Endless war on the Plateau
Isaac Shobayo digs into the perpetual ethnic war in Plateau State, looking at the various efforts made over the years to tame the menace, ongoing peace efforts and the future of the state.
FIREWORKS over an evacuation order to Fulani residents of troubled local government areas of Plateau State last week were a clear reflection of the deep ethnic chasm that had, over the years, troubled the peace of the state.Repeated assurances from the military high command that the order was to minimise collateral civilian casualty as a major military operation was underway in the area failed to allay the fears of a deft plot at ethnic cleansing against the Fulanis.
The outcry did not really surprise keen observers of the ethno-religious character of the Plateau crisis. Indeed, Plateau State, over the years, has steadily been receding over into a state of anarchy and confusion. Its protracted crisis appears to have defied all logic. In fact, it has become a vicious cycle threatening the very foundation of the nation’s stability. The problem has spanned more than a decade now, bringing disaster to the once peaceful state. The beauty of the state is fast fading out in clear negation of its sobriquet: “Home of Peace and Tourism”.
The crises on the Plateau are spiral in nature.The pattern of the upheavals are the same and revolves around indigene and settler dichotomy predominantly in Jos, capital of the state, and the frosty relationship between the natives (Berom) and the Fulani herdsmen in other parts of the state. The state, especially its capital, had for long being experiencing crisis, but it took a frightening political dimension in 1999.
Background to the crisis
Prior to 1994, the problem was somehow internal and was treated as such, but after 1994, it was alleged that some people outside the state became interested in it, thus complicating the problem. Till date, there has been no fewer than 70 cases of communal violence recorded since 1994 in the state. The creation of Jos North Local Government Area in 1991 by former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, was the last straw signalling the beginning of endless crisis in the state.
It sowed the seed of open animosity between the Hausa-Fulani and the natives. The native Berom, Anaguata and Afizere perceived the creation of the local government as an affront and were also of the opinion that the creation of the local government gave the settlers, the Hausa/Fulani the numerical domination of the council and also made the paramount ruler, the Gbong-Gwom, to be in an area dominated by settlers. This was perceived as a grand plan by the Hausa/Fulani to control Jos.
The pent up anger soon burst in its seams as a result of the appointment of one Alhaji Aminu Mato as the chairman of the Caretaker Management Committee of the contentious Jos North Local Government Area. The appointment of Alhaji Mato, who was of the Hausa-Fulani extraction, was rejected by the natives. he rejection of the appointment sparked off a huge conflagration that consumed the state capital for 24 hours leading to the death of hundreds of people and destruction of properties.
Also contributing to the problem was the introduction of Sharia shortly after the return to civil rule in 1999 in some parts of the far North, forcing threatened indigenes of those states to relocate to Jos. As a result, all manners of people, especially the Fulani who took refuge in Jos, swelled its population and threatened the control hitherto enjoyed by the aboriginal peoples and by those in government.
The inability of the military administrations, both at the state and federal levels, then to address the issues once and for all made the crises worse, until the bubble burst, this time with greater disastrous consequences. The government’s inaction led to sporadic communal clashes for the next five years, culminating in the September 7, 2001 violence which rocked Jos and environs to their foundations. The 2001 crisis was said to have been caused by a Christian woman, Rhoda Nyam, who, while returning to her working place, was prevented from passing through a road at the Congo-Russia area of Jos where a Muslim congregation had gathered for Friday Juma’at prayers.
However, the remote cause was the inter-ethnic struggle for the control of Jos North Local Government which also has its headquarters in the state capital. The crisis lasted three days before the security agencies could bring the situation under control. Again, very many people were killed on both sides of the divide, while property worth millions of naira were destroyed, forcing a lot of people, especially businessmen, to flee the city. Since then, Plateau State has been moving from one crisis to another.
Shortly after this, the southern flank of the state also experienced a critical moment as a result of a crisis between the Fulani and the natives which later snowballed into a religious crisis that attracted international attention. Between 2000 and 2004, there were repeated bouts of violence in the southern part of the state during which people were massacred. The mode of the deadly attacks could be likened to the genocide in Rwanda. The 2004 Yelwa-Shendam crisis could be described as one of the worst in the annals of the state.
