dangerous weapons and, when we are through with our investigations, they will be handed over to the police.”