It’s nearly two decades since the first major crisis hit the Plateau with bloodshed and anguish with stakeholders struggling to keep the peace. ACHOR ABIMAJE (Jos) in this report, takes a look at the genesis of Plateau crisis till date as the military in Jos continues to clamp down on people in a bid to locate the missing army general, the latest of the long list of victims of the decade-long journey of violence in Plateau State.
The 2001 Jos riots involved Christians and Muslims in the Tin city over the appointment of a Muslim politician, Aljaji Muktar Mohammed, as local coordinator of the defunct federal government poverty alleviation programme. The clash started on 7th September and lasted nearly two weeks, ending on 17th September. Some 1,000 people were allegedly killed during the riots.
Also in 2004, right in Yelwa Shemdam, another town in Plateau State, another massacre, referred to as the Yelwa Massacre, occurred and led to imposition of state of emergency on the Plateau. The former governor, Chief Joshua Dariye, was suspended for six months over his failure to curtail the killings. The 2008 Jos riots involved Christians and Muslims over the result of a local government election on 28th and 29th November 2008 in Jos. Two days of rioting left hundreds injured and at least 761 dead. The Nigerian army was deployed and by November 30th, order was restored. Similarly, the violence of 2010 started on 17th January in Jos and spread to surrounding communities. Houses, churches, mosques and vehicles were set ablaze during the four days of fighting. At least 326 people were allegedly killed.
Also, the Dogo Nahauwa massacre, which was allegedly carried out by suspected herdsmen left over 600 dead in the area; victims included women and children.
From 2008 when the administration of Jonah Jang came on board to 2015, Jos crisis continued unabated despite the Constitution and so many judicial commissions of inquiry and presentation of report for recommendation and lastly the peace summit report, there was no end in sight as some of the recommendations were for political reasons and were not implemented.
However, in 2012, a serving senator representing Plateau North senatorial district in the National Assembly, Senator Gyang Dantong and his counterpart in Plateau State House of Assembly, Hon Gyang Fulani, representing Barki Ladi State Constituency lost their lives to Fulani herdsmen attack in Mase in Riyom local government council during the mass burial of over 70 Beroms that were killed by Fulani militias in the area. Still not yet done from 2015 to date, the story is still the same, as the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) under the watchful eyes of Barr Simon Lalong could not stop the Plateau Carnage. From 2015 when the ruling APC took over the leadership of the state, it has witnessed so many attacks especially in the Plateau North senatorial district axis, from Jos north to Jos South, Riyom Barki Ladi, Bassa to Jos East local government council, it was a gory tale of one attack or the other.
The most recent was on the 2nd of September 2018 when unknown gunmen swooped on Dura Du community of Jos South local government and sprayed bullets on peace loving people of the area killing 14 people in the process.
A day after the killing, a former chief of Administration in Nigerian Army, General Mohammed Idris Alkali (retd), was declared missing in questionable circumstances. Alkali was said to have retired a few weeks before he was declared missing on Monday, September 3, 2018, a day after gunmen took on Dura-Du in Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State and killed 14 persons.
Furthermore, the dust of Dura Du killings was yet to settle down when another 20 people were killed in Ruluba road attacks in the evening by suspected herdsmen leading to imposition of dusk to dawn curfew as the crisis spilled over to Farin Gada, Gada Biu, Naraguta hostel, Nassarawa Gwom, Angwan Rukuba among other places.
As the controversy surrounding the missing Maj Gen Alkali (retd) rages, the determination of the military to unravel the mystery behind his disappearance culminated to massive arrest and detention of innocent people along Rayfield road and Mai Adiko axis of Jos South local government council of the state.
Presently, over 50 people, including pregnant women, were said to be in the military dungeon in Rukuba army barrack for the past few weeks in a crude effort to find a link to the whereabouts of the missing general.
