Since the early 2000s, Plateau State has witnessed several violent communal clashes that claimed more than a thousand lives. Yet, the conflicts are unresolved due to the failure of government at federal and state levels. More than a hundred lives and properties have been lost in fresh attacks by ethnic groups. The ICIR’s Lukman ABOLADE visited the state to track the triggers of the intercommunal strifes.
MARIO Gado sat on a chair wearing a polo top and Ankara wrappers with a long red scarf which she constantly used to wipe her tears. She had not spoken a word for many hours – her eyes were red and moist because of hours of crying.
Gado had just lost her husband, Ruvo Gado, in an attack orchestrated by suspected herders the previous evening.
Two sons, who were with her husband during the attack, were admitted to two hospitals due to their gun wounds. But Gardo was too overwhelmed with a sense of loss to narrate the tragedy. Instead, it was her neighbour, Josephine Chaye, who spoke to The ICIR.
Each time she attempted to talk, Maria cried inconsolably. Her pain was fresh because her two sons, who were with her husband, were also attacked and admitted to the hospitals. The two narrowly escaped the attack but had gun wounds.
How it happened
According to Chaye, the family of four were on their way to the farm where they cultivated Irish potatoes and maize in Nkiedowro, Bassa Local Government Area of Plateau State.
Since the only family motorcycle could not transport everyone from their home in Miango to Nkiedowro, the men mounted the bike while Maria trekked, hoping to catch up with them at the farm.
But not long after her husband zoomed off with the bike, she heard sporadic gunshots from a distance. At the farm, the mother of two found her husband lying lifeless in the pool of his blood.
“While walking behind to join the family at the farm; she heard a gunshot, next minutes her husband was dead and her sons wounded,” her neighbour said.
Rimia Gado, her nine-year-old son, was shot thrice – on the hand, right hip and foot. The older son, Jonathan Gado, 25, was also shot twice.
When asked for details of how it happened, Maria could only respond with more tears and no words.
On that same day, in nearby Tafi-Gana village, 50-year-old Adamu Rangu was also attacked by suspected herders while working on his farm.
He owned two hectares of land where he cultivated maize to feed his eight children and wife.
On the day of the attack, his wife, Maria Adamu, said she heard gunshots from a part of the farm where her husband was working; she knew it could only be him. It was just the two of them on the farm, and her husband did not own a gun.
When she went to check what had happened, she fainted because of shock. Her husband had not only been killed but was also beheaded, and the killers went away with his head.
She was later rescued by passersby, almost an hour after the incident.
The case of the Gado and Adamu families is just two of the recent violent attacks in Plateau State.
In Mangu town, 63-year-old Maryam Musa lost her husband Adamu Musa, three sons and her grandchild in less than 24 hours.
Police operatives branded her children and grandson kidnappers, and killed them. A few hours later, her husband who was coming home with his cattle was attacked by some youths.
“Three of my children, my husband and my grandchild were killed. I’ve been traumatised by the incident, and I’m ill now. I can’t sleep without having thoughts of them,” Mariam said.
She told The ICIR that the youths who killed her husband, also burnt his body.
“I had told him (her husband) I was going to see the police so they could killed me too. The moment I took a bike, the following morning, I was told that my husband was nowhere to be seen, he was killed and set ablaze,” she said.
Maryam added that some of the youths who saw the attack on her husband identified her husband’s killers as Suwul Yakubu Cha, Mathew Leta, Dabung Lumut, Sunday Posat, Pius Shatan Armak, Francis Dogo, Ezra Pinper and Nashon Shetan Armak.
Maryam further said that although she has reported to the local police authority in Mangu, no step has been taken to apprehend her husband’s killers.
The Jebbu-Miango’s attack
One of the towns that came under attack was Jebbu-Miango town in Bassa Local Government Area, 20 kilometres from Jos, the state capital. Residents of the town are primarily Irigwe natives. Most of them are farmers, but tribal conflicts have made the community inhabitable for the residents despite the heavy presence of the military.
On Friday, August 2, Musa Daare and his family had just returned from their farm located in the outskirts of Jebbu-Miango. He was exhausted from the day’s work and laid in his inner room to rest awhile, but his rest was cut short by sounds of gunshots from herders.
“They are here again; everybody come out!” Musa said he heard some residents raise the alarm in the Irigwe dialect commonly spoken in the community.
He quickly gathered his four children and wife, some of their clothes, and the remaining N10,000 he made from selling potatoes and ran for his life.
