From Sylvanus Viashima, Jalingo
Taraba State has been in the news recently mostly for the wrong reasons, especially as stories of bloodshed, kidnapping, armed robbery and general insecurity give residents the feeling of being in a state under siege. As the only state in the region that is not ravaged by insurgency and among the few in the entire North that is spared the wrath of bandits, one wonders who is really terrorising people in Taraba.
Irrespective of what form it takes, there are principally five major terrorists terrorising Taraba State:
Organised criminal gangs
Top on the list of factors causing sleepless nights to the people in Taraba generally and Jalingo, the state capital, specifically, is organised criminal gangs that indulge in kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery, as well as rapists, cultists and drug peddlers.
Kidnapping, armed robbery, rape, especially of minors, clashes among rival cult groups, petty theft, including snatching of phones under threat as well as drug peddling are gradually becoming the new normal in the state.
Recently, a senior Customs officer was kidnapped in Jalingo and a police officer was killed in the process.
Sadly, the kidnappers have no regard for anyone and some times even kill their victims after collecting ransom. From businessmen, politicians, entrepreneurs to civil servants, housewives and nursing mothers, the kidnappers are indiscriminate in their choice of victims.
A resident of Jalingo, Mr. Joshua Adi, said, “The rate at which the issue of kidnapping has become prevalent is simply alarming. What is most worrisome is that they seem to operate without any form of inhibitions and can pick anyone they want anywhere anytime. Any form of resistance often leads to bloodbath and the kind of shooting that will make you think a war has broken out.
“I think the security people are also overpowered and overwhelmed because we rarely hear of arrests. It’s sad. No one is safe.”
Armed political thugs
Another monster giving residents sleepless nights in Taraba State is the armed political thug who operates with impunity at every opportunity.
In their numbers, armed political thugs from rival political interests recently besieged a political function in Jalingo, the state capital, in a free-for-all that resulted in the death of at least one person, with many other people injured and a lot of vehicles of top politicians vandalized.
What is really worrisome, according to Elder Magaji Hunkuyi, is that “these boys go around armed to the teeth with axes, daggers and all kinds of weapons openly at political gatherings and no one questions them.”
Speaker of the Taraba State House of Assembly, Professor Joseph Albasu Kunini, recently called on the youth in the state to shun thuggery and enter politics in more noble roles so that their voices would be heard and respected.
According to Kunini, “Youths often complain that they are abandoned by politicians after elections and that is sad but I think they don’t play the kind of roles that would make them relevant after elections. If all you do is take up arms against others as a thug for your principal, then that is all you are good for and once he has no need for thugs, you will become irrelevant.
“But if young people can join politics and bring innovative ideas, showcase their deep intellect and political adroitness, there is no way they would be abandoned. That is why I call on young people who are the hope of this country to join politics and participate in more noble capacities, rather than become thugs for desperate politicians.”
Similarly, the Taraba State commissioner for youth and sports, Alhaji Ibrahim Adams Imam, called on youths to shun thuggery in the warm-up to 2023 general election and join hands to ensure that the right persons are elected to fill the right positions so that the dividends of democracy will be enjoyed by all.
However, like most residents, Hunkuyi is afraid that “every political gathering is a major threat to security of the state. If we are still two years away from 2023 and we are experiencing such levels of political violence already, you can only imagine how bad it will get as the time draws closer and political activities pick up in earnest”.
Until this trend is corrected expediently, it remains a major threat to security of life and property of people in Taraba State.
Taraba State is a predominantly Christian state but has a reasonable number of Muslim faithful and, every once in a while, the religious sects try to show their supremacy or to just test the strength of the other. Though these fights are very rare, they come under very mundane forms and can escalate very quickly, leading to wanton destruction of life and property.
A mere scuffle between two young men over a lady at a social gathering recently degenerated into a religious crisis that caused the death of at least one person and destruction of property worth hundreds of millions of naira in Jalingo, exposing the extent to which the state has become so volatile and hostile.
According to our sources, trouble started at a party in the Water Board area of Magami, in Jalingo, when the two lover boys met with the said lady and each of them tried to establish dominance.