Indeed, as a result of brutal military operation in Dura-Du in Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State over the Major General Idris Alkali, which culminated into indiscriminate arrest of innocent people, a housewife, Mrs Julcit Barde, has cried out to government and Nigerians to help rescue her husband, Nansel Paul Barde, a certified builder by profession, who has been harassed and incarcerated in military custody for over one week. This is even as the Plateau State Punch Newspaper correspondent, Mr Friday Olokor, lamented his ordeal in military detention having been arrested and incarcerated for 28 hours for no obvious reason. Mrs Barde, while addressing a press conference in Jos recently said, “A major had approached my husband to give out our property that is near the pond to the soldiers, so that while they carry out their operations they can stay there. Since we are not yet occupying the property, my husband obliged them, and the soldiers occupied it.
“But as they evacuated the water from the pond, the water flooded the building environment with it so much that a part of our building collapsed. This prompted my husband to approach the military for compensation.”
She said while her husband complained to the major leading the operation, a General, who visited the operation site simply said, “Military don’t pay compensation.” Rather than talk of the compensation, the Army General ordered for his arrest, saying he should know something about the pond and the missing General. They claimed he was being taken away to help the military with investigation.
Mrs Barde added that, “Since his arrest, I have not seen my husband for over a week, his phones have been switched-off and possibly seized from him. I have not had access to my husband since then. My children cry every day asking for their father; I have had sleepless nights thinking of the whereabouts of my husband and what must be happening to him.”
She called on President Mohammed Buhari, the chief of army staff, Lt General Tukur Buratai and the general public to intervene in the unconditional release of her husband, querying if it was a crime for her husband to render assistance to the Nigerian Army. “As I speak, they are still occupying our property.”
Also speaking, Mr Nansel Barde’s Lawyer, Barrister Andrew Joshua, lamented his incarceration for over a week without a charge, describing it as unlawful. He said, “I want to believe that General Buratai is not aware that my client is unlawfully being detained. But I use this medium to call on him to order his release.”
Meanwhile, a human rights activist, Mr Gad Shamaki, has called on all well-meaning voices in Nigeria to arise over the injustice done to the Barde family and other families in similar fate.
He added that they are going to mobilise their international partners to ensure that those behind the unlawful arrest of Nansel are made to face justice for their crime.
Also narrating his ordeal, the Punch Newspaper correspondent said, “I came back last (Sunday) night after spending about 28 hours behind bars over a former chief of Administration in Nigerian Army, General Mohammed Idris Alkali (retd), who had been declared missing in questionable circumstances.”
According to him, on that Saturday, October 6 2018, I went to the UBA ATM and did a cash transaction and decided to buy Irish potatoes and eggs at the popular Anne Breeze Restaurant in Rayfield area of Jos. The waiters had not yet brought my food when soldiers in two lorry trucks (about 30 of them), all masked and armed, swooped on the place, shot indiscriminately at sight and arrested every human being they sighted.
He further stressed, “My initial feeling during the shooting was that they were either the Fulani herdsmen (who had been a torn in the flesh of the Berom ethnic nationality), fake soldiers on military uniform or Boko Haram. Many of them were masked.”
“Passers-by were not spared, women and persons who were living in nearby houses were picked. Even my identification that I’m a journalist with PUNCH Newspapers didn’t help matters, as they did not even want to see my Identity Card. We were 37 victims of the invasion, 28 men and 9 women.
“As the soldiers drove us, we were told to put off our telephones. The law was that you don’t talk, you don’t move and even when nature, for instance sneezing knocks, you’re in trouble.”
“The 28 of us (men) were driven to the 3 Division of Nigerian Army in Rukuba Barrack, Jos and kept in an uncompleted building. They confiscated all our belongings, including telephones, money, ATM cards, car and house keys.
“Many of the victims couldn’t take their cars and personal properties. We had no access to our families; I couldn’t communicate with my family, Editors, friends, and colleagues because they took our phones.”
Angered over this, the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Plateau State Council, in a statement jointly signed by Paul Jatau and Peter Amine, the Chairman and Secretary respectively, it said it is concerned about the way and manner the Nigeria Army is going about its search for missing Maj Gen Idris Alkali (rtd).
According to them, the arbitrary harassment, intimidation and arrest of members of the public as part of their search are sources of worry to the NUJ.