No fewer than one hundred people were killed in a church by those suspected to be Hausa/Fulani over a minor squabble, forcing the natives to carry out counter deadly attacks on the Hausa/Fulani within the locality. The barbaric acts, coupled with alleged pressures from northern leaders forced former President Olusegun Obasanjo to visit Yelwa in the midst of the crisis. He subsequently declared a state of emergency in Plateau State. A retired Major-General, Chris Alli, was put in charge of the state for six months (18 May to 18 November 2004) and a peace conference was inaugurated. The state governor at that time, Joshua Dariye, and his state legislature, were suspended from office, but returned to power after the state of emergency had ended.
The emergency rule then seemed to have offered a respite, as no major crisis was recorded until 2008 when a crisis which trailed the 2008 local government election in Jos North Local Government area claimed property worth billions of naira and scores of people killed. It was one violence too many and observers say it can never be forgotten in the history of Plateau State. The crisis again was as a result of the age long tussle for the soul of Jos North local government on who controlled the council area between the natives and the Hausa/Fulani settlers. The later alleged massive rigging in the election results announced by Plateau State Electoral Commission (PLASIEC) in favour 0f Timothy Buba, the incumbent chairman of the local government. The protest led to unimaginable carnage that nearly consumed the state capital and the suburbs.
On Sunday 17 January, 2010, a misunderstanding over a deserted building undergoing renovation in a densely populated area of Dutse Uku in Fraka district of Jarawa snowballed into a physical face-off between the natives and the Hausa/Fulani. This soon led to an attack on Christians worshiping at ECWA Church Nasarawa, Jos. Within the twinkle of an eye, the minor incident had become a big problem which soon engulfed the entire state capital and people took sides along religious lines. Still reeling from this unfortunate incident, the Fulani, alleged to be on revenge mission over their kin killed in another part of the state in March of the same year stormed Dogo Nahauwa and other surrounding villages in Jos South local government area of the state. The Fulani herdsmen, in their hundreds, armed with sophisticated guns and other dangerous weapons, descended in the inhabitants, mostly children and women, and snuffed lives out of them.
The unfortunate incident infuriated other natives, thus leading to reprisal attacks and further violence in other parts of the state. The level of callousness exhibited by the marauders, especially the killing of under-aged children who were between the age of three to 15, was a great shock to people. From the incident alone, no fewer than 150 people were butchered by the Fulani attackers.The Fulani attack on Dogo na Hauwa signaled another episode of violence in the history of the state. Since then, the Fulani and the natives, especially the Berom, have been on each other’s throats advancing various spurious reasons to justify such attacks on one another. Some of such reasons are cattle rustling on both sides and cattle encroachment into farmlands among others. However, from all indications, the dimension the crisis has taken in recent times has shown that the stated reasons are mere excuses for mindless carnage.
From 2010 to date, the state has recorded regular deadly hostilities between the Fulani and the natives, especially the Berom. This year alone, the northern part of the state, especially Barakin-Ladi and Riyom local government areas have experienced unprecedented attacks from the Fulanis, leading to the death of innocent people and loss of property worth billions of naira destroyed. As result of these attacks, many villages have been deserted while farming which is the basic occupation of the people, has been abandoned for fear of attacks.
The unfortunate scenario reached its peak recently with the deadly invasion of close to ten villages in both Barakin-Ladi and Riyom local governments by gunmen suspected to be Fulani herdsmen alleged to be mercenaries from neighbouring Chad and Niger Republic on the invitation of the local Fulani on ground. The attacks on the villages of Kakuruk, Kuzen, Ngyo, kogoduk, Ruk, Dogo, Kufang, Kpapkpiduk, Kai in Gashishi District of Barakin-Ladi Local Government area of the state were so deadly and beyond imagination . The well coordinated attacks which lasted for several hours simultaneously in all the villages, left no fewer than 140 people dead.
This was quickly followed with the brutal killing of over 60 people inside the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) at Matse village. The over 60 people were taking refuge in the church after their escape from the troubled neighbouring villages when the rampaging Fulani attackers swooped on them, shot them at close range and set the church ablaze. The mercenary Fulani herdsmen, who were said to have been hiding in the surrounding hills, further worsened the situation during the mass burial of those killed in Matse. While the burial procession was going on, the gunmen, hiding on the nearby hills, opened fire on the mourners who included both state and national assembly members from the area and other top government officials, forcing them to scamper for safety. In the melee, the Chairman Senate Committee on Health,Majority Leader, Plateau State House of Assembly Honourable Gyang Fulani, died.
