Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Governor Lalong quiet as killer herdsmen drive killing spree in Irigwe, other Plateau communities

The government’s laxity in addressing emerging attacks could yet again heighten ethnic clashes among residents of “The Home of Peace and Tourism.”

• August 11, 2021

The moderate peace that Plateau State has enjoyed in recent years now appears to be frittering away with resumed escalation of attacks on agrarian communities around Jos by brigands locals suspected to be Fulani herdsmen.

Victims and witnesses tell Peoples Gazette that Governor Simon Lalong has failed to prioritise the security of residents and the perennial disaffection between traditional settlers and nomadic herders could yet again heighten sectarian tension among residents of “The Home of Peace and Tourism.”

Witnesses said the close proximity to the Nigerian Army 3rd Armoured Division, Rukuba Barracks, Jos, should have made it more difficult for people around Bassa Local Government Area to be attacked by rampaging herders.

But following renewed attacks on farmlands that initially lasted weeks, the crisis worsened since July 27 when scores were left killed in attacks believed to be linked to herders seeking to take control of rich farming communities across the local government area.

No fewer than 63 people have been killed and over 500 houses burnt, Justice Chinge Dogo, former President of Irigwe Youth Movement who has been monitoring the crisis, told Peoples Gazette.

Whereas Mr Lalong has given an order to security personnel in the state to ensure peace is restored to affected areas, residents said they were not confident in his assurances as another village Kpara was attacked on August 4.

During a security meeting held recently at the Government House in Jos, Plateau police commissioner Edward Egbuka told journalists that the governor has given the police two weeks to quell the situation, News Agency of Nigeria said.

As victims continue to mount pressure on Mr Lalong and scold him for his laxity in handling the relentless attacks on several villages in Bassa and Riyom, The Gazette interviewed victims and witnesses of the gruesome carnage unleashed by suspected herdsmen just over the past week.

Near-death ordeal

Lucy Sambo, narrated how she and her family escaped near-death experiences in the attacks. Mrs Sambo, a mother of seven, who told her story in Hausa said the Fulanis came and chased them away from their homes, destroying farmlands and torching down houses.

“My children and I narrowly escaped but all our properties were destroyed,” she said. She said she was affected by the July 31 attacks in Jebbu Miango.

Life has been so hard for her and her children, she said, adding that they are currently putting up with a Good Samaritan in Rukuba who took them in after they were rendered homeless.

Mrs Sambo said feeding has been so hard as they find it to find food in the place of their asylum.

She said her husband fled to Miango town for safety, but has not been able to join his family because he twisted his leg while fleeing from the assailants.

“We have lost all our properties and we couldn’t salvage anything,” she said. “They burnt the whole town.”

Survivors told The Gazette 95 per cent of homes in Jebbu Miango have been destroyed, with the government allegedly scheming to cover up the violence.

When the latest round of attacks began on July 27, suspected Fulani herders started by burning houses in a village called Zanghwra, The Gazette learnt. The herders struck at night.

People in neighbouring villages had to flee for safety to avoid being killed, victims said. The attackers then returned on July 28 and 29, also at dusk, killing and maiming indigenous settlers.

Home, farm razed

Markus Zongo, another witness, who is a carpenter in Jebbu Miango, recounted his personal experience in the attacks.

“The attacks happened for over eight days,” Mr Zango said. “The day the attacks became more intense, security agents fled with seven hilux vehicles.”

“They have burnt down our houses. My house was also not spared. I have three farmlands. They destroyed two, but the last one was not completely destroyed. I planted 22 baskets of Irish potatoes but they were all destroyed. The ones I planted alongside my brother and father, all destroyed,” he added.

He said his village (Jebbu Miango) was close to the 3rd Amoured Division, Rukuba Barracks, but said even the presence of the GOC did not stop Fulanis from attacking their villages. His family has also been rendered homeless by the violence.

Another reprisal

Muhammad Mauro Abdullahi, Chairman Miyetti Allah in Plateau, told The Gazette that since his ascension into office on the 2nd of February 2021, over 81 herdsmen have been killed, and 535 cows killed in Mai Yanga village in Bassa Local Government Area.

“The things happening in Bassa, particularly in Miango chiefdom are disheartening, very bad, and inhumane,” he said.

He also claimed that the attackers who he said were the Miango youths also attacked communities in Bauchi, Nasarawa, and Kaduna.

Mr Muhammad told The Gazette that the Fulanis were attacked with a masquerade and guns in Rafin Bauna.

“I had to alert the security agencies. The security men had to stand their ground to avert the attacks. We had only two casualties,” he said.

Mr Muhammad who spoke to this paper in Hausa blamed political leaders for sponsoring violence in those areas claiming that the youths in these affected areas were being paid to carry out these attacks.

He recommended dialogue between the government, traditional settlers and nomadic herders as a way of resolving the violence, which has been witnessed intermittently in the region for decades. He recommended the dialogue in addition to previous talks held by those concerned in the past.

While The Gazette was able to obtain photos of attacks in these villages over the week showing destroyed farmlands and burnt homes, this paper could not immediately obtain photos of cows killed and ruga settlements destroyed as claimed by Miyetti Allah.

