Gyang Bere, Jos
Even as the country is on lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic, there is no end to the killings in Plateau State. Recent grisly bloodbath includes attacks allegedly orchestrated by Fulani bandits on inhabitants of Miango communities of Bassa Local Government Area of Plateau State on the night of April 7, 2020. The alleged bandits who invaded Gbra Zongu community at midnight left no fewer than four people dead including Pastor Mathew Tagwai, 34, Duh Abba, 38, Dih Sunday, 21 and 10-year-old Ishaku Abba.
Tagwai, whose life was cut short by the marauders, was newly posted to ECWA Church in Gbra Zongu. When the attackers caught up with him, Tagwai, who would not hide his identify as a Christian cleric, was summarily shot while his wife, Rose Mathew-Tagwai and his children watched life drained out of him.
A tearful Rose told Saturday Sun: “We were recently posted to ECWA Church Gbra Zongu, we do not really understand the terrain very well. We we’re just trying to get ourselves familiar with the people and the village when this thing happened.”
According to her, they woke in the night to the sound of sporadic gunshots in the community and a stampede as people ran for safety. “We didn’t know where to run to. So we decided to hide in the pastoral house. But when the shooting continued, he decided to hide us somewhere else. We didn’t know that the killer herdsmen were coming to our house. They caught up with my husband, who identified himself as a pastor. They wanted to leave him, but one of them said he is a Christian and that he must be killed. They then shot him,” she narrated.
The widow, overwhelmed by emotion when she tried to recall how her husband bled to death, was shocked by the wanton destruction of life unleashed on the community by the assailants.
Widowed, pregnant and now foisted with two little children to fend for, Rose shuddered at the enormous responsibility before her, wailing: “I don’t have the means to cater for them.”
One week of bloodletting
The bloodletting that has rocked the lockdown period did not start at Gbra Zongu village. It started in Ancha village on Wednesday, April 1, where three persons were burnt to death, others sustained gunshot injuries and several houses razed. The bandits returned the next night to Hukke, a neighbouring village and killed six persons, including an 85-year-old widow.
The victims in Hukke were locked up in their houses and set ablaze while their killer stood guard at the scene to ensure that they could not be rescued from the inferno. Their charred remains were given mass burial afterwards.
A week earlier on March 23, two young persons were ambushed and killed while returning from moulding bricks at Nkyiedongwro. Three others were killed in a similar manner at Gbra Zongu village. Two military officers of Operation Safe Haven (OPSH) were also killed by the bandits during the week.
Genocide in the making
Hon. Sunday Abdu, President, Irigwe Development Association, who chronicled the killings during the COVID-19 lockdown to Saturday Sun lamented: “While our people have continued to remain indoors and law abiding, the assailants who are Fulani herdsmen have continued each day within the last two weeks, to visit us with mayhem.”
Abdu said the hope of a robust reaction from operatives of Operation Safe Haven was dashed by the recent withdrawal of the security personnel from the devastated communities.
“When this happened, beginning from March 21, we thought it was a routine military action, and expected to see another set deployed. But it has been over a week since that action was carried out, and here we are with a resumption of hostilities on our soil,” he noted. “We are confused and do not know what to make of this reality. That these atrocities have resumed, is the more reason we need security presence in our land. It must be noted that even in the North East which has been the theatre of war with some losses incurred by the military, never is the army withdrawn.”
Abdu also commiserated with Operation Safe Haven personnel who lost two of their members to the orgy of violence. “The entire Rigwe land commiserates with the military over the loss of its men who paid the supreme price while protecting our lives. The paramount ruler, Braa Nggwe Rigwe, Reverend Ronku Aka, and myself, President, Irigwe Development Association, have since sent our condolence.”
He expressed concern on what he termed “obvious silence” of the Plateau State government over the resumed hostilities. “If the government does not rise up to tackle this challenge, Irigwe land would be wiped off even before the Covid-19 emergency ends in Plateau State,” he warned.
He concluded with an appeal: “We want to sincerely appeal to the military authorities to please as a matter of concern and urgency, redeploy personnel to resume security duties in our land.”
A resident of the Gbra Zongu community, Gata Moses, told Saturday Sun: “This is the second time this community is experiencing a bloody attack within two weeks. I believe that the withdrawal of soldiers from the community contributed to these series of attacks in the community and neighbouring villages.”
He also alleged that security agents are not doing enough to see an end to the attacks because none of the attackers, whom he claimed are known to be Fulani herdsmen have been arrested.
“Security officials will only arrive after people have been killed and this has always been our experience including this latest killing,” he said.
Moses also did not spare the government. “The government is silent over what is going on in my community despite that we have government representatives in the district,” he said. “The authorities must rise up to their responsibilities to protect the lives and properties of the people.”
Military, gov’t react
In the meantime, the new commander of Operation Safe Haven, Major General Chukwuemeka Okonkwo who took over a few days after the attack visited the devastated community on his first day to get first-hand information on the killings. While addressing the community, he declared that his mandate to restore peace in Plateau will be not be hampered by any circumstance, including the COVID-19 exigency. He expressed optimism that with the help and cooperation of the people, the incessant bloodletting would be brought to a close before the end of his tenure and peace would be restored.
Meanwhile, Governor Simon Lalong had ordered security agencies to fish out the perpetrators of the crime to face justice. He was especially angry that the criminals do not only have respect for the sanctity of human lives, chose the period when the state is working hard to confront the coronavirus pandemic to perpetrate their murderous acts.
While sympathizing with the victims, Lalong declared: “Government will not tolerate these senseless acts of murder unleashed on innocent citizens. I have directed traditional and community leaders to cooperate with security agencies in identifying these attackers who cannot be shielded as these attacks have persisted in recent weeks, a situation that is highly unacceptable to my administration”.
The Governor had dispatched a fact-finding team led by Commissioner for Commerce, Hon. Aku Abbey to the affected communities. The team had visited the Bra Ngwe Rigwe, His Royal Highness, Rev. Ronku Aka and met with stakeholders, including village and district heads, ardos (fulani community leaders) and other leaders in the community.
Stakeholders at the meeting called for the deployment of more security personnel in the communities which include Rehwenku,Tafigana, Katumai Rekwechongu, and Kpasho which are vulnerable to attack.