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Still a Killing Field

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Fear and grief take the centre stage again in Jos after another round of crisis leading to the death of more than140 persons including two law makers

There was total breakdown of law and order in Jos, Plateau State, last week, following the death of two prominent politicians in the state and the massacre of more than 140 other persons by suspected Fulani herdsmen at Maseh village in Riyom local government area of the state.  There was pandemonium on Sunday, July 8, as people ran helter-skelter when the gunmen invaded communities in Barki Ladi and Riyom local government areas of the state where Biron people had gathered for the mass burial of 64 persons allegedly killed by the Fulani ethnic militia on Saturday, July 7.

 The suspected Fulani ethnic militia came heavily armed with assorted rifles and dressed in camouflaged mobile police uniforms with bullet proof vests. They were said to have opened fire on the mourners at the scene of the mass burial. In the stampede that resulted, Gyang Dantong, a serving senator representing Plateau North senatorial district and Gyang Fulani, representing Barkin Ladi constituency in the state House of Assembly, died out of exhaustion as they were fleeing from the gunmen. The late senator and the House of Assembly member were among those who came for the mass burial.

The incident occurred barely a week after Sambo Dasuki, the new National Security Adviser, embarked on a peace mission to Plateau State and met with various stakeholders. The massacre shook Plateau State in particular and the nation at large. It led to the imposition of curfew on four local government areas of the state, namely, Jos North, Jos South, Barakin Ladi and Riyom by Jonah Jang, the state governor. The governor reacted angrily to the incessant attacks on Berom people by the Fulani herdsmen that have turned Plateau State into a killing field. He described the latest orgy of violence as “a declaration of war on Plateau State orchestrated through well-trained militants who are not willing to live and let live.” He lamented that terrorists have established a base on the high grounds and hill of Plateau and have continued to hunt down people. He said he had always alerted the federal government about the presence of terrorists in the state and expressed regrets that his warning had not been heeded.

The governor said the crisis has reached its climax with the death of a serving senator and a member of the state House of Assembly who were among the innocent citizens killed by the gunmen. He, however, believes that the deceased lawmakers – Dantong and Fulani sacrificed their lives for their people and declared that such a sacrifice would not go in vain. “They will be remembered for the great sacrifice they made to the people because what happened to them could have happened to anyone,” Jang said.

President Goodluck Jonathan was equally pained by the latest bloodbath in Plateau State as he quickly summoned the security chiefs for an emergency session at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, last Monday.

In honour of Dantong, the two houses of the National Assembly last Tuesday, adjourned their plenary sittings. The late senator was until his death, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health.  He was also a member of House of Representatives between 2003-2007. David Mark, Senate president who expressed shock over the tragedy, said the only way for a lasting peace in Plateau State was for every aggrieved person to come forward for a dialogue “Dantong has become a sacrificial lamb; his death will be in vain if we continue with this madness beyond this point…we should never  get tired of preaching that there should be dialogue because that’s the only solution,” he said.

While Dantong and Fulani were unlucky to have died during the attack, Simon Mwadkon, a member of the House of Representatives was one of the lucky survivors. Last week, Mwandkon narrated how the suspected Fulani militia opened fire at  the mourners at the scene of the mass burial forcing everyone to abandon the corpses and scurry to safety.  He also confirmed that Dantong and Fulani had died of exhaustion. According to him, when they were running for dear lives, Dantong, Fulani and himself slumped. We were at the burial ground preparing to bury the victims of the mass attack on the villages when the gunmen started shooting, forcing everyone to abandon the corpses and scurry to safety. Everyone was racing away, but the senator slumped first.” He explained that while he (Mwandkon) was revived, the other two lawmakers died.

He described the persistent killings in the area as outrageous and embarrassing. He lamented that hundreds of villagers had been killed in the past few months and called on the federal government to protect his people.

Daniel Dem, member representing Riyom constituenc,y in the Plateau State House of Assembly, also corroborated Mwandkon’s account. He added that their attackers laid ambush for them in the nearby mountains and started shooting sporadically when they were about to commence the mass burial. “While we were there, we were hearing gun shots from behind the hills, but we were not seeing them. So, we continued with what we were doing. But all of a sudden, the gunmen started jumping down from the mountains. The sight of the attackers caused people to begin to flee,” he said. According to him, the running caused serious stampede because even the security agents who were supposed to guard the mourners also took to their heels. “We thought they would face the gunmen but they fled and you can imagine the stampede,” Dem said.

The latest Jos massacre has thrown the Birom ethnic group into another period of mourning. Family members and relations of the deceased have been agonising the sudden death of their loved one.The residence of the late Dantong at Rayfield in Jos was gloomy throughout last week. Hanatu, widow of Dantong and Chundung, aged mother of the deceased, were dumbfounded by the tragic end of the late senator.

The latest orgy of violence in Jos has been condemned by many Nigerians. Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president, said the fresh orgy of indiscriminate murder of innocent people in Plateau State by criminal gangs would complicate the country’s insecurity. The former vice- president said he was deeply disturbed by the descent to anarchy. He believes that the situation where revenge and counter-revenge has become the order of the day is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. “The frequent explosion of violence in Plateau State, if not checked, could lead to despair and dire consequences, which the country could ill afford,” Atiku said.

Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State, described the bloodbath in Plateau State as a challenge to Nigeria and urged the federal government to take measures to contain it.

The Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, also condemned the mayhem and called on President Jonathan to challenge the security agencies to bring the perpetrators of the dastardly act to book. A statement issued by leadership of the association in the 19 Northern states said: “If the government wants peace to reign in this country, then it must go beyond the usual condemnation and rhetoric by exposing the sponsors of these so-called Fulani  herdsmen that have continued to cause havoc in Plateau.”

Newswatch gathered that the latest attack on nine communities in Barkin Ladi and Riyom councils during which many people lost their lives and houses reduced to rubbles was in continuation of the recurrent ethno-religious friction between the Birom, Anaguta, and  ethnic groups on the one hand, and the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group on the other hand. The first major crisis in Jos was the April 12, 1994 riot. The genesis of the problem was the creation of Jos North local government area in 1991 by Ibrahim Babangida, general and former military president. It tended to have sowed the seed of discord that has continued to haunt Jos which used to be one of the most peaceful and tourism-friendly cities in Nigeria.

Since the creation of the local government, there have been fierce battles for the control of political power between the leaders of Birom ethnic group who are the owners of the land and the Hausa-Fulani whom they regard as settlers. The power mongers from both sides of the divide often hide under religion and ethnicity to instigate crisis.


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