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BLOOD ON THE PLATEAU (3): A full-scale conflict is brewing
EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece was first published in 2013 by Flair Nigeria. The ICIR is reproducing the five-part series in the light of the resurgence of killings in Plateau State, to help readers understand the genesis, depth, brutality and possible solutions to violence in the state.
In the third part of this series, ‘FISAYO SOYOMBO writes on the implications of the killings in Plateau for the state, adjoining states, and the rest of the country.
Daniel Choji is clearly angry. It is almost 24 hours since he has known no peace. From the previous day when he received an emergency call from his brother, Choji has been up and about, running helter-skelter from a place to another. In the end, his efforts came to naught.
At about 9pm on Wednesday, December 17, 2013, gunmen believed to be Fulani had broken into a compound in Larwin Village in Heipang District, firing bullets into the rooms. Five people — four of whom were under five years old — died instantly. Choji’s five-year-old nephew, Jerry Dalyop, tenaciously clung on to his life, but his survival turned out to be momentary. The following day, his bubbling light dimmed — eternally. However, his father, grandmother and step sister, who were also injured, made it.
“On arriving Plateau Hospital, the doctors gave their all. I must commend them,” begins Choji, 41, anger plastered all over his face. “They operated upon Jerry, his sister and his grandmother.”
He survived the operation but by the morning of the following day, his condition went downhill. The doctors responded by placing him on oxygen, which only extended his life by a little over two hours.
“At about 12pm when I returned to the hospital, I was told he had given up the ghost, because it was a very severe injury,” says Choji, eyes momentarily racing towards the gravedigger heaping sand on Jerry’s recently-lowered remains.
“He was shot across his stomach in a manner that exposed his internal organs. The bullet pierced his stomach from one side to the other, such that his large and small intestines were exposed. The doctors tried everything to fix the intestines back, but the boy couldn’t just survive it.”
Gravedigger heaping earth on the remains of Choji’s five-year-old nephew
MILITANCY IN THE OFFING
Jerry’s death that morning brought the casualty figure from the previous day’s raid to six. Counting from January, it was at least the 535th death. With claims of unreported or underestimated killings, it is highly likely that the real figure is higher. For Choji, these killings cannot continue forever. Soon, he fears, the Berom, who are worst hit by the attacks, will have to take up arms in self-defence.
“If the government would allow these killings to continue like this, it must be noted that the Niger Delta does not have monopoly of militancy, neither the Boko Haram,” he warns, because “the victims and their families are all human beings with blood flowing in their veins. What is building up in the minds of people here on the upper plateau is what will take the Federal Government a lot of time to contain if it explodes.”
For now, Choji and co. have been quietening aggrieved Berom youths only because the prospect of raising a generation of militants is not exactly fascinating. With children and youth observing the appalling daily butchery of their friends, families and classmates, a full-blown militant response will be inevitable, sooner or later.
“All the villages are surrounded by mass burial grounds,” he says, “and I am telling you that this is sending a serious dangerous signal to the Federal Government, because by the time you push these people to the wall, by the time the Berom people react, Boko Haram and Niger Delta militancy would be child’s play.”
‘THERE WILL BE CONSEQUENCES’
Halting years of Niger Delta insurrection and guerrilla warfare that undermined the country’s oil production capacities and resulted in the approximately 2,500 deaths took the Federal Government almost two decades, with President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s introduction of the Presidential Amnesty Programme for militants in 2010. Meanwhile, Boko Haram, an Islamist sect, has been attacking state officers, security agents, Christians, students and other public-interest targets since 2009, killing more than 10,000 people.
How long it will take for the patience of the Berom to peter out, Choji cannot say, but he knows “it will be in a very short while”. And this full-scale conflict, when it erupts, is one he believes his people will win — resoundingly.
“I am telling you [that] the Berom people have never been conquered, right from time immemorial,” he boasts. “And even though the Federal Government is watching, we cannot be conquered, because we are true descendants of our progenitors. We inherited everything from them.”
A VILLAGE WITHOUT ITS PEOPLE
“My name is Danladi Pasayashi,” he introduces himself slickly, evoking memories of Daniel Passarella, the legendary captain of the Argentine national team that won the 1978 FIFA World Cup.
At 63 and having lived in Kukah Village for nearly half of those years, he considers himself an authority on its matters. And he says never has Kukah been this desolate. In all, 21 villagers were murdered between April and November 2013. But since the latest assault three months ago, there have been mass exoduses by people who believe that since government gives no hoot about them, it is only a matter of time before they are slaughtered. Now, a village once inhabited by more than 5,000 people is left with less than a hundred.
This mad rush to leave, he explains, has been kindled by the reluctant acceptance of the military’s inability to match the attackers, either for number or for sophistication of weapons. For example, in the operation of November 27, 2013, which began at about 4am, nine soldiers had the unenviable task of curtailing an invasion by more than 300 attackers. So, rather than fight, they retreated, watching helplessly as buildings were razed, five people were killed, and many were injured.
“I was in the farm at the time when I started hearing gunshots,” Danladi recalls. “When I ran home, I saw that many houses as well as the yam market had been burnt. The attackers were firing gunshots with engine machine guns, Ak47, and G3. I saw them. There was nothing nine soldiers could have done.”
The attackers did not flee until soldiers from Serkin Kudun intervened to bolster the initial nine. Well, the villagers have since been proving they can also flee.
“People are just fleeing this town now, especially since there was no response from either the state or federal government on this issue,” says Dandladi, who is himself only biding his time in Kukah. “Even those of us left here are just waiting to leave. We are appealing to the Federal Government and the Plateau State government to look urgently into this matter, because Fulani people are still grouping with Muslims to launch another attack on the remaining Christians here.”
CHILDREN AND WOMEN EVACUATED
In the compound of Obadiah Bolka — his nonagenarian grandfather, Abednego Nana and 22-year-old brother, Chorbis Nanan were killed — inhabited by more than 100 people at the turn of the year, only five remain. “Those of us living here in the village are feeling the killings very hard,” he says. “We had to evacuate all the children and women outside the village.”
Since the killing of his grandfather, the only great grandfather in the entire village, everyone in the compound suddenly developed the insecure feeling that they had been spotlighted by attackers. By the end of January 2014, he is sure, no one will be left behind in the compound.
“We are only here to harvest our leftover crops,” he reveals. “If government continues to ignore us, all of us will run away in January. And in our compound, we have already concluded that government will not come to our aid.”
The forced emigration of about 4,500 people from Kukah Village in less than a year can be a mini-model upon which to estimate the annual emigration and displacement of people from the villages of Plateau in 2013, and in preceding years. Luckily, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) already saved the public the mathematics. According to an April 2013 report signed by Abdulsalam Mohammed, its North-Central Coordinator, 11,434 people were displaced in Wase and Bokkos Local Governments by communal killings in the previous month.
In a second report the same month — compiled in cooperation with the Plateau State Emergency Management Agency (PSEMA), Nigerian Red Cross Society, Nigeria Police Force, and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) — NEMA said 12,051 people had been displaced in Barkin Ladi, Riyom, Bokkos and Wase Local Governments.
“Most of the displaced persons were found to be women and children while the men had either been killed or [had] run away for safety,” states a part of the report, which names churches, mosques, schools, health centres, market squares and palaces of traditional rulers as places where camps have been erected for the victims.
TERRIBLY BAD NEWS
With her decades of community engagement experience, Victoria Ohaeri, Executive Director of non-profit human rights organisation, Spaces for Change(S4C), understands that the trend of displacement and emigration from Plateau State portends serious consequences for the security and socioeconomic stability of the country.
“These displacements increase the ease with which youths can be recruited as insurgents,” she says. “And for an already-insecure northern region with a dense population of unemployed youths, these displacements are terribly bad news.”
It is equally terrible news for a country with a youth unemployment rate officially believed to be 54 per cent, but which, according to Ohaeri, grossly underestimates and contrasts the reality on ground. To add the displaced from Plateau to this rate is a regression the country can ill-afford.
PLATEAU KILLINGS STOKING RESTIVENESS IN THE NORTH
“These displaced persons have been stripped of their sources of livelihood, so they have so much time in their hands to engage in criminalities,” she says. “We all may ignore the tragedy going on in Plateau, but no one knows who the next victim of the resultant criminalities would be.”
For the governments of the adjoining states of Bauchi, Kaduna, Nasarawa and Taraba, where the hordes of Plateau emigrants are thronging, there is an impending resource stress, particularly housing.
As Ohaeri notes, Nigeria currently has a deficit of 17million housing units, meaning 17 million houses are still required to adequately accommodate all of the country’s population. “Now, when you have these hundreds of thousands migrating from Plateau elsewhere, there is clearly a housing stress for their host communities,” she says, “and there is little to suggest that these host states have the resources to accommodate the emigrants.”
These are fears that Daniel Zitta, a displaced person from Kadarko Village in Langtang Local Government, confirmed earlier, saying: “We are 10 in a single room.”
There is again the risk of sexual crimes against women fleeing from danger zones, as they are likely to be held back in unsafe locations. “Displaced women are usually at risk of rape and other forms of sexual assault,” Ohaeri adds. “A number of displaced women who slept in primary schools after the demolition of Makoko in Lagos were raped. It is too early to forget those girls who were raped in Markurdi, Benue State, at officially designated relief camps for displaced victims of flooding.”
By failing to curtail the killings, Plateau State is as well implicitly stripping itself of its resources, courtesy of a shrink in revenue-generating opportunities, from business to tourism. In his piece, The Cost of Jos Crisis, Olisemeka Obeche of The Economy notes the damage to “economic life and social activities”, with tens of industries shutting down and the leftovers operating at “less than 10 per cent of installed capacities.” He writes, too, that “an ominous, dark cloud hovers over the tourism industry” — a huge revenue earner for the state.
Although there is an overwhelming misconception about the parts of the state affected by the killings — attacks are mainly in the villages and not in Jos city as widely believed — the idea of Jos or Plateau State as a whole is generally repulsive to potential investors.
The importance of all these pecuniary factors pales in comparison to other factors that will certainly define the future of Plateau State, as underscored by Gad Peter, Director of Centre for the Advocacy of Justice and Rights (CAJR).
“…children are the future of the society”, Peter said in April 2012. “But we are gradually producing a generation of children that knows nothing about peaceful co-existence, value for human life, respect for law and order.”
That, in blunt terms — and as Daniel Choji frankly suggested — is why Plateau is sitting on a keg of gunpowder.