Two days after the attack, he returned to Jebbu-Miango, but the town was desolate.. All of Musa’s properties were gone.
“When we came back, I saw that they burnt all my properties, I don’t have anything again.
“For over a month now, I have not been with my wife and children. My wife has gone to stay with her family, and my children now live with one of my friends,” Musa narrated his ordeal.
There was no one to console him because other residents were also busy counting their losses.
Across Musa’s burnt house was John Nugu, who owned a three-bedroom flat where he lived with his wife and six children.
Like every other resident of Jebbu-Miango, his house was also burnt, and his family has been displaced.
“They came in a large number, burning our houses, after grazing on our lands and stealing some of our properties. But we have left them to God,” Nugu said.
Nugu said he now spends the night in an abandoned classroom with his wife and children.
Three hours attack with no intervention from security operatives
The ICIR gathered from sources and residents that the attack on Jebbu-Miango and other neighbouring villages lasted for more than three hours. Still, there was no intervention from security operatives.
Due to its history of violent clashes, Operation Safe Haven was established to provide security in Plateau State.
It comprises the Nigerian Army, Navy, Airforce, Police Force, Nigerian Security Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), and State Security Services (SSS). The forces are saddled with securing and maintaining peace in Plateau State.
But on the day of the attack, residents said they were nowhere to be found.
Moris Kadia, Jebbu-Miango community physician, who lost his clinic to the attack, told The ICIR that one army officer and a Mobile Police Officer with Operation Safe Haven ran away and left their motorcycle in the community.
“When we asked them why they did not fight back against the attackers, they said their superiors told them not to shoot anybody,” Kadia said.
He said rather than prevent the attackers from burning houses; the security operatives told them to run for their lives.
Other residents of Jebbu-Miango interviewed by The ICIR confirmed that Operation Safe Haven did not intervene or stop the attackers. The Jebbu-Miango community is about two minutes drive from the rear gate of the military division.
The military division is the headquarters of the Nigerian Armoured Division 3, Rukuba Cantonment. With the proximity to the Army division, the soldiers could not have missed the sound of gunshots or the burning fire set on residents’ houses in Jebbu-Miango, the residents argued.
Also, ten minutes away from Jebbu Miango is Miango town, where a police post is located. But the police also did not intervene or attempt to rescue the people of and other neighbouring communities that day.
Although there was no police station in the community, the makeshift police post in the community had no personnel of the Nigeria Police.
Spokesperson for Operation Safe Haven, Ishaku Sebastine Takwa, told The ICIR that it was not true that officers did not intervene in the attack.
Takwa said while he could not speak for Division 3 close to Jebbu-Miango, officers of Operation Safe Haven intervened.
“We intervened; our officers launched an assault on them till they ran into the bush and escaped, even one of our officers was shot,” he said.
Although Operation Safe Haven claimed to have intervened in the attack, The ICIR learnt that none of the attackers was killed.
Also, the operation has not apprehended anyone in connection to the attack since filing this report.
This laxity has caused the Irigwe indigenes to accuse the government of treating them as second class citizens in their state.
Arshi Dodo Robert, President of the Irigwe Development Association, said when Fulani travellers were killed recently in the state, the Plateau State command released a statement saying the attack was perpetrated by ‘suspected Irigwe militants’, but in cases that involved them, the police would be silent.
After the most recent attack, The ICIR counted more than 300 houses burnt across communities in Jebbu-Miango and other neighbouring communities.
The community is currently deserted. Most of the residents have been displaced and now live with friends and relatives in nearby communities.
The ICIR also observed herders grazing their cows in many of the affected communities.
Garba Abdullahi, the spokesperson for the Gan Allah Fulani Development Association (GAFDAN), denied the allegation that Fulani herders in the state were killing and destroying farms.
He said the attacks and destruction of farms ‘could have been perpetrated by herders from other states’.
When asked why sacked communities and farms have become grazing sites for herders, Abdullahi suggested that it could be ‘assumed’ that they were sacked because the houses in the neighbourhoods were grazing routes that have been taken over by development.
Tracking the trigger of Plateau communal clashes
Although the government’s interventions through peace initiatives had significantly reduced communal clashes between the ethnic groups, especially since 2015, the crisis has recently taken another violent turn, and many lives have been lost.
The ICIR gathered that the renewed crisis was triggered on February 2, when suspected farmers in Maiyanga killed five herders and their cows.
Abdullahi told The ICIR that Usman Yakubu, Kabiru Abdul Kadir, Ibrahim Alhassan, Manga Musa and Abdullahi Tahir were carrying out their daily business when they were murdered. They were herders who lived in Maiyanga local government in Plateau state.
