•‘The only person I have left is my nine-year-old son who survived the fire’
By Marie-Therese Nanlong
When Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State came into office three years ago, he brought a template of how he wanted his style of administration, termed “Rescue”, to look like and, to ensure he is focused on implementing it, he adopted a five-pillar policy thrust, the first of them being peace, security and good governance.
The others are human capital development and social welfare; agriculture and rural development; entrepreneurship and industrialization as well as physical infrastructure and environment.
Lalong went to work immediately seeking to stem the tide of the perennial crisis which had plagued the state, having series of meetings stakeholders in search of elusive peace.
Besides, he encouraged hitherto warring communities to dialogue and come out with recommendations of what would make them have a peaceful co-existence and, as they did, government began implementing some of them; giving everyone a sigh of relief.
To consolidate on the efforts, including those of communities’ members, civil society organizations and individuals, a roadmap to peace was initiated, and a first of its kind, Peace Building Agency was created to take note of early warning signs, listen to complaints and deal with issues which threaten peace before they escalate to violence.
The agency, headed by a peace and conflict resolution expert, Joseph Lengmang, also put in efforts to mediate on various issues which engender peaceful co-existence among the people.
The diverse efforts at peace paid off and residents were relieved for more than two years, (though there were pockets of attacks in some local government areas like Bassa and Bokkos) until hell broke loose a week ago when sympathizers were returning from the burial of the father of one of the pastors in the Church of Christ in Nigeria, COCIN.
The sympathizers had gone to the always troubled Gashish District of Barkin Ladi in a convoy, had a funeral service, buried the deceased, ate and exchanged pleasantries and, just as the convoy made a return to town, sporadic gunshots rented the air, sending the people scampering for safety and property worth millions burnt to ashes.
Some escaped with various degrees of injuries, more than 100 lost their lives, some are still missing and thousands are left homeless and displaced. The entire area is now deserted.
Narrating his experience, a survivor, Ezekiel Del, who resides in Gindin Akwati, told Sunday Vanguard, “On Saturday morning between 11am and 12noon, I was in my shop at Exland when I heard a gunshot. We all came out to see what was happening, we met people gathering that a Fulani man shot and killed a woman. People arrested the man but some security agents took him away and said people should dig a grave and bury the woman that was killed.
“I went back to my shop. Later in the afternoon, we started hearing gunshots and someone told us to run as there was trouble and the town was not good. My wife called me that I should come home immediately; so I hurried home. When I got home, my gate was locked and I was knocking, no one opened.
“I did not want to continue knocking, so I went to my neighbour’s house. I was in my neighbour’s house when Fulani herdsmen entered my area, they were more than 300, they were everywhere, all over the village, shooting and shouting ‘Allah Akbar’. They tried to break my gate but they could not; so they went and got a digger and finally succeeded.
“We tried calling security agents but none was around because those that were staying with us ran for their lives. My father, my mother, my father’s brother who came to greet us because my father was sick, my wife, my four children and my wife’s brother who was living with us were all shot and killed and the house set ablaze.
“Before they set the house on fire, they ransacked and packed what they could carry; my cameras and laptops were taken. They were looking for me but I was not in the house. The only person I have now is my nine-year-old son who survived the fire and is now hospitalized. My boy’s survival was a miracle because I saw him on Sunday morning in the rubble and took him to the hospital.”
Apart from Del, many people have gory tales as they lay on hospital beds across the state and Governor Lalong visited the about 50 admitted at the Jos University Teaching Hospital where he promised to bring the perpetrators of the heinous crime to book.
At the time the incident happened, the governor was in Abuja for the All Progressives Congress, APC, National Convention but he returned the next day to see things for himself and, when situation was about getting out of hand via a reprisal, he quickly declared a dusk to dawn curfew in three local government areas of Jos South, Barkin Ladi and Riyom.
Since the incident, President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Senate President Bukola Saraki, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, among others, have visited Plareau, meeting with critical stakeholders and appealing for calm as efforts are intensified to apprehend the perpetrators.
To ensure the state administration realizes its peace agenda, Lalong, who had before now procured and donated 51 double cabin patrol vehicles to the Nigeria Police during a ground breaking ceremony of the Mobile Police Force (MOPOL 66 Squadron) in Shendam local government area for Plateau South, commissioned the 205 Combat, Search and Rescue Group of Nigeria Air Force at the Air Force Base in Kerang, and sought and got permission for additional Mobile Barrack at Barkin Ladi local government area.
Meanwhile, dialogues are on-going with stakeholders from the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Ja’amatu Nasril Islam, JNI, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, and the traditional institution to ensure that lasting peace is restored in the state.
To avoid the carnage which continues to put the state in the news for the wrong reason, citizens have appealed to anyone with credible idea on how to return the Plateau to the path of peace not to hold back but come forward and offer solution so that innocent lives would be left to fulfil their destinies.