In recent times, Taraba State has witnessed several degrees of security challenges ranging from clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers to the terrorists attacks particularly in southern and central parts of the state where people get attacked and properties destroyed by unknown gunmen. VICTOR OKEKE in this report examines the alleged complicity of the security personnel to this problem.
Since the end of the Nigerian civil war, the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast and killings by the Fulani herdsmen perhaps, compete in rank as the gravest security threat and challenge to Nigeria. The Boko Haram insurgency and the herdsmen attacks have attracted the substantial deployment of the nation’s defence and intelligence establishments, as the Joint Task Force (JTF), which is comprised of the police and army, has been deployed in several affected states.
However, the main dilemma of the defence and intelligence establishments in responding effectively to the security challenge posed by the Fulani herdsmen is the absence of mutual confidence amongst them and loss of public trust.
For example, the Governor of Taraba State, Darius Ishaku, has on occasions accused the federal government and the Military of allowing his state to be immersed in security challenges by refusing to act when reports of security threats were brought to them.
According to the state government, the military were aware of the security threats as well as soldiers’ misconduct in the state, but chose to toe the path of denial and connivance.
“We got to a point that we started thinking that there was some kind of conspiracy from the military to sabotage the peace efforts in Taraba State because the governor did everything to make sure that the military enjoy their job and to do a good job. Yet they didn’t.”
”We were very disappointed even when the President ordered that there should be operation Ayem Akpatuma. The military came and instead of disarming the herdsmen who were armed, they decided to invade the bedrooms of law abiding citizens of the state and were collecting their machetes and kitchen knives from them, instead of collecting AK47 riffles. They were just humiliating and embarrassing people.”
Taraba State’s position is similar to what the Emir of Anka in Zamfara, Alhaji Attahiru Ahmad, echoed recently when he said that he had lost confidence in the security personnel to protect his people, thus seeking the assistance of the United Nations and the African Union.
He said this last week when the Zamfara State governor, Abdulazeez Yari paid him a condolence visit over the recent killings in the area. He expressed shock that in less than a week after President Muhammadu Buhari visited the state and charged security agents to brace up and end all forms of insecurity, insurgents still carried out mass killings.
He said he had lost confidence in the ability and commitment of the security personnel because they had failed in the discharge of their obligations to provide security to the lives and property of the law abiding residents in his domain on different occasions.
He alleged that corruption among the security agencies was the factor fuelling the security problems in the state.
Meanwhile, the Senior Special Assistant on Media to the Taraba State governor, Mr Bala Dan Abu who spoke with LEADERSHIP Friday recently recalled that there was a time when the alarm was raised about a chopper carrying arms which landed somewhere at Jibo in the state. He said alarm was on the social media; the government investigated and found it to be true but what they got from the police and army were denials and statements which rubbished that alarm that was raised.
“We issued a press statement and we called the attention of the federal government to it. The police in the state said they visited the place and saw no trace of such arms landing. That again was what they were told from Abuja to say. That is why we are saying we have lost confidence in the security apparatus under the control of the federal government. When you give them information, they will turn around and deny any knowledge of it,” he said.
He narrated that a few days later, the government discovered that the arms that came into the state were being used to kill the people. “One of them who had about ten (10) of those guns was arrested by the police and he confessed that actually an airplane brought guns into the state and they had been distributed and very soon that they were going to be using them. Then, the killings started again around that axis where the plane landed.”
“The same police that said they didn’t see anything arrested these people and never did anything,” he said.
According to the governor’s spokesman, “All of these things create the impression that there is conspiracy from the top to kill the people and that is why some people have been raising the alarm and I’m sure that was part of what led to what the elder statesman, T.Y Danjuma said recently during the convocation ceremony of the Taraba State University.”
Last week, former defence minister and revered elder statesman, Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, charged Nigerians to rise and defend themselves against attacks by marauding herdsmen in some parts of the country, or continue to suffer casualties.
“You must rise to protect yourselves from these people; if you depend on the armed forces to protect you, you will all die. I ask all of you to be on the alert and defend your country, defend your state,” he said.
Some classified letters obtained by LEADERSHIP Friday in the course of its investigation show that the state government had on several occasions, communicated to the federal government and security agencies about the poor security architecture of the state with little or no responses.