But for two days, they did not return home. Although Muslim traditions require that the person must be buried within 24 hours after death, this was not the case with Yakubu, Abdul Kadir, Alhasan, Musa and Tahir. Their bodies were found two days after their death.
The ICIR observed that there had been consistent attacks and destruction of farms that have claimed several lives, especially of the Irigwe indigenes since that attack.
But the GAFDAN said 17 Fulani herders also have lost their lives (excluding the 22 Fulani travellers recently killed in August) since February 2.
Figures obtained from the Irigwe Development Association show that in 2021 alone, 296 of the indigenes have been killed by herders in the state.
Beyond the damages suffered directly by the clashing ethnic groups, The ICIR counted three churches burnt during attacks by the herders. More churches were said to have been burnt in some communities now declared ‘unsafe’ by the Irigwe.
An orphanage named Tabitha Evangel Mission International in Jebbu-Miango was also destroyed.
Jumai Yakubu, a trader that resides in Maiyanga local government, has carried her family’s financial burden since the death of her husband years ago.
Her source of income has been selling Green Pepper around Maraban-Jama market, but when herders attacked her village on June 31st, they destroyed her farm where she cultivated pepper.
“They just started chasing us around, they burnt our houses, they destroyed our farms & crops and forced us to leave our homes. I’m currently living with an extended family member in Tudun Wada(Jos North).
“I only recently just started coming to the market. When we keep lamenting, we will have nothing to feed our children. The food we stored were also burnt and destroyed by the attackers,” Jumai said.
Also, Richard Adamu owns four hectares of land where he cultivates maize, soya beans and sweet potato. Adamu said it costs him about N700,000 to purchase seeds, manure and fertilisers for his business. He also employs local labourers for who he pays N1000 each day to work on his farm.
I get almost 35 bags of maize, 25 bags of sweet potatoes, and 20 bags of soya beans during harvest.
He explained that a bag of Potato is sold for N15,000 and he makes over N375,000 and over a million from selling maize.
A bag of maize is N30,000 multiplied by 35 bags, but now these herders, they put their cattle on my farm, they ate it all, and I lost all my crops. I have only harvested a small portion of the potatoes, now everything has been destroyed, the maize and soya beans, everything is gone,” Adamu said.
The economic losses do not only happen with farmers; herders in Plateau state are also losing their livestock and only source of income.
Chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria Plateau Chapter John Wuyep told The ICIR that millions have been lost to the communal clashes in the state.
He said the financial losses suffered by herders and farmers are unquantifiable because it has become a daily occurrence.
“I cannot say exactly how much because you know these clashes happen daily but millions have been lost,” Wuyep said.
According to GAFDAN, more than 500 cows have been killed or rustled by farmers in Plateau in 2021. A cow is sold for an average cost of N250,000. This amounts to about 150 million naira worth of killed or rustled cattle.
Also, the Irigwe Association said the herders have destroyed 2,700 hectares of farmland with crops during attacks and through encroachment.
Origin of the Crisis: Battle for the soul of Plateau
Plateau state is ethnically diverse, with more than 40 ethnic groups and languages.
Some of the ethnic groups in the state include the Berom, Afizere, Amo, Anaguta, Aten, Bogghom, Buji, Challa, Chip, Fier, Gashish, Goemai, Irigwe, Jarawa, Jukun, Kofyar (comprising Doemak, Kwalla, and Mernyang), Montol, Mushere, Mupun, Mwaghavul, Ngas, Piapung, Pyem, Ron-Kulere, Bache, Talet, Taroh (Tarok), Youm and Fulani/Kanuri.
Most of the groups considered themselves as ‘indigenes’ while the Hausa/Fulani were considered to be ‘settlers.’
The peace among the groups was compromised by ethnic and political interests that led to clashes over who owned Plateau.
The discord between the Fulanis, who are mostly Muslims, and indigenous settlers, mostly Christians, increased the religious intolerance.
The feud between the Hausa-Fulanis and the ‘indigenes’ could be traced to the creation of Jos North local government by the then military administration of Ibrahim Babangida.
Before the outbreak of the crisis in Plateau, Hausa-Fulanis and other ethnic groups lived peacefully in the state.
“Back then, I used to sleep in the house of a Fulani man, they were our neighbours, we both lived here [Plateau] peacefully,” Stephen Ardo, a resident of Plateau, recalled.
