UKANDI ODEY captures the stakes and stokes in the recent killings in Rigwe land of Plateau State, as Governor Simon Lalong dismisses charge of “sleeping” on duty as political blackmail
Some trauma and trepidation have certainly come forth from the tandem of turmoil and turbulence that characterized life in Jebu-Miango, Bassa Local Government Area of Plateau State in recent times.
Popular as the host local government area of the 3rd Armour Division (Maxwell Kobe Cantonment) of the Nigeria Army, Bassa is located in the Northern district of Plateau State, interfacing Southern Kaduna State and Bauchi State. With its headquarters in Bassa town and a post 2006 population projection put at over 255,000, it occupies an area of 1,743km square of the Plateau State land mass. With a plural ethno-linguistic outlook, it boasts of more than ten tribes that include Irigwe, Rukuba. Guss, Ribina, Buji, Lemoro, Amo, Chokobo, Janji, Jere, and Duguza. Bassa also has a uniquely amiable climate that favours the agrarian engagements of the people who are mostly farmers.
Hospitable and accommodating, the peaceful and broad-minded natives over the years have accommodated, co-habited, and interacted with other tribes and non-natives who chose to sojourn on the land, or settle in their midst for reasons of trade or agriculture. This generosity and good conscience turned an Achilles heel over time, with more recent times witnessing aggression from some of the settlers whom the natives identify notably as Fulani migrants. The natives claim that the Fulani have developed predatory and usurper instincts, and employ bloody and savage tactics to extinct the natives and forcefully takeover their land – the same sentiment that underlies the bloody campaign being orchestrated in neighboring Ryom, Barkin Ladi, Jos South, and Bokkos local government areas where Fulani nomads are also being accused as the aggressor and provocateur.
Thus, ethnic witch-hunt, distrust, suspicion, land grabbing, trespassing, and interference on farmlands and crops have bred intolerance and deep-seethed causes as bane of social intercourse and cross-cultural relations between the Fulani and the natives in Bassa and other local government areas in Plateau and Southern Kaduna, with dire implications for peace and development.
The recent attacks and killing of the Rigwe people in Jebu-Miango, in which a whole village was razed and destroyed in a prolonged and determined effort not unsavoury of genocide, in which farm produce and crops were also mowed down, is one too many. It also speaks of a well conceived, rehearsed, and programmed campaign to subjugate the people, capitulate them, and reduce them to vassals under a neo-cultural overlordship, and eventually exterminate them in a genocidal pogrom. In a reversed narrative however, the attackers claim that the killings, during which occasion they also stole, looted, and burnt houses, were merely “reprisal”.
Three days of sustained gunfire and animated warfare which began on the night of Saturday, July 31, and lasted till Monday, August 2, left five communities in ruins at the end. Although the Police Command in Plateau State officially said only seventeen lives were lost, and eighty five houses burnt, local sources who confirmed that most of the people have been displaced and are still on the run, fault the claim by the Police, saying a whole village of hundreds of homes were destroyed, and the number of those missing is well above seventeen and is still counting. The incident has worsened the number of internally displaced persons in Plateau as those scampering for peace and safety have been grappling with the freezing cold of Jos as they behold in makeshift accommodation.
Survivors also speak of the nature of the attacks which were followed by mass burials, anguish, and grieving. The attacks were successful not just because the attacker took the victim unawares, but because the attacker was far more prepared and sophisticated in armoury, logistics, and deployment. The devastating echo of the attack is that a whole village has been rendered desolate. It also captures the state of decay in Nigeria’s national security preparedness, security failure, poor intelligence gathering, strategic security complacency or complicity in internal terrorism. Many have continued to wonder at the dare-devilry nature of the attackers in spite of the enormous presence and closeness of the 3rd Armour Division to the area where these savage killings were orchestrated.
The location of a military barracks in Rukuba has not really helped in improving the security situation in and around adjoining villages and communities. In May this year, Dong village, adjoining Rantia and Federal Low Cost Housing in Jos, and bordering the barracks, came under similar intense fire and firing, with the gunmen said to be Fulani herdsmen or their hirelings. Leaving a number of deaths on its trail, the Dong attacks were sustained for days, holding residents down in tension and fear for as long, as use of high-capacity weaponry was reported. The use of high caliber, long-range weapons has been an issue of intense scrutiny in the discourse of herdsmen attacks and the ability of farmers or the attacked communities to mobilize a counter offensive and repel the attackers.
Of similar consequential consideration, especially with the experiences in Bassa, Barkin Ladi, Riyom, Bokkos and Jos South, government response to the plight of the victims especially while the attack is on has been either abysmal or non-committal. The attacks in Bassa have been quite repeated and cyclical since 2017; same for Barkin Ladi, Ryom, and Bokkos. No arrests or punishment of the perpetrators or erection of security checks at vulnerable points has been visible ever since, especially as the brigandage and bestiality continue in these areas. For instance, almost a fortnight after the massacre and destruction of Jebu-Miango, in which a whole village was looted and sacked, not even an arrest has been reported to have been made by the agents of state security.
While a Plateau state Security Council meeting on the situation in Bassa was holding on Monday August 2, shooting and killings were on at the Jebu-Miango area, just as several peace talks, signing of peace pacts. And communal dialogues have proved ineffective in ending sporadic attacks in villages of Plateau and Southern Kaduna. The frustration in Jebu-Miango was so asphyxiating that the Member representing Rukuba/Irigwe State constituency in the Plateau State House of Assembly, Musa Aga Avia cried out that Governor Lalong preferred to “sleep” while killings were going on in Jebu-Bassa. Lalong was quick to rise to the occasion to deflate the embarrassment and what was adjudged an acute political upper-cut. The State commissioner for information, Dan Manjang denied that the House member couldn’t have seen the governor so easily because of protocol, and so couldn’t have ascertained that the governor was “sleeping”, and dubbed the whole claim as sheer “mischief”.
At a church service in COCIN Headquarters Compound Church last Sunday, Lalong again engaged his critic and others when he claimed responsibility for the unfortunate attacks and killings and commiserated with the victims. He regretted that “despite the huge investment of the state in enhancing the capacity of security agencies in the state to confront criminals, the attacks on communities particularly in Bassa and Riyom have not stopped”. Again, Lalong said “the recent attacks in Bassa and Riyom LGAs are regrettable, coming shortly after the state government spent resources to purchase and distribute 50 patrol vehicles and 200 motor cycles to the security agencies”, and promised to continue to fight insecurity and promote peace building.
Governors are chief security officers of their various states only on paper. In effect, they are hackneyed and manacled because they have no command control over the security agents because they belong to the federal tier of government. In the worsening insecurity in the country, the frustration of Lalong in promptly deploying security to vulnerable areas and flash points of crises has become a metaphor for the public outcry and call for constitutional review to allow for the establishment of state police and regional security outfits.