End the Plateau killing spree

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Punch Editorial Board

Plateau State, quite often the theatre of mindless carnage, recorded yet another orgy of dastardly killings recently, leaving many to wonder when the bestiality and impunity that have defined living in that part of the country for so long would finally be curtailed. Violence in Plateau seems to have defied containment, but security agencies need to move swiftly and promptly to protect the lives of innocent citizens, who are frequently mowed down in their own country, sometimes right in their own houses.

In the latest round of killings, no fewer than 27 people, mostly women and children, were sent to an early grave by gunmen suspected to be Fulani herdsmen. Such an occurrence in civilised parts of the world would surely provoke a national, if not international, outcry. Only 17 people were killed in the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks of January 2015 in France, which prompted the then president, Francois Hollande, to lead other world leaders out on a procession to pay tribute to the fallen victims of the attacks. It did not end there, the perpetrators were promptly rounded up and the citizens given a sense of relief, with the assurance that their security was firmly in the hands of the government.

Looking back at the responses to attacks in Plateau and other parts of the Middle Belt, one would be tempted to assume that some lives are more precious than others. In a gory scenario that has become all too familiar, gunmen crept up on villagers at Nkiedonwhro in Bassa Local Government Area of the state in the early hours of October 16, when some of them were probably still sleeping. It was reportedly the third of such visitation by the bloodthirsty hounds in just a matter of days.

What made these recent attacks significant was the fact that they took place at a time when the state government had just imposed an indefinite dusk-to-dawn curfew, which put their security firmly in the hands of the military. But, notably, all the assailants, as usual, made good their escape, thereby reviving long-standing speculations that the security men were complicit in the crime. To buttress this point, one of the villagers narrated how the victims were convinced to leave their homes and take sanctuary in a classroom, where they were massacred. “That was how the execution was carried out,” Sunday Abdu, the president, Rigwe Development Association, was quoted as saying.

Abdu’s assertion has, however, been dismissed by the military authorities. Yet, based on experience, these allegations should not be discarded. Rather, they should be thoroughly investigated and anyone found culpable brought to book. The defence of the military did not even help matters, when the spokesperson for Operation Safe Haven, the security operators in the area, Umar Adams, said that they were overwhelmed by the numerical strength and tactical approach of the assailants. Not only did they all escape, Adams, a captain, said they also had the presence of mind to take with them all their wounded.

This is unbelievable for a military upon which lies the responsibility of defending the territorial integrity of the country if ever she comes under attack by invading foreign forces. Perhaps the security approach should come under critical review; it is now getting to a point when villagers should be allowed to arm themselves to effectively fend off any attack as the Nigerian state has so miserably failed to guarantee their security over the years. This is already working well in the North-East, with the invaluable role of the Civilian Joint Task Force in the ongoing war against Boko Haram.

History cannot just continue to repeat itself in Plateau, while everybody looks on in utter helplessness. The Nkiedonwhro attacks bear an uncanny resemblance to what happened in 2012 when some hoodlums believed to be herdsmen killed 60 people, mostly women, children and the elderly, from Barkin Ladi and Riyom LGAs, right inside a church, where they had sought refuge.

As if the massacre was not repulsive enough, when the communities gathered the following day to bury their dead, the killers, this time in military kits, descended on them again and slaughtered scores more, bringing the number of souls lost in the two days to over 100. Among those killed were a serving senator, Gyang Dantong, and the Majority Leader of the State House of Assembly, Gyang Fulani. A member of the House of Representatives, Simon Nwadkom, owed his survival to a timely intervention of a medical team that revived him after he fainted.

By a conservative estimate, about 3,000 lives were lost between 2001 and 2010 in internecine warfare in Plateau State, starting with 1,000 persons confirmed dead in 2001 and the 500 of 2005. By 2008, when the crisis erupted again, 700 were reported killed, followed by 750 in 2010. This mindless loss of lives cannot be allowed to continue. Significantly, most of the massacres took place at a time of full curfew, prompting women of the state to take to the street on several occasions to protest alleged soldiers’ biased handling of security in the area.

Although President Muhammadu Buhari has described the Plateau attacks as madness that has gone too far and ordered the military and police to end the violence, a lot still has to be done to achieve permanent peace. The actual culprits should be arrested and made to face the law. Anything short of that will not work. The killers have been emboldened so far because their actions have attracted no consequences.

Besides, there have been several reports by panels and commissions of enquiry that have yet to be implemented. They include the late Solomon Lar, Emmanuel Abisoye and Niki Tobi reports. Others were also carried out by both the state assembly and the National Assembly. Buhari has to dust down these reports and implement them and hope that they would be sufficient to guarantee a peaceful coexistence.

The idea of the Fulani going about with unlicensed weapons should be discouraged, while security agencies should be challenged to do their job the way it should be done – without fear or favour. In fact, based on intelligence reports, attacks should be preempted and stopped before they ever take place.

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