This degenerated into a crisis when one of them conspired with his clique to visit mayhem on his rival and teach him a lesson, starting a circle of violence that snowballed and took a religious dimension that spread like a wildfire.
A resident who identified himself as Yaks, said: “One of our guys, Gambo, had been going out with that girl for long and we all know them together. We knew that she was cheating on him but I think he never knew. That day, he met her at the birthday party. I don’t know if they arranged to meet there. When he called the girl, she did not answer him, so he just left her. So, the other Muslim guy got angry, asking why was Gambo calling his girlfriend and slapped Gambo. That was how this whole thing started.
“Unfortunately, they could not stop it even after the Mai Angwa (community leader) intervened. Some of us thought that everything had finished only to later learn that each of the guys mobilized their own boys to go and fight. Instead of fighting among themselves, they started attacking people generally. They even burnt the parish house of St. Peter, Waterboard. I also learnt that a mosque was also burnt in ATC in retaliation.
“That was just how this whole thing started. Now, I learnt that they killed two people and many others were injured. They also burnt many houses and were even looting people’s businesses as if they were palliative warehouses.”
The scenario exposed the level of religious intolerance in the state and the extent to which religion has become a time bomb waiting explode.
For nearly 24 years, ethnic feud between the Tiv and Jukun tribes of southern Taraba has led to the death of over 1,000 persons and the displacement of tens of thousands, as well as destruction to property worth more than N1 billion.
The fighting, which attracted the attention of the Federal Government, led to the brutal killing of clergymen, including a Catholic priest.
This crisis and other ethnic clashes such as the fight between the Jukun and Hausa, and Jukun and Kuteb, among others, have all constituted a major nuisance to the state. Similarly, crisis that broke out on the Mambila plateau between the Mambila tribe and the Fulani a few years ago led to such unsavory carnage that remains a testament to the level of tribal bigotry and deep-seated hatred along tribal lines in the state.
So far, concerted efforts from the state government, in collaboration with other stakeholders, have brought about some normalcy but the inherent tensions between the various ethnic groups is apparent.
According to Mr. Yahaya Yakubu, a resident, “These crises have also created monsters in young people who have tasted blood and enjoyed the spoils of war and now that they are armed and idle mostly, they remain a constant threat to the security of life and property of the people.”
The one monster that has touched nearly every section of Taraba State is the armed killer herdsman.
From Lau and Karim Lamido to Jalingo and Ardo Kola, as well as Takum and Wukari, Bali and Gassol, thousands of people have fallen to the bloodthirsty cutlasses and bullets of armed herdsmen who are on a mission to conquer new territories at all costs.
Unfortunately, their major targets are farming communities. Over 20,000 persons were displaced in Lau LGA alone and hundreds killed, with several farms and property destroyed by the herdsmen in 2016. More recently, attacks by the same group on farming communities in Bali and other parts of the state led to the gruesome death of hundreds and destruction of property that is hard to estimate.
Similarly, the open attacks and silent killings of farmers by killer herdsmen in parts of Takum, Wukari, Bali, Donga and Gassol local government areas of the state now pose a major threat to security, as most farmers are simply terrified of going to their farms.
Many farmlands have been left uncultivated and most farms uncared for, for fear of attacks.
The Emir of Muri recently gave the killer herdsmen a 30-day ultimatum to leave the state because of their criminal activities or face death. How far the threat would go to eliminate or at least minimize the activities of the criminal herdsmen remains to be seen.
Unfortunately, like most other parts of the country, the killer herdsmen seem to enjoy the protection of those in positions of authority.
The situation became so bad that an elder statesman from Taraba State, former minister of defence, General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (retd.), at a public function, accused the military of colluding with the killers to perpetrate the killings and urged the people to take up arms and defend themselves.
As one of the states with the largest landmass, diverse weather and climatic conditions that support the most diverse range of crops, tourism potential, abundant mineral resources and so much wealth waiting to be made, one can only hope that expedient measures are taken to tame these monsters plaguing Taraba so that the full potential of the state can be harnessed for meaningful development.