By Marie-Therese Nanlong
SINCE crises began in Plateau State in 2001, life has not been the same for residents. Property of some natives and visitors who came to settle like lands and houses have been forcefully taken over by people who claim the property were ‘conquered.’
While some non-indigenes have relocated, the indigenous people, uprooted from their ancestral lands have been the worst hit as they have no other place to call home. Local government areas like Bassa, Barkin Ladi, Jos North, Jos South, Bokkos, Riyom and others, have indigenous tribes roaming about while new faces have taken over their communities, hence at every ‘peace forum’, these tribes call for government’s assistance to get back their ancestral homes.
Before now, the State Chairman, Youth Wing, Christian Association of Nigeria, Markus Kanda, raised alarm that over 100 communities have been grabbed from the natives saying, “… over 100 villages have been taken over by Fulanis, you can do your background checks; villages are attacked; houses are burnt, the occupants are either killed or displaced and the marauders go to these villages and occupy them; and the owners of those ancestral lands cannot go back there.” The coalition of ethnic groups in the state, Plateau Initiative for Development and Advancement of the Natives, PIDAN, at different times also raised concerns about the development.
Recently, the Southern and Middle Belt Alliance (SaMBA) also raised the issue and asked Governor Simon Lalong to “embark on immediate recovery of the 102 communities annexed by armed Fulani herdsmen in Plateau State from 2001 till date.”
Spokesman of SaMBA, Rwang Pam Jnr., said: “SaMBA is saddened by the development in Plateau State and is therefore throwing its full weight and total support for the petition submitted to the Plateau State governor on 26th November, 2021 by the Emancipation Centre for Crisis Victims in Nigeria (ECCVN) and its collaborating associations of Atakar Development Association, Berom Educational and Cultural Organization (BECO), Irigwe Development Association (IDA) and Ron Kunlere Development Association (RKDA).
“The petition is anchored on the Plateau State Anti-Land Grabbing Law. A situation where aborigines and natives of Plateau State are sacked from their ancestral homes and ejected from IDP camps is morally disturbing, globally condemnable and totally unacceptable.
“It is therefore imperative for the state government under the leadership of Governor Simon Lalong to act as a matter of urgency by declaring a state of emergency on the recovery of these lands. The governor must issue an express order of evacuation of all illegal occupiers and users of lands, dams, ponds, streams, homes, and other properties because peace can only reign when the issue of justice is addressed by the state government and its agencies.”
SaMBA listed some communities taken over in the Irigwe Chiefdom of Bassa local government area and the year they were taken over as: Krunkwa (2015-2017); Rotsu (2015-2017); Nzhwego (2017-2018) Jiri (2017- 2018); Ri-Meli (2017-2018); Ri-Bakwa (2017-2018); Ri-Nju (2017-2018); Chuvoh (2017-2018); Nkienwhie (2017-2018); Nzwherenvi (2017- 2018). In Daffo, Bokkos local government area, they are Ganda (2018); Hotom Wereng, (2018); Fubok Mandung (2018); Fubok Faram (2018); Farandong Hai (2018); Morok (2018); Nghakudung (2018); Fangha (2018); Shilim (2018). In Riyom District, Riyom local government area, they are: Rotchun (Renamed Rafin Acha) (2001); Rankum village (renamed Mahanga) (2001); Darin (2013); Hywa (renamed Lugere) (2001); Fass (renamed Tafawa) (2001); Janda (2010). In Bachit District, Riyom local government area, communities taken over are: Shong I (2012); Shong II (2012); Rakweng (2012); Dashugu (2012); DiyanHei (2012); Shonong (2014); Maseh (renamed Lugel) (2012); Kampwas (2012); Kasa (2012); Palang (2018); Nanja-Hei (2018); Kuk (2018); Zere (2012).
The people and their representatives in the National and State Assemblies have been appealing for the federal and State governments’ intervention to return the people to their ancestral homes. The victims have repeatedly protested, lamented and petitioned governments, asking that their lands be retrieved for them but all entreaties have not yielded desired results.
Istifanus Gyang, Senator representing Plateau North, Simon Mwadkwon, representing the Barkin Ladi/Riyom Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, his Jos South/Jos East, Mangu/Bokkos, counterparts, Dachung Bagos and Solomon Maren respectively as well as Members of the State Assembly like Peter Gyendeng (Barkin Ladi), Timothy Dantong (Riyom), among others have all made efforts to ensure the annexed communities were retrieved but were unsuccessful.
The lawmakers have consistently mentioned the cases during legislative sessions. According to Mwadkwon, “Fulani attacking Plateau communities aren’t bandits, they are land-grabbers, chasing our people away and renaming our villages.
They usually escalate the onslaught during the cropping season. Their target is to destroy the means of livelihood of the people, introduce poverty, subdue and conquer with a view to taking over the land. “When the people are preparing to plant their crops, the attacks will come and when they want to harvest their crops, the attackers will chase them away from their villages and harvest their crops.
