Haunted by 20-year violence, killings, Plateau struggles to end bloodshed

Haunted by 20-year violence, killings, Plateau struggles to end bloodshed

JAMES ABRAHAM examines the 20-year crisis that has robbed Plateau state of peace

A visit by our correspondent last Monday to the emergency ward of Our Lady of Apostle Hospital, Jos, Plateau State revealed the pathetic state of victims of deadly attacks. A young lady identified only as Blessing Adubir lay in bed writhing in pain.

It was gathered that she sustained bullet wounds on her leg and hand and also lost her mother and six siblings during a recent attack by gunmen in Yelwa Zangam community in the Jos North Local Government Area of the state. The incident left over 30 people dead and property destroyed.

 Adubir’s case was one among many in the state where many families and communities in the state were either maimed, killed or property torched by gunmen.

 In the last one month, residents of the once peaceful state have experienced traumatic experiences as a result of resurgence of violence in many communities.

 Within the last one month, no day passes without violence unleashed on communities in the form of arson, killings in one of the 17 Local Government Areas of the state. Apart from the loss of human lives, property were usually destroyed in the process.

 Findings show that some of the attacked coomunities included Dong in Jos North; Kwi, Byei, Wereng and Jol in Riyom LGA; Miango, Kangbro, Ri-geh; Kikoba, Kigam, Dundu, kishisho, Angwan Magaji, Nkienwhie, Zanwra, Nche-Tahu, Gene, Rikwe-Rishe, Kpatenvie, Ri-Kusu, Nchu-Nzhwa, Ri-Doro, and Kpara all in Bassa LGA; as well as Kuru in Jos South Local Government.

 Also attacked were communities in Chol village in  Vwang District as well as Kwanan Fulani, Chaha in Jos South Local Government; Maiyanga, La’ake, Mai Farin Mota, Dogon Gaba, Kafi Gana and Kwal villages in Bassa LGA; Mararaban Foron, Nafan in Barkin Ladi LGA; Ganawuri, Byei and Mahanga in Riyom LGA among others.

 In the attacks, farmers and herdsmen were killed, cows and farm crops destroyed, houses torched and people rendered homeless.

 A resident, Mrs Charity Bulus, whose husband was killed during one of the attacks in Jebbu Miango, told our correspondent that the state had not known peace for many years.

 She said, “What we have in Plateau in the last 20 years is comparable to genocide. The human lives lost to attacks are worrisome. The cycle of attacks and counter-attacks has not stopped. I lived all my life in Jebbu Miango before gunmen killed my husband last month. When one thinks that peace has returned, one will be surprised to hear of a fresh killing and attack in another community. The attacks happen in the cities and rural areas. The killers operate during the day and in the night and they usually don’t give a warning signal before attacking. They swoop on their unsuspecting victims leaving behind a pool of human blood, mutilated bodies, burnt houses and destruction of farmlands .What is even more painful is that most of the times, the perpetrators are never apprehended as they usually escape into nearby bush.’’

 The spokesman for the Miango Youths Development Association, Nuhu Bitrus, also said that damage done to property and killing of humans had left the community in a helpless state.

 Bitrus stated, “What we have now is a humanitarian crisis because apart from those killed, thousands of people have been displaced. The situation is really bad for our people.’’

It was observed that the attacks by gunmen which became more visible in January, 2010, in Jos, had continued unabated.  The killings were usually gory and victims hacked to death, property destroyed and the situation is the same in Jos North, Jos South, Jos East, Riyom, Bassa Barki Ladi to Bokkos.

 The situation has defiled several measures by past administrations to halt the trend. At the early stage of the current administration led by Governor Simon Lalong, the crisis appeared to have stopped before it degenerated lately. The situation in Plateau is so bad that many stakeholders including governors of Kaduna, Ekiti and Nasarawa, as well as the Sultan of Sokoto and President, Christian Association of Nigeria, Chief of Defence Staff and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, had visited Plateau State in the wake of the escalating violence in search of solution.

 Many have blamed the crisis on many factors including disagreement over indigeneship, Jos ownership, politics, ignorance, religion, unemployment and sheer wickedness.

