• IDPs in Plateau say they’re tired of living in camps like refugees
Gyang Bere, Jos
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Plateau State recently expressed joy when Governor Simon Lalong inaugurated a committee to facilitate their return home. At least 40,000 of them were displaced when herdsmen sacked 13 villages in the state, killing over 230 persons.
The displaced men, women and children are now in 17 camps in Barkin-Ladi, Riyom, Jos South, Bokkos and Mangu areas of the state. They told the governor they wanted to return home.
The IDPs feared that staying in the camps would encourage their assailants to harvest their crops and claim their lands. They claim that villagers in 54 communities in Barkin-Ladi and Riyom lost their crops and land after they were chased out by the herdsmen.
The displaced persons are also bitter over the deplorable conditions in the camps, including lack of toilets, water, beds, food, and medical care. They are unhappy that their children are out of school, even as some have missed promotion examinations in school.
Lalong, who inaugurated the committee through the secretary to the state government, Rufus Bature, gave it one week to submit its report. He vowed not to tolerate any land-grabbing or occupation by any group.
“If you think you can chase people out and grab their land, we as a government will not allow you to own the land,” he said, urging the committee to make recommendations to help the IDPs return home.
He charged the committee to identify the areas affected, those displaced and areas that they were displaced from and to ascertain the number of people affected and displaced. He also tasked the committee to identify those who have annexed the destroyed villages and work out modalities for victims to return to their homes.
Lalong restated his government’s responsibility and determination to sustain peace and security in the state. He had earlier directed the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) to continue attending to the displaced persons until they returned home. He also appealed to the Federal Government to provide assistance to enable the victims return home.
One of the victims, Da Bulus Pam, 82, a resident of Nghar village in Gashish District of Barkin-Ladi who lost four relatives during the attacks, described the constitution of the committee as a relief.
He had wanted to return home a few days after the attacks but was held back at the Riyom camp.
“I can’t continue to remain here; I wanted to go home but was stopped by some people. I was happy when I heard that the government was willing to take us home, that a committee has been set up to look into our situation. I pray that it would be within a short time and security would be provided to avoid another bloody encounter,” he said.
Sunday Malang, a 68-year-old native of Kuzun, survived the attack but lost three relatives. His house and other property were destroyed. He grieved that his crops had been fed to cattle, recalling how the animals grazed without restriction in all farmlands in the village. He applauded government’s efforts to help the IDPs return home, regretting that he was not used to camp life.
“We are tired of begging and life in the IDP camps. It makes one weak and irresponsible. Now, our children are out of school, and we are losing our lands to the herdsmen. We need security and reconstruction of our houses so that we can return home,” he said.
Victoria Dachung, a resident of Gbangi village who gave birth in Hoss camp, Riyom, is battling to survive with her son. She said she would go back if government would provide adequate security for the community.
“I gave birth in the camp but the baby doesn’t have clothes and food to eat. I, however, thank God that my husband and two children survived the attacks. But our house was burnt. We want to go back home but we need government’s assistance to do so. I’m fed up with camp life,” she said.
President of Calvary Faith Evangelical Miniseries (CFEM), Prophet David Olorunleke, said if the Federal Government failed to arrest and prosecute those responsible for the killing of villagers, God would fight for the victims.
Olorunleke donated relief materials to the IDPs at Geo-Sciences in Anguldi, Jos South Local Government Area.
He said, “We are here to sympathise with you and condole with those who lost their loved ones as a result of the gory attacks on rural communities in Plateau State. I have confidence that, if the Federal Government fails to arrest and prosecute those behind the killings and their sponsors, God will take vengeance on behalf of the victims.
“I know that some of you were badly injured and many were brutally killed and roasted like chickens. I want you to take solace in God, and pray that He will give you quick recovery and grant you the fortitude to bear the loss.”
He urged the survivors to take advantage of what has happened to them to come closer to God.
Meanwhile, religious and community leaders in Plateau State have prayed for forgiveness after their inciting statements, active involvement and conspiracy in the crisis.
After the meeting of the concerned elders, religious leaders and community heads held at Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace Centre, Jos, a communiqué was issued. It was signed by Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, Bishop Ibrahim Chindo, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, and Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Plateau State.
Others that also signed were Alhaji Yusuf Sarumi, Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), Plateau State, Alhaji Nuru Mohammed, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Da Stephen Lodan and Berom community, among others.
The communiqué partly read: “We confess that we have all sinned against God, against one another and against our land, either by our silence, provocative and inciting statements, active involvement or conspiracy.
“We, therefore, need to return to God and one another and beg for forgiveness. We also need to ask God to touch the hearts of those responsible, that their hearts of stone be softened and changed to hearts of flesh.”
Kaigama, who is the Catholic Archbishop of Jos and former president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, urged the Federal Government to fish out the foreigners and local collaborators involved in the killings of villagers in the country.
While declaring open the meeting, he said: “If foreign invaders, as alleged, are the cause of our insecurity, our security agents on whom trillions of naira are spent should smoke them and their local collaborators out. And if it was the handiwork of heartless insiders or politicians without conscience, allowing it to go on would imply that our security apparatus is so feeble and incapacitated that it cannot identify or tackle those fuelling the crisis.
“There is no denial that internal and external forces have infiltrated our communities to cause damage to lives and property. Something must be done to put a stop to their nefarious activities.”
The cleric lamented that despite efforts to halt the killings, isolated attacks and killing of farmers
were still on the increase in rural communities.
“It is estimated that about 40,000 people have abandoned their homes and fled their farms and legitimate businesses and are now living in hastily-constructed camps.
“Both farmers and herders live in morbid fear of one another. Many also believe that the crisis is no longer about herders and farmers alone, but is being perpetrated by armed bandits or local and foreign invaders with the ambition for territorial control or domination,” he said.
Chairman, CAN, northern states, Rev. Yakubu Pam, called on the Federal Government to put more effort into halting the circle of violence and destruction of property in the country.
He called for forgiveness among the warring groups in Plateau State, urging them to embrace
one another. He noted that many had been wounded and rendered homeless.
Secretary-general of MACBAN, Abdullahi Ardo, described the killings in the country as acts of criminality. He urged religious and community leaders in the country to be sincere in tackling the issues and urged the security agencies to act fast and stop the killings.