Penultimate week, over 15 Berom Communities came under heavy attacks by suspected herdsmen, leaving a trail of over 200 deaths and monumental humanitarian and environmental crises, which calls for urgent intervention. In this piece, ACHOR ABIMAJE takes a look at the quick intervention of the state and federal to bring the situation under control.
The people of Plateau State and its environs will not forget in a hurry, the horror of Saturday, 23rd and Sunday, 24th June, 2018 following the gruesome killings of over 200 people by suspected killer herdsmen in villages of Barkin Ladi, Jos South and Riyom local government areas of the state.
This development culminated into the imposition of dusk to dawn curfew by the state government in the affected local government council in the state.
In recent times, there had been relative peace in Plateau State, with no gory attacks like the ones that happened between September 2017 and February 2018, when suspected killer herdsmen in what was described as genocide attacked some villages in Bassa local government area.
But that relative peace was cut short between Saturday and Sunday, when suspected killer herdsmen invaded no fewer than 15 Berom villages in Riyom and Barkin Ladi local government areas of the state at night and in, coordinated attacks slaughtered scores of women, children, including the aged.
Indeed, these recent killings, which occurred in Riyom, Barkin Ladi and Jos South Local Government Areas of Plateau State, have also thrown up monumental humanitarian and environmental crisis that call for urgent federal and state government intervention.
LEADERSHIP Friday gathered that the bandits burnt houses after the killing of the occupants.
Our correspondent gathered that in a build up to last Saturday and Sunday carnage, it has been reported that security operatives are searching for five Fulani travellers whose vehicle was allegedly attacked and burnt in a night around Heipang, in Barkin Ladi local government area of Plateau State.
The victims were said to be returning from Kara cattle market in Jos south when unknown gunmen, around 7pm, ambushed them. The vehicle, which was also conveying their cows was set ablaze, the cows severely burnt while the occupants were nowhere to be found at the time men of Operation Safe Haven arrived the scene.
The Secretary, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), in Barkin Ladi, Abubakar Gambo, said the five occupants were suspected to have been killed, as their phone numbers were not connecting.
Gambo said, “this is the third attack on our people while travelling and it is becoming a routine. Four of our people travelling in a vehicle with five cows were on the 10th of June, ambushed around Fan. All of them were killed and one person is still missing and assumed dead while the vehicle and cows were stolen by the militia.
On the same day, according to him, “some Fulani travellers returning from the same Kara market were ambushed and one person was dead, all within Barkin Ladi.”
Similarly, the MACBAN chairman of Plateau State, Nura Abdulahi, in an interview, told newsmen that there had been couple of attacks and killings of Fulani herdsmen in Dong village and also in Bassa local government council of the state.
According to Abdulahi, on Friday 22nd of June, 2018, ethnic militias blocked the Mangu Haile road and were conducting stop and search operations looking for any Fulani man to kill, saying those of them who were not lucky were brought out of their vehicle and hacked down to death in broad day light.
He called on government at all levels to, as a matter of urgency, intervene and arrest the situation. Abdulahi appealed to government to deal with anybody caught perpetrating evil, irrespective of his tribe and religion.
A statement signed by the secretary to the government of the state, Rufus Bature, noted that the curfew imposed by the state governor is to take immediate effect to forestall further break down of law and order in the affected areas.
Also, the Plateau State Commissioner for Information, Yakubu Datti, said Governor Simon Lalong cut short his participation at the All Progressives Congress (APC) national convention in Abuja to take charge of the security situation in the state, particularly some communities in Barkin Ladi local government area.
According to a statement he issued in Jos, Dati said the governor has directed the security chiefs in the state to checkmate the assailants, even as he condemned the attack and commiserated with the victims.
The Berom villages that came under attacks, which left human corpses littered everywhere, are Gashish, Heipang, Razat, Ruku, Nyarr , Gana Ropp, Shonong, , Mase, Gindin Akwati, Fan, and Kwi among others.