Compromised security forces

“People came from Miango to help and they were chased away (by soldiers) to a river called Rafin Bauna,” a witness said.

The Gazette heard from witnesses how the actions of the military further worsened the already tense situation. Security forces were accused of chasing Irigwe people back into their communities, despite the fragile security situation.

Following the attacks Saturday night, on Sunday, a witness said those affected went to ascertain the level of damage done to their communities. Only a few houses were spared, he said.

The military finally responded on Monday morning and some people returned to their homes with the assurance of security presence, but unknown to them, another mayhem was in the offing.

‘Sleeping governor’

Mr Dogo said Mr Lalong has been complacent in tackling the crisis.

“It is the responsibility of the government to protect the lives of its citizens,” Mr Dogo said. “Nobody can claim they’re not aware that we have been reaching out to them.”

Mr Dogo also said that communities that have the closest proximity to security checkpoints and a barrack are the ones experiencing some of the most gruesome attacks by the Fulanis.

Simon Lalong
Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong

“These are communities where there are checkpoints,” he said. “In one of the spots where people were killed and houses burnt, within 200 meters, there lies a house that was housing the security outfit of Operation Safe Haven.

He narrated how a House of Assembly member, Musa Agah Avia, went to the Government House to meet the governor but was told that he was asleep. Mr Avia did not return a request for comment.

Rife with impunity

Mr Dogo explained the timeline of clashes between the Irigwe people and Fulanis.

“In 2001 there was a crisis in Jos. It got to the remote villages. In 2004, these guys (Fulanis) woke up and left our villages and then they returned to kill a village head in Kwol district of our chiefdom. They killed him alongside two of his wives and his children. Before then, we had issues with them but were resolved using alternative dispute resolution. Issues like simple cases of illegal grazing on lands. Subsequently, they left in 2004. Some of them even had places they bought from our people,” he said.

He told The Gazette how the Fulanis will graze indiscriminately on farmlands and destroy crops and were threatened or even killed if they complained.

“This led to reported cases of cattle killings and naturally when cattle are killed, the natural thing is to assume that it wasn’t done by a Fulani. But I have not seen any Irigwe man arrested for killing cattle. Since 2017, no Fulani man has been arrested or tried. On both the sides of the Irigwe and Fulani, no one has been arrested for either destroying farms or killing cattle.”

When asked if the escalation was a result of reprisal attacks, he quizzed saying, “what exactly do you mean by reprisal?” somewhat justifying his people’s action of self-protection.

“If they want to know who is really causing trouble, let them graze where they are since we are trouble people. Let them not come and there won’t be any case of trouble. They came from Nasarawa and Bauchi, mobilised to kill our people and someone is talking about reprisal.

“Apart from our land, we don’t have any other place. Our people don’t travel to go and look for people’s trouble,” he added.

A ghost town

Mr Dogo told The Gazette how people have fled their homes for safety. According to him, the Irigwe chiefdom is the most affected.

“The Fulani come in their numbers, sometimes 300-400 shouting Allahu Akbar (meaning: God is the greatest). They have departmentalised themselves.

“There are those burning houses, there are those who are shooting, there are those who are slaughtering people, there are those who are mopping crops and those who are looting.

“Since last Tuesday, when the attacks began, 63 corpses have been recovered and almost 500 houses burnt down and several hectares of land destroyed,” he said.

These attacks happened in the following villages: Zanghwra, Hurra, Kpara, Mai Yanga, Dun Du, Tafi Gana, Zirshe, Kishosho (all tribesmen of Irigwe but under Kaduna state), Kigam, Tangbro, Ancha, among others.

Denials, deflections

While the Coalition of Plateau Peace Practitioners Network (COPPPN) has claimed that the recent attacks in Bassa LGA were not genocidal but rather reprisal, they have also rebuffed claims by the Irigwe Development Community that operatives of the Operation Safe Haven were complacent in responding to the attacks.

The group made the assertion in a statement reported by Daily Trust and signed jointly by its National Coordinator, Daniel Babale Andruwus and National Secretary, Lucy Nyami.

The Plateau Security Council on its part accused foreign armed militia for the recent attacks in Bassa and Riyom LGAs of Plateau state, a report by Independent newspaper attributed this statement to the Commissioner of Police in Plateau state, Edward Egbuka said.

The Gazette reached out to the Commissioner of Information Dan Manjang to comment on the allegations that the governor was asleep when complaints were brought to him. He did not respond to the messages sent to him on Whatsapp and did not pick calls made to his phone Saturday morning.

On August 1, Operation Safe Haven, the military task force responsible for maintaining peace in Plateau and environs, in a statement signed by Major Ishaku Gaji Takwa, said that troops were deployed to quell “what would have been a deadly clash between the Irigwe youths and Fulani herders at Rafin Bauna and Ijebu Miango.”

In the statement, the army claimed that the Irigwe youths initiated the attacks at Rafin Bauna, a contrary claim by our sources. The statement, however, confirmed that there was indeed a reprisal attack claiming “some Fulanis sustained injuries, while houses belonging to the Jebbu Miango community were burnt.

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