For instance, the Taraba State governor had on 14th February 2017 written to the Inspector General of Police, requesting the deployment of a mobile police squadron to Takum local government area. He said in the letter that most of the criminal elements operating within the southern part of the state are arrested within the axis of the police squad in Takum.
Surprisingly, there is a military battalion in Takum. Early this year, the member representing Takum I constituency in the Taraba State House of Assembly, Hosea Ibi, who was abducted by unknown gunmen was later found brutally murdered and thrown into a roadside water drainage.
And to the dismay of everyone, the house from which he was abducted was just opposite the military barracks in Takum.
Again, the governor of Taraba State in a letter dated 18th May 2017 to the Chief of Army Staff alerted the army on the need to flush out criminal elements operating in some forest areas in the state.
At this time, Taraba had become the area where some of the Boko Haram members leaving Sambisa Forest would run into. The letter specifically mentioned these forest locations including those in Donga and Bali local government areas.
Worthy of note in the letter is the governor’s displeasure over some settlements in the famous Gashaka Gumti National Park which is the biggest forest in West Africa. The forest which has witnessed several years of federal government’s neglect under whose management the park is, is now gradually becoming the entry point for Sambisa returnees.
This too suffered the fate of many other distress calls sent to the security agencies as it was neither responded to nor acted upon.
On August 11, 2017, the governor also in a letter written to the National Security Adviser complained against the commanding officer in charge of the 83 Battalion of the Nigerian Army, Adabra in Taraba State, LT. Col. Ibrahim Gambari and requested that he should be transferred out of the battalion since they have since lost confidence in the ability of the army under his command to secure the state.
This battle for peace in Taraba has been on for a very long time. It started with the problem of grazing leading to the destruction of farm lands and crops. Taraba people are mainly farmers with a significant minority of Fulani people who tend to cattle.
Abu said to address this new challenge, the government in Taraba enacted the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, saying, “The emphasis of the law is to ensure that herdsmen don’t wander around anymore.
“The concept of ranching is not even strange especially in the Mambilla area of Taraba where ranching has been in practice for many years even though the ranches are not the modern styles seen in Europe. But the new government proposal will see the building of modern ranches fitted with facilities like water, grass, veterinary clinics and even schools for their children.”
According to the Special Assistant to the governor, “the idea is that if they stay in one place, the cattle will grow better and fatter and produce more milk. There is a plan establish a dairy factory that will use milk derived from those cows.
“Unfortunately and to the surprise of everybody, a few people are saying that they don’t want it. It is not even the herdsmen that we know that are saying no, but the elite Fulani people most of whom are outside the state. They are the ones providing the arms and ammunitions with which to fight and kill people to show their rejection of the law,” Bala Abu said.
“But there are some Fulani people who are highly placed who understand this project and have called the governor personally to support it but they are afraid to openly come out to say they like it because of the politicization of the idea. The government does not intend to back out; the law is in force and is going to be implanted.”
He, however, explained that the governor has said the law would be implanted gradually so that people do not suffer unnecessarily, so as not to give those opposed to it a room to say that the government is unmindful.
“Already, plans are on the way to establish three pilot ranches in the state. The people who are opposed to this are not the herdsmen that we know because the herdsmen have lived with the farmers for so many years and their relationship has been mutually beneficial. The farmers need the cattle to stay on their farm and fertilize their crops while the herders want their cattle to eat from the left over of the crops.”
“The herders that now attack the farmers are not the Fulani people that the farmers have lived with for many years. They are Fulani militia men who are armed by money-men outside the state and who has an agenda that is beyond what the herdsmen actually need to ply their trade,” he said.
He added that the motive of militia group is that of territorial expansion. They want to acquire people’s land and make them their own. In some places where they have killed people, they come to the place and takeover the territory of the ‘conquered’.
“The soldiers have not been able to secure the place and that is our reasons against them. Each time the herdsmen come attacking, the soldiers look the other way and don’t protect the victims. Thus, people are scared and would rather prefer to stay in IDP camps than return to the place and be killed,” Abu said.
Indeed, it is the view of experts that security is key to any meaningful development the world over.