Miffed by the ugly incident, the Special Task Force, over the weekend, gave 48 hours to residents of the troubled villages to vacate the area with the aim of sweeping the area in a military operation. A security source said the 10 villages had become terrorists’ dens where mercenary Fulani herdsmen congregated to launch attacks on innocent citizens. The Special Task Force Commander, Major-General Henry Ayoola, said the decision for the operations was in line with the international humanitarian law and consistent with the best global practices and should not be construed otherwise.
But steps taken by the Special Task Force to flush out the mercenaries have started generating ripples and criticisms in certain quarters. The Hausa/Fulani perceived the military action as a ploy by the government to sack them from the villages. However, the STF Commander said the affected villages were not predominantly of any tribe. He said the action was in the interest of the inhabitants of the area, adding that the notice was for the few that were still within the theatre of operation. Meanwhile, military operation to restore sanity to the villages and rid them of terrorists did not go down well with the Muslim community in the state. The community, through the Council of Ulama, during the week, condemned the sacking of Fulanis from the villages and directed all Muslims to stay at home on Monday to observe a day of prayers in solidarity with affected Fulani communities in Riyom and Barakin-Ladi local government areas.
The Chairman, Northern Governors Forum, Dr Babangida Aliyu, equally joined the fray, in a statement signed by his spokesman, Danladi Ndayebo. He warned that the 48-hour ultimatum issued by the STF could lead to a breakdown of law and order, not only in Plateau State but in other parts of the country.Governor Aliyu said the forum was worried by complaints from a section of the region to the effect that the vacation order represented a declaration of war by the military against a segment of the nation’s citizens. The statement said although the forum was not opposed to any action that would put a stop to the senseless killing of innocent people in Plateau State, the region could not afford the likely negative consequences of the order that the people should vacate the said villages without providing alternatives.
The outcry which trailed the dastardly act of the killings among Nigerians was enormous and depicted the rage of the people over the endless crisis on the Plateau and the lackadaisical posture of all relevant authorities towards resolving the lingering impasse. The majority of those who condemned the orgy of killings attributed the continued upheavals in the state to lack of political will on the part of government to address the knotty issues. The Middle Belt Forum, during its recent solidarity visit to Governor Jonah Jang over the killings on the Plateau, said this much. The president of the Forum, Professor Jerry Gana, said tension was rising in the geo-political zone over the recent killings of people from the zone saying that the youths were set to defend themselves, if the federal government refused to protect them.
“We have been appealing to the youths to remain calm, but the youths are saying if they cannot be defended by the forces of the federal government, they are ready to defend themselves because enough is a enough,” he said
The remote cause of the recurring crisis on the Plateau has remained the same for over half a century — ethnic groups claiming superiority over the other, with the people fighting for political, economic, religious, and social identity. Part of the ways through which the governments have been making efforts to address the unfortunate situation is through Commissions of inquiry to unravel the causes and to find lasting solutions.
Between 1994 to date, there have been at least seven commissions of inquiries into the resurging crisis in Plateau State. Four of such commissions were from the state government and three from the federal government. Reports of these commissions contained a wide range of recommendations that could unearth the crises and proffer lasting solutions.
The Fiberesima Report
The Justice J. Aribiton Fiberesima Commission of 1994 was set up by Lt. Col. Mohammed Maina- who was Military Administrator of Plateau State set up this Commission of Inquiry to “look into the 1994 riots, find out its genesis, recommend ways of avoiding a future re-occurrence, and recommend appropriate actions” against those found guilty of causing the mayhem. The panel had Hon. Justice J. Aribiton Fiberesima (Rtd) – as Chairman while members were Major D. J. M. Igah , Squadron Leader M. B. Usman, Alhaji I. D. Muhammed , Mr. T. Didel, Mr. S. O. Aboki - Counsel, and Mr. P. P. Deshi – Secretary.
