• Friday, March 01, 2024
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BusinessDay

Christmas Eve massacre: Why violence persists in Plateau

Blood-letting on the Plateau again and again!

The recent massacre on the eve of Christmas in Plateau State has further exposed the vulnerability and dysfunctionality of Nigeria’s policing architecture, experts, and the Plateau State government have agreed.

Plateau, has for decades grappled with violent attacks which have been attributed to long-standing tensions between various ethnic and religious groups in the region that have fueled conflicts over land, resources, and political power, but stakeholders are pointing to the inadequacy of security marked by glaring inadequacy of security personnel as major challenges compounding the decade-old crisis.

This is in addition to the failure of security agencies to name and punish perpetrators.

Musa Ashoms, the state’s commissioner of information and communication highlighted the absence of adequate security and particularly community-led policing mechanisms as a significant gap in addressing the recurring crises.

The latest incident in the days preceding Christmas saw unknown gunmen overrunning about 23 local communities in Bokkos and Barkin Ladi local government areas, leaving a death toll that authorities estimate to be over 200, with more than 10,000 displaced. The attacks spanned three days.

Death toll from the attacks which lasted for three days from Saturday, December 23, has reached 200, according to local authorities with over 10,000 displaced.

This is not the only violent attack recorded this year,  in mid-2023, the Mangu area of the state suffered a violent attack that claimed 130 innocent lives, the destruction of over 1,000 buildings, and the displacement of communities in 23 villages, among other pockets of violence.

Calls grow for community-led policing

Ashoms, the state spokesperson said about 23 of the communities in Barkin Ladi and Bokkos suffered deadly attacks.

Speaking on Al Jazeera’s “Inside Story,” programme on Wednesday, Ashoms highlighted the need for community-led policing to improve intelligence gathering. He stressed that involving citizens in policing, as seen in other regions facing similar challenges, is needed to enhance the understanding of local dynamics and contribute to better security outcomes.

According to him, the attack which  he said was well planned, sponsored, and aimed at cleansing the entire communities, was successful due to the absence of adequate security.

The Commissioner expressed frustration with the centralized security architecture, advocating for the establishment of State Police. He argued that having locals involved in policing would facilitate intelligence gathering, a critical aspect of addressing the ongoing crisis that has persisted for over two decades.

According to him,  “When these kinds of carnage were happening in Borno, and Adamawa states, they made sure that citizens of those communities were made part of the policing of such communities where you have the civilian joint task force when we have young people that can defend the community.  they can be profiled by the Department for State Services, and then bring them to speed and make them become part of the security architecture.

“This crisis has lasted for over two decades, and we cannot be having the same thing reoccurring, day in and day out. The primary responsibility of government is the protection of lives and property, but we have a state government that cannot command any military, or police, that cannot command even the civil defence, because orders come all the way all the time from above. That’s why we are canvassing soliciting and converting for State Police.

“For example, if you are in Bokkos, and you see strange movements and you belong to this community you will know them, but when the military man is from Sokoto from Bayelsa or Ondo, he might not understand the internal workings of these communities. So when you want to gather intel information, homestead approach is always the best people that live within the communities when they see strangers, they support them”- he said.

“The solution to this menace is for us to have State Police, the idea of having a central police, a  Central Military, protecting our communities, has to a large extent not yielded the right results. So as a government, we’re also advocating we’re soliciting for state police. We bring in our young people so they can be profiled by these agencies”, he further stressed.

Lamenting on the devastating impacts of the crisis, he said, “People have run away from their homes from their ancestral lands. They are taking refuge either in towns or with their family and friends in other locations. So we woke up as a state, on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day with carnage with terrorism with only annihilation, with killing and it’s quite disheartening. It is a sad situation you wouldn’t wish your enemy to pass through such a nasty experience and it will interest you to know that in these killings, no lives were spared whether you are you might know or you’re an old woman or you’re sick or you’re disabled, everybody that was alive that didn’t escape was killed. So it is a sad scenario. A sad experience we will not want to wish that this happens again in the future.”, he said.

Freedom Onuoha, a security expert and professor of political science at the University of Nigeria also noted that one of Nigeria’s major security challenges is the shortage of security personnel, Which the government must work to address to make a meaningful impact.

According to the United States Institute for Peace, there are about 600,000 policing for over 200 million Nigerians which implies one security personnel to about 600 people.

On social media, Nigerians joined the conversation, calling for effective community policing. Some highlighted the need to decentralize the police architecture to ensure more efficient policing, especially in large areas like those affected in Plateau State.

Tolu Ogunlesi, a Nigerian writer highlighted the need to decentralise the police architecture to ensure effective policing noting that both LGAs that came under attack are 2,700 sq km in size — 3/4 of the entire Lagos State.

He said: “How many troops/police officers are deployed there, or can realistically be deployed, and what are the logistical challenges of policing 2,700 sq km of rural terrain—against a backdrop of historical ethnic/religious/land tensions complicated by criminality (cattle-rustling), reprisal impulses, and the antics of what one academic paper described as ‘conflict-entrepreneurs.’ Also, what does this tell us about the challenges of depending exclusively on federal law enforcement, in such vast rural terrain?”

@bossman wrote, “Federal government won’t come to your aid…your people should form Vigilante group and arm yourselves through the help of your people in diaspora… I repeat don’t rely on federal or state government.”

Meanwhile, the Defence Headquarters has attributed the delayed response from troops during the attacks to the rugged terrain in the Local Government Areas of Plateau State.

Speaking during an interview on Channels Television on Caleb Mutfwang, said, “I wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water. Certainly, the response time can be better. There were distress calls sent out. Some of the responses would have been delayed for various reasons, including the nature of our terrain.”