“We expect the Army to conduct its intelligence and go after those they suspect and not arrest anybody in sight and recall that at the commencement of the evacuation of water from Dura Du pond in Jos South, the Army told the public that they have credible intelligence that the missing general’s car was in the pond and true to their word, the car was retrieved from the pond.”
The union said they expect them to use the same intelligence they used to locate the car to go after the suspects as they continue the search for Gen Alkali or his body saying NUJ is perturbed because innocent people are not spared by the crude method they have employed thereby instilling fear and overheating the polity.
“The Army, on Saturday in a statement, assured the public that they would exhibit high level professionalism according to international standards in the search but what is on display contradicts the assurances” adding,
“A member of our Union, a reporter of the Punch Newspaper, was arrested alongside other persons by the army and was detained for 28 hours in Rukuba Barracks as part of the search. “
According to the statement, “We wish to state unequivocally that while journalists support the search for the missing senior officer, indeed the Nigeria Union Of Journalists, Plateau State Council, will not hesitate in withdrawing its members from covering their activities if the intimidation and harrasment continues.”
Meanwhile, when our correspondent contacted the PRO of Army 3rd Division in charge of the search operation, Colonel Kayode Ogunsanya, he said the arrest of the Punch reporter was a coincidence and that he (Olokor) happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, because they are conducting large operations and that when such is done, people at certain places are arrested profiled and innocent ones are often released.
Speaking on the issue of Barde, he said the man actually assisted the military but that the military later decided to hold him because they gathered on credible intelligence that he was told that cars were being dumped in the pond and he didn’t report to appropriate authority.
He denied that the military was arresting people indiscriminately, saying that if that was true and such was their mission then the whole Dura Du community should be in custody by now.
Also the Leadership of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), Plateau District Church Council Fellowship, on Tuesday, cautioned the Nigeria Army against any act that could further truncate the already fragile peace in Jos and some parts of Plateau State.
Chairman of ECWA Plateau DCC Fellowship, Rev Dr David Laje, in a press statement, signed and issued to Journalists in Jos, said any act that could bring back the memory of the military action in Zakki Biam in Benue State some years ago, should be avoided at all cost.
“However, the church is sounding the caution against the plans by the military to go to any length in tracing or otherwise, the whereabouts of its retired top military officer, who has not been seen or heard from since the last couple of days, while we condemn any act by individuals or groups suspected to have a hand in the disappearance of the retired Army General.
“We call on the military to allow the police use its expertise in investigation to fish out those that may know or have anything to do with the incident and treat same appropriately without getting innocent members of the community affected.”
The statement also cautioned the military to note that the same community has lost over 18 members through attacks from unknown gunmen few days ago and no one is asking any question about fishing out the culprits.
The church however appealed to people of the state to live in peace with one another and avoid taking the law into their hands whenever there is misunderstanding.
Further more, the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) on Monday, called on the Nigerian Army not to relent in its effort to uncover those behind the killings in Plateau.
The JNI Secretary General, Dr Khalid Aliyu, said at a press conference that all those found involved must be punished.
He said: “the JNI is perplexed and very much concerned over the unfortunate mayhem that resurfaced in Jos and its environs despite series of reinforcement for peaceful coexistence on the Plateau.
“We therefore condemn the dastardly acts, commiserate with those that have lost their loved ones and wish speedy recovery to all injured.” Aliyu however, expressed concern over what he called kid glove treatment given to residents of Du Community of Jos South Local Government in spite of “glaring evidences of mass murder.”
He noted that the recent discovery of General Idris Alkali’s vehicle, other vehicles and some dead bodies in the Du pond showed that people have lost their humanity.
“Where is the humanity in us? We cannot be religious without being humane”, he said. The JNI secretary general also condemned the reaction of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Sen Jonah Jang to the discoveries made by the Army, saying their support to the heinous killings was unfortunate and irresponsible. “Their vituperations are like that of an irresponsible opposition political party. “We are however compelled to think that the unwarranted hate ladened opinions expressed by them are more of their misguided sentiments.” He called on the Federal Government to investigate a former governor of the state believed to have armed some tribal groups in Plateau to continue with the reoccurring crisis there.