Muhammed Bello, a Fulani who resides in Mangu, also told The ICIR that they had a history of peaceful co-existence with the indigenes.
Some Fulani men were said to have married women from other tribes in the state and vice versa, but this peace did not last long.
Timeline of killings in Plateau
The Military administration of the then-head of state Ibrahim Babangida appointed Colonel Muhammed Mana as the Plateau State Military administrator.
Mana eventually Aminu Mato as chairman of Jos North in 1994. Babangida, Mana and Mato were from the Northeastern part of the country.
The indigenous tribes in Plateau felt their lands were being politically controlled by the Hausa/Fulani who are considered as ‘settlers’ and opposed the swearing-in of Mato as Chairman of Jos North.
Jos is divided into three parts but Jos North falls in the centre of the city and is equal to the capital of the State.
Protests and counter-protests resulted in riots in Plateau that was hitherto considered ‘Home of Peace and Tourism’.
According to a report, 83 out of the 104 rioters arrested by the police were Hausa-Fulani, about four persons were killed, public properties, most notably the popular Jos main market were also destroyed.
The crisis that sparked during the 1994 crisis created a long time of tension among the groups, resulting in another violent clash in 2000 between Christians who are indigenes and Muslims who are majorly Hausa/Fulani.
In 2000, thousands were killed during a protest by non-Muslims against Sharia law in the state.
There was also a repeat of the clashes in the year that followed due to the forlong tension. Human Rights Watch, in a report, said more than 1,000 people were killed in just six days between September 7 – 13, 2001 in Jos.
The warring parties destroyed churches, mosques, and several houses, while displaced over a thousand residents.
The communal clashes again broke out on December 30 and 31 in Vom, Turu and Vwang districts of Jos South local government, Kwali and Miango districts of Bassa LGA.
There was a recurrence in 2002, during a ward election in Naraguta community in Jos North where some Hausa/Fulani groups were killed.
In 2004, there was another communal clash. And several houses were razed down while nearly 700 people in Yelwa were e been killed during the conflict.
A committee set up to look into the Plateau state crisis between September 2001 and May 2004 reported that 53,000 persons were killed.
The Committee of Rehabilitation and Reconciliation of Internally Displaced People said in its report that almost 19,000 men and more than 17,000 women and 17,000 children had been killed during 32 months of retaliatory violence between the groups in Plateau state.
The November 27, 2008, local government election in the state again sparked violence between the groups.
A Commission of Inquiry set up by late President Umar Musa Yar’adua reported that about 312 persons were killed while 323 sustained several degrees of injuries in the 2008 attack.
Two years later, 727 persons, Muslims and Christians, were again killed between January to December 2010.
In 2011, a Human Rights Watch report also said more than 200 people had been killed and many villages burnt in reprisal killings in Plateau state.
Plateau state eventually recorded some level of peace among the ethnic groups until 2018.
Due to drought in some parts of Nigeria caused by climate change, herders heavily migrated to Plateau.
The Plateau State land is suitable for grazing due to the sufficient grass, herbage and water for cattle.
The increasing population of herders who migrated from neighbouring states like Kaduna and Bauchi led to the encroachment of farmlands owned by Plateau state residents.
It caused constant disagreements between the groups as they paid claims and counterclaims over the destruction of farms and the killing of cows.
The crisis, death and violence returned to the Plateau in June 2018; 120 persons were killed, about 50 houses were burnt across Barkin Ladi, Mangu and Riyom local government areas by suspected herders.
The communal clashes in Plateau, which started as an ethnopolitical battle, are now being tagged as Farmers/herders clashes.
From ethnicity to religion and now the farmers/herders crisis, the tags are changing, but the parties have remained the same.
Although the political and religious crisis in Plateau has now taken the form of herders-farmers clashes, the deep unresolved decades of communal conflicts are primarily responsible for it.
How government failure is causing communal clashes
Despite the killings of over 56, 200 persons and the destruction of 50 villages and 1000 houses since the inception of the communal crisis, the governments at federal and state levels have failed to get justice for the people of Plateau.
Though commissions of inquiry were set up to investigate the cause of the crisis and make recommendations, the resolutions are hardly implemented.
Between 1994 and 2018, at least nine conflict resolution committees were set up to investigate and recommend the State and Federal governments to resolve the crisis.
There were the Panels and commissions to reduce conflict in Plateau State 1994, Justice Aribiton Fiberesima Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the April 1994 Crisis 2001, Justice Niki Tobi Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the September 2001 Crisis in 2002, Justice Okpene Judicial Commission of inquiry into communal conflicts in Benue, Nassarawa, Plateau and Taraba state in 2002.