A former member of the National Assembly, Bitrus Kaze, linked the major cause of the crisis in the state to an attempt by some people to take over the land belonging to the natives by force.

Kaze, who represented Jos South/Jos East Federal constituency of the state, recalled that the recurrent crisis in the state started in 1994 when the first major crisis broke out in Jos over the appointment of a sole administrator for Jos North Local Government Area.

 He said “In the crisis of 1994 which claimed many lives, an issue which was identified as having led to the problem but which was not properly addressed was on who owns Jos North LGA. This sowed a major seed of discord among the stakeholders mainly between the indigenous ethnic groups in the state and Hausa-Fulani settlers appeared determined to lay claim to the local authority.’’

 Findings showed that as a measure to resolve the problem, the then military administrator set up a judicial Commission of Inquiry. But the recommendations of the committee never saw the light of the day thus defeating the purpose for which it was intended. For a period of about seven years, peace reigned in the land until 2001 when another crisis erupted in the Jos North LGA

The Federal Government later appointed Muhammed Muktar as state co-coordinator of the Poverty Alleviation programme throwing up the hitherto unresolved conflict of interest between the indigenes and settlers. This eventually resulted in 2001 violence. Compared with the 1994 incident, the level of destruction of the 2001 crisis surpassed the 1994 incident. Before the end of the year, the state also witnessed another crisis.

 In 2002, violence erupted in different parts of Jos. In the process, the Jos ultra modern market believed to be the pride of the Plateau people and centre of commerce in the Middle Belt was burnt down. The destruction of the market which accounted for a major revenue earner for the state undoubtedly affected the state’s economy and negatively impacted on the lives of the people.

 In the same year, the violence spread to the Southern part of the state where Christians in Nshar, Yelwa Shendam, were attacked during morning service. Fifty lives were lost to the incident. Some Christian leaders in the Wase Local Government Area were invited to the then Emir of Wase palace for a peace meeting. After the meeting, seven of them were allegedly killed by youths in the area.

 The crisis that followed the incident engulfed the southern zone of the state which culminated in the declaration of state of emergency in 2004 in the state by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The unresolved issue raised its ugly head in the 2008 council poll when Governor Jonah Jang decided to conduct election in the 17 council areas in the state. A candidate, Aminu Baba, who contested under the platform of All Nigeria Peoples Party was said to have lost the chairmanship election of Jos North Local Government. Upon the development, youths mainly of Hausa-Fulani extraction, allegedly went on a rampage, killed and destroyed property in Jos metropolis.

In January 2010 some youth went on a rampage again on a Sunday at Nasarawa Gwom near St. Michael Catholic church, disrupted service, killed some and destroyed the ECWA church. When the January violence escalated to other parts of the state with huge damage to property and loss of lives, Jang imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the state and mandated the security agents to enforce the order.

But violence again erupted in March 2010 following an increasing show of aggression by some youths in Nasarawa Gwom, Angwan Rogo Rikkos area of Jos which earlier disregarded the order of the security agents in the state.

The crisis in Plateau, however, took a turn for the worst when in March 17, 2010, over 500 people were massacred in four villages of Dogo Na-Hauwa, Ratsat, Fan, Byei of Jos South LGA in a coordinated midnight attack by people suspected to be herders. In the attack, children and their mothers, including the aged woken by horror of the night, were hacked to death. Toddlers were not spared in the attack.

Besides the Dogo Na-hauwa killings, there were invasions and killings in some villages from April 2010 to November 2010 and continued till 2011. For instance in Maza village of Jos North Local Government council ,12 people mostly women and children were killed in their sleep, while in Renwienku village in the Bassa Local Government Area six people were killed. In Byei village in the Riyom council area, 17 people, mostly women and children, were killed by gunmen.

Also in Wereng, Rim and Jol villages in Riyom council area, over 22 people were killed. In Sho, Fan, Heipang Yelwa and Rantis villages in the Barkin Ladi council Area, 20 people were killed and their cattle rustled. Four people were killed in Vwang village in the Jos South LGA and cattle belonging to the villagers were rustled, while in Rekwe Chongu village in the Bassa LGA, eight people, mostly women and children, were killed.

