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Plateau: The Unlikely Road to ‘Ondo’

Governor of Plateau State.
Governor of Plateau State.

August 24, (THEWILL) – Last week, hoodlums attacked some vehicles in a convoy along Rukuba Road, Jos, with 22 persons losing their lives gruesomely in the incident. UKANDI ODEY in this review reports that narratives and perspectives shroud the departure point and destination of the ‘Ondo’-bound travelers

The inclement weather and the generally gloomy atmosphere, perhaps, issued forth from the horoscope, that that Saturday was indeed gloomy and grievous for the socio-economic space of Plateau State and the world would behold in the events of the day in bewilderment, and with trepidation and vexed outpourings.

Following the attacks and mass murder in Jebu-Miango two weeks earlier, a mass burial of the victims was scheduled for that Saturday, August 14, in the ancestral home of the victims in Irigwe land, in Jebu-Miango.

All the way from Plateau Specialist Hospital, black-clothed mourners and sympathisers walked the way with the vehicles bearing the dead bodies along the JD Gomwalk Road, through Gada Biu, and Rukuba Road, en route the gravesite some seven kilometres away.

Sympathisers and on-lookers had thronged the roadsides as the huge turnout of mourners, and the sight of weeping relatives provoked emotions and curses against the ‘unknown’ murderers of innocent natives. No doubt, given the vexed and plural demographic make-up of the Rukuba Road community, the crowd was a rare cultural mix with no less unpredictable tendencies.

It was a matter of time, in the course of the walk to the gravesite, the ill-fated convoy carrying all males, said to be Fulani natives, was intercepted for interrogation. Although the convoy occupiers told their captors they were travellers and passers-by from Bauchi en route Ondo, a combination of suspicion and fear made the explanation sound like foul play.

For the mob, already contending with rising emotions and boiling anger as a result of the fault lines they noted in the claim of travelling from Bauchi to Ondo, it was vigilance to be more inquisitive. They asked why a traveller from Bauchi will abandon the shorter Bauchi Road bye-pass, and prefer the longer, more tedious, quite unlikely route through Rukuba? Again, they found it curious that all the occupants of the buses were of common ethnic stock, and coincidentally the same tribe that is a traditional tormentor and undertaker of many tribes and natives in Plateau, including the victims that were due for burial that morning.

To the extent that the foregoing issues or questions could not be convincingly answered immediately to ascertain that the travellers came in innocence and were passing in peace, prevailing fears were exacerbated and old animosities were accentuated to a level of intolerance and vengeance. During a similar mass burial in neighbouring Riyom Local Government Area in 2012 for victims of genocide in the hands of alleged Fulani aggressors, gunmen alleged to be Fulani closed in on the mourners and opened gunfire on them and killed a multitude. Eventually, the incident claimed the lives of the then National Assembly member for Plateau North, Senator Gyang Dangtong, and a State house of Assembly member, Hon Gyang Danfulani.

Thus, one of the reasons the hoodlums attacked the buses and unleashed mayhem on their occupiers is that they sensed a plot to attack the mourners again at the graveside during the burial proceedings, and these ‘travelers’ were seen as hirelings to boost the aggressor forces on ground to ensure that the attack achieves maximum casualty in fulfilment of an agenda of genocide and forceful occupation of their land.

Hence, a second perspective of the incident which says, according to some eyewitnesses who spoke on condition of veiled identity, that one of the buses in the convoy was actually carrying a coffin. With the knowledge that Muslims do not use coffins to bury their dead, the attackers insisted and opened the coffin and discovered its content was not human body but a cache of arms and ammunition.

“The coffin they carried was forced open and a heap of ammunition and sophisticated weapons were inside. That was when the locals knew that they were on a mission to kill those who will attend the mass burial. They turned on them and started pouncing on them. About 22 of them were mobbed and many more injured, while some of them ran into the bush and were later rescued by some of the locals and handed to the security agencies”, the source narrated.