He added that the alleged hate speeches by CAN and Jang, “are not a true reflection of Nigerian Christians as there are many good Christians in Nigeria.”
JNI decried the silence of many local and international human rights as well as civil society organisations on the matter, describing their silence as ” hypocritical and double faced”.
The secretary general urged the government to go beyond mere condemnation of incidences and act swiftly in restoring law and order, especially in legendary troubled areas.
He added that committed experts of Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR) should be involved in mopping-up arms from all and sundry on the Plateau and called on Muslims residing on the Plateau to be steadfast with supplication and urged all the people of Plateau to join hands and make the state peaceful and the tourist attraction centre it used to be.
“We wish to call on the security agencies to shun all forms of biases and discrimination in the discharge of their statutory responsibilities”, he said.
Similarly, the chief of army staff (COAS), Lt General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, has held Plateau elders and elite culpable for stoking the incessant and repeated violent clashes and their escalation in the state. The chief of army staff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, has sworn that everything would be done to ensure security of lives and property in the country.
He revealed that the body language of the elite and elders, their actions and inactions, have emboldened the youth to maim and kill innocent passers-by at their whims and caprices.
The chief of army staff, who was represented by the Commander, Special Task Force (STF) code named Operation Safe Haven (OPSH) in charge of security in Plateau, Bauchi and some part of southern Kaduna, Major-General Augustine Agundu, stated this at the burial ceremony of the three soldiers that were recently brutally killed in Barkin Ladi area of the state on September 6, 2018.
According to him, “OPSH effectively came into force on 21 January, 2010 but the crises on the Plateau has lingered prior to the establishment of the operation in 2000/2001 with vulnerable persons bearing the brunt of the crises. In recent times, the bane of the crises has revolved around total act of criminality by some unguided and irate youths mostly under the influence of hard substances. “It is evident that these youths are supported by a section of the elites/elders bearing their inability to encourage them to eschew violence resulting in the absence of any tangible progress towards peace. He further stressed that “the actions or inactions of the elders can be classified as one of the contributory sources that have rather emboldened the youths to maim and kill innocent passers-by at their whims and caprices. Human dignity has lost its value on the Plateau. The troops of OPSH like all service personnel are officially detailed to Plateau State to perform the duties upon which they swore an oath to serve the nation.”
Buratai said that recently, the mere presence of troops served as a deterrent to the warring parties to toe the path of law and order, but unfortunately service personnel are increasingly becoming victims of internal strife and most often, their success stories go unnoticed. “It is evident that there exists armed ethnic militia groups sponsored or supported by some elites and elders who deploy the misguided youths into committing the worst of heinous crimes. There is certainly no constitutional provision that allows civilians to bear firearms but their possession has become a well sort-out vocation here in the Plateau. “The DHQ Special Force (SF) Team was deployed to OPSH on 25 June 2018 as a result of the growing insecurity and lawlessness in some communities of Barkin Ladi LGA in Plateau State. Indeed, their deployment in OPSH greatly assisted in bringing normalcy to the area as well as creating an enabling environment for people to go about their normal lives.” He said the avoidable incident of 6 September 2018 led to the death of the gallant soldiers who battled the armed militias in order to save the communities that were under attack.
“This is why we are gathered here this morning to pay our tributes to these gallant heroes who died in the search for peace on the Plateau. It is with grief-stricken heart and profound sense of loss of these soldiers, who are fathers and husbands that I commiserate with the families over the tragic loss of our dear soldiers.
“The DHQ SF Team, OPSH and the Armed Forces of Nigeria have lost one of their fearless SF soldiers that exhibited courage and steadfastness even unto death and in the search for peace on the Plateau.
“May their names be written in heavenly places as men of honour whose only offense is their willingness to serve the Federal Government of Nigeria as soldiers. As your candle dims this day, be rest assured that we, the living, will work assiduously to restore peace on the Plateau, for which you died adding that their deaths shall never be in vain.
A member of our Union, a reporter of the Punch Newspaper, was arrested alongside other persons by the army and was detained for 28 hours in Rukuba Barracks as part of the search
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