MURPHY GANAGANA, GYANG BERE (Jos), ROSE EJEMBI, Makurdi
It was hope rekindled as residents of Plateau and Benue states in Nigeria’s troubled Middle Belt region heaved a sigh of relief with the recent President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to the two states, as well as the others facing various security challenges.
Over the years, their communities, particularly the rural settings, have turned killing fields for marauding Fulani herdsmen who brazenly invade their homes and slaughter their household in cold blood in the dead of the night, or broad daylight.
Like victorious troops, the herdsmen had stuck their foot in their territories after a seeming conquest; and the natives, aged and young, men and women, drowned in self-pity.
For inhabitants of these communities, they have become endangered species, struggling daily with the loss of their pride as humans occasioned by insecurity and perpetual fear of the unknown. They also struggled with disillusionment and resignation as they face a grim choice: stay and sleep with one eye closed, amidst hunger, or relocate to be refugees elsewhere and lose their lands.
Weighed down by distress, the euphoria that greeted President Buhari’s visit was, therefore, not surprising, amidst high expectations. In Jos, Plateau State, there was excitement and jubilation as his plane touched down on Thursday, March 8, for the two-day official visit after several postponements. It was the first time the president was visiting the state after his election in May, 2015.
Politicians across party lines, religious and community leaders, women, children and the aged from various ethnic groups travelled to the state capital with high expectations, to accord the president a rousing welcome. But they soon realized that their optimism was misplaced after he commissioned some projects and held a town hall meeting with them at the new Government House, Rayfield, Jos, where he launched the Plateau State Roadmap to Peace, a strategic action plan for 2018-2022, with a view to building on the eerie peace in the state.
Their expectations were that President Buhari would make a decisive statement to signpost an end to decades of bloodletting, particular the horrendous attacks by Fulani herdsmen, which have claimed hundreds of lives and the destruction of property worth millions of naira in the various communities across the state.
At the end of the meeting, their hopes melted with the speed of lightening as they returned to their homes, devastated by reports of fresh attacks while the president was in the state. They were disappointed and pained that the president failed to make a soul-lifting pronouncement on the destructive spiral of killings by herdsmen, which has left to farmers and villagers in despair, sorrow and agony.
The majority of the locals, who saw the town hall meeting as an avenue for their elite to ginger President Buhari to take a decisive action by portraying the grim situation in their presentations, went home disillusioned. Those who were privileged to speak, including a former governor of the state and senator representing Plateau Central, Joshua Dariye, spoke passionately on others issues but were economical with the truth on the security situation in the state, which was their main concern.
Ironically, while the senator was addressing the gathering on behalf of the National Assembly members from the state, some communities in Daffo district of Bokkos Local Government Area under his senatorial district, were under heavy gunfire by herdsmen in an assault that claimed several lives.
Governor Simon Lalong, who had laboured in about two and half years to arrest perennial violence in the state, gave the president a blueprint of how his administration was able to restore hope on the locals. He remarked: “Mr. President, when this administration came on board on May 29, 2015, the scenario in the state was that of despondency, despair and discomfort, as the citizens were groaning under varying degrees of adverse socio-political and economic conditions. The citizenry was further plunged into life-threatening security challenges with many lives lost and property wantonly destroyed in the wake of crises and sporadic attacks. On the economic front, this spectacle of instability had drastically affected the economic well-being of our enterprising women and youth group. For the common man, life was very challenging as the government then became helpless.”
But it is still gloomy, based on a police report, which indicated that 16 persons were murdered in cold blood on Thursday, March 8, a day President Buhari was in Jos, the state capital, on a working visit. Besides the lives lost, several houses and other valuables were set ablaze by the suspected herders.
The killings continued throughout Friday March 9, 2018, even as the president launched 400 tractors purchased by Lalong’s administration for distribution to farmers at Miango Chiefdom, where four Irigwe natives were ambushed and murdered at Datanko village. A Fulani, said to be a Christian, was also killed at Nzharuvo by suspected gunmen.
Muhammadu Musa Bimini, a Fulani herdsman, was later arrested by mobile policemen for the alleged killing of 16 persons at Daffo. He is presently helping detectives at the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID) in their probe into the mass murder. The police said a military Ak47 rifle with number HC2614, was recovered from him.
Five days after the President departed Jos, the attacks intensified; 25 persons were killed, two others injured at Dundu village of Miango district, Bassa Local Government Area, on Monday, March 12, while several persons, including women, children and the aged were displaced. Similarly, two military officers were killed and 14 civilians were wounded on Tuesday, March 13, when troops of Operation Safe Haven, a security outfit responsible for internal security in Plateau and neighbouring states, clashed with herdsmen at Miango village, Bassa Local Government Area.
The situation persisted and eventually overwhelmed security agents deployed in some villages, leading to the death of two military officers in Bassa Local Government Area. This prompted Lalong to summon the aggrieved communities to an emergency security meeting and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew to avert further destruction of lives and property.
Rev. Adams Mamot, a resident of Ronkulere, Bokkos Local Government Area, says he is disappointed by the inability of the political leaders in the state to tell President Buhari the true position during his two-day visit to the state. Contrary to security reports which put the casualty figure of the attack on Daffo at 16, Mamot said over 25 persons mostly women, children and the aged were murdered and 2,000 persons displaced.
