Gyang Bere, Jos
One year after, 228 persons perished in a broad daylight attacks in Gashish and Shonong Districts of Barkin-Ladi and Riyom Local Government of Plateau State,.The dastard act was suspected to have been carried out by Fulani herdsmen. Widows who lost their children, husbands and close relatives in the horrible incident seemed to have been abandoned to their fate. What, without roofs over their heads at the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps located at Anguldi in Jos South Local Government Area of the state!
Although efforts had been made by government to relocate some of the displaced communities to their ancestral lands, some of them who were not lucky have been languishing in the camp in utter hopelessness, without any tangible help from anywhere, either from the federal or state government.
The affected victims also want the government to drive out from their ancestral lands the attackers whom they alleged have now constituted themselves into illegal occupiers where they have continued to allow their cattle to graze on their farms and to destroy their crops and their only means of livelihood, without adequate compensation.
In addition, some of them want the government to resettle them and economically empower them with paid employments that will enable them cater for their families. Leaders of the communities also plead with the government to provide them with adequate security not only by building a Police barrack there as it once promised but by also giving beffitting burial to the victims of the Fulani herdsmen attacks.They pointed out that the mass graves where the dead victims were buried are caving in , and may later pose a serious health hazard.
Attack and its aftermath: Widows tell tale of woes
When the attackers invaded their hamlets and villages on Sunday 23 June, 2018, they did not only kill their children, husbands and relatives they also burnt and destroyed houses belonging to the widows. At the moment, although some are willing to return home and continue with their inherited farming activities, but they have no roofs over their heads while some don’t even have a village to go.
Some of them who are literally living in hell on earth in the IDPs camp include 36-year-old Rebecca Mafulu Jack from Keko community in Dashish District. A mother of two children, she lost her husband and six family members in the attack. They were roasted like chicken when the assailants laid ambush against the car in which they were returning from a burial, killed and later set their bodies ablaze in the vehicle.
In a chat with Saturday Sun, she confessed that things have been very difficult for her since after the incident. Giving a heart-rending account of their lives about the massacre, she said: “It has not been easy for me but because God is alive and He is watching over my life, I am consoled in Him. I have not received any financial assistance from the government. Our house was burnt before the attack. We rebuilt it but it was burnt again. My husband was among the first people that were killed during the 23 June, 2018 attack. He went for a burial and was ambushed and killed.
“I live partly in the IDP camp and also in Jos. I can’t return to the village again because of insecurity. I watch how people were killed and anytime I reflect over that I will not eat or sleep for several days, so I don’t want to be thinking of how the incident happened. My husband died and left me with two children. My children’s daily survival is a battle; they have dropped out of school. I begged for money to return them to school but it couldn’t work until I started selling kerosene and charcoal. But on the whole it is God that is helping me. I wish government can give me employment. No matter, how little I will get from the job, I will be satisfied; the business I am doing now has crumbled with no capital to continue.”
Her story of anguish is re-echoed by 42-year-old Deborah Yakubu from Gura-Berom whose husband, father and mother-in-laws and two of his sisters were also roasted in a car in a different location, by assailants. “I have been sad since I lost my husband,” she told Saturday Sun. “He was ambushed in his car with his father, mother, two of his brothers and killed. They were set ablaze inside the car and all of them got roasted.
“What baffles me most is that, I didn’t see his corpse and that of his relations to bury, they were burnt to ashes by the Fulani. I am always sad, I don’t want to be talking about that incident, my husband left home for a burial only for him to be ambushed and killed. As I speak with you now, I don’t have anywhere to put my head. I don’t know where and how to start a new life. I have five children and their survival now is a huge burden.”
And, living in Internally Displaced People’s camps, she insists, has, not helped in any way to ameliorate their pitiable situation. “Living in the camp is another tale of woe,” she lamented. “The place is not conducive for us but we have no option; my children are always sick and I decided to get a place out of the camp because of the overcrowded nature of the camp. We are helpless; government needs to come to our rescue.”
