Tension in Plateau over Gunmen’s Occupation of Villages

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•Clamour for settlement fuels fresh banditry in Sokoto

By Seriki Adinoyi in Jos and Onuminya Innocent

Tension has gripped Jos, the Plateau State capital, following the renewed killing of villagers and the forcible occupation of their ancestral homes by gunmen whose target is believed to be the takeover of the state capital, THISDAY investigation has revealed.

This is coming as the clamour by different armed gangs for recognition and settlement by the Sokoto State Government has fuelled fresh banditry in the state.
Following the killing of 29 people in Sokoto and Plateau states by gunmen, President Muhammadu Buhari, at the weekend, had ordered the Nigerian Army to assist the police to flush out the bandits from the forests of the two states.

Stakeholders in the affected communities around Jos, who spoke to THISDAY, expressed concerns about the mission of the gunmen who have refused to embrace efforts by the government to restore peace to the state.

They alleged that the attackers, who are called “unknown gunmen”, are now building new houses, occupying the villages they attacked and rearing cattle on their farmlands.

THISDAY gathered that the situation is even worse in Barkin-Ladi and Riyom Local
Government Areas where over 30 villages that were previously attacked have been taken over and occupied by the attackers that now graze on the lands of the victims.

The leaders of the affected communities told THISDAY that the ultimate aim of the attackers is to take over the entire Plateau State, adding that after chasing away and occupying the villages around Jos, they will finally overrun the state capital.

Lamenting the attacks and occupation of villages in Riyom Local Government Area, the lawmaker representing the constituency, Hon. Timothy Dantong, told THISDAY that over 30 villages that were attacked had been occupied by Fulani herders, adding that they are now no-go areas for the original owners of the land.

He said: “When they attack, kill and chase the people away, they take over their homes and farmlands, and the people cannot go back to their villages, yet they are described as unknown gunmen.”

He charged the state government to be more serious in dealing with the crisis, adding that he has proposed a bill to protect the property of people in internally displaced people (IDP) camps to the state House of Assembly.

According to him, if passed into law, the original owners of land will still be able to repossess their lands.

Also speaking on the issue, the lawmaker representing Barkin-Ladi in the state House of Assembly, Mr. Peter Gyendeng, said Gashish, Ropp and a few other villages were being occupied by the attackers.

“This is known to everyone, including government.

“In fact, government even promised to establish a mobile police barracks in Gashish after the people were attacked and over 200 persons were killed in 2018, but as I speak with you nothing has been done about it.

“These are the issues that we keep talking. These attackers called unknown gunmen are now building new houses and occupying the villages they attacked and chased the people from, and they rear their cattle on their farmlands,” he added.

He said the military task force had made effort to send the attackers away and re-settle the people to their ancestral homes, but that had not yielded much result yet.

Reacting to the killing of over 10 people in Bassa Local Government Area in the past one week, the President of Irigwe Development Association, Mr. Sunday Abdu, said the ultimate aim of the attackers was to annihilate his people.

“Truth is, recently the land has not known peace owing to the wicked activities of herdsmen who have continued to destroy farmlands in an attempt to weaken the economic life of our people. More worrisome is the loss of lives to this senseless campaign of calumny.

“While our people have continued to remain indoors and law abiding in the wake of the national outcry over the COVID-19, the assailant Fulani herdsmen have continued each day within the last two weeks, to visit us with mayhem,” he said.

He said Ancha, Hukke, Gbra-zongu, Kpenrie, and Nkyiedongwro communities had been under siege in the past two weeks following sustained attacks by the herders.

He explained that rather than reinforcing security agents to the area, the military task force that should do so withdrew its men after two soldiers were killed in one of the attacks.

“It has been over a week since the withdrawal of the soldiers and here we are with a resumption of hostilities on our soil. We are confused and do not know what to make of this reality. That these atrocities have resumed, is the more reason we need security presence in our land.

“It must be noted that even in the North-east, which has been the theatre of war with some losses incurred by the military, never is the army withdrawn. Why has our case been different? Are we to think that we are paying the price for a crime that the Fulani herdsmen committed by killing the two soldiers in question?

“We are deeply concerned about the obvious silence of the Plateau State government over this resumed hostilities on our soil. Is the government so concerned about the raging COVID-19 pandemic that we are almost abandoned to the gruesome activities of the Fulani marauders? If the government does not rise up to tackle this challenge, Irigwe land would be wiped off even before the COVID-19 comes close to the state.

“We want to sincerely appeal to the military authorities to please, as a matter of concern and urgency, redeploy personnel to resume security duties in our land. If during their presence the assailants dared launched attacks on our communities, what more now that they are withdrawn? We are tempted to feel that this withdrawal of troops may have given impetus to the rampaging herdsmen to continue or escalate their campaign of blood-sucking. We therefore appeal that the authorities to immediately respond to our cry by returning the personnel,” he stated.

Clamour for Settlement Fuels Fresh Banditry in Sokoto

Meanwhile, the clamour by different armed gangs for recognition and settlement by the Sokoto State Government has fuelled fresh banditry in the state.

THISDAY gathered that armed groups who want to benefit from the state government’s largesse have launched fresh attacks to attract government’s attention.

The development, it was learnt, confirmed the fears of security experts who had faulted the amnesty proposed by the state governor and other North-west governors for bandits terrorising the region.

Some security experts said the gesture would cause more harms than good as it would encourage more lazy and unemployed youths to take to banditry.

Banditry in the region first started in Zamfara and Kaduna States before it spread to Katsina and Sokoto States .

In Sokoto State, the committee set up by the state government and headed by the Commissioner for Security Matters, Col. Moyi Garba (rtd), had recommended that repentant bandits be given cattle as loan and some money to engage in animal husbandry.

The committee also recommended that schools should be built at the rehabilitation centres set up for the repentant bandits to enable their children to have access to Western education.

Following these recommendations, the state government met with leaders of the bandits and they agreed to drop their arms and embrace the amnesty offered with its packages.
The gesture yielded results, which led to the release of the captives and the surrender of weapons by the bandits .

But in order to enjoy these benefits offered the repentant bandits last year, THISDAY gathered that other armed groups have launched renewed attacks to draw the attention of the state government.

Investigation revealed that these armed gangs display arms at various markets of Isa, Sabon Birni , Bale, and Tangaza unchallenged.

“The renewed attacked is a result of new group of bandits seeking recognition. It is also as a result of infiltration of the bandits from Niger, Zamfara to the state,” a top official of the state government told THISDAY at the weekend.

Few days ago, the bandits killed 22 people and injured scores in Gangara village in Sabon Birni LGA of the state.