Within several weeks, the seven-member commission took oral evidence of 50 witnesses, admitted 66 memoranda and 44 exhibits. At the end, it was concluded that the immediate cause of the crisis was the appointment of a Hausa-Fulani man, Aminu Mato, as the Jos North local government caretaker committee chairman The remote cause was, however, traced to the 1991 creation of the Jos North and Jos South local government areas, under military ruler Ibrahim Babangida, which was “totally against the wishes of the Berom, Anaguta, and Afizere communities”, as they found themselves in Jos South LGA, “while the Hausa-Fulani community was left to enjoy numerical dominion in Jos North LGA where Jos metropolis is located.”
“The communities saw this arrangement as a grand plan by the Hausa-Fulani to seize Jos town from them. They also resented the pattern of the newly-created LGAs because it left their paramount ruler, the Gbong Gwom, isolated in an enclave of the Hausa-Fulani in Jos municipality. While his (Aminu Mato’s) kinsmen nodded approval to his appointment, the Berom, Anaguta, and Afizere tribes gave it an outright rejection. A battle line was drawn between the tribes,” the commission noted.
But what came out of the several recommendations of the commission made to the government, which included sanctioning “all individuals, groups of persons, and organizations indicted by our Inquiry”? They were never implemented!
Justice Nikki Tobi Commission of Inquiry
There was also the Justice Nikki Tobi Commission of Inquiry of 2010. On October 18, 2001, the then Plateau State governor, Joshua Dariye inaugurated a 10-member commission of inquiry, headed by Justice Niki Tobi, who was then the presiding justice of the Court of Appeal, Benin City, and later Justice of the Supreme Court. Members of Panel: Justice Ismaila Adamu, Barr. Ibrahim Hamman, Barr. Nasiru Goshi, Chief (Dr.) Chigozie Njoku, Chief Markus W. Ishaya, Mr. Thomas Didel, Hon. Mali Khandi Dung (Late), Hon. Mrs. V.K. Umaru and Mr. John G. Gobak who was secretary. During the eight months of its sitting, there were at least five more outbreaks of violence. The Commission in its findings declared that both the 1994 and 2001 crises were similar in cause and in nature saying that history seemed to be repeating itself.
“For some reason which is not altogether clear to us or for no reason at all, the government neither issued a white paper on the (Fiberesima) report nor implemented any of the (Fiberesima) Commission’s recommendations,” the commission declared, while its further contentions were “that if the recommendations of the Fiberesima Commission had been implemented by government, the crisis of September 2001 would have been averted.”
“The causes of 2001 crisis in Jos were similar to that of 1994, while that of the latter was caused by the creation of Jos North local government that of 2001 was primarily caused by the appointment of one Mukhtar Mohammed, on June 20, 2001, as the Jos North local government coordinator of the National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP), a federal government agency.”
According to the commission’s report, the complaint over Mr Mohammed’s appointment ignited another round of crisis in the state, the report further stressed that the final straw appeared to have been precipitated by a Christian woman, Rhoda Nyam, who, while returning to her working place, was prevented from passing through a road at the Congo-Russia area of Jos where a Muslim congregation had gathered for their Friday Juma’at prayers.
The Plateau Peace Conference
During the emergency rule in 2004, there was also the Plateau Peace Conference headed by the late Ngo Elizabeth Pam. There were wider recommendations from the conference which have been gathering dust on government’s shelf all this while without any implementation.
Justice Bola Ajibola Commission of inquiry.
To unravel the cause of the 2008 crisis, Governor Jonah Jang also set up the Justice Bola Ajibola (SAN) Commission of inquiry. The composition of panel includes the following eminent personalities: Justice Bola Ajibola (SAN, KBE,CFR), chairman, Professor M.T. Yahaya - Member, Barrister (Mrs.) Virginia Abang-Member, Barrister Daniel Gopep-Member, Mr. Sale Fale –Member, Chief D.G. Fompun-Secretary.
The commission also came up with wide range recommendations which have since been generating ripples among the people of the state. Recently, the state government released the white paper on the report along with that of Fibersima of 1994 for implementation.
