Disturbing Plateau killings
Over 200 persons have been reportedly killed and over 50 houses razed down in renewed attacks in 11 villages in three local government areas of Plateau State, namely: Barkin Ladi, Riyom and Jos South, attributed to armed herdsmen bandits, who have been terrorising the Middle Belt region since 2001. This time around, heavily armed gunmen had invaded the affected villages of Exland, Gindin Akwati, Ruku, Nghar, Kura Falls and Kakuruk; in the Gashish district as well as Rakok, Kok and Razat villages in Ropp district of the local government area.
Eye witnesses to the killings claimed that security agents failed to intervene despite the high level of presence, as a result of the recurring communal violence. The source further noted that the crux of continuous unending bloodbath in the state was the unresolved crisis, saying the latest fighting was a result of the sale of cattle by herdsmen. After selling the cow, some locals attacked the herdsmen, killed them and took away the money alongside the cow. The unknown story in this is: If any of the herders survive a massacre, he passes the message to his family and children to retaliate. This continuous circle of anger usually leads to retaliation on the part of the herdsmen, who always take revenge for the loss of their dead family members and cows.
He added that the way herdsmen massacres were carried out was simultaneous and if they are going to attack a village, they would divide themselves into groups and start the attack at the same time. If they would start at midnight, they would start once, exactly 12 a.m., making the killings massive and there is no way to escape. So, if you are running out of this village or place, you are running into another place. Most residents could not sleep as most communities stayed up watch with the help of the age grade and youth forums. The youths continued to keep watch as they closely inspected their border to prevent attack. He added that security agents were culpable in the on-going attacks, alleging that they want the crisis to last because they are being paid for as long as the crisis continues and do not take any proactive measures to stop the killings.
Other flashpoints in the killings include the Southern Kaduna as well as Taraba, Nasarawa and Benue states. In quick response to the dire situation, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State had imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the affected local government areas even though the bandits shift from one theatre to the other, almost at will and with little resistance from security forces, a disheartening trend that led a former Chief of Army Staff and Defence Minister, Lt. General Theophilus Danjuma (rtd), to call on Nigerians to rise and defend themselves for the perceived poor response of security personnel to the impasse.
Plateau State presently has no anti-grazing law and unless something urgently is done to stop these killings, this year’s farming season could be lost because the farmers that feed the nation are either being killed or rendered refugees by the attackers. This would not only lead to insecurity, but a sharp rise in the cost of food imports and local staples as a result of low harvests. The deadly activities of herdsmen have raised concerns over the future of agriculture in the North-Central geopolitical zone part of the country.
Plateau State, which used to be a place attractive to both foreigners and Nigerians because of its cool weather, landscape and serenity, had suffered major inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts from 2001 to 2004. The conflicts have consumed the lives of hundreds, maimed many, displaced others and drove many people to relocate to other states. In 2004, the killings in Yelwan Shendam affected about 600 people alone that largely contributed to why the Olusegun Obasanjo administration once declared a state of emergency in the state and between 2007 and 2015, during the tenure of Governor Jonah Jang, the state suffered other serious crises, as a fallout of the local government elections of November 2008.
In 2015, when the incumbent Governor Lalong took over as chief executive, the state seemed to enjoy some peace and stability because of the disposition of the governor to embracing peace and open-door policy that promotes regular communication with all and sundry. The conflicts between farmers and herders always occur either because herders’ cattle ate farmers’ crops or herders blame local communities for cattle rustling or killing of their people that often leads to reprisal attacks and counter-reprisal attacks. As a way forward, all those who had a hand in the criminality should be made to face the music. The recent upsurge in violence must be nipped in the bud before it gets out of control by apprehending the perpetrators.
It is commendable that the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara recently met with President Muhammadu Buhari over the massacre. The meeting was said to be at the instance of the President of the Senate. It is only hoped that both the executive and legislature would really work together by fashioning out a better model that would help in nipping the brutality into the bud.
Beyond that, the Nigerian state should swift into action by protecting lives and property, which remain the primary purpose of government by virtue of our constitution. There is the need to review the continued relevance of heads of our security agencies that appear to be helpless and incapable of solving the problem. Recently, the Inspector-General of Police refused to stay in Makurdi, Benue State, as directed by President Buhari while the Minister of Defence had directed states to suspend the Anti-Open Grazing Prohibition Laws, a call that is capable of fueling the crisis.
There is no need playing politics with the lives of innocent people, there should be an overhaul of the entire security apparatus, to bring efficiency to. Rivalry among security agencies should stop and they should collaborate better, especially in the area of intelligence sharing. Security personnel should not be made to stay in a particular location for too long so that they would not be compromised. The urgency for why state policing should be operational becomes clearer by the day. The president, being the chief security officer of the country should show, and be seen to show more commitment to ending the killings, not only in Plateau but in other parts of the country. The bulk ends on his table. That is why he has to act more decisive in curbing the senseless massacres in Plateau and other parts of the country.
Kupoluyi wrote from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB).