Plateau: Search for peace amid flames of violence, deaths
The regular outbreak of violence, and attendant loss of lives and property worth billions of naira in Plateau State, has left no one in doubt that past efforts at engineering peace in the hitherto peaceful state were yet to fully pay off.
That notwithstanding, the present administration in the state, religious leaders, traditional rulers as well as civil society groups are still hard at work to ensure that divisive tendencies and narratives are promptly countered, why fractious religious lines are blurred and an egalitarian society put in place.
Only recently, a little known Fulani group, the Fulani Nationality Movement, (FUNAM) stoked the embers of controversy when it, again, claimed Fulani ownership of the country, while also giving notice of its planned conquest of the entire country.
FUNAM, which in 2018, issued a similar provocative statement, in the wake of the Benue massacre by herdsmen, made the latest outburst in reaction to the recent killings in Plateau State by armed Fulani herdsmen, where it also claimed the existence of a Fulani Strike Force that coordinated what it called a retaliatory attack against the Berom people in Barkin Ladi Local Council.
However, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Mohammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, while speaking at that Interfaith Mediation Centre, in conjunction with the Plateau State Peace Building Agency’s First Annual Plateau State Forgiveness and Reconciliation Day, disowned all Fulani groups that are claiming that Fulani own Nigeria, from Sokoto, to the Atlantic Ocean.
The monarch, who also stated categorically that no one can Islamise or Christianise Nigeria, stressed that such statements by such controversial groups were baseless and untrue because the late Usman Danfodio never said anything that related to such in his books, and during his lifetime.
“I am the leader of Usman Danfodio dynasty. In the hundred books that Usman Danfodio wrote, I have never seen where he said that Nigeria belongs to the Fulanis. What he wrote was the role of Islam in leadership, governance etc. He never mentioned conquering any particular land, or claiming ownership of any territory.
“People make comments that Jihad is to Islamise every country, but I said no, Danfodio never came to Islamise any country, he preached against bad government. That fake write-up was by those, who don’t want peace in this country, and we had denounced that. I am the National Patron of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association. It has been in existence for 44 years. There are two other organisations that I know, but others I don’t know them. Please verify from us before you put blame on us,” he said.
He pointed out that not all Fulani people were involved in kidnapping, banditry and other crimes, adding that those behind all the atrocities were not members of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association.
He said: “It is not possible for anybody to Islamise or Christianise Nigeria, it is not possible; it is 100 per cent impossible, but we still have leaders who use their privileged positions, either in the church or mosque to say many bad things and nothing is done to them. They say things with impunity, but never get punished.”
In his address Governor Simon Lalong said his administration would continue to collaborate with security agencies in dealing with criminals, evil persons and groups that are out to cause havoc in the state as witnessed in the last killings in Mangu and Bokkos local councils.
He said the duty of every good leader is to bridge the gap and reduce factors that trigger mistrust, hatred and bigotry between different ethnic nationalities and religious adherents.
According to him, this can only be possible if there is genuine commitment to truth, justice and faithfulness to the oath of office and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, especially by those who are elected to serve.
He said: “We must not always exploit the fault lines of politics, religion and ethnicity, which can easily make us derail and create disharmony among the people. If we do justice to all irrespective of differences, there will be peace and progress. Anything contrary will make us slide deeper into chaos.”
The Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Northern Nigeria, Rev. Yakubu Pam, equally reechoed Lalong’s call for Muslims and Christians to shun religious and ethnic rivalry and embrace the teaching of the two holy books for peaceful coexistence.
In a paper titled, “Struggle for Identify in Nigeria: Abrahamic Faith’s, Ethnicity and Ethnic Conflicts in Perspective,” which he presented during the Da’awah Coordination Council of Nigeria (DCCN) 2nd National Summit on Peaceful Coexistence and Nation Building, held in Jos, Plateau State, Pam said it was important that leaders of the two major religions in the country should impress on their followers, the need for them to eschew rancor and bitterness so that peace would reign. “Enough of the bloodshed; enough of the killings; enough of destruction of peoples’ property, and enough of exchanging unhealthy words in the media.
“This time around, we must stop the circle of killings, we must stop the circle of hatred otherwise our children that are yet unborn will not forgive us. We want people to hear that we are calling for peace and we should match our calling for peace with action.
“We want religious leaders to talk to their followers that we are calling for peace. Nigeria is a country that we are proud of, without this country, we have no other country and most of the things that are happening are stage-managed to make sure that there are crises. Nobody will be happy to see his son being kidnapped and killed; nobody will be happy to see his daughter being kidnapped and killed, but it takes a mature person to look into the future than to remain in pains.
“As we look into the future, some people must sacrifice for this country to continue in peace and forgiveness must come in if we will sacrifice. I know that our loved ones have been killed, but we must forgive,” Pam added.