Others include Presidential Peace Initiative Committee on Plateau State headed by Shehu Idris and Emir of Zazzau in May 2004, Plateau Peace Conference (“Plateau Resolves”), 18 August-21 September 2004 2008, Federal administrative panel of inquiry into the 2008 crisis headed by Major General Emmanuel Abisoye 2008, Justice Bola Ajibola Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the November 2008 Crisis 2010, and the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Jos Crisis, headed by Solomon Lar.
A few things were common among the reports of the Committees on the cause of the conflict.
Most of them identified ownership of Jos North, Indigeneship as the root causes of the crisis among the groups. Five members of Jassawa Development Association, an alleged violent group of Hausa/Fulani, found by the judicial committees to have participated in the crisis were not prosecuted.
The Berom youths, the Tudun Wada Christian Youth Vanguard and Tudun Wada Muslim Youth, among others identified as actors of conflicts recommended for prosecution, were not prosecuted.
For instance, the Bola Ajibola Panel recommended that the government look into the damages sustained by parties for an appropriate reward.
“The Commission wishes to invoke its power in the Clause 3 (e) of its Term of Reference to put it across to the Government of Plateau State and the Federal Government of Nigeria to look into these claims to make appropriate compensations to affected persons,” the Ajibola commission report read in part. But it was not implemented.
Also, the Justice Niki Tobi Commission recommended the prosecution of some identified persons said to have played a significant role in the 2001 crisis.
All but one witness who appeared before the Commission said the then Plateau State Commissioner of Police Mohammed Dikko Abubakar was an Islamic fanatic.
The commission also found that Abubakar ‘ignored’ important information that could have curbed the escalation of the September 2001 crisis that led to the death of more than a thousand residents of the state.
Niki Tobi commission recommended the voluntary retirement or dismissal of Abubakar from the force.
“The Commission recommends that for his ignoble role during the September 2001 crisis which resulted in the loss of thousands of lives, among other losses, the former Commissioner of Police, Plateau State Command, Alhaji M.D. Abubakar, be advised to retire from the Nigeria Police Force, and in the event of his refusal to do so, he should be dismissed from the service. The Government should forward this recommendation to the Police Service Commission for consideration and necessary action,” the Niki Tobi committee report read in part.
Instead, about ten years after, he was appointed the Inspector General of Police and he was never tried for his role in the crisis.
Most of all, the recommendations of all the nine committees were never fully implemented. This has left an open wound in the minds of victims and causing a recurrence of the communal clashes.
Pathway to peace
An expert in Peace and Conflict Resolution, Chukwuemeka Emmanuel Ibeh, said the proliferation of small arms and light weapons has a significant role in the Plateau state. Ibeh said its role is due to the porous borders in Nigeria.
“The civil wars in West African countries have generated the creation of several militias. When the wars are over, they have to move their weapons or sell them, and there is an uncontrolled movement of arms into Nigeria due to porous borders,” Ibeh said.
He also attributed the problem to Nigeria’s history of indigenisation policy.
“Even in employment, you have to fill your state of origin or local government of origin, it is a constitutional issue and lack of good governance, there is no religious crisis,” Ibeh noted.
He advised the government to look into the root causes of the clashes and go beyond the surface in addressing them.
“The Fulani need lands for grazing; farmers need the protection of themselves and their farms.
“What the government should do is to establish a ranch even though it is an individual business; the government can subsidise it or give them grants. He also urged the government to educate the herders on the importance of ranching and how it is more beneficial to their business,” he said.
A Professor of African History, Peace and Conflict Studies University of Ibadan, Isaac Olawale Albert also told The ICIR that the problem in Plateau State started as ethnic, religious crisis. Now it is dominated by issues of Fulanis because they represent religion and an ethnic group.
He said the problem had lasted this long because of what he termed ‘State Failure’.
“It is State Failure because they (government) have failed to bring those who are causing these troubles to justice.
“How many people have been arrested and prosecuted? So long as people do not get arrested and prosecuted, we will have more problems,” Albert said.
He noted that the problem would continue to plague as long as the government does not perform its responsibility of maintaining law and order.
Also, the Commander Operation Safe Haven (OPSH) Ibrahim Ali has inaugurated a 36- member Joint Peace Committee to research and proffer solutions to the clashes between primarily herders and farmers in Plateau State.
Plateau State Commissioner of Information Dan Mangjang did not respond to calls and text messages from The ICIR over the issue.
This report is produced in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD).