• Saturday, March 02, 2024
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Plateau, Benue killings: Are they reprisal or calculated attacks?

Despite curfew, killers overrun Plateau community

With the new wave of killings, particularly in the north-central states of Plateau and Benue, it seems another season of bloodbath has commenced in the country.

As well, if you had watched the plenary session of the House of Representatives on Tuesday where Dachung Bagos of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Plateau, with almost tears, moved a motion of urgent public importance on the killings in Plateau State, you would have seen the helplessness of the lawmaker over the issue.

“There has been an increase in the rate of insecurity and killing of innocent souls including some communities within my constituency,” the lawmaker lamented.

During his campaigns, when he said he would continue from where President Muhammadu Buhari would stop, many Nigerians looked at him with the tail end of their eyes. They wondered what he meant. In many areas, the Buhari administration was a disaster, and for anybody to say he would continue in that trajectory tingled the ears.

President Buhari had helplessly watched killings in Plateau and Benue States to a point that fingers were pointed at him as being complicit.

He only concerned himself with issuing of press releases to condemn the killings each time they happened. They were almost happening on a monthly basis. Despite his castrated threats to rein in the monsters, he exited office without addressing the issue.

The then governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom had strongly believed that the killers had a big brother in Aso Rock. He was furious about the Federal Government’s lackadaisical attitude to the carnage in Benue that he employed harsh words against Abuja. He was consequently declared a person-non-grata at the Presidential Villa.

Since Buhari left office, the killers have continued in their bloody campaign in Benue and Plateau State.

President Tinubu has since reconstituted and reconfigured the nation’s military architecture which many see as a sign of seriousness to put the people’s enemies to rout.

What is difficult to determine at this point is whether or not he would allow the Buhari non-challant attitude to the killings Benue and Plateau to subsist.

The recent attacks on the two states that reportedly led to death of close to 50 people by a band of herdsmen have been roundly condemned. President Tinubu also flayed the massacre. But his description of the attacks as “reprisal” has since elicited controversy in the polity.

While reacting to the invasion of the states and the orgy of violence in the states, he condemned in strong terms the internecine killings in Mangu Local Government Area of Plateau State and parts of Benue State.

Tinubu said in the statement, “It is most unfortunate that in this orgy of violence, an innocent eight-month-old baby in Farin Lamba community of Vwang District, Jos South Local Government, died in a conflict she knew nothing about.

“A major consequence of perennial conflict is always the tragic loss of innocent lives. To build virile, peaceful and prosperous communities demand tolerance and forgiveness for every perceived wrongdoing.”

To rebuild trust and restore harmony to these conflict areas, the President urged community leaders, religious leaders, traditional rulers, socio-cultural organisations, as well as the leadership of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Jama’atu Nasril Islam, and Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to work together to help foster genuine and long-lasting peace.

Diket Plang, a senator representing Plateau Central, Plateau State, and of the All Progressives Congress (APC), speaking in a television interview Wednesday, said that what took place in Plateau penultimate Saturday was a reprisal attack.

Plang warned that it must not be seen as an ethnic thing or that Plateau communities were at war with the Fulani.

“It should not be seen as if Plateau indigenes are having issue with the entire Fulani. It should be treated as person disagreement. It must be seen as herders-farmers clashes,” he said.

But observers have said that “Proper diagnosis of the problem in the two states will lead to proper treatment. But if Abuja begins on a wrong premise on the cause of of the killings, it will end up like the Buhari administration.”

Those who read the recent threat letter written to Governor Hyacinth Alia of Benue State by the Fulani Nationality Movement (FUNAM) said it provided a starting point to understand where the recent attacks were coming from and the possible masterminds.

The group had written to the governor, threatening to deal with the state if he failed to make an open apology to the Fulani people for going against a certain agreement they said was reached before the governorship election.

The group said that the governor’s utterances to suggest he would sustain the law against open grazing in the state passed by the Samuel Ortom administration was against the agreement they had with the governor.

The letter left no one in doubt of what was capable of happening. Observers also said that the governor must not feign ignorance of the possible cause of the latest carnage.

In 2018 when the killings in Benue became incessant, Femi Adesina, then senior spokesperson to President Buhari, during a television interview said that Nigerians should be eager to give up their ancestral settlements for livestock grazing if they wanted peace.

Taking exception to Adesina’s warning, Emeka Umeagbalasi, board chairman of the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, had said in a ststement tha Adesina’s utterances indicated that the government was protecting the killers.

