At least 100 people have died between January and August in renewed clashes and isolated killings between mainly Irigwe and Fulani herders in Bassa Local Government Area of Plateau State.
Two decades after the 2001 ethno-religious riots that placed Plateau State on the map of flash-point areas for security agencies, attacks and counter-attacks between mostly Fulani, Berom and Afizere in Plateau’s northern senatorial district continue to pose danger for the permanent return of peace in the state.
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How Plateau’s new crises may threaten Lalong’s peace legacy
In 2015, when Governor Simon Bako Lalong took over the mantle of leadership, his commitment and approach to inclusivity may have brought about relative peace, but an eruption in 2018 had claimed about 250 lives in parts of Barkin Ladi and Riyom LGAs.
Daily Trust reports that recent attacks in Plateau show that Bassa LGA is becoming the state’s epicentre of insecurity with residents saying isolated and tit-for-tat killings between Irigwe and Fulani have become a daily affair.
Willful destruction of farmlands and poisoning and decapitation of cows have also in recent times become the new order by youths from both sides of the divide whose actions continue to generate mistrust among Christians and Muslims in the state.
Speaking on the destruction of farmlands, Governor Lalong recently described the action as callous, criminal and inhuman. He said it was unimaginable that people will go into a farm and mow down flourishing crops that are nearing maturity or harvest in a few weeks or months. The governor said such premeditated acts must be addressed, adding that it was not only meant to provoke crisis, suspicion and instability in the area but also render the victims poor and hungry.
On the latest circle of killings between Fulani herders and Irigwe in Bassa LGA, the Plateau State Commissioner of Police, Edward Egbuka, while giving the details of the incident said 17 people were killed and 85 buildings burnt in Bassa and Riyom LGAs.
In his effort to douse the brewing tension and restore peace in the affected areas, the new commander of Operation Safe Haven (OPSH), Major General Ibrahim Ali General Ali, who is also the General Officer Commanding, 3 Division, Maxwell Khobe Cantonment, warned the warring herders and farmers against taking the law into their hands.
General Ali, during an emergency meeting with community leaders, directed that all acts of criminality must be reported to personnel of OPSH deployed to specific areas or any appropriate authority. He assured that the task force under his watch would do everything possible to ensure justice and fairness to everyone.
“The attacks and counter-attacks must be stopped. No herder should rear cows on any farm crops. Any herder caught rearing or destroying farm crops will be dealt with. Again, no farmer should kill cows. If cows eat your crops, report to us. All complaints should be reported to the appropriate authorities before taking any action,” he said.
The GOC further stressed that the rearing of animals must stop at 6pm and warned that any community leader found harbouring criminals will be dealt with. “Expose any criminal elements amongst you, give us a chance, we will ensure justice and fairness among you. We must cooperate before we achieve our desire,” he added.
Travellers caught in the fray
Two people were killed when hoodlums blocked Gada-Biyu Highway in Jos, Plateau State capital less than two weeks ago in retaliation of an attack on some villages in Bassa LGA. The hoodlums had stormed the Gada-Biyu area on a rampage, assaulting passers-by in an incident that eventually claimed the lives of two travellers. Two trucks, among them one conveying cattle, were burnt with the animals killed by the hoodlums.
Plateau’s 20-year crises have taken a toll on the residents and innocent travellers often find themselves in the mix of the chaos. The recent attack on travellers corresponds to how residents blocked major roads after the 2018 massacre that claimed 250 lives to kill or maim innocent unsuspecting travellers along the Bukuru-Maraban Jama’a highway.
On September 3, 2018, Major General Idris Alkali, a former Chief of Administration in the Nigerian Army was also caught up in the web of angry youths when they blocked the Dura Du road in Jos South Local Government Area of the state in protests of a previous night’s attack.
General Alkali who was travelling from Abuja to Bauchi had detoured through Dura Du and was reported missing before his vehicle was extracted from a mining pond days later and his remains eventually retrieved from a well.
On 12th April this year, a driver and seven passengers who were travelling from Saminaka in Kaduna State to Dadin Kowa, in Jos South LGA were also intercepted and killed by hoodlums in Donkasa village, Bassa LGA. This incident happened a day after an attack was launched on Dong, a border town between Jos South and Bassa LGAs, where 10 people were killed.
Renewed attacks threaten Lalong’s peace legacy
Despite efforts of Governor Lalong in the last six years to restore peace in the state, Daily Trust reports that unless checked, the renewed killings may threaten the governor’s peace legacy, less than 21 months to the expiration of his administration.
The state government has, however, said it was more concerned about the hostilities and condemned the killings while commiserating with the family of those who lost loved ones. Speaking with Daily Trust, the Chairman of Plateau Peace Building Agency, Joseph Lengman, said the agency will not relent in its efforts to ensure that warring communities live peacefully with one another.
Lengman further said regardless of what peace spoilers might have thought or achieved, the peace agency was determined to work with all stakeholders from Fulani, to Irigwe and other lovers of peace on the need to shun violence and cooperate with one another.
“There are bad people among the Fulani and Irigwe but the majority of both Fulani and Irigwe people want peace. We must focus on our common humanity more than the tribal marks on our faces. It is time for us to go back to the drawing board and tell ourselves the truth to entrench peace in Bassa LGA,” he said.
On his part, the state Commissioner of Information and Communication, Dan Manjang, said allegations that renewed crises were linked to the 2023 elections are immaterial as the state was only concerned about entrenching peace among the people.
“For those perceiving it from the political perspective, they could be right or wrong. Whether it is connected to 2023 or not, it is immaterial as far as the government is concerned. What we are concerned about is to maintain peace in the entire state,” he said.
The commissioner further said the government has developed institutions such as Operation Rainbow and Plateau State Peace Building Agency and has provided an enabling environment with financing and equipment for the institutions to thrive.
“Recently, we provided 50 Hilux vehicles and 200 motorcycles to the police. Government has trained 3,500 police constabularies who have been distributed to the 17 LGAs to help with intelligence gathering,” he said.
Irigwe, Fulani proffer solutions to end crisis
The two major warring parties in the recent crisis have called on the state government to ensure that perpetrators of attacks are brought to book for permanent peace in the state.
The Secretary-General of Irigwe Development Association, Danjuma Auta, stressed the need for government to rise to its responsibilities by ensuring that actions are taken before any agitation becomes a crisis. “The state government must put a stop to the destruction of farm crops. There are often signs for all these and whoever is found guilty in the crisis must be punished,” he said.
“We must respect one another because all lives are important. We can’t continue to be pointing fingers at each other saying since you attacked me, I will also attack you. Our parents did not live with the Fulani like this, we need peace,” he further said.
On his part, the State Chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Malam Nura Abdullahi, said for there to be lasting peace, the government must ensure justice between the communities.
“There should be a strong committee which includes all stakeholders that discuss and proffer solutions to the problem. This will go a long way in ensuring peaceful coexistence among the communities,” he said.