The story of Agnes Livinus, 36-year-old mother of five from Shonong District is touching as her husband died trying to protect them. In her own case, she lost not only her breadwinner but also her only means of subsistence – her farm. “My husband was killed while trying to protect us. He was taking us out of the village when the Fulani attacked him. We had already gone and when he sighted them, he hid himself but they discovered and killed him. His house was burnt and the entire village. As I speak now, there is no single person in the village; the entire village was burnt and houses destroyed.
“It is only the Fulani that are occupying the community. I don’t have a single farm; I can’t go back to the village because nobody is there. I wish I can go back but it is only when government provides security for us. I have not received any assistance from government and my children have been out of school since the incident happened.”
In the same shoe of suffering is 32-year-old Niri Dong, a resident of Kakur Village in Gashish whose husband was attacked and killed in a gruesome way in his shop. “My husband was also killed that Sunday” she confirmed. “He left home to his shop and asked me to boil water for him promising to come home soon to have his bath. I was boiling the water with the intention that I will go and call him when it is done.
“Shortly after it started boiling, somebody burst into the house with crying, shouting his name and my name and saying that the Fulani have come. According to what I heard, my husband was shot and later strangled to death. I was speechless and praying that he was not dead but when I got to the scene, I noticed that he was dead.
“Immediately, I went blank. I didn’t know what was happening until after I regained conscious. Two days after he was killed, violence broke out again in the village. The Fulani mobilized themselves again and attacked the village and killed four members of my family and burnt the house. I am helpless at the moment. I don’t have anyone to assist me.”
If the situation is that bad for younger and more energetic widows, it is even far worse for aged and less energetic ones like 68-year-old Jumai Stephen and 73-year-old Vou James who hail from Kura Falls. Stephen, the poor woman who lost her husband and son during the attack says she has no shelter over her head nor food to eat. “My house was burnt” she said with an unsteady voice. “I lost my husband and my son but I have not received any assistance from government. I will ever be grateful to Red Cross and some agencies who have been giving us food. Our houses were destroyed, we lost our loved ones. I have been here in the camp since 25 June, 2018 and I will remain here and wait for the day I will die.”
She continues her painful narrative with: “I don’t have husband. I don’t have a house and I don’t have a farm any longer. The herdsmen have taken over the farm. If I cultivate it, they will allow their cows to graze inside. I wish I can return home but I don’t really have a home, our security is not guaranteed, only few security officers are there. I used to visit the village.”
James said: “We were returned home in December last year but we can’t stay there because there is no security; cows are grazing freely on our farms and there is nothing we can do. When you talk, they will either beat you or give you little money as compensation. Just last week, N10, 000 was given to us as compensation when cows ate and destroyed our farmland. We shared it N2000 each for five of us. But the crops that have been destroyed which we have been living on in the village are worth more than that. Living in the village now is like living in hell; you can’t sleep and there is hunger. That was why we came back to the IDPs camp.”
Poor state of welfare at the IDPs
The widows and victims said that their situation is worsened by the poor state of welfare at the IDPs where they seemed to have been dumped and abandoned. Mr. Alamba Dakab Jok, the Welfare Officer at Anguldi Camp, who hails from Gashish village and who lost his house and family members in the gory attack, confessed that administrators of the IDPs camps which he said were set up as a stop-gap and not to cater for every need of the displaced persons initially tried their best. But in the last one year, they seemed to slacken their hands. He added that they now cook three times a week for lack of firewood and other essential ingredients.
He painted a pitiable picture of the IDPs situation. His observations:”The welfare of the IDPS in the camp was initially being adequately attended to. Well-wishers, NGOs, churches, philanthropy have sustained feeding in the camp to some extent up to this moment. It cannot be hundred percent because the camp was not established for such need but apart from September 2018 when government visited us with relief materials, we have not seen anything up to this moment.
