By Marie-Therese Nanlong
Riyom local government area of Plateau state has been in the news for the wrong reasons for almost a decade due to the recurring herders/farmers conflicts which have displaced thousands, claimed hundreds of lives and property worth millions of Naira destroyed.
The incessant conflicts had robbed the once peaceful area of the opportunity to harness its tourism potentials and raise its internally generated revenue from the abundantly endowed natural resources like serene waterfalls, beautiful rock formations, breathtaking landscape as well as lush areas.
Worried by its deteriorating security situation, citizens of the locality have risen to the task of returning the local government area to its hitherto status of peaceful co-existence between the herders and farmers who are one way or the other, victims of the conflicts.
Although parts of the grievances have been the routing of the indigenous Berom tribe from 13 villages by some alien who had taken over their property and converted same for personal use, the two are appealing to the Government to come to their aid and ensure justice is done and seized property returned to their rightful owners.
The farmers and herders including their women at the Community Security Architecture Dialogue, CSAD meeting organized by Search For Common Ground, SFCG with the aim of identifying conflict threats and action plan to mitigate conflicts discussed the many challenges they are facing and gave recommendations on how to overcome them.
Patience Chaimang of SFCG who facilitated the meeting noted such is one of the efforts targeted at ensuring lasting peace in the area and the entire State in general.
The participants pointed out challenges such as forceful occupation of farmlands, destruction of crops, maiming of animals, theft, drug abuse, blocked cattle routes, herding by children, night herding among others as some of the challenges they face.
They named communities occupied as Shonong, Ma-Seh, Shong 1, Shong 2, Ranjol, Kak, Rankum, Attakar, Janda 1, Janda 2, Bangai, Ranchol-Sopp and Dajak and earnest appeal by to the State government to match its word with action and ensure illegally occupied lands are retrieved and given back to the owner.
Speaking on the efforts made at peace, Thompson Gyang, the Village Head of Fang in Bachit District of the area who is also the CSAD Chairman of the local government area said advocacy and dialogue had helped substantially in achieving the relative peace being enjoyed.
His words, “I thank God that this organization (SFCG) teach us how to make efforts and see the local government improved on its peace efforts. Since 2012, we have not known peace in this local government, people could not go to places anyhow and if we want to have a meeting, we look for a neutral ground.
“We used to hold meetings in Jos or Bukuru or Barkin Ladi but now, we call meetings and everybody will attend here in Riyom. Apart from the local government headquarters, we are having meetings in the different communities.
“The Traditional Rulers did their best, all stakeholders worked to see that peace reign in this local government area. We are finding lasting solutions that will return us to the path of peace and our communities flourish. Right now, herders and farmers in our various districts are having advocacy meetings, engaging in dialogues. We have been to the palace of Atar Aten in Ganawuri, the palace of Dagwom Rwei Riyom and Gwom Rwei Bachit, we all gathered to ask what are problems are.
“As we are, some of our people are refugees in different places and this is not good, we are calling on our people to come back, let us see how we can make our communities progress. Before government’s intervention, Search for Common Ground, Mercy Corps, HD and others have initiated the process of dialogue; we started understanding one another’s views. We now settle most of our problems internally except those that are beyond us before we invite security.
“In cases of destruction of crops, when cattle destroy crops and we get them, we call the Ardos or Wakili of the area so that we can settle the problem. Killing of cattle was during the time of crises but now, there is nothing like that.”
Galadima Adam from Bachit district added, “Peace is reigning now because we as Fulani and the Berom have agreed to stay together in peace. If there is any problem between us, we call the leaders of both communities to settle amongst us; we are not happy that people left, many people left my community. We are appealing to them to come back because if there are no people in the community, you cannot call it a community and this is not good. We are together with the Berom people, we want peace, where there is peace, there is no fear, come back to your homes.
“We are working together to end drug abuse in our communities, the Berom children and Fulani children are deep into drugs, we are talking to them and in other instances, arresting culprits and handing them over to security agents to do their work.”
Also, the Village Head of Rim in Riyom district, Da Gyang Dahoro maintained, “Rim is one of the ancient towns in Berom land with a very rich culture. We are farmers, miners and hunters. I came into office in 2015 when Rim was full of crises, we were under siege, daily shootings and no one could go to the farm. Even when you farm behind the house, people were still being killed. I inherited over 200 cattle and local buffaloes apart from sheep and goats and very many hectares of farmland that we could not cultivate due to crises.
“Thank God that thing are improving, even though we cannot go to farm like before, but things are getting better. Strange people have taken over our farmlands and building on them; we have written to government to come to our aid because when there is justice; all this rubbish will not happen. The secret is justice, the law takes it course, who are you to occupy somebody’s land and build on it?
“We appreciate government but let them do the needful, they are not doing enough. There is relative peace for now, children can go to school and people can sleep but IDPs must return home. People are still roaming, living with relatives and friends. As a traditional ruler, my palace was burnt; I am now living in an uncompleted building.
“We are hearing many things in the news about rebuilding, we held meetings with Operation Safe Haven and some NGOs but we are still waiting, when will it be so that people can go back to their homes? When you stay outside, there is no how you will get enough land to farm and rear your animals.
“Right now, strangers that we don’t know are building on our land, some of them cannot even speak Hausa language, government suppose to look into this for instance Janda 1 and 2 have been taken over. Churches, clinics have been demolished, even the traditional ruler of Janda is here in Riyom, they have taken over his house, and they built on his foundation”
“We really worked for this relative peace and we don’t want anything that will set us back rather, we want to achieve lasting peace, government should help us get our lands back.”
However, the Police Admin Officer in Riyom, ASP Patrick Maisaje stated, “Last year, the security challenges we were facing were mainly unprovoked attacks and maiming of cows and other criminal acts but with together with the civil society organizations like Search for Common Ground, we engage the communities in dialogue to tell them that peace is paramount and jungle justice is not allowed.
“They understood what we were trying to tell them but when there is mischief somewhere like cows destroying crops, the farmers would call the Fulani herders and they will settle. When the Berom man kills Fulani cows, they will discuss and settle it but we have told them that they need to live together because there is no where a particular tribe will live alone in a community.
The law allows citizens to live freely where they choose, they need to accept one another. Engaging all stakeholders have really helped the situation, unprovoked attacks have been reduced, no cow rustling nor maiming; there has been relative peace except for the unprovoked attack two weeks ago at Attakar, we are investigating to ensure those who did that are brought to justice.”
With the efforts being intensified, citizens expressed optimism that its sustenance would foster peace and return the area to its lost glory.