How farmer-herder clashes are fueling insecurity in Plateau

PLATEAU State slogan is ‘Home of Peace and Tourism,’ but none of these words  tell the true story of the state.

There has not been peace; many have been forced out of their homes, and tourists are afraid to ply roads in the state.

For many years, Fulani herders and other ethnic groups in the state have continued to engage in violent clashes over trespass on farmlands and the killing of cows.

These clashes have claimed several lives and property of various ethnic groups and have left the state in security crises.

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Between July 31 to August 2, gunmen suspected to be Fulani herders invaded communities in Bassa and Riyom local government areas of Plateau State.

At least 17 persons were killed, and over 250 houses were burnt during the attack that lasted for over five hours.

Two days after, youths and sympathisers of victims of the attacked communities hit the streets to protest the attacks and alleged silence of the government.

Two trucks were burnt around the Gada Biyu area. At the same time, residents erected checkpoints to stop and search commuters, and blocked the Unguwan Rukuba area of the city before security operatives dispersed them.

On their way for a mass burial of the victims of the attack on Saturday the 15th, the Irigwe group said they were turned back by the Police in the community who told them not to pass through Rukuba Road on the grounds that it was not secure.

Three hours later, some Muslim Fulani group travelling in a convoy through the Rukuba route from Bauchi to Ondo State were attacked. The police said 20 persons were killed while 40 were still missing.

Who carried out the attack?

According to the Plateau Police Command, the attack was carried out by men suspected to be Irigwe militia.

The Police said in a statement that the attackers were suspected Irigwe youths and not ‘bandits.’

Chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) Muhammad Nuru Abdullah told The ICIR that it was beyond suspicion that Irigwe youths carried out the attack, saying that his group was sure of that.

“On that very day, our indigenous people who are using the same road were on the road and they saw some of them who were killing the Fulanis and they were able to recognise them by their names and villages,” Nuru said.

He noted that a leader in Irigwe called someone in his community and informed him that the Irigwe  youths had killed Fulanis.

Nuru refused to give the name of the Irigwe leader who made the call and the name of the person he called. He said the name of the persons in the conversation had been given to the Police for investigation.

According to a resident of Jos, the Irigwe youth saw a convoy of Fulani militia with weapons headed to their burial site. The youth, who were in their numbers, attacked the Fulani militias and killed some of them.

However, the Irigwe ethnic group has denied their involvement in the attack, saying they only went out to bury their own people.

National President of Irigwe Development Association Robert Ashi Dodo, in an interview with The ICIR, said it was a false accusation.

“Our youths were not there, we were burying our dead who suffered the previous attacks. Our youths were not there, we did not even follow that path to the burial of our people in the village. We were led by the Police in the procession of the burial,” Dodo said.

He also denied allegations that it was a reprisal attack two weeks before the fresh attack that took place on Saturday.

“We have always contacted the Police whenever we have any attack. We have never, in anyway, tell anybody to retaliate, it is not in our character. It is unimaginable that someone would label us with such an allegation. Despite the burning of our houses, the destruction of our crops and killing of our people, we have never done anything to retaliate,” Dodo further said.

The Irigwe President Ezekiel Bini also denied that his group carried out the attack, insisting that they were at the mortuary when the attack on the Fulani people took place.

“At first, we were on that road before the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of the area told us to turn back that the Rukuba Road was not secure, and we did so in the company of the Police. Those claims are just accusations because they felt that we were out around that place on that day.

“In fact, when that thing was happening, we were already at the mortuary. We were at the mortuary around 7am but before we left the mortuary, it was around 9 to 10 am while the attack happened around 7-8am,” Bini said.

The Police said they had arrested about 33 persons suspected to be involved in the attack as the investigation was still ongoing.

Three days after, five persons were killed by gunmen in Tafi-Gana, a village in the Bassa Local Government Area.

Bini told The ICIR that suspected Fulani herders carried out the attack after the Saturday incident.

“As I am speaking to you now, we have five corpses lying down killed by the Fulani in a village called Tafi Gana that they invaded yesterday night when the rain was falling. We are still going round to check for more,” Bini said.

He also said that the Fulani herders had abducted two young boys in one of their communities, and they were still missing.

Farmers/herders clashes rejuvenate ethnic conflicts in Plateau

Since the early 2000s, Plateau State has been at the centre of ethnic conflicts in  Nigeria.