“On the 20th November, 2018, three communities whose houses were partially affected in Kakuruk, Kuzen and Kurafalls were relocated back home and some relief materials given to them. But some of them whose houses were burnt and who could not repair them had to come back to the camp. For those who went home, bags of rice were given to the women to share among themselves; each of them went with three measures. I don’t know how long the three measures can take a household.
“Since then, we have not felt the impact of government in the camp. We expected government to take over the camp by giving them food, look after their health and welfare but it is only NGOs that are doing that. Apart from the three communities that were taken home, we have over 3000 people still in the camp. There are several other camps in different locations and in different local government areas. Some are hanging around with their relatives; some have to look for rooms around to stay and some pay rent because there is no convenience in the camp any longer
“There is completely lack of attention; some people are finding things very difficult to take care of themselves. In the case of women and children, they don’t have soap to even wash their clothes, they need to go out and hustle for it. In the last three weeks, we have been cooking three times in a week because there is no fire wood. This is just for us to manage the firewood. There are people in the camp now that if you ask them to leave, they don’t have anywhere to go. Their houses were burnt and there is no hope of rebuilding those houses. Some of the women lost their houses and children because of the attacks, these are some of the challenges that people are facing in the camp.
“Another worrisome thing in the villages now is that the mass graves where victims were buried are collapsing. This was because people were just dumped on top of each other and the corpses have started decomposing. We wish Government can come in to build those graves to appease various communities. These are people that sacrifice their lives for others to live; most of them died while trying to save one life or the other, we will be happy if those graves are built, that will comfort us despite the loss.”
Urgent appeals on a grave situation
Giving further insight on the development, Chairman of Gashish Development Association and Camp Leader, Mr. Francis Chong, during the one-year remembrance service at COCIN Church, Anguldi, agreed that the mass graves where the victims were buried have collapsed.He explained that the community alone lost 188 people that fateful day and the mass grave where their bodies were interred have sunk inward and thereby portraying bad memories in the community. He appealed to government to rebuild the broken graves and to provide security for thousands of people displaced to return to their homes.
The Senator representing Plateau North in the National Assembly, Istifanus Gyang, at the remembrance service urged federal government to ensure that strangers who are illegally and forcefully occupying the lands belonging to victims of attacks leave so that their owners can return resettle in their ancestral homes. He noted that close to 300 persons were killed in Gashish and Shonong Districts the same day while several others were displaced.
Expressing his disappointment at government’s inability to fulfill his promises of resettlement for the displaced and to recover their lands from their oppressors, he said: “When President Muhammadu Buhari read one of his speeches and talked about resettlement of displaced communities, I saw it as a welcome policy of government. What happened has led to the displacement of communities and it is just like allowing the proceeds of crime.
“No person should be allowed to displace another and take over his land and be allowed to keep it. It’s like allowing people to keep the proceeds of crime; those that are forcefully occupying the displaced communities should vacate and the people resettled. To me, the resettlement should be accorded the necessary priority.”
He promised to work with his colleagues at the National Assembly to ensure that the country get a legislation that will make it mandatory for government at all levels to resettle displaced persons across the country. He lamented that hundreds of persons who were displaced on the 23 June, 2018 in Gashish District are still languishing in hardship and helplessness. He explained that the communities are still vulnerable to attacks by evil men and urged federal and state government to provide functional Police Mobile Barracks in the area for security of lives and properties.
“It is sad that the federal government has not been able to redeem the pledge which the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo and the President, Muhammadu Buhari made to the victims of the gory attack,” he said. “Few days after the attack took place, the Vice President came and the President followed a day after, and promised to release with immediate effect the sum of N10 billion for the rehabilitation and resettlement of the victims.
“The Federal Government also promised to establish a functional Police Mobile Barracks in Gashish to curtail the activities of marauders. One year after, that promise seems to have been put in abeyance and there is no hope for the survival of the IDPs. The N10 billion has been forgotten and there is no sign of any Police Mobile Barracks anywhere in the area. In fact, the number of security personnel currently in the villages is less than what used to be there before the attack took place. The hope of the victims seemed to have been dashed. They seemed to have been abandoned to their fate.”