Inside story of Plateau killings, Lalong’s search for lasting peace
The attacks on Miango village in Bassa Local Government Area of Plateau State on Saturday, July 31 and Sunday, August 1, 2021, in which about 40 people died, all of them Irigwe indigenes, were suspected to have been carried out by Fulani militia.
The unfortunate incident, which was condemned by both Christian leaders and Muslim Ummah, later led to another bloody attack on Rukuba Road in Jos North Local Government Area on Saturday, August 14 when the Miango people (the Irigwe) evacuated the bodies of their dead relatives from the mortuary of the Plateau Specialist Hospital for mass burial in their village.
Rukuba Road is usually the route to their village. They all dressed in black attire and were in a long procession. The road also leads to the 3 Armoured Division of the Nigerian Army, but people going to Miango will have to veer off before the army barracks.
It was gathered that as the mourners moved slowly, some travellers in five buses ran into them. The mourners stopped the buses and were told by the passengers, who were Muslims, that they were coming from their annual Zikr programme in Bauchi State and going to Ikare in Ondo State. They explained that they were taking the Rukuba Road as a shortcut to avoid traffic jams inside the city. Despite their explanation, the youths in the procession allegedly descended on the travellers and killed 23 of them instantly. About 40 of the travellers were also said to be missing. The youths also allegedly set fire on some of the buses.
Some journalists who visited the Plateau Specialist Hospital morgue where the bodies of the victims were deposited were asked to go into the facility and count the bodies being washed, in line with Islamic tradition before their mass burial.
The Muslim clerics at the hospital had informed the journalists that after washing the dead bodies, they were going to bury them on the outskirts of Bukuru town to avoid escalation of the crisis. They reasoned that taking them to the Muslim burial ground on Zaria Road, Jos could cause a religious crisis.
Governor Simon Bako Lalong had also sensed that crisis was brewing and quickly declared a dusk-to-dawn curfew on three local councils of Bassa, Jos North and Jos South.
Lalong, who said the curfew would remain in place until it is reviewed, added that government would continue to monitor the situation. He urged residents to remain calm and not give the incident a religious interpretation. He told the people that the government was working round the clock to restore normalcy, urging them to support the security agencies in their efforts to protect life and property by giving them reliable information.
However, barely two hours after the governor imposed the dusk-to-dawn curfew on the three local councils, he reviewed it, restricting the curfew in Jos North local council to 24-hour. He explained that his decision was informed by security reports that if the review was not done, there could be a breakdown of law and order in the council, which could spread to other parts of the state.
A statement by his Director of Press, Dr. Makut Simon Macham, said: “Hours after announcing dusk-to-dawn curfew in three local councils of Jos North, Jos South and Bassa, Plateau State Governor Simon Bako Lalong has directed the imposition of a 24-hour curfew in Jos North to contain further security threats.
“In the directive, the governor said from 2 pm of today, Sunday, August 15, 2021, a 24-hour curfew will come into effect in Jos North Local Government Area. This is necessitated by security reports, which indicate rising threats to the safety of life and property within the local council.
“The governor, therefore, urges citizens to abide by the curfew and remain indoors to allow security agencies to maintain law and order and deal with those bent on causing chaos.
“The governor says the 24-hour curfew in Jos North local council will remain in force until further notice.
“Again, citizens are to note that the 24-hour curfew in Jos North will take effect from 2 pm today 15th August 2021.”
Despite the governor’s efforts and appeal to the residents, the spate of attacks in the state increased in the days that followed, leading to more deaths. The residents now live in fear. Last Sunday, three students of the University of Jos were feared killed while two others were declared missing. Also, there were reports that five other students of the institution were receiving treatments in various hospitals in Jos following injuries they sustained during attacks on them.
The General Officer Commanding (GOC) 3 Armoured Division, who doubles as the Commander, Operation Safe Haven (OPSH), Major-General Ibrahim Ali, had confirmed that there was an uprising near the military institution following a desperate attempt by hoodlums to break into shops and loot them. He disclosed that security operatives had arrested additional 21 suspects in connection with the killings last Saturday.
But last Tuesday night, suspected herdsmen killed five persons in Bassa local council. Four persons in Chando-Zrrechi (Tafi-Gana) village, where the incident happened, were also declared missing after the killings.
The National President of the Irigwe Development Association, Ezekiel Bini, who confirmed the fresh killings last Wednesday, said the whereabouts of four other persons remained unknown after the gunmen captured them.
The names of those killed at Chando-Zrreci (Tafi-Gana) were given as Christopher Izah (39), Dauda Danladi (29), Ladi Adamson (52), John Musa (16) and Joshua Zecharia (17).
Secretary-General of Irigwe Development Association, Danjuma Auta Dickson, said, in a statement in Jos, that the attack was in response to the killing of travellers on Rukuba Road.
