Plateau sliding into old dark days of unabated crises
No doubt, the two immediate past governments in Plateau State were characterised by ethnic and religious violence of unmitigated proportions.
During the time of now Senator Joshua Dariye from 1999 to 2007, a state of emergency had to be declared by the Federal Government under former president Olusegun Obasanjo, to forestall unwarranted killings being unleashed on innocent citizens, as a result of political differences, ethnic and religious bigotry.
But the mayhem during the administration of Dr. Jonah Jang, now Senator from 2007 to 2015 came to its apogee in 2008, when local government elections were conducted. Earlier, stakeholders had agreed with Plateau State Independent Electoral Commission (PLASIEC) to collate election results at a particular venue. But that agreement was violated, when the exercise was taken to a different venue not known to the stakeholders, thus heightening speculations and insinuations that the results were doctored and skewed in favour of some interest groups.
Indeed, the election process lacked transparency and when results were announced, those who ‘lost’ could not believe their ears. Immediately that night, they took to the streets burning houses and killing people indiscriminately. And this continued till the regime ended.
Before the current administration of Governor Simon Bako Lalong came to power, it promised it would stabilise and sanitise the state in terms of fair play, justice and equitable distribution of state resources. It said it considered these necessary components of stability and peaceful co-existence.
Lalong knew he would not have won the governorship election. His was a victory of manifold protests through the ballot. Both Dariye and Jang emerged governors by popular mandate on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), while Lalong campaigned on the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
But because of lopsided selection of PDP governorship candidate, which did not go down well with the electorate, they decided to vote for APC. It really was not Lalong the people voted for, but his party. So, he won the election on a platter of gold, not because he was more popular than the PDP candidate, but because of that error of choice, which did not take into consideration the people’s mood then. Indeed, people generally believed it was a political miscalculation, for which the PDP had to pay. And the price was enormous.
True to his campaign promises, upon assumption of office, Lalong shared political offices across all ethnic and religious divides, to the satisfaction of almost all citizens, which was why his administration witnessed peace and stability in its two years in office.
Uncompleted projects were finished, with some still undergoing renovation and completion. Workers’ salaries were promptly paid, and some workers, sacked by previous administration were recalled, to people’s admiration.
However, the state started experiencing violence last year, when the paramount ruler of Bokkos, the Saf Ron Kulere, Lazarus Haggai, was ambushed and killed by unknown assailants, while returning from his farm.
Although there had previously been isolated attacks in some rustic villages, the paramount ruler’s murder was conspicuous, thereby marking the beginning of violence in the state.
After government and security operatives made the usual threats of fishing out and dealing decisively with the perpetrators, there was an interregnum of peace.
But sadly, on the night of October 10, 2017, three people, including former Head of Service, Da Moses Gwom, a soldier of the Operation Safe Haven (OPSH) and a woman were killed at a shopping mall in Dorowa village of Barkin Ladi local government.
Curiously, OPSH’s spokesperson, Captain Umar Adam, told journalists on October 14 that eight persons had been arrested in connection with the Dorowa killing. He explained that troops were everywhere to ensure that peace reigned in the area to prevent people taking law into their hands.
Former chairman of Barkin Ladi, Dr. Emmanuel Loman, lamented that citizens and security agencies were not telling people the truth, as the perpetrators were well known to them. He wondered how there could be peace, when the truth was not being told.
On the attack on Irigwe community, Loman said: “When I was chairman of Barkin Ladi local government, we discovered that some of these attacks were not carried out by Fulani men as being peddled. We trailed perpetrators and were able to know the truth and reported same to the Special Task Force now re-named Operation Safe Haven (OPSH).
“There are some bad eggs among the security personnel. Some bad eggs are being employed during military recruitment. Some terrorists are being unwittingly recruited. Some are recruited to defend their religions. The country is being run on religious line. We are Muslims. We are Christians. How do we get peace? Islam and Christianity have been soiled. So, curfew is not the solution, as government knows the perpetrators, who should be brought to justice.
“The rate of killings in Plateau State is higher than that of North East’s Boko Haram. The issue would have been well concluded, if only perpetrators were brought to book and made to face trial, instead of arresting youths going against attackers. You cannot run away from reality. Curfew is very cosmetic, as far as I am concerned.”
Indeed, the killings have continued unabated, in spite of everything. Recently, six persons were killed in the early hours of October 15 in Taage village, near Wild Life Park, close to Kent Academy in Bassa Council during curfew hour.
Expectedly, residents of the community were worried that despite the curfew, attacks on communities have continued.
