Many questions are being asked following last week’s world press conference by the Plateau State All Progressives Congress Elders Council.
The council had during the briefing held on September 3, 2021, asked Governor Simon Lalong to re-visit the controversial recruitment of security operatives by former Governor Jonah Jang purportedly to address the lingering security challenges bedevilling the state.
During his tenure, Jang had reportedly sent about 300 youths to Israel where they were trained on “security” and when they came back, not much was heard about them.
Jang was the governor of Plateau State between 2007 and 2015.
During his time, the internecine ethno-religious crises laced with political manoeuvring that started during the time of Governor Joshua Dariye in 2000 escalated and claimed thousands of lives and properties worth billions of naira.
Daily Trust reports that there was intense controversy at the time which set tongues wagging over allegations that the Jang’s PDP-led administration had taken hundreds of youth for training in Israel.
Most of them were allegedly picked from the governor’s Birom ethnic group; heightening fears of a clandestine move to use them against those perceived as foes in the state.
People from other ethnic extractions and the then leading opposition party, the APC, spoke against the use of “ethnic militia” to settle scores.
There was back and forth on the matter and the issue regarding the deployment of the 300 youths fizzled out.
However, when Lalong, who contested on the platform of the APC took over from Jang in 2015, peace gradually returned to the state especially in Jos, the state capital, a development that endeared him to some people and also pitched him against others, especially those who believed he was not vigorously pursuing the “Plateau Agenda.”
Therefore, when the APC elders addressed the press last week and asked the governor to among other things look for the youths trained in Israel and deploy them to the streets, the controversial debate on the matter resurfaced.
The press conference by the elders was in the aftermath of the recent security breaches in Jos and environs.
Recall that over 20 people were killed in Yelwa Zangam village days after the killing of some travellers in the Rukuba area of Jos metropolis. Governor Lalong had imposed a curfew in Jos South, Jos North and Bassa LGAs after each of the attacks.
New call by APC elders
The call by the APC Elders’ Council to conscript the 300 youths under contention has therefore raised fresh dust over a new dimension to the crisis in Jos and other parts of Plateau State.
The text of the press conference during which Lalong was asked to look for the youths was signed by the chairman, Chief Baba Capt. J. M. Din (rtd) and Amb. Danladi Wuyep (secretary).
The elders said, “Plateau State has had its fair share of the dark days, where external forces take advantage of the polarization of our citizens based on ethnicity, religion and political leanings.
“No one will wish to experience those days again where people’s lives were wasted without remorse, distrust amongst citizens, and secret killings were the order of the day.
“Having watched keenly how events have unfolded from 2001 to this day, we must come together as a people of good conscience bonded together in love and unity for the good of Plateau State irrespective of tribe and religion.
“It will be in the interest of Plateau State if the Plateau State Government revisits and identifies the youths of Plateau State that were trained abroad in security and intelligence gathering by the last administration as contained in the transition committee report so that they are merged with the 3,000 vigilantes trained by this current administration.
“This will further boost and complement the efforts of the conventional security agencies in information gathering,” they said.
Daily Trust reports that some people are already not comfortable with this call, alleging that it was not with the best of intention.
Others called for circumspection on the side of Governor Lalong.
A source said, “Some of these people were the ones who questioned the integrity and sincerity of Jang when he allegedly took the 300 youths to Israel…I think they criticised him to take away power from his hands and now that they have the power, or rather they are close to the corridors of power, they want to perfect the so-called Plateau agenda.”
Another source said, “I read the press statement. I think it is a big departure from the way Plateau elders used to speak.
“It also restates the cardinal principle of Lalong’s administration, which makes certain segments that still believe in the old Plateau agenda saying Lalong and by extension APC betrayed them.
“However, a major source of concern should be confirmation that indeed the last admission trained some people in Israel. This administration doesn’t even know their whereabouts but generally, the statement is okay by me,” he said.
A community leader said, “I see it as a reflection of the new order slowly gaining ground in Plateau.
“If you look at it, the recent outbreak of violence in some parts of the state did not take the usual trend of post-conflict media war and blame game usually seen in such situations.