He said that while some of the weapons may have been taken away by some of the hoodlums, the security agencies arrived quite promptly and possibly took the remainder into their custody. According to the source, this particular aspect could be the reason why the survivors who are recuperating in the hospitals have been barred from answering reporters’ inquiries, except a designated Muslim leader in Jos, to avoid conflicting narratives and contradiction of evidence. He insisted that the attacked ‘travelers’ were not Yoruba Muslims, but Fulani with alien traits who could not even speak Hausa well.

According to him, “a wrong narrative is being peddled and put out there that a group of innocent Muslims from Ondo State who went to Bauchi for an Islamic festival were on their way back to Ikare in Ondo State were intercepted in Jos and brutally mobbed. But when the names of those killed were published, there was no Yoruba there. They were all Fulani”.

The first official reaction to the attack which issue dominated social circles in Jos and beyond for several days was given by the Plateau state Police Command. In a statement signed by the Command’s spokesperson Gabriel Ogaba, the Police claimed that “Irigwe Youths” attacked Fulani travellers en route Ondo State. This claim by the Plateau state Command of the Police inflamed a lot of passions and sparked sentimental reactions from the high and low, with the situation in Jos and the environs becoming so tense that the Plateau State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists had to issue a statement calling on the security agencies and other stakeholders to be cautious and discreet in the use of language so as not to heighten the ethnic or religious dimension of the development.

The Police colouration unfortunately set a tone and extirpated a sentiment of religious malice and bigotry as fomenting issues in contemporary Jos sociology. With mass burial conducted for the ‘travelers’ at the Dadin Kowa Cemetery at about 5pm Saturday, trouble was booting with a tendency and potential that Jos would be up and billow in the flames of sectarian violence or unnecessary religious war. In a proactive swipe, Governor Lalong announced a dusk to dawn curfew in Jos North, Bassa, and Jos South Local Government Areas of the state. This was only a forebear, not a foreground of clandestine killings and mounting casualties, with worship centres already well targeted and looking vulnerable on Sunday morning. But before the hoodlums could surge and cover any mileage to perpetrate violence, a heavy deployment of security men had taken over, and Governor Lalong quickly upgraded the curfew in Jos North to 24 hours to tame the tendencies of war mongers who were out to seize the moment.

Abuja was so moved by the bloody developments in Jos that the Inspector General of Police quickly dispatched additional support detachment of Police from the Force headquarters to Jos to complement the strength on ground. This was also enabled with logistics in which an helicopter has been conducting aerial surveillance of Jos and the environs. After visiting the victims in the hospitals where they are recuperating and promising that the government will pay the hospital bills, Governor Lalong warned those he described as “crisis merchants” that his government and the good people of Plateau will do everything positive to resist another round of religious crisis in the state. Dubbing the miscreants and hoodlums as “criminals who want to reverse the progress we have made in terms of consolidation of peace”, Lalong vowed that those arrested and found guilty of precipitating the attacks would be met with the full wrath of the law, as he commiserated with the families of victims.

The development attracted the sympathy of the Progressive Governors’ Forum who came visiting, with a call to citizens to be tolerant of one another and embrace peace that will enhance the unity of the country.

With pockets of killings reported daily until last Wednesday, and with the latest attack allegedly carried out by the Fulani in Chando Zrreche in Bassa Local Government Area where five people were killed, Governor Lalong has held strategic meetings with both Irigwe and Fulani, with both expressing a willingness to come together to speak to the issues at stake frankly and decisively.

The meeting with all the stakeholders in the state last Tuesday was well attended as an indication that the situation on hand goes beyond politics. Among other things, the stakeholders resolved to promptly arrest and punish perpetrators of violence after diligent prosecution; and also agreed on community policing structures and payment of compensation to victims of various crises and rehabilitation of displaced persons, among other issues.

Having received reports from security agencies that indicate reduced tension, Governor Lalong last Wednesday announced a review of the curfew in Jos North LGA from 24 hours to 6pm to 6am beginning last Thursday till further notice. Before this, the four-day shutdown of Jos had taken a toll on the economy as certain commodities and services were already in short supply as exhausted stock could not be replenished.