Hostility among some communities in Plateau State in the last two weeks spreading across about four local governments has again thrown up the issue of the effectiveness of the current security arrangement in the country . Many are wondering why the gale of violence has continued to escalate rather than abate.
At the last count, renewed violence in different parts of Plateau State has claimed close to 100 lives. From Riyom and Barkin-Ladi local government areas, which have been trouble spots for some time, the violence has spread to Wase LGA and lately Bokkos LGA.
The genesis of the skirmishes appear similar in many respects even though with peculiar circumstances – A disagreement between a local and (more often than not) a Fulani herdsman or other tagged ‘settlers’ degenerates into a sectarian dispute resulting in a cycle of violence. The side initially at the receiving end mobilizes for reprisals, then counter- reprisals, and so it continues. The common peace message – “violence begets violence – is thus having a free expression.
Expectedly too, the protracted violence, which has spanned over a decade, would seem to have increased the propensity towards violence. Supposedly in the quest for self-protection and the seeming failure of the security arrangement to safeguard them, many communities and individuals are believed to have acquired weapons which they deploy at the slightest opportunity. The situation is compounded by the growing army of ethnic militias which, buoyed by increasing youth unemployment, provide easy recruits for the prosecution of violence.
As in many parts of the country, the Fulani herdsmen, who are famed, rightly or wrongly, not to allow any aggression against them un-revenged no matter how long it takes, had settled in many parts of Plateau State for almost a century in some cases. However, the antagonism between them and the indigenous groups appears to be worsening. Various reasons have been adduced from different quarters, not least is the mutual suspicion and hatred generated by previous crisis.
Several peace advocacy programmes by government, traditional rulers, non-governmental organizations, religious bodies and even the Special Task Force (STF) deployed to maintain peace in the state have not done the magic. Rather, the problem appears to be spreading to areas hitherto seen as peaceful.
Concerned by the situation, a youth group, Northern Advancement of Peace , Harmony and Development, called on governors of states in the North to come together and discuss ways to end the growing violence. The group in a statement signed by its president Melvin Ejeh said this had become imperative because of the socio-economic and other toll the situation is exerting on the region.
Despite repeated attacks on communities in Riyom local government area for some years now, a part known as the Ganawuri area inhabited by the Aten ethnic group seems to have enjoyed relative peace. It has become a reference point of peaceful co-existence until violence spread to the area recently. Ironically, those displaced by the crisis from both sides are now living together in the same homes among the Aten people! Sunday Vanguard spoke to the President of the Aten Development Association, Mr. Chom Bagu, on what went wrong. His perspective provides another insight into the problem.
His words: “Ganawuri has been spared the violence that has been part of Plateau State since September 7, 2001. This was not by accident as the Ganawuri people have certain values and traditions that discourage violence. We don’t allow the shedding of innocent blood on our land, we don’t take booty during war, we don’t kill women or children or even the aged. Working with a body known as Community Action for Popular Participation (CAPP), our royal father, the Atar Aten, organized a series of peace activities five years ago to consolidate the peace using road shows, rallies and dialogue.
We also established peace committees to report any tension, rumour or threats to the peace. We are blessed with a traditional leader who believes in peace and dialogue and who has responded to every threat of violence by actively supporting dialogue.
”This has worked very well till last Thursday March 21, 2013, when some people imported violence from Fadan Atakar in Kaduna State into Ganawuri. When they burnt Fulani houses that sad Thursday, the Atar Aten invited the STF, the local government chairman, the Atakar and Fulani to help get to the root of the violence and find a peaceful way of ending the violence. Yet the very next day, the violence escalated. Presently, we are hosting both the Atakar and Fulani internally displaced persons (IDPs_, feeding and caring for them.
”What is very worrisome to the Aten people is the amount of arms displayed during this violence by both sides. Even the STF took some time before they could approach the theatre of this senseless war. The question we are asking is , were these arms meant to wipe out the Aten people or what? The world must know that the Aten people have been under tremendous pressures from their neighbors to join the violence, which we have staunchly refused because we truly believe that this violence is avoidable and will not help anyone. We are serious farmers and have no influence in government. Because of our small population, it has been easy to ignore us, so we take our farming very serious and we know as a fact that violence will not serve our interest.
”The Aten people have resolved to remain neutral in this conflict. First because we do not know the source or the justification for this violence, second, both the Atakar and Fulani have begged us to stay neutral. So who do those urging us to plunge into this senseless violence represent and whose interest are they serving? Must the entire Plateau State collapse into violence? We thought Ganawuri was showing the way to make the peace and return prosperity to the state, so why the gang up, why the scheming to flood the Ganawuri peace valley with the blood of the peace loving people of Aten?”