The commission, in its report, said that the 2008 election was just an excuse by the Hausa/Fulani population to cause trouble. It said, “Even though there is no doubt in the minds of the commission that the unrest of November 28, 2008 erupted from acts of violence initiated by Hausa/Fulani Muslims, a point corroborated by the police, nevertheless the commission felt that it ought to hear from both sides.”
It continued, “The commission restates here that despite the coincidence of time, the local government election was not the immediate cause of the unrest, but they had the subsequent effect, in that the feeling that the Hausa/Fulani lost the election and had by that token lost access to one of the major opportunities for economic dominance and advancement among their people, pushed them to violence.” The commission recommended that the creation of new local governments should be done in consultation with the people as laid down by the constitution.
Those who have been watching the trends of events on the Plateau attributed recurrent hostilities in the state to the inability or lack of political will on the part of the government to implement recommendations from various reports. None of the reports has seen the light of the day apart from the recent white paper. In the white paper, there are a wide range of recommendations yet to be implemented. Some individuals who played prominent roles in the upheaval were recommended for punishment and appropriate sanctions raging from dismissal and prosecution but such individuals are still walking the streets and have even been fingered by some stakeholders to be behind some of the recent crises in the state.
General Emmanuel Abisoye Panel
As part of the Federal Government’s effort to resolve the impasse and restore the lost glory of the state, there was a presidential panel in 2010 headed by General Emmanuel Abisoye with the following as members: Barrister Festus Okoye, Ambassador Preware, Prof. Kharisu Shukkai, Lawal Daura, DIG Yusuf Haruna, Air Commodore Abiagom, Ambassador Fati Abubakar and Alhaji Musa Shafi’I (secretary). The Panel, set by President Goodluck Jonathan which initially commenced sittings at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS, in Jos, hurriedly suspended its sitting and relocated to Abuja as a result of an outbreak of another crisis in Jos.
The report of the committee two years after, is still shrouded in mystery; it could not make any meaningful impact due to the disputes surrounding its emergence. The Friday Edition reliably learnt that the Presidential Panel is yet to submit its report to the President.
There was also a presidential committee set up by the Federal Government made up of Plateau indigenes alone. It was learnt that the purpose of this was to enable the people of the state solve the problems on their own. The Committee headed by Chief Solomon Lar also had the following composition: Co-chaired by Chief Solomon D. Lar and Amb. Yahya Kwande, other members include; Mrs. Hannatu Chollom, Mr. John Samci, Prof. N. Gomwalk, Ibrahim Dasuki Nakande, Ambassador Fidelis Tapgun, Senator John Shagaya, Sen. Ibrahim Mantu, Hon. Leo Dilkon, Most Rev. I.A Kaigama, Sheikh Dawud Balarabe, Mrs. Fati Kyri, AVM U Abbas and Alhaji Saleh Hassan.
The committee has since submitted its report again with wide recommendations to the Presidency but again, nothing has been heard of
those recommendations thus making it another futile exercise. A member of the Committee who craved anonymity told The Friday Edition that the Lar’s committee has, after due consideration of several memoranda, found that the crises arose out of high suspicion among ethnic groups in Jos North Local Government Area, the quest for political power and land ownership as well as the misuse of religion for selfish interest. Although the committee noted that religion was “exploited by some individuals and groups to gain political popularity and support,” it stated that religion was not the main cause of the crises. It indicted the Plateau State Independent Electoral Commission for being partisan during the conduct of the local government election in Jos North.
The Lar committee has come up with a 20-point recommendation which could forestall the re-occurrence of the crises. These include the need to establish a truth and reconciliation commission, create new local governments and districts in Jos North, adoption of zoning and power rotation among the ethnic groups in the local government, establishment of grazing reserves in vulnerable areas to curtail frequent conflicts between farmers and Fulani cattle owners as well as the need for constitutional solution to the volatile problem of indigeneship.
Above all, the committee recommended that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) be empowered to conduct all elections at federal, state and local government levels.
Reports of the Commissions of Inquiries are fraught with controversies. The Hausa/Fulani hardly believe that they can get justice from any Commission set up by the state government and in most cases often challenged the legality in Court. The perception was that Commissions of Inquiry by the state government will be pro-indigene Christians but if it is by the federal government, and then it will be pro Hausa/Fulani Muslims. This accounted for why the Hausa/Fulani often times boycotted some of the commissions set up by the state government,” This was clearly demonstrated during Prince Bola Ajibola’s Commission, most of the Hausas’ boycotted it and attended the Emmanuel Abisoye Presidential Panel set up by the federal government.