An eyewitness, who spoke with our correspondent on phone said the attackers, dressed in military uniform, were shooting sporadically and gunning down any living thing they saw.
Confirming the development, the secretary-general of Berom Education And Cultural Organisation (BEFO), Davou Choji, said that at the last count, over 200 corpses were recovered from burning houses, while others recovered in the bushes and rocks had gunshot and machete wounds.
He added that those who sustained various degrees of injuries have been taken to a general hospital Barkin Ladi for treatment.
Choji, noted that presently, there is mass movement of people from the affected villages to the local government headquarters to seek refuge.
According to him, people have deserted the entire Berom villages in Barkin Ladi and Riyom local government areas for fear of being attacked by the suspecting herdsmen.
He said, “As I am talking to you right now, the number of casualties is more than 200, as recovery process is still ongoing. I am calling on the state and federal governments to deploy more security operatives to the troubled villages.”
“Corpses numbering over 200 have been recovered in Plateau State communities of Xland, Gindin Akwati, Ruku, Nghar, Kura Falls and Kakuruk, all in Gashish district as well as Rakok, Kok and Razat villages, all in Ropp district of Barkin-Ladi local government area”.
A source, who did not want his name in print, said he was made to understand that the security operatives in the area were overwhelmed and could not do much to contain the attackers.
But the Plateau State Police Command, said 86 persons were killed in Barkin Ladi local government area of the state.
In a statement issued yesterday night, public relations officer of the state police command, ASP Tyopev Terna, also said that six persons were injured, with 50 houses razed.
“Eighty six persons altogether were killed, six people injured, 50 houses burnt, 15 motorcycles burnt down; two motor vehicles burnt down,” the police noted.
Tyopev said that a search party set up by the Plateau State commissioner of police, Undie Adie, discovered the dead bodies.
“Sequel to the attack in Gashish District of Barkin Ladi LGA on Saturday, 23rd June 2018, the commissioner of police, Plateau State Command, Jos, CP Undie Adie, after deploying more personnel to the district, sent a search and rescue team from the command headquarters today for on the spot assessment,” it said.
Meanwhile, the Plateau State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) described the killings as genocide, saying it received the news with rude shock.
In a statement issued in Jos and signed by Mr John Akans, publicity secretary of the party, and made available to journalists, PDP alleged that those it described as enemies of the state killed over 130 people.
“We condemn in the strongest terms, the level of continuous genocide of Plateau people. At the moment, Barkin Ladi is under siege by these marauders with over 130 people feared to have been killed. As at time of this statement, the (SOM) CAPRO School of Missions Gana-Ropp is under heavy attack by these militias”, the statement noted.
Describing the incident as a collective collaboration against the people, PDP stressed that “this unholy act of systematic genocide and the destruction of the cultural heritage of plateau people must stop”.
In the same vein, stakeholders, under the aegis of Plateau Concerned Professionals Forum (PCPF) have urged Governor Simon Lalong to take decisive action to stop the killings in the state.
They urged Lalong to improve his relationship with security agencies saddled with the responsibility of providing security in the state.
Speaking through the convener, Dr Pam Chuwang, the group decried the renewed killings in some parts of the state, describing the action as not only barbaric and reprehensible, but also untenable and unacceptable.
Governor Simon Lalong, in a state broadcast, vowed to ensure that the perpetrators of the killings are arrested and brought to book to face the wrath of the law of the land.
He said, “It is with deep sense of sorrow that I address you today, following the pockets of violent attacks on some communities in the state.”
According to the governor, this has unfortunately led to loss of lives and properties. The resurgence of violence in Plateau is reprehensible as much as condemnable, yet this is a stark reminder of the magnitude of peace and security challenges staring at us in the face. On behalf of the government
of the state therefore, I commiserate with the families of those affected and pray that God, in his infinite mercies, will grant them eternal rest in his glorified kingdom.
