Sylvanus Viashima, Jalingo
For most residents of the state and indeed those outside the place, Taraba had, for long, virtually become synonymous with insecurity, violence, bloodbath and everything unpleasant.
Many observers are, however, of the opinion that, with the use of negligible brutal force and more diplomacy and tact, the state governor, Darius Ishaku has been able to manage the situation to a commendable extent, since he supposedly has no control over the security architecture of the state.
Situated in the North-Eastern region that has been under siege from insurgents for over a decade, Taraba is the only state that has been insulated, to an extent, from the deadly bombs and savage attacks from the insurgents.
However, this insulation came at a very high price as most of the displaced persons from the neighboring states naturally took to the state for refuge, adding pressure on the existing insufficient resources, without a corresponding boost in the provision of resources.
Many believed that it was not only the helpless victims of insurgency that fled to Taraba for refuge. Some of the insurgents also found the state a safe haven to retreat to and unwind when the pressure becomes unbearable. And they come with their campaign.
Said Alhaji Bunu Bashir: “Taraba State is so lucky that we were not directly hit by the insurgents like other states in the region. However, a lot of those fleeing from the destruction from Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and other states found Taraba a safe haven. So they came in in droves. In fact, because of the vast nature of the state, we have whole new settlements from such people who came and settled completely as if this is their home.
“But then, some of them did not come with good intentions. Some were forced by the circumstances surrounding them to take to criminal activities. That is why there was such a rise in the rate of criminality in the state. You also remember that some of the Boko Haram men were picked in the state at various points in time. That is to tell you that even the terrorists themselves had decided that this was a safe hide out for them.
“As expected, these are people who have shed blood and have indulged in so much atrocities that violence is the only language they now seem to understand. So they were not only involved in perpetrating crimes here in Taraba, they were also very busy recruiting new members.
“Now because of the large number of idle youths looking for money, it was very easy for these people to recruit and establish their mini gangs for their own security and means of sustainability. This is what gave rise to the high level of armed robbery, kidnapping and these other issues in the state. Nobody knew anything about kidnapping in the state and even cases of armed robbery were very few and isolated,” Bashir said.
Unfortunately, while the state was still struggling to battle the effects of the influx of displaced persons and insurgents in the state, the farmers/herdsmen crisis that engulfed the entire Benue valley reared an even uglier face, leaving a trail of blood, tears, sorrow, destruction and deep pains in its wake.
From Lau to Karim Lamido, Zing to Yoro, Jalingo and Ardo Kola, down to Gassol, Bali, Takum, and as far as Kurmi and indeed, nearly every nook and cranny of the state, the devastating effects of the herders destruction and killing was felt. More than a thousand settlements have been completely sacked and hundreds of peasant farmers slain with the herders’ swords and bullets.”
The state Chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association Alhaji Sahabi Tukur, in an interview with our correspondent, revealed that most of the herders were not recognized members of his association.
“People are just blaming us unjustly. All my members know that we do not allow crises to fester. Whenever there is any problem, especially between a community and our people staying in that area, I get notified immediately. We have been able to address a lot of grievances and resolved a lot of misunderstandings without shedding a drop of blood.
“At times, these crises also fester because of unjust government policies that, sometimes, make our members feel targeted. You must realise that most of the crises are caused by infiltrators that we don’t even know. People need to know that.”
In the midst of the herdsmen insurrection, kidnapping became a daily occurrence with people of all standing falling victim,” he said.
The Taraba State Governor, Darius Ishaku stated that more than one hundred cases of kidnapping were recorded in the state between January and September 2019, with over N250 million paid as ransom by different victims.
“More than 30 cases were recorded in September alone,” he noted. “This is very disturbing. Our expectation is very high with the launching of this operation. We believe we will get back to normalcy very soon. We have confidence that the inter agency synergy that is coming to bear will yield the desired results. I have confidence in the army and all the other paramilitary agencies that their coming together will give us long term results and all the vices in the state will be rooted out.” The governor spoke at the launching of Operation Ayem Akpatema ll in Jalingo last October.
The recent communal crisis between the Tiv and Jukun that engulfed the southern part of the state for the better part of last year has also left sad memories and hard loses on the hearts of the people who are still trying to come to terms with the devastation induced by the crisis.
The deadly communal crisis on the famous Mambila Plateau in 2016 is also fresh in the minds of the people.
These security challenges expectedly attracted several military and other security interventions such as Operation Ayem Akpatema one and two, Operation Wirewind, establishment of various military and joint operations at various times and places.
At some point, an elder statesman Gen Theophilus Danjuma (rtd) had to call on the people to rise up and defend themselves. “The army was colluding with the criminal elements to unleash mayhem on the people,” he said.
The state governor also complained bitterly about the attitudes of some of the security establishments in the state and their response to distress situations. He concluded that state governors in Nigeria are toothless bulldogs that can only bark without biting.”
Faced with a situation where the state was gradually sliding into a state of anarchy, the state governor Darius Ishaku resorted to very subtle measures and diplomacy to resolve the issues and the result has been outstanding.
Alhaji Ibrahim Imam, the state Commissioner for Youths and Sports, stated that “the only way to address insecurity is to make sure that youths are gainfully engaged and kept off the streets.”
For the past four years, the state government has rehabilitated, trained and empowered over 10, 000 youths in various skills in collaboration with the Hope Alive Foundation. Some of the young people are not only taken off the streets, but have also become employers of labour.
One of the beneficiaries, Mr Douglas Yohana, who was into drugs and is now a trained shoemaker, told our correspondent: “This is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I don’t even know when I became so addicted to drugs. I just couldn’t do anything again and would go to any extent to get money for drugs. But since my admission, I did not only overcome the urge for drugs but I learnt this handwork and I now have other young people learning from me.”
That is the story of thousands of other youths who have now been taken off the streets and empowered by the state government to become employers of labour.
The state government has also employed over 3, 000 youths as teachers and hundreds of others into the state’s civil service. This, according to the governor, is a deliberate effort to reduce the number of idle hands to be recruited into criminality.
The state government has also stepped up collaboration with various security agencies and operations to an all time high. The state government has been able to provide operational vehicles to various security agencies and only recently, donated about 30 power bikes for the Operation Ayem Akpatema.
These efforts won the assurances of the military top brass who promised to ensure that insecurity is tackled with vim and vigour in the state.
The setting up of the 30-man reconciliation committee comprising equal numbers of representatives from the Tiv and Jukun has been able to restore an appreciable level of normalcy to the southern zone of the state that had become a complete war zone.
One of the Tiv elders who pleaded anonymity, noted: “The committee is the only thing that has brought peace to the region. The presence of the military would have only caused more deaths, as people on both sides were ready to die once and for all. That was a brilliant, though delayed decision by the state governor.”
The state governor has been variously criticised mostly by members of the opposition in the state, especially in his handling of the Tiv Jukun crisis and the perceived initial nonchalance of the government. But many have noted that the governor’s use of subtle diplomacy, inclusiveness, collaboration and constant appeal for peace to foster development have succeeded in yielding positive results in the state.
Said Mr Gabriel Gbanger: “We can not say that we are totally at peace. But when you look at where we are coming from, what is happening across the country and the current situation, you cannot help but admit that the government has done remarkably well. We still have a long way to go. Now that states in the South-West have launched their Amotekun, we hope that the federal government will now support the Taraba Marshall that will further help in tackling the security challenges in the state.