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Stakeholders in Search of Peace in Plateau

Plateau state
One of the destroyed farms

July 25, (THEWILL) – Two major peace events took place in Plateau last week: An emergency meeting of the Plateau State Inter-religious Council and a pact between the Irigwe and The Fulani in Bassa Local Government Area, which was signed by both parties last Monday in a desperate search for communal fraternity, inter-ethnic understanding, tolerance and collaboration.

Both events are a major indication that all is not yet well with the state, in terms of mutual coexistence.

These ad hoc concepts and paradigms are being conceived to complement and strengthen the day-to-day engagements and initiatives of the Plateau State Peace Building Agency.

It certainly has not been a good season for indigenes of the state as nocturnal attacks and killings have continued in Bassa, Ryom, Barkin Ladi and Jos South LGAs unchecked. This spate of killings and clashes between the natives of the state and Fulani herdsmen have continued to justify the relevance of the Special Military Task Force code-named Operation Safe Haven, whose area of coverage and operation now extends to Southern Kaduna, which is also bedeviled by such atrocities.

A very dangerous twist to the aggression by Fulani herdsmen is evident in their penchant for unprovoked attacks and destruction of whole farms and assorted crops spanning several hectares of land. These sustained acts of terrorism have prevented the endangered natives from undertaking daily trips to their farms, to the effect that food insecurity has become a present and real danger even beyond Plateau. This habit of destroying farms and crops has been identified as full scale war by other means or war by hunger and starvation.

The strain in communal relations between the native population and herdsmen is worsening with each passing day. Acts of terrorism, characterised by kidnapping, ambush, genocide and burning of homesteads have made life in these rural settings brutish and indeterminate.

Security and policing of the affected areas have been quite inadequate, to the extent that a humanitarian crisis of monumental proportion has become intrinsic in the rural sociology of these traumatised natives that are daily harassed, displaced, and forcefully made refugees in their ancestral homes.

The aggressor targets homes and kill mostly women and children in a well articulated and barbaric strategy to deplete their reproductive potential, decimate its work and fighting forces, subdue and subjugate the identity and values of the natives, and eventually superimpose socio-economic and political structure to confirm the natives as both conquered people and endangered species.

Thus, the onus lies on the Plateau State Government and other stakeholders to deal with the twin problems of land grabbing and internally displaced persons, especially in the Plateau North Senatorial District, with emphasis on Jos South, Barkin Ladi, and Riyom LGAs where some of the natives have been displaced and several villages taken over by herdsmen.

The problem of land grabbing is so notorious in the Plateau crisis that some overrun villages, like Mahanga in Barkin Ladi, has been allegedly renamed ‘Palestine’ by the aggressor settlers who are feigning immunity from the constituted federal authorities.

The State, through legislation, has criminalised land grabbing by any group under any guise in the state. But this is different from the urgency on ground: the imperative to recover the several villages usurped by the predatory aggressor and restore the natives languishing in refugee camps with their indigenous politico-economic and social system intact to enable them redefine their identity and dignity as a people.

In 2018, during President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to the State, part of his itinerary was the public launch of a peace document formulated by the Plateau Peace Building Agency (PPBA) titled, ‘The Road Map to Peace’, which contain modules of engagement with stakeholders and modules of how to sustain peace in a state where inter-ethnic relations have been at fever pitch and often exploding into sectarian violence and bloodletting.

It was also instructive that during President Buhari’s meeting with leaders of thought in the state, issues, such as peace, indigene/settler status, herdsmen/ farmers clashes, land ownership and speculation dominated discussions. The discourse was as heated as Governor Lalong’s welcome address was bold, distinct, and unambiguous in its description of land grabbing as unacceptable and an affront to the people’s heritage and inheritance.

Three years on, for the state government and the PPBA, the quick sands of crisis have refused to go away, with old sentiments and surmises consolidating into renewed fears with twists and appendages that only suggest there is still work to be done.

In last week’s emergency meeting of the Plateau State Inter-religious Council, its Chairman, Prof Pandang Yamsat, was unmistaken in his preamble: “The deteriorating peace and security situation in our dear state and country, which necessitated this gathering, is one that is not only burdensome, but also covets our prayers as well as deliberate actions on the part of all of us to arrest the situation”.

Yamsat was not pretending as he said, “We need not belittle the insecurity problem in our hands for any reason. The insecurity is getting worse by the day. It is consuming the big, the poor in the villages and the rich and the religious leaders of any faith or affiliation. Destruction of farmlands, livestock, wanton killing of sacred lives are on the increase, with severe effects on the socio-economic life of the people.

“It is my belief that our work at the level of the Plateau State Inter-religious Council is fundamental in stemming the tide of societal ills. Societal ills as evident in the pattern of killings and destruction of crops and cattle, which, to say the least, are our common wealth. As government and council, we cannot allow this menace to continue. We must take deliberate steps to address the root causes of these issues with a view to evolving enduring solutions to them”.

This is certainly tasking the stakeholder on a broad-based approach to enduring peace in Plateau. The PPBA may be in need of innovation and pragmatism in the implementation of its Road Map to Peace, while the state government should also determine whether the agency’s funding is adequate to enable it achieve the desired results.

Again, scanty policing of the rural areas can be addressed by the option of state police and community policing, which was popularly canvassed during the recently concluded constitutional review consultative interface.

Yamsat noted, “The situation in some communities in Plateau State, with its tendency to spill over to other neighbouring localities, presents a litmus test of our resolve to work closely regardless of the odds against us in halting further degeneration of the situation….We must be seen to be building bridges of mutual understanding and cooperation, as well as tolerance”.

Above all, equity and justice, transparency, accountability, and good governance generally must be allowed to permeate and drive our socio-political system. If the political leadership cannot resemble the people and their values, it should at least reflect their aspirations by securing them. Socio-economic and political development can only thrive in an atmosphere of peace. Good governance must be given a chance