In fact, to date, the manifestations of ethnic and religious crises in the state, which is generally between the natives and Hausa/Fulani is linked to an incident, which took place in 2001.
On September 7, 2001, a Berom lady was making her way home when she encountered Muslims faithful, who had blocked the road leading to her house, as they observed Jumat prayers. A disagreement ensued between her and the Hausa Muslims, who were guarding those that were praying in the mosque on that fateful Friday.
That crisis, not only consumed the northern part of the state, it later moved to the central, and eventually the southern part of the state, where it festered for over six months.
It was at that point that then President Olusegun Obasanjo declared a state of emergency, and suspended Joshua Dariye as governor, while also setting aside all democratically elected structures. Thereafter, General Chris Alli was appointed the sole administrator of the state, and he was in office for six months.
The Plateau peace process initiated by Alli notwithstanding, the crises brought about segregated settlements between the Muslims and the Christians.
About seven years later, the crises reared its ugly head again in 2008 when Governor Jonah Jang conducted the local government election, which was declared inconclusive in Jos North, and resulted in widespread killings and destruction of property on both sides of the divide.
When Governor Lalong succeeded Jang in May 2015, Fulani/Hausa and the natives still nursed deep-seated animosities arising from past crises, which were still unresolved.
Unfortunately, the herdsmen and farmers clashes, which started towards the second tenure of Jang’s government spilled over to Lalong’s era, when it started ravaging the northern part of the state including, Barkin–Ladi, Bassa, Jos South, and Riyom local councils.
Before long, these farmers/herdsmen crises spread from the northern part of the state to the central, where councils like Bokkos, Mangu, Pankshin, and Kanke were also affected. It also trickled down to the southern part, where many lives were lost.
As if the herdsmen/farmers clashes did not constitute enough evil, cattle rustling and destruction of farmlands soon joined the list, while men suspected to be Fulani militia have killed several persons who were given mass burial at different times. One of the stand-out cases was the one that happened in Dogon Nahawa, in Jos South, where over 500 people were given mass burial.
Another incident that happened about this time was the one in Gashish in Barkin Ladi, which led to the death of over 200 natives. Save for the efforts of Imam Abubakar Abdullahi, the Muslim religious leader, who risked his life to save 262 Christians by hiding them in his mosque, the casualty figure would have been very high.
Since the crises started, over 2, 000 lives of both Christians and Muslims have been lost in the state with property worth billions of naira destroyed.
However, since Governor Lalong took office, one of the worst incidents of mindless bloodletting took place in Mangu and Bokkos local councils, where over 40 people were killed and property worth millions of naira destroyed.
It all started in Kulben Village, where 14 people were killed, by unknown assailants suspected to be herdsmen.
Also, on Sunday, January 26, 2020, at about 7.30 p.m., when some football fans were watching a match at a viewing centre at Kwatas in Bokkos Council, some unidentified gunmen attacked them and killed 15 of them instantly.
In the reprisal and counter-reprisal that followed, the natives and the Fulani, up till Tuesday January 28, 2020, recorded over 30 deaths between them in Rubio, Marish, Murish, Kwatas, Sabon Bariki and in other villages, both in Bokkos and Mangu local councils, with over 1, 000 people being displaced.
It was the wanton killing of innocent citizens that prompted the governor, at a meeting, which had in attendance, security personnel, traditional rulers, community leaders and other stakeholders from Mangu, Riyom, Barkin Ladi and Bokkos local councils, to direct the Commissioner of Police, Isaac Akinmoyede, to immediately arrest for prosecution, all directly or indirectly linked to the killings.
Lalong, who was particularly alarmed when Akinmoyede briefed him at the meeting that so far, no one had been arrested in connection with the wanton killings. He excused himself and walked out of the meeting, but not without assuring attendees that permanent and pragmatic solutions must be found to contain the incessant waste of innocent lives in the state.
Some of the stakeholders complained that when conflicts and disagreements build-up and the police are invited, they are never available to intervene until irate members of the public begin to take the laws into their hands. Even when suspects are apprehended after lives have been lost and property destroyed, the suspects never get prosecuted.
They recall that since 2001, there have been several commissions of inquiry into the violence in the state, including the Niki Tobe Commission, and the Justice Bola Ajibola Commission, but all indicted people, some of whom are highly placed people within and outside the state never get prosecuted, and the reports were never implemented.
They insist that until such reports are implemented, it would be difficult to get to the root of the incessant crises in the state and sustain the peace that the state was well known for.
As of today, the recurring crises have driven a wedge between the natives and the Hausa/Fulani. Unfortunately, the religious dimension has further divided the people along the two main religions. The air of Plateau is fouled and suspicion rife. No one can say for sure when and where the next bloodletting would occur. But it is imminent!