By Marie-Therese Nanlong
…Surprised no arrests have been made
Whenever curfew, a period when people are not allowed to leave their houses especially in the night, is declared, people generally feel relieved; believing the crisis situation which led to its declaration would be addressed.
Curfew, seen in sane society as a tool for addressing negative situations has however, consistently been a period of uncertainty for residents of Plateau State because whenever it was declared, following myriads of violent conflicts which have plagued the State for over a decade, the situation got worse as more crimes were committed at a time when people should be indoors.
This was the trend in the Irigwe Chiefdom of Bassa local government area of the State which had witnessed series of attacks and killings by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
Having witnessed skirmishes in some villages in the Chiefdom and a possibility of a spill-over to neighbouring Chiefdoms and local government areas, the State Governor, Simon Lalong on the 13thof this month declared a dusk to dawn curfew in the locality to “guarantee effective security operation towards protecting life and property.”
Immediately this was done, security personnel, according to the natives, began a “house to house search for weapons in the villages, confiscating dane guns and machetes which we use in hunting and farming while the Fulani areas were exempted from the exercise.”
Despite the dusk to dawn curfew imposed, Taegbe village was attacked the next day; in the night of Saturday, 14th October leaving six people dead, five others injured and houses razed as residents claimed that the attack was carried out by Fulani militants at about midnight.
The Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Mathias Tyopev who confirmed the incident said, “Yes, there was an attack, six people died, five injured and they are in a hospital, while 10 houses were burnt.”
The midnight incident at Taegbe raised concern about the safety of residents who expressed worry about the possibility of being attacked at home by assailants who defied the imposed curfew to unleash mayhem on unsuspecting villagers.
This fear of the unknown crippled the little economic life of the villages as schools were closed while the residents relocated to areas considered safe to avoid being trapped at night.
After the Saturday attack, there was peace on Sunday the 15th. The following day however, on Monday, the 16th, hell was let loose at Nkyie Doghwro village of the Chiefdom as 29 persons mostly women, children and the aged were killed in cold blood by attackers who survivors claimed were Fulani herdsmen at night when everyone was supposed to be at home during the period the imposed curfew.
This attack has left the residents traumatized and expressed loss of confidence in the personnel of Operation Safe Haven saddled with the responsibility of keeping the peace in the area. The residents accused the security personnel of aiding their attackers. They claimed that the personnel of Operation Safe Haven asked them to leave their houses and take refuge in the public Primary school which was their operational base only to be abandoned, leaving them at the mercy of the assailants who attacked them.
The residents wondered why security personnel confiscated their dane guns and machetes which could be used in self-defence, they wondered why they were lured into the classrooms to take refuge only to be abandoned and they wondered why innocent people who were defending themselves were being arrested by the security personnel while the aggressors were left to walk free despite evidence showing they were behind the attacks.
A resident of the village, Samson Amos who narrowly escaped being killed in the night of the attack narrated his experience to Saturday Vanguard. According to him, “it happened at about 7 or 8pm, this attack was the second in the village.
When they attacked us the first time, the military was stationed here to avoid a repeat and when we got wind of a likely attack in the evening of that day, we reported to the military and they asked us to come and stay in a school classroom that had been provided for them as operational base.
“We obediently went into the classroom to sleep but some people were sceptical about the move so they left. Not long after we entered the classroom, the military left and shortly after, the attackers came and we were trapped and they unleashed mayhem on us
“I counted 27 corpses, two more persons who were admitted in the hospital died and three others are still in the hospital being treated for various degrees of injuries. Those who died had been buried in a mass grave in the village.”
Asked about the identity of the attackers, he said, “you know we have co-habited with the Fulani for a long time, it is easy to recognize them, we saw them and we know they are the ones killing our people.
“This is an incident which keeps recurring, the protest that was held at Jebbu Miango last week was against the seeming lacklustre attitude of the military since they were deployed to the communities. The people don’t have faith in the military since they are not working in our interest.”
The Operation Safe Haven has however said it will investigate the purported involvement of its personnel in the said attack and the personnel had been withdrawn and sent to the Operation’s headquarters in Jos for questioning.
