From Gyang Bere, Jos
The Chairman, Journalists Coalition for Citizen’s Right Initiative (JCCRI), Chris Gyang, has raised the alarm over the mass influx of Fulani herdsmen from the North-West into the Pandam Game Reserve.
Gyang, in a press statement, issued on Saturday in Jos, urged the government to save the game reserve from turning into hotbed of banditry, insurgency and violent crime.
‘Since December last year, there have been reports of the steady influx of Fulani herdsmen and other shadowy elements from Nigeria’s northern, and some central, states into the Pandam Game Reserve.
‘This pristine tourist attraction is located in Qua’an Pan Local Government Area of Plateau State, about 45 KM North West of Shendam, headquarters of Shendam LGA.
‘Sadly, this expansive game reserve, which is a natural habitat for unique flora and fauna and boasts of a variety of water formations with their own ecosystems, is being gradually overrun by illegal Fulani and other settlers who arrive mainly at night,’ he said.
The statement said the environmental impact of the encroachment on the well conserved ecological system is devastating and slowly turning the reserve and surrounding communities into notorious dens of violence and criminality.
Gyang said te indigenous peoples and Plateau State citizens fear that if this trend is not nipped in the bud, it may snowball into the kind of lawlessness that has made life a living hell for people in parts of North Western Nigeria.
‘In a March 27 interview on Highland FM, Jos, the President of the Pan Youth Development Association, Comrade Yonmi Dama, disclosed that they had officially reported this matter to the local and state governments as well as the lawmakers representing the area in the state and federal legislatures but nothing had been done to wipe their tears. The youth leader added that the response from the appropriate security agencies was equally lukewarm.
‘As a result, according to him, the game reserve has become a safe haven for holding kidnap and abduction victims from surrounding communities until ransoms are paid. Cases of alleged killings and rape have also been reported.
‘The JCCRI is alarmed by these unfolding events as the ripple effects can exacerbate the already teneous security situation in Plateau State and the region as a whole. There is also the strong possibility of this illegal land occupation being misconstrued as having ethnic and, or, jihadist undercurrents, as has happened in other parts of the country.
‘This area of the state is a critical food basket which supplies many parts of Nigeria. But the current situation has had a negative impact on agriculture as farmers in communities bordering the reserve now fear venturing to their farms for the risk of being kidnapped, murdered or having their wives and daughters raped.
‘In a depressed economy such as Nigeria’s, the overall consequences of this on the general well-being of an already traumatised population is most devastating.’
The Coalition advised Governor Simon Bako Lalong and Chairman, Northern Governors Forum, to dialogue with his northern counterparts to find ways of stemming the illegal flow into the state.
‘Both Governor Lalong and his northern colleagues must impress it on these and other herdsmen that their support for the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) does not give them (herdsmen) the express permission to illegally encroach on government or any other land for that matter.
‘Second, the state and local governments, both state and national parliamentarians from Plateau and men and women of goodwill must stand up, add their voices to the clarion call on the Federal Government and security agencies to give this national security threat all the necessary attention it deserves. They must speak out with one voice to avert this disaster that is just waiting to happen.
‘Third, while the authorities concerned should vigorously investigate the origins and true intentions of these Fulani herdsmen and their co-travellers, they must be made to understand that there are laws guiding the conduct of all citizens – Fulani inclusive.
‘They should also know that illegally occupying and grazing on government land and committing crimes against local communities must be punished under the law.’