“Government is conscious of its responsibilities of protection of lives and properties of its citizenry and we have always strived to meet that expectation. You will recall that I took an oath to protect and secure the lives and properties of our citizens as governor of Plateau State, for this reason, my administration has placed a high premium on peace, security and good governance, being the first item on our five pillar policy thrusts.
He noted that regardless of the threats they face today, they remain resolute in their commitment to arrest the vicious cycle of violence and lay the
foundation for sustainable peace. Following this renewed episode of violence, after about three years of some stability in terms of peace and security, we are yet again faced with a risk of relapse; we shall not allow ourselves to be dragged into our gory past.
“Accordingly, the government has taken decisive steps to reinforce security, particularly in communities prone to attacks, and in the same vein, is working to tackle the underlying causes of conflict.
In other to ensure the situation is brought under control as quickly as possible, federal government, on its part, deployed the Police Special Intervention Force, deployed by the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, to launch a manhunt in bushes and rocks within communities in Plateau State for perpetrators of the latest attacks.
The IGP had announced the deployment of the Special Intervention Force to Plateau State to restore lasting peace in Barkin-Ladi, Riyom, Jos South local government areas and other flash points in the state.
Force PRO, Jimoh Moshood, said the police
are already working in synergy with the Plateau State Police Command to ensure that peace and normalcy restored, are sustained in the affected areas and other flash points in Plateau State.
He noted that the deputy inspector general of Police in charge of Operations has relocated to Jos, the Plateau State capital, on the directive of the IGP to coordinate and supervise the operations on ground.
Giving details of the deployment, Moshood said, “Also, two police aerial surveillance helicopters, five Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs), three Police Mobile Force Units (PMF), two Counter Terrorism Cells (CTU ) and Police Intelligence Unit and conventional Police personnel from other states have been deployed to the affected areas in Plateau State.
“The Police Aerial surveillance helicopters and other components of the intervention Force are already in the state. Their arrival in the State has restored peace and prevented further attacks in the affected areas.
“The IGP has directed the Commissioner of Police in charge of IGP monitoring Unit to lead the Police Special Investigation Team to the affected areas and other flash points in Plateau State.
The investigation Team comprises the Intelligence Response Team (IRT), the Special Tactical Squad (STS) and the Technical Platforms. The team is to carry out a thorough and discreet investigation into the killings and promptly apprehend those responsible”.
He also listed members of the Police Special Intervention Force, to include personnel of Force Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Department (FCIID), detachment of Police Explosive Ordinance Department (EOD), Police K9 (Sniffer Dogs Section), Conventional Policemen, Special Anti Robbery Squads.
Moshood further explained that to achieve success in this operation, the team would be proactive and strict in the enforcement of its mandates, even as Police standard operations procedures and rule of engagement will be fully adhered to.
To compliment the IGP special squads, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has also deployed an Mi-35P combat helicopter and an Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft to Plateau State in support of efforts aimed at quelling the crisis that recently erupted in the state and restoring normalcy.
According to a press statement signed by Olatokunbo Adesanya, Air Vice Marshal,
director of Public Relations and Information
Nigerian Air Force, said the deployment of the ISR aircraft is expected to enhance intelligence gathering.
He added that the combat helicopter would conduct armed reconnaissance and other combat air support operations in close coordination with surface forces deployed to the state.
The statement further said other NAF air assets are available at nearby alternate airfields to hasten the process of restoring normalcy in the state, as might be necessary.
This development was immediately followed by the visit of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on assessment visit to the state, where he said that those found culpable in the latest killings in Plateau State will be arrested and prosecuted.
He spoke in Jos, the Plateau State capital, where he had led federal government delegation to ascertain the security situation after the gruesome murder of over 200 natives.
Osinbajo, who arrived Jos at about 4.40pm, met with leaders and stakeholders in the State.
The VP said he was directed by President Buhari to come to the state and see what the federal government could do to stop the killings.