The State Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Mathias Tyopev told journalists in Jos that the State Commissioner of Police, CP Jeremiah Undie had ordered intensive patrol of nooks and crannies of the State as there were threats of attacks in three other local government areas of the State.
According to Tyopev, “On the 15th of October, 2017, at about 1300hrs, we received a distress call that some people were attacked at Nkyie Doghowro village in Bassa local government area and we rushed to the place but before we got to the area, we discovered that some people were killed and were given mass burial.
“The Commissioner of Police in company of the Operation Safe Haven Commander and the Governor of the State visited the area. More soldiers have been deployed to the place as well as three more units of the Police Mobile Force while the Police Surveillance helicopter has been stationed to respond to any situation. As I speak with you, the area is relatively calm; we are monitoring the area seriously.”
On the 16th, another attack was said to have occurred at Rotsu village of the Chiefdom and houses were said to have been burnt and one person killed. But Tyopev again said, “Three houses were burnt because immediately we got a call from the village that some people were about to attack the village, the Police deployed the Armoured Personnel Carrier, APC to the place and the attack was repelled.
No arrest has been made so far but investigations are ongoing. Whoever has anything that will help us in our investigations should please come forward, the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Department is doing what it takes to bring the perpetrators to book.
“All the Divisional Police Officers have been given a standing order to engage in intensive patrol. Visibility policing is what we are doing now, he has given a standing order that no Policeman should close from duty, patrol should be intensive and robust, and that is exactly what we are doing.”
However, at a press briefing held by the Irigwe Development Association, its President, Sunday Abdu gave a breakdown of the number of attacks carried out in the Chiefdom by the assailants.
His words, “Since the gruesome attack on Ncha village on the 7th of September, 2017, there have been series of other attacks; At Hukke on the 9th of September, two persons were killed; at Nkyie Dongwro on the 8th of October one person was killed, one wounded; at Kpachudu on the 10th of October, a young man was allegedly killed by a Mobile Policeman, member of STF; at Nzhweruvo and Tafigana, on the 11th of October, three persons were killed and houses razed; at Rikwe Chongu, on the 12th of October houses were razed; at Taegbe, on the 14th of October, six persons were killed and five others injured and houses razed; at Nkyie Doghwro, on the 16th of October, 29 persons were killed and three others injured at a school used as camp and protected by security.
“It is painful that these happened despite useful and timely information provided to security personnel regarding movement and mode of operation of the assailants. No single attacker has been arrested by the security agents who will rather arrest and detain helpless natives on suspicion of possessing weapon.
“We urge the government, if it must keep the curfew to do the needful and stop these nightly attacks on our people; our people cannot go to their farms anymore, even as harvest is near, for fear of attacks by herdsmen who openly graze on ripe crops.”
Before the curfew was declared last Friday, many houses had been burnt and several other property including farmlands and food barns were destroyed across some villages in the Chiefdom.
A resident, John Auta who had fled Jebbu Miango community with his family said ambushes and killings of residents had become almost a daily occurrence in the last two weeks reminding him of “those days in Berom land.”
He said suspected herders attacked villages and burnt people’s houses, adding that the security personnel drafted to the area did not help matters as they conducted house-to-house search confiscating dane guns and cutlasses they had in their houses for self-defence, thereby making them vulnerable to attackers.
Meanwhile, Plateau Initiative for Development and Advancement of the Natives, PIDAN, the umbrella body of all the fifty six, (56) ethnic nationalities in the State, said it has observed with utmost dismay “the continuous killings of our people in some parts of the State.”
PIDAN in a statement signed by its Media Officer, Stephen Musa, said it “condemns, in strong terms, the killings including the recent murder of a former Head of Service, Mr. Moses Gwom with two others in Barkin Ladi local government area.
All these unfortunate killings are coming at a time the State Government is doing everything possible to ensure her people enjoy the dividends of democracy, and to be more united than ever, which is the resolve of all the Community Leaders in the State”.
The group then warned that the accommodative nature of the Plateau people should not be taken for weakness and called on the people not to take the laws into their hands but be vigilant at all times.