“As the Irigwe continue to receive attacks from left right and centre over the unfortunate Rukuba Road attack on innocent commuters which we know nothing about and have continued to distance ourselves from, one of our villages, Chando-Zrrechi (Tafi-Gana), was attacked by Fulani herdsmen,” he said.
Dickson, who also revealed that a man was killed in another village a day earlier, called on security operatives and the government to put a stop to the attacks.
These developments in the state suggest that peace is not yet in sight, but Governor Lalong appears very undeterred in his efforts to ensure the restoration of normalcy.
Speaking recently, he threatened that government would treat those who seek to bail those arrested so far in connection with the crisis as accomplices. This is even as retired military personnel in the state initiated moves towards the restoration of peace.
At a seminar they organised in Jos, which coincided with the uprising and killings in the state, the ex-servicemen stated that their role was to complement the efforts of the government to overcome the security challenges.
Chairman of the Traditional Council of Chiefs and Emirs, Gbong Gwom Jos, Da Jacob Gyang Buba, who attended the seminar said: “Life is sacrosanct. Anybody, no matter how highly placed, found to be perpetrating acts of lawlessness and killings should be dealt with according to the law of the land.”
He urged the state government to investigate properly any link between the arrested suspects and those facilitating their bail so they could also be brought to book.
Aside the seminar, there have been series of meetings on the outbreak of the uprising in Plateau. One of such was a stakeholders’ meeting presided over by Governor Lalong last Wednesday night at the Government House, Little Rayfield, Jos, where it was recommended that the perpetrators of the killings should be promptly arrested and prosecuted.
Participants at the meeting also recommended strict enforcement of the prohibition of hard drugs in the state, noting that intake of such drugs leads the youth into indulging in criminal activities. They advised the youth to see themselves as peacemakers. Lalong appealed to community leaders to educate their youths on the dynamics of violence.
The governor also met with Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) led by their chairman in the state, Mallam Mohammed Nuru Abdullahi, and other leaders where he urged them to be honest in all that they do.
Abdullahi reaffirmed the commitment of the cattle breeders to restoration of peace, saying they were ready to work and live with Irigwe people.
The Irigwe pledged their unalloyed support to the government to achieve lasting peace, urging their people to report any breach of law to the relevant security authorities.
Meanwhile, Lalong has observed that many people were killed as a result of wrong information on social media that were circulated during the skirmishes, cautioning against the spread of fake news among residents.
He gave the advice recently after undertaking a tour of some parts of the state under curfew. The governor, who also visited the Plateau Specialist Hospital and the Bingham Teaching Hospital to see victims receiving treatment, warned that spreading fake news escalates conflict.
“I have seen videos moving around on social media and most are false. They are wrong information given by people,” he lamented.
The governor urged Christian and Muslim leaders not to believe or use such social media messages and should caution their adherents against the spread of fake news.
He also admonished residents to be cautious about the kind of information they believe during conflict periods, saying merchants of conflicts would do all within their powers to spread fake news and ignite crisis. He appreciated security agencies for their efforts at restoring peace even as he sympathised with those that lost their loved ones and property to the conflict.
The Commissioner of Police (CP), Edward Egbuka, blamed the crisis on miscreants and hoodlums. He declared that no particular ethnic group was responsible for last Saturday’s killings of travellers along Rukuba Road Jos.
The CP, who spoke to newsmen at the Government House, Jos, invalidated an earlier statement by the police that profiled the attackers as Irigwe.
“Those behind the attacks are miscreants and hoodlums who want to take advantage of the situation to cause trouble and loot. This is not the first time it has happened. We don’t want to name anybody. It is just miscreants who will always want to take advantage of the situation,” Egbuka said.
The police commissioner, who was at the Government House to brief the governor on the security situation in the state and the level of implementation of the curfew imposed on Jos North, Jos South and Bassa local councils, said the situation had been brought under control.
He noted that the imposition of the 24-hour curfew in Jos North from Sunday curtailed the spread of violence in Jos metropolis, where seven persons were killed during renewed skirmishes.
“A total of 36 persons were rescued unhurt from the Rukuba Road attack and are in good condition. So far, more persons have been arrested with investigations still ongoing,” the CP said, assuring the people of Plateau State that the security agencies would go all out to fish out the criminals and miscreants and bring them to book.
Earlier, the Co-Chairmen of the Plateau Inter-Religious Council, Rev. Pandang Yamsat and Emir of Wase, Alhaji Muhammadu Sambo Haruna met with Governor Lalong to discuss the intervention of the council in calming the current situation. At the end of the meeting, they said the council would carry out further engagements to douse the tension.
Security agencies that attended the closed-door meeting with the governor included Operation Safe Haven, police and Department of State Services (DSS).
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