Plateau: Time to address the carnage
BY UBAKA OKOFU
Like Kaduna, Jos Plateau has come to be a magnet for both internecine and ethno-religious conflicts. The recent killing of about 22 Moslem commuters along Rukuba road in Bassa local government Area of Plateau state has clearly shown that heavy military presence alone in that state cannot completely douse the intermittent crises currently ravaging the region.
Apparently, the calamitous killing of Saturday, the 14th of August, 2021 was not a case of mindless kidnapping. It was not a case of a dare devil armed robbery either. It was premeditated, and no term could be apt or best captured the tragic killing other than a preposterous transfer of aggression.
The people of Miango where the siege and killing which followed had taken place were still bitter. The alleged killing of over 40 of their people in a recent farmers / herders’ clash was only a catalyst. The real cause of the deeply seated animosity between the people of Miango who are predominantly Christians and those they considered to be their adversaries is the scramble for land, and the strife is as old as the Jos itself.
No doubt, Plateau state and the neighbouring Kaduna state are some of the worst hit states in terms of inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts. Plateau state had had several lethal feuds that run along historical, regional, and religious dimensions. During the era of colonial administration the state was once famous for its’ near perfect weather and climatic endowments.
As Kano was to the entire Northern region, Plateau state was by right a pelting pot in the middle berth. Tin mining was booming as it had attracted foreigners mostly Europeans to the region. Let me quickly add here that the geography of Jos was a stabilizing factor to simmering indigene and settler brouhaha. The Beroms were, and still regarded as indigenes of the state, and they are in majority in the state.
The peace enjoyed in Jos and environs during the colonial era was short lived. The state was torn into shred shortly after the demise of imperialism. The situation became worse when Nigerians assumed the front seat to oversee their own affairs. Since then, it has been one crisis or the other. The return of nascent democracy to the country in the 1990s left much to be desired. Light and heavy weapons found their way into the hands of individuals who used as mercenaries during elections. Besides, the population of the entire Northern Nigeria had doubled its initial figures and climate change was beginning to set in. All these put together exacerbated the monstrous indigene-settler divide in Plateau state.
The real problem of Plateau state is the scramble for land. Land is needed for both farming and cattle rearing . The natives are the farmers while herders are settlers from neighbouring states in search of greener grasses and water for their animals. Some had lived in the state long enough to be absorbed into the way and practice of the people and never to lay claim to indigeneship of Plateau like the Berom and other natives.
Plateau has a chequered history of deadly communal conflicts. In 2004, over 700 persons were feared dead in Yelwa alone. In 2010, the number of casualties doubled that of 2004. Yet, the indigene / settler problem persisted.
The commuters who were victims of the latest killings Irigwe district of Bassa Local Government Area were Moslems said to be returning in a convoy of five 18 seater buses from Zikr prayers in Sheikh Dahiru Usman Mosque in Bauchi state. They were reported to be heading to Ikerre in Ondo when they were intercepted by a group of Irigwe mourners from Miango community. The Irigwes were bereaved. 40 of their relations was allegedly murdered in cold blood by the marauding herders and they were to bury their dead when the five 18 seater commuter buses ran into them along Gada-Biyu stretch of the Rukuba road.
There can’t be any justification for the killing of innocent commuters. That the Irigwes were mourning their dead was not, and can never be justification for their heinous crime. Restraint would have been applied.
This brings us to the operation of Operation Safe Heaven in the state. Jos is a trouble spot, and Bassa area of Jos north is known to be a theatre of several formers and herder’s feuds in the state. Why is it that surveillance or patrol was not being carried out along the road? Why is it that it took so long before help could come to the commuters? Going by reports, automatic weapons were not used, so it must have taken some time before all 22 were stabbed or hacked to death. Again, where were men of Operation Safe Heaven ?
The federal and Plateau state government must engage the people, particularly the indigene/ settler divide. We must accept the fact that each ethnic group has rights in their region. Nevertheless, such right must be an end to a means. We must exercise such right with decorum, without unnecessarily offending those who are settlers and helping to grow our communities.