Plateau has truly become a war theatre, where Irigwe community and herdsmen are constantly settling scores. No fewer than 29 people were murdered in the early hours of October 16 at Nkei-Dongwro community, near Miango in Bassa local government. The attackers defied the curfew, as they all occurred at night, always taking security agents by surprise.
The National President of Irigwe Development Association and former member of Plateau State House of Assembly, Hon. Sunday Abdu, expressed sadness that soldiers took the victims to a primary school apparently to protect them, as they had all been displaced from their ancestral homes. But this later turned out to be a ruse, as they were massacred by attackers immediately they were abandoned by their so-called protectors.
Government has equally condemned the incidents, saying it was a regrettable case of unprovoked attacks by unknown gunmen, which has characterised the vicious cycle of violence in Irigwe chiefdom.
The governor’s spokesperson, Mr. Emmanuel Samuel Nanle, who issued the reaction said: “You will recall that in a proactive security measure, after a failed attack on Nzurovhe village in the same area on October 13, where there was no casualty, government imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on Bassa LGA on October 14.
“With that attack, even with imposition of curfew, the governor has directed a neighbourhood search to fish out the culprits, who have disappeared into thin air. The attackers have adopted attack and retreat strategy, clearly depicting their full knowledge of the terrain and collaborating silence of their host communities. Security has been beefed up and intelligence has been deployed to identify perpetrators of this dastardly act.”
But angered by the development, Jonah Jang asked government to consider another strategy, since curfew has not achieved desired objectives.
Condemning the coordinated attacks, a shocked Jang said: “These attacks prove that the method of response adopted by the state governor is not working, especially in face of the dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed on Bassa local government area on October 13, 2017. There is, therefore, need for government to critically reconsider its strategy for the good of our people. While appealing for calm, I wish to call on security agencies in the state to live up to their responsibility of protecting lives and property to restore confidence and discourage people from seeking self-help.”
Also disturbed by criticisms of its mode of operations, the special military task force, Operation Safe Haven (OPSH) said it would investigate alleged involvement of soldiers at Nkiedonwhro village, where villagers were attacked and many killed.
The Plateau Initiative for Development and Advancement of the Natives (PIDAN), an umbrella body of the 56 ethnic nationalities in the state, also observed with utmost dismay the continuous killings of people in parts of the state.
PIDAN, through its Public Relations Officer, Mr. Sarki Steven Musa said: “All these unfortunate killings are coming at a time the state government is doing everything possible to ensure that people enjoy dividends of democracy and are more united than ever, which is the resolve of all community leaders in the state.”
Musa warned that the natives’ accommodating nature should not be taken for weakness, while appealing to the people not to take the law into their hands. He called on security agencies to ensure they bring perpetrators to book.
The umbrella body of Fulani herdsmen, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) Plateau State chapter, which has been at the centre of the controversy, has denied insinuations it carried out killings of any sort.
The chairman of MACBAN, Alhaji Nura Muhammad Abdullahi, narrated how six innocent Fulani cattle-rearers were beheaded on October 15 by Irigwe militia in Kuri village of Bassa. He explained that the incident occurred at about 3.pm, while the Fulani were grazing their cattle, when they were attacked, slaughtered and beheaded, with their heads carted away.
Besides, Abdullahi said a total of 40 sheep and nine cows were killed, while 232 heads of cattle, belonging to deceased’s families were also rustled.
“The unfortunate incident was immediately reported to the Divisional Police Officer in charge of Bassa local government and Operation Safe Haven, Sector 6, who all visited the scene and confirmed death and burial of the deceased,” he explained.
While condemning killings of all innocent lives, destruction of property and rustling of Fulani cows, Abdullahi faulted media’s imbalance by neglecting and refusing to interview or contact the Fulani community to reflect killing of the six deceased, 40 sheep and nine cows, as well as the rustled 232 cows.
He explained that they are peace-loving people and urged government to investigate, fish out the killers and take necessary action that will stop such occurrences in future.
The Director of Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Mr. Steve Aluko-Daniel, said despite shortcomings on part of the task force, retaining the force remains the only credible way to reverse a possible revenge mission that will provoke another cycle of violence, which could eventually engulf the state and the country.
Aluko said: “The task force helps to reinforce government’s willingness to meet its constitutional duties of protecting lives and property. To do otherwise will mean promoting ethnic and religious militias with all their negative consequences of ethnic and religious genocidal disposition.
“All that needs be done is to reinforce a reward and sanctioning system, coupled with right intelligence gathering network and deployment to locate and enforce law and order in the Middle Belt. Government must do the needful to win the people’s trust and confidence, while enforcing a practical sense of justice, by promptly remedying effect of losses and resettlement of victims with genuine reconciliation and adequate compensation.”
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