“We have cried out that there are strange settlements in our communities. If you go to the Rankum community, which the Fulani are claiming to have renamed Mahanga, down to the Kura Falls community, you will see several new houses erected by these strangers.
If you also go to the Rahoss community, you will notice several new houses with new roofs springing up in the area and extending to other communities. Who are these people and where did they come from? “They are land-grabbers, they have settled in our communities in their thousands and built houses.
Even the Fulani that we know have been complaining as well that there are stranger elements in their midst although they are divided among themselves. Some of them are harbouring the killers and offering tactical support, while some others are not interested in what is going on.
“So, the killers are not bandits. If they are bandits, they will kill and disappear; but these ones will kill, build houses and occupy the land, and what are they if not land-grabbers?” Member representing Jos East/Jos South Federal Constituency of Plateau State in the House of Representatives, Dachung Bagos, once noted, “The people are being killed while their lands are grabbed by non-state actor. Land grabbing is at the heart of the killings. Justice is the answer. Bringing the perpetrators to book is the answer…” However, the state governor, Simon Lalong, warned against land-grabbing, saying, “those fighting, killing people and destroying their settlements with the intention of taking ownership of such places will not be allowed to do so.
“If you think you can chase people out and grab their land, we as a government will not allow you to own the land. My administration is working out modalities for prosecuting land grabbers to discourage the act.”
The Governor signed the anti-land grabbing, kidnapping and cultism bill passed by the House of Assembly into law, saying it would address unlawful land grabbing, rising spate of kidnapping, cultism and other violent crimes in the state.
His words, “The anti-kidnapping, antiland grabbing, cultism and other antiviolence related matters law was as a result of the increase in kidnapping and other violent crimes in the state. “As a responsible government, we cannot fold our arms and watch our people terrorized by criminals, who are clearly out to cause mayhem.
“This law will deal with anyone caught in the act and I urge security agencies to be on their toes and ensure that culprits are apprehended and made to face the law,” he said. Mrs Rauta Dakop, the State Solicitor General and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, said the law seeks to prohibit any person or group of persons from the forcible takeover of landed property belonging to either a citizen or government.
The governor asked citizens to take advantage of the Anti-Land Grabbing Law and seek redress over any land forcefully or illegally taken from them, even as he said he will inaugurate an Anti-land Grabbing Task Force to also follow up on such complaints and ensure that justice prevails. It would be recalled that he had established the Peace Building Agency to mediate and conduct dialogue sessions across the State and ensure people live in peace.
In Bassa alone, there have been more than 34 sessions held between the Irigwes and Fulanis. Other sessions were also held between Berom and Fulani in Barkin Ladi and Riyom LGAS, the situation also occurred in Bokkos and others. Lalong continued, “I have set up a special task force against land grabbing, if you know your land has been grabbed, just report to them and they will move in to reclaim your land and give it back to you.
It is unfortunate that in recent times, some politicians have taken pride in trying to incite the youths against the government by insinuating that the Governor or the government does not care about the people, or is allowing land belonging to Plateau indigenes to be grabbed by foreign herders. “Contrary to this mischief, our government is the first in the history of Plateau State and one of the few, if not the only one in Nigeria, to sign an anti-land grabbing law which we initiated as an Executive Bill.”
But the State Assembly recently asked the Governor to, “Implement the Anti Land Grabbing Law to enable those occupying illegal lands in Plateau to vacate such lands and native owners to take back their lands”, the chairman House Committee on Information, Hon Philip Dasun said.
Recall that in 2018, the Federal Government pledged the sum of N10bn for the rebuilding of the victims’ homes and resettlement of the IDPs but that pledge has not been fulfilled. Mwadkwon further stressed that, “On the first day of our plenary as members of the 9th Assembly, I raised a motion on the floor of the House and it was well debated.
The prayers were clearly stated that we build on the fact that the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, visited Plateau State when over 300 villagers were massacred in my constituency in the Garshish community and that a promise of N10bn was made and also a promise to build a mobile police barrack in the affected community.
“Even after the 2019 election, nothing came and that was why I had to bring it as a motion during our first plenary and the prayers were that we needed that N10bn to be redeemed so that our traumatized people could be assisted to rebuild their lives. I have removed the extract of the motion and attached it to a formal letter, which was forwarded to the office of the President, but I got no reply.
I am thinking of sending another letter to the Presidency with the extract of the motion, because the motion is already the property of the National Assembly, and we feel strongly that the Federal Government should respect it.
“The truth is that government has not been fair to the people by not respecting that motion, because as of the time I presented that motion, it was over a year that the victims had been languishing in IDP camps and the APC government in Plateau has been lying over the situation, saying it has resettled the people. Whereas as we speak now, my constituents are still in IDP camps with nobody to help them. I still appeal to the Federal Government to fulfill the N10bn pledge so that the people can heave a sigh of relief.”