“The attacks became more vicious throughout Thursday, March 8, and extended to Hottom, Dai, Mayi, Mandung, Kungul, Faram, Hurum, Dahua and Malul clans of Daffo district, leaving each village with several deaths. Over 25 corpses were recovered and we believe many more are rotting in the bush as no one is courageous enough to enter the bush on a search mission. The number of displaced persons from the destroyed settlements is estimated to be above 2,000, while those who fled their homes are more than 5,000.” Two paramount rulers, Da. Saf Lazarus Agai, and the District Head of Monguna, Saf Monday Adake, are among several victims of the sustained attacks by herdsmen, according to Mamot. Comrade Change Dodo Ayuba was concerned that the attack on his members was not addressed by the president.
His pains were that Fulani herdsmen have been attacking his people and killing them while houses, including places of worship were burnt during the period of the visit. Their farmlands were also destroyed through reckless and illegal grazing and those who summoned courage to confront them were killed.
“It will interest you to know that the day Governor Simon Lalong declared curfew on Bassa Local Government Area, the Fulani came to attack the people, but there was no casualty recorded. The period President Buhari visited, we were all happy to receive him, but it was the same day the Fulani visited us with series of attacks and we suffered more than 30 casualties; several persons were displaced and houses burnt within that period. I expected those who spoke during the town hall meeting to tell the president that the state has serious security challenges and seek his prompt intervention; I don’t know what happened”, Change Dodo Ayuba, national chairman of Irigwe Youth Movement, lamented.
However, the Chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Plateau State chapter, Muhammadu Nuru Abdullahi, claimed that his members were also victims of attacks in the state.
He alleged that five Fulani herdsmen were attacked and killed by armed Irigwe militia in Miango chiefdom, Bassa Local Government Area after the visit of President Buhari.
Abdullahi said the killing took place on Wednesday March 14, at about 5:45a.m; six days after the president left Jos. “They killed five innocent Fulani, burnt down over 150 houses; set property worth millions of naira ablaze, shot 46 cows to death and carted away about 400 cows.”
He gave names of those killed as Baddikko Rogo, Adamu Musa, Salish Ibrahim, Usman Wada, Babangida Bajjhe and Damina Kiri.
Abdullahi is also dismayed that the president didn’t take a bold step on the insecurity in Plateau State as was expected of him.
Worried by the renewed spate of violence and killings in the state, Lalong says he would not rest until there is safety of lives and property.
In Benue State, there is palpable anxiety one week after the visit of President Buhari. According to the people, his visit has neither added value to their lives nor mitigated the incessant attacks and killings of farmers by Fulani herdsmen.
His failure to visit any of the eight Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in the state as initially scheduled in his itinerary worsened matters.
Although the visit was intended to identify with the people of the state over the security challenges, it fell short of expectations.
Despite several calls by various stakeholders who spoke at the meeting for the arrest of leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore (MAKH) for making good their threats to mobilize all Fulani in West Africa against the Benue Anti-Open Grazing Law, President Buhari did not respond to it in his speech.
An appeal by Governor Samuel Ortom and other stakeholders at the meeting that the Exercise Ayem Apkatuma be upgraded to a full operation to enable a better coordination so that the displaced people of the state can go back to their homes as soon as possible, did not also elicit a response from the president.
For residents of Benue, they are saddened that the president did not visit the state with the intent to address the situation on ground and find a lasting solution to their predicament. Ms. Josephine Habba, a social and humanitarian worker, told our correspondent that the high hope of the Benue people that the president’s visit would douse tension and bring solution to the plight of the people was dashed.
“The entire Benue community had high hopes when we heard that President Buhari was coming. Personally, I was expecting that if there was anything wrong with his absence or silence over all our cries from last year till now, it would be corrected. We felt he would at least explain why he did not respond to calls from the state government or individuals that could have stopped the killings. We expected that when he came, he would give us words of consolation, but we didn’t get that. We expected that when he came to Benue, he would address all the questions but he did nothing of such. As president, the statement from him concerning the anti-open grazing law would have gone a long way to douse the tension in the country, but he said nothing in that regard”.
Amali Amali, a legal practitioner and president, Idoma National Forum, also said: “We had high expectations when we heard that he was coming. We made a lot of demands on him like upgrading the exercise to operation. Probably that was not the occasion to make such pronouncement. He didn’t really meet our expectations, but it was nice that he came.”
President General, Tiv Youths Organization, Timothy Hembaor said when the news came that the President was visiting Benue, the youths refused to show him hospitality characteristic of the Benue people because he failed to identify with the state during its moment of trial.
Hembaor said that despite the submissions of prominent Benue people, including the Tor Tiv and Governor Ortom at a meeting; the response from President Buhari showed nothing but a confirmation that he masterminded the calamity that had befallen the state. He posited that Buhari’s, refusal to order for an enforcement of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law was a demonstration that he is against the noble law, which according to him, is so far the best way to curtail the herders and farmers crisis in the country.