The state consists of more than 40 ethnolinguistic groups, some of which are: Berom, Afizere, Amo, Anaguta, Aten, Bogghom, Buji, Challa, Chip, Fier, Gashish, Goemai, Irigwe, Jarawa, Jukun, Kofyar, Montol, Mushere, Mupun, Mwaghavul, Ngas, Piapung, Pyem, Ron-Kulere, Bache, Talet, Tarok, Youm and Fulani/Kanuri in Wase.

But there have been clashes between the ethnic groups regarding who is to be considered a ‘true indigene’ or first settler in Plateau State.

In 2015, the attacks between the ethnic groups were reduced through various dialogues and initiatives by the state government.

However, they have again erupted majorly due to clashes between Fulani herders, who are majorly Muslims and Irigwe farmers, majorly Christians.

The Fulani herders said since 2015, 83 of their members had been killed by alleged Irigwe youths in Plateau State. They said most of attacks had occurred in late 2020 till date, according to a document shared with The ICIR by the herders’ group.

They also alleged that the Irigwe farmers had killed about 1,478 cows that belonged to the herders.

Chairman of the Gan Allah Fulani Development Association of Nigeria (GAFDAN) Garba Muhammad Abdullahi told The ICIR that the clashes had been ongoing for years.

He said when herders were grazing on some farms, farmers would attack and kill them, resulting in several reprisal attacks.

“Some of the herders lose their whole herds of cows and they have no other trade, no education. Everything that concerns the herder’s life is centred on the cows and they can be eliminated in one day, If that person is not a godly-minded person, it means that we have added another terrorist to the ones we already have. These are the issues causing the clashes,” Abdullah said.

On their own part, the Irigwe groups said they had lost 80 of their members to herder attacks between July and August this year.

The Irigwe Youth Development Chairman Dodo said the group was still working on a comprehensive list of all its members allegedly killed by the Fulani herders.

He said the herders had killed Maiyanga, 17; Kangbro, 11; Kikoba, 7; Kigam , 10 ; Ri-geh, 2; Dundu, 1; Kwall, 5; Kishisho, 7; Angwan Magaji, 9; Kpara, 2 ; Nche Tahu, 4; and Tafi gana, 5, between July and August.

Government treating us as second class citizens – Irigwe

The Irigwe group accused the government and security agencies of neglecting and treating them as second-class citizens.

The Irigwe president said since February, they had witnessed several violent attacks from Fulani herders.

Bini further said that Fulani herders had burned down about 13 villages belonging to the Irigwe while many of his relatives had been killed.

“The Fulani have been killing our people almost on daily basis and the problem we have is that the government is just keeping quiet about the whole issue. Up till now, none of the government officials have come to our community to commiserate with our people.

“Nobody imposed a curfew when we were attacked. It is quite unfortunate that some people are being treated like first-class citizens while some are treated like second-class citizens,” Bini said.

He also noted that it was obvious because of the strict action of the government during the Saturday attack, saying that the same government usually feigned ignorance when the Irigwe’s were killed.

“You can imagine that a village was attacked for a period of five hours, we kept calling the security agencies, but nobody could show up, even the ones that were on the ground, which is the MOPOL, they said they had not been given an order to shoot.

“The only thing they could do at that time was to tell us that everybody should find their way, and they also ran away because they have been told not to shoot,” he said.

The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) Gabriel Ubah did not respond to enquiries by The ICIR over the matter

Way forward

MACBAN Chairman Abdullahi told The ICIR that in order to create a lasting solution to the ongoing clashes between the groups, the government should compensate the victims of attacks and destroyed property.

    He also said that there were reserved routes in the state where the herders could take their cows for grazing without invading the farms of the Irigwe people.

    A Security Expert Ben Okezie said that another solution to the crisis in Plateau was the decentralisation of the Nigeria Police.

    He argued that when the Police were decentralised, they would be able to take orders from the governor and not wait for the inspector-genera to give them orders.

    “They should give the governors power to control the Police, not every time they have a problem they wmstart running to Buhari in Abuja before they can take actions,” Okezie said.

    Lukman Abolade is an Investigative reporter with The ICIR. Reach out to him via [email protected], on twitter @AboladeLAA and FB @Correction94

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