Reacting to President Tinubu’s reaction to the attacks, a tweeter, @Mystic Mallam, said: “No Sir, Mr. President. We’re not interested in helpless lamentations and platitudes any longer. On the matter of insecurity in Nigeria, we the victim-communities of the lottery of death by violence that Nigeria has become, wish to inform you that we are already too sick and tired of meaningless talk like is attributed to you – ‘festering reprisal attacks in Plateau and Benue are depressing, needless and avoidable.’ That’s Buhari-era kind of drivel we do not expect to hear any longer. We’re also sick and tired of uncoordinated, stand-alone orders and responses to terrorist, bandit and armed herdsmen assaults on our communities. Enough of that Sir. What we expect from you now is a comprehensive National State of Emergency on insecurity – a policy of zero tolerance to terror, banditry, armed herding, kidnapping and other forms of violent mass criminality by Boko Haram, Iswap, Ansaru, bandits, Fulani herdsmen, IPOB – ESN- UGM, Asari Dokubo, and all other Private and War-Lord Armies – No exceptions, no sacred cows, no irrational amnesties, and no concessions. It has to be all out war against insecurity since fortunately, you Mr. President, believe it is ‘needless and avoidable.’ Moreover, after all, the Government should have a monopoly of access to the the instruments of coercion – let’s restore equality and sanity to Nigeria.

Another tweeter with the name @E Don Do Naija said: “Here we go again with Press releases and Presidential orders! What is the fundamental issue in Plateau and Benue States? Land grabbing by the Fulanis!”

In the recent attack, many people were killed, including a toddler, in Vwang District of Jos South, others in Mangu and in several communities across the state.

Meanwhile, last Thursday, Gideon and Funmi Para-Mallam Peace Foundation, a human rights organisation, disclosed that at least 346 persons have been killed within three months (April-July) in eight Local Government Areas in Plateau State.

Benue is not spared either as gunmen killed 24 innocent people in Ukum district early this month.

The senseless killings in Plateau and Benue seem to test President Tinubu’s security pledge at campaign rallies and inauguration speech.

Though the President also condemned the killings in strong terms and has given orders to security agencies to fish out the culprits, Nigerians are expecting results as such orders have been given before by his predecessors without efforts at ensuring enforcement.

To address the rising security challenges, many are of the view that the new president should do things differently, give orders not for the sake of it, but ensure enforcement and penalty for the failure to carry out the orders.

“Yes, President Bola Tinubu has started well by asking security agencies to fish out the masterminds of the killings in Plateau and Benue, but he shouldn’t relax thinking his order will be carried out because there are vested interests. He should be hard on the security chiefs for enforcement and should sack presumed non-performing ones at will to ensure compliance,” Damian Eneji, a Benue-born senior security officer said.

Speaking further, Eneji said that fixing the battered economy will not give Tinubu as much sleepless night as fighting insecurity because of vested interests, hidden agenda and entrenched corruption in the management of funds for security.

Terfa Or, another Benue indigene and Lagos-based bank executive, argued that the gunmen who killed 24 people at Ukum recently took their time and were not confronted by any security agency despite the huge funding on security and heavy presence of personnel, hence he queried the sincerity of Nigerian security agencies in the fight against insecurity.

“As usual, the police blamed the Benue killings on a militia gang as if the group does not have a base or the gang members are spirits. For true change, President Bola Tinubu should sack the Plateau and Benue police commissioners, change the approach of the joint security task force, reshuffle where necessary to ensure that bad eggs in the system. are removed,” he said.

Emmanuel Jibunoh, a hotelier, who was born in Bukuru, an outskirt of Jos, warned that the new government seems to be toeing the same line with the past ones and will not get result with same approach.

“They have tried curfew in Plateau State and it did not work, joint security operation was compromised and meetings of the leadership of interest groups in the state did not work.

“What worked was confrontation with the terrorists and gunmen, but it was not sustained.

“I think the new president should look inwards and select those who are hungry for change and sort them out to ensure the result in the fight against insecurity,” he said.

The hotel owner who relocated his business to Abuja since 2017 due to the lull insecurity created in the hotel business in Plateau State, noted that president Bola Tinubu should prepare to confront the hoodlums head-on and as the Commander in-chief of the Armed Force, he should use the forces fully to achieve that result.

“I don’t think there is time to negotiate with them again. The gunmen and their sponsors see the killings as business and are the enemies of the country. The security forces should be reoriented and retrained to confront and defeat the gunmen. It can be done if the new president will get involved and sincerely use his office as the Commander in-chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces to fight insecurity,” Jibunoh said.

Expressing confidence in the ability of President Tinubu in handling the security challenges better than his predecessors, Abidemi Onalaja, a lawyer and environmental activist, thinks that President Tinubu has good negotiation skills and will be able to meet and persuade every aggrieved person and interest group to cease fire.

“If you know President Tinubu very well, you will hope for better result because he can do it. He will adopt a different approach and rather woo the gunmen to surrender because he can fight too,” Onalaja said.