Besides, the 2010 Christmas Eve multiple bomb blasts in four suburbs of Jos metropolis introduced yet another dimension to the intractable crisis in the state when many were burnt to death with over 200 people sustaining various degrees of injury and several others left with their limb amputated.  Some of the victims have yet to recover from the injuries.

From January 2011 till date, the series of violence continued unabated despite the presence of security agents until the recent attacks on travellers at the Rukuba road in Jos which resulted in the killing of 22 persons. The incident forced   the state government to impose curfew in the Jos North council area and two other LGAs, Jos South and Bassa.

The Military Information Officer, Operation Safe Haven, Major Ishaku Takwa, told our correspondent that troops were working hard to stop the killings.

He said, “The major challenge troops are having now is isolated killings but we are doing our best to solve the problem.”

To address the unabated violence, experts said there was the need for the authorities to change their strategy.

 A lecturer with the Department of Criminology and Security Studies, University of Jos, Dhikyilnan Bewul, who spoke with Saturday PUNCH, noted that the city of Jos had been polarised along religious lines, adding that the majority of the residents only lived within the communities with  members professing same religion.

 The lecturer urged the federal and state governments to urgently adopt a developmental approach in dealing with the crisis, stating that a situation where the government deployed soldiers and other security operatives any time there was a crisis was no longer working.

 Bewul said, “The crisis in Plateau State has persisted because it has acquired religious, political and ethnic coloration. Trust has broken down among the Christians and Muslims to the extent that there is rivalry among them. If you go to Jos North, people settle according to their religion. Christians live on one side and Muslims live on another side. This goes down to lack of trust among themselves. The measures the government has taken in addressing the crisis has largely centred on deterrence, deployment of security personnel and trying to mete out punishment to troubled-makers. But this strategy has not solved the problem.

“An average Plateau resident was initially scared of military presence and that is why crime would go down when they were initially sent to the state but that is no longer the case. Now, they are no longer scared of the military and that is why you will find the market women facing the soldiers because they are used to the soldiers who have been with them for a long time since the major crisis broke out some years back. There is the need for the government to change its strategy and use both rehabilitation and developmental strategy to curtail the current challenge. This is because from 2001 till date is 20 years. It means that anyone born at the time must have grown to believe that he has enemies from the other side of the divide. Government must come up with a deliberate policy and programmes aimed at reconciling and sensitising the people until the issues are addressed.’’

 Also speaking, the state chairman of the Vigilante Group of Nigeria, Plateau State, Ola Azeez, called on the government to equip his members for them to live up to their expectations.

 Azeez stated, “The issue of herdsmen and farmers has been going on and I think the issue of drugs is also part of the problem because it is difficult to believe that those who perpetrate the atrocities are not under the influence of drugs. If government is proactive about addressing this issue of drug peddling, it will surely go a long way in curtailing the crisis.’’

 Azeez also called for more engagement with stakeholders and recruitment of vigilantes, adding “If the vigilantes are recruited and empowered with the necessary equipment, I believe they will be able to safeguard their neighbourhood and stop the frequent attacks and killing of innocent people in the communities.’’

 On the situation, the state government said though the resurgence of violence in the state was unexpected, it would not relent in its efforts to restore peace in the state.

 The state Commissioner for Information, Dan Manjang, expressed regrets that the resources that would have been used for the development of the state were being channelled towards addressing the security challenge.

 He said, “We held a security meeting on Tuesday and some far-reaching decisions were taken. One of them was to relax the curfew earlier imposed on some local government areas as well as lift the ban on the operations of tricycles and regulate them. If that is the case, it means that the situation is gradually normalising. We encourage dialogue between communities.

“On Tuesday, we marked 20 years of violence on the Plateau and there were lectures delivered by eminent personalities under the guidance of the state peace-building agency .The most important thing is the need for our people to reduce the level of hate and we will continue to appeal to their conscience. We are looking at other means of legislation to strengthen the operations of the state owned security outfit, Operation Rainbow, to also intensify our clamour for community policing. Not only that, we are also looking for funding to equip the over 3000 vigilantes which we have employed. Government is doing a lot to ensure that normalcy returns to the state.’’

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