“Sure, Capt. Din is the chairman of the elders’ forum and he is currently embroiled in a fierce contest for control of the party with the deputy governor, Prof. Sonny Tyoden, who comes from the same ward in Mangu LGA with him.
“Capt. Din is a staunch ally of President Buhari and Lalong. The press release is a step forward in the demonstration of concern over the unknown/unidentified youths Governor Jang sent to Israel for paramilitary training in the guise of Operation Rainbow, almost all of whom were his native Birom.
“It might interest you to know that investigations being conducted on the killings of innocent travellers along Rukuba Road have so far revealed that some of the suspects were also among those undergoing trial for the murder of General Alkali. They were released on bail but four of them have so far been identified.
“There is a strong desire to find out who are those guys who went to Israel for the training during Governor Jang’s administration,” he said.
Retired Major General Idris Alkali, a former Chief of Administration, Army Headquarters, was killed in Bukuru, Jos South LGA, while on his way from Abuja to Bauchi.
‘We mean well’
When contacted, Pam Dung Gyang, who read the APC elders’ council text at the press conference, said their basic requirement is for the Plateau State government to identify the youths that were trained abroad in security and intelligence gathering by the last administration.
He said this was contained in the transition committee report ahead of the shift from Jang to Lalong administration.
Gyang said the youths should be merged with the 3,000 vigilantes trained by this current administration.
He said the major function of the trained youths abroad was information gathering across the various communities and wards, and thereafter report to the appropriate authorities accordingly.
On why the Operation Rainbow initiative was earlier condemned by the APC when it was in opposition and PDP was in government, and now somewhat accepting the plan, he said it was not so.
Gyang said assuming the present government was against Operation Rainbow, the group would not have been functional to date.
He said the aim of the security outfit was not to target any section of the society and that they were not a fighting force but an information-gathering arm.
The Commissioner for Information and Communication, Dan Manjang, said the operatives of Operation Rainbow had been living up to their operational terms.
He said the call for the rejuvenation of the security outfit by the APC elders was not out of place as anything that will improve the security of lives and property on the Plateau at this period of security challenge would be welcomed.
Manjang said Operation Rainbow was a kind of state police outfit that will still need ratification of the State House of Assembly to make it more legal and effectively operational.
‘Clamour not new’
Daily Trust recalls that Deputy Speaker Ahmed Idris Wase had in 2018 stunned his colleagues and many Nigerians when he mentioned at the floor of the House of Representatives that 300 people from Plateau State had been trained in Israel some years back and later fizzled into thin air.
Though the member did not clarify the organisation under which the “300” youths were trained in Israel, many quickly jumped to the conclusion that he was referring to the almost 4,000 youths trained under Operation Rainbow, a Plateau State-owned security outfit established by Jang.
Despite being backed by state legislation in 2012, Operation Rainbow was always viewed with suspicion especially by the Muslim community in the state.
Many had at the beginning thought it would model Kaduna’s Operation Yaki but this quickly changed when most of those recruited appeared to have been picked from a certain group.
But a circulated statement said to be from a former Secretary to the State Government disputed Wase’s claims but confirmed that the security vehicles for Operation Rainbow were bought from Israel.
He also reportedly said Israelis had set up the State’s Agricultural Service Training Centre (ASTC), conceived the security of the new government House at Little Rayfield and trained some of the Operation Rainbow personnel.
He also said the assertions that 300 people were trained in Israel and that a truckload of ammunition had been discovered were false.
Our correspondent recalled that in December 2013, about 1,000 team leaders from the about 4,000 trained in neighbourhood watch of Operation Rainbow graduated from a two weeks training by the Israeli-based Protection and Counter-Terrorism Centre under the International Security Academy (ISA).
Before that, 30 youths from the security outfit were said to have undergone training in counter-terrorism at the ISA in Israel which the then Coordinator of Operation Rainbow, AVM Bala Danbaba, confirmed and said they were to return and become instructors to the 1,000 team leaders in Nigeria.
It is now left to be seen whether Lalong will heed the advice offered by his party’s elders; whether the 300 youths would be found; whether they would be put to use; and whether some people who cried foul would trust the Israel-trained youths at all.