“It is disturbing that Plateau is in the news again for killings.
President Muhammadu has ordered that those found culpable should be arrested and prosecuted. This is condemnable and the federal government would ensure that this is not allowed to happen again”, he declared.
Still not done yet, President Mohammadu Buhari also visited the state to commiserate with the people.
Speaking at an interactive session with stakeholders in the state, President Mohammadu Buhari, urged traditional and community leaders to complement government efforts by persuading their constituencies to tolerate one another for peace and unity in the country.
The president vowed not to relent in his responsibility to protect the lives and properties of every Nigerian, noting that he would not run away from it.
He said, ‘‘I will continue to pressurise members of the law enforcement agencies directly under me by the Constitution as the Commander-in Chief.
“About eight days ago, we had five hours of security meeting of the service chiefs and the Inspector-General of Police. What happened here in Jos is very bad. The question of leadership, from your household to whatever you are, is justice.
“The bottom line is justice. That is why wherever I go, I will always appeal to the leadership of the communities, the law enforcement agencies to always have control of their constituencies”.
Condemning the latest attacks in Plateau State, which left scores dead, President Buhari, who was accompanied to the meeting by the state governor, Simon Lalong, and his counterparts from Kebbi and Niger, condoled with the affected families, the government and people of the state and wished those injured a speedy recovery.
Earlier in his remarks, Governor Lalong blamed parties in the conflict in the state for reneging on their agreement to maintain peace, leading to the recent upsurge in violence, after nearly three years of calm and normalcy in the state.
‘‘We are concerned as a state that the sophisticated weapons used in these attacks, from the evidences on the ground and the narrations of victims, are not those conventional to our environment for self-defense but reflective of a terrorist invasion.
‘‘It, therefore, demands a justified response like that which was undertaken to address the Boko Haram insurgency,’’ he said.
The governor also requested that given the number of villages completely ravaged in the violence, the Federal Government should establish an Emergency Special Intervention Fund to help reconstruct the destroyed communities.
Lalong said the latest attacks are very disturbing and alarming because they left behind the painful loss of over 200 people.
This, he said, is in addition to the humanitarian challenge confronting thousands of displaced persons whose houses and crops were burnt and completely destroyed.
Lalong said, “Your visit is no doubt comforting, coming less than 24 hours after the visit of Mr Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo. This visit gives us the confidence to open up the grief in our hearts today, given the punctuation of the peace, which we have worked so hard to achieve, in the almost three years of our assumption of office.
“The gory pictures of the killing of innocent citizens, women and children, continue to torment our hearts and it sends the serious message that something drastic needs to be done comprehensively to nip once and for all, the ugly menace of attacks that has come to be associated with suspected militia herdsmen.”
The governor noted that these recurring attacks have regrettably opened up space for all manner of criminality by criminal elements and conflict merchants, who engage daily in cattle rustling, theft, banditry, gun running and other forms of crimes amongst our citizens, adding that Plateau State is a beneficiary of the several security measures put in place on the president’s instruction.
Speaking further, Governor Lalong lamented the spate of killings and displacement of settlements in the state, warning that his administration would not tolerate land grabbing in any part of Plateau.
According to him, there is no place for land grabbing in the state saying, those fighting, killing people and destroying their settlements with the intention of taking ownership of such places, would not be allowed to do so.
“If you think you can chase people out and take over their land, we as a government would not allow you to own the land .”
He disclosed that the “administration is working out modalities for prosecuting land grabbers to discourage the act.”
President Buhari also carefully listened to the presentations and recommendations made by state chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Alhaji Nura Abdullahi and a representative of the Berom community in Plateau State, Mrs Florence Jambol, on engendering peace in the communities.
Ministers of Defence, Interior and Information also accompanied President Muhammadu Buhari on the visit. Also on the team, were security chiefs, including the chief of army staff, chief of naval staff, IGP among others.