By Marie-Therese Nanlong
When the alarm was raised, many thought it was false, some were complacent, calling it an ethnic crisis. But bit by bit, the fear became a reality; the subtle attacks which began over a decade ago have seen native communities in Plateau State taken over by invading herders.
The natives, mostly Berom by tribe watched helplessly as their homes were occupied, the people killed and farmlands taken over and in some cases, the original names of the villages changed. They wandered if their children would ever return to their ancestral land.
It will be recalled that the immediate past governor of the state, Jonah Jang, a Berom by tribe; the Member representing Riyom/Barkin Ladi in the National Assembly, Istifanus Gyang; the Gbong Gwom Jos, Da Jacob Buba; all Berom Socio-cultural groups especially its umbrella body, Berom Educational and Cultural Organization, BECO and other tribes in Bassa local government area among others had consistently appealed to the Federal Government to tackle land occupation by foreign herders but all entreaties were ignored.
According to a document obtained by Saturday Vanguard, showing the various attacks in the area, over 54 communities have been taken over by the invaders which many of the occupied communities renamed. The occupied communities include “Rotchun (aka Rafin Acha), Dankum (renamed “Mahanga”), Hywa (renamed”Lugere”), Fass (renamed “Tafawa”), Davwak, Chwelnyap, Lyoho Dakar, and Angwan Dalyop which were all attacked Between September 7 and 10, 2001 with the original inhabitants displaced.
Others are, “Janda, attacked on 8th February, 2010; Darin, attacked on 28th April, 2013;, Shong I, Shong II; Rakweng; Dashugu; Diyan-Hei; Maseh (renamed “Lugel”) all attacked on 29th June, 2012. It’s worth noting that it was in this same community that Senator Gyang Dantong and Hon. Gyang Fulani, a legislator representing Barkin Ladi Local Government Area were killed. Also occupied by the invaders are Kampwas; Kasa; Zere; Ninja-Hei; Seh; Nicha; Pwabeduk; Hyai; Kufang; Sharu; Dogo; Ningon; Rantis and Angio which were all sacked and occupied on the 7th of July, 2012. Kachin community was sacked on the 7th of November, 2012.
“On the 26th of December, 2014, Shonong community was invaded and sacked, even as the surviving inhabitants had not returned since. So also were Rahol and Chikogo communities. Ranchol was attacked and occupied on the 7th of October, 2013. Nangam was overran on the 30th of April, 2014, as well as Kak and Dajak. Rarin was invaded on 30th August, 2015; Kujei on 2nd February, 2015; Attakar attacked on 14th March, 2014, as well as Nantwa and some parts of Bisichi.
“Rahol-Mazat was attacked and occupied on 14th April, 2015; Kai and Luk-Fei on the 19th February, 2014; Mallel, Bel between 8th and 9th of March, 2015. That of Rahei took place on the 3rd of April, 2015; Zim, Jong, Rabuk, Lobiring and Gwara Dadep on the 19th of June, 2015.
However, in all these attacks, no Internally Displaced Persons’ Camp was provided for the displaced persons as most of the sacked residents were accommodated by relatives while they found a way of integrating themselves into safer communities where they ran to.
Disturbed by this invasion, a youth group, APC Youths Online Forum has appealed to relevant stakeholders to work with Governor Simon Lalong to “reclaim the villages and lands occupied by the herdsmen and hand them over to the natives of the communities”.
On his part, the State Governor, Simon Lalong had done his best to ensure peace in the State and lamented the spate of killings and displacement of settlements saying that his administration would not tolerate land grabbing in any part of the State.
According to him, “those fighting, killing people and destroying their settlements with the intention of taking ownership of such places would not be allowed to do so. If you think you can chase people out and grab their land, we as a government would not allow you to own the land. My administration is working out modalities for prosecuting land grabbers to discourage the act.”