The Friday Edition’s findings revealed that virtually all the reports of Commission of Inquiries set up by the state government including the white paper are subject of litigation with various suits instituted by the Hausa/Fulani to block their implementation on the premise that they cannot get justice from Commissions instituted by the state government. They posited that the reports are skewed to favour the natives, also that they were not fair processes because sides had already been taken from the onset.
A cross section of those who spoke with The Friday Edition perceived setting up of Commissions of Inquiry as showmanship saying in the history of such in Nigeria, no recommendations had ever been implemented thus giving the perpetrators the effrontery to be involved in another evil act. “This singular act has ensured actors, murderers, and perpetrators of crimes remain unpunished, leaving thousands of innocent victims to have died in vain,” one stakeholder told The Friday Edition.
They implored President Goodluck Jonathan to live by his promise and wean the administration of the rituals of instituting inquiries and receiving reports that always end up in the archives and further urged the Federal Government to take a dispassionate look at Lar’s committee report, issue a white paper on it and promptly implement recommendations that are germane to lasting peace in the state.
Apart from non-implementation of the past reports, some politicians and members of the Hausa/Fulani communities see the governor stance on the crisis as one of the reasons why the problem still lingers. The chairman, Arewa Consultative Forum and former Minister Federal Capital Territory, General Jeremiah Useni (rtd) recently declared that Governor Jang was the problem of the state saying he is not a listening governor.
In a swift reaction to this during the solidarity visit of the Middle Belt Forum to him, Governor Jang passively declared thus: “The complaint of these people is that Jang is not a listening governor or Jang doesn’t listen, what advice have they given me that I did not take? But if the advice is creation of districts, it is a matter of tradition, I won’t do that.”
Jang said it was mischievous for anybody or group to say he was the cause of the crisis rocking the state, saying that the upheavals predated his administration. According to him, since 1999 there had been grand plots to destabilize Plateau State and the Middle Belt as a whole , antagonists of the zone craftily imposed a state of emergency in the state during former Governor Joshua Dariye’s administration to achieve their aim. The governor said his administration started intimating the Federal Government of the presence of terrorists in the state from 2008 adding that some of them were arrested but the government did not believe the state.
“Right from 2008, we started seeing the hand of terrorists in the state, we notified the federal government and arrested some of them but they said we are lying. The events of last week clearly show that we have highly sophisticated terrorist organisations in our midst. The firepower from their riffle is greater than that of our security agencies. Eastern part of Plateau is occupied by terrorists for the past two years, efforts to get the federal government to push them out failed. In as much as every Nigerian has the right to reside anywhere within the country, not every foreigner has the right to occupy any territory within the country. What happened last week was beyond resident Fulani because of the weapon they used,” he said.
A member of the House of Representatives, representing Jos East/Jos South Federal Constituency of Plateau State, Bitrus Kaze, heaped the blame on the Federal Government alleging that successive governments lacked the “sincerity and political will” to resolve the conflicts. He cited the failure of government to implement any of the reports of the various judicial commissions on the crises in the last 10 years as an example of insincerity and lack of political will.
“There must be sincerity and political will to prosecute offenders. How many people have been prosecuted over the past years? Those arrested are only taken to Abuja and released; they return and the problem continues. There are highly-placed persons fuelling these crises and government needs to fish them out and punish them severely,” he stated.
Those who have been watching the trend of events on the Plateau are of the opinion that solutions to the lingering crisis lie with the Federal Government through the implementation of past reports of commissions of inquiry and related committees set up to determine the cause and proffer solutions. Some advocated for State Police to enable governors across the country nip in the bud any likely crisis in their states. Above all, there is the need for dialogue and frank discussions without mincing words among the various stakeholders. Where it is necessary to shift grounds, stakeholders must be willing to do so without being coerced while areas considered sacrosanct should also be respected.
With the latest military action in parts of the state, should Nigerians just assume that the government is getting serious on slamming a permanent solution on the Jos debacle? Time will definitely tell.Share
written by Ingmala, July 25, 2012