(BACKPAGE) Middle Belters must find their voice

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LEKAN SOTE

Yet again, Nigeria’s Middle Belt suffered another crude and devastating blow of terrorism. Nigerians in more than 20 communities in the Bokkos, Mangu (home of the state governor), and Barkin-Ladi in Plateau State lost lives, limbs, livelihoods, homes and sense of community in this digital age of the 21st Century.

Just on 2023 Christmas Day, violence wrought by (marauders described as foreign) terrorists was unleashed on communities of bona fide Nigerian citizens, with cruelty matched only by the manner in which Palestinians in Gaza were bombarded by guns, bombs and rockets of Israel Defence Forces. (That’s probably exaggerated).

Governor Caleb Mutfwang of Plateau State disclosed that the death toll after the attacks rose to 115 (it’s now more than 200), while more than 300 were reported wounded. He added that “not less than 64 communities … have been displaced and their lands have been taken over by these terrorists.”

After the heartless raid that lasted for more than two days, many communities were completely burnt down, and more than 10,000 harassed and joyless people were displaced. A pharmacy was even ransacked.

Mutfwang claimed that the attacks were not acts of reprisals from herders/farmers clash, but well-coordinated criminality. He acknowledges that the security agencies may have been a bit slow in responding because the affected communities are a bit remote.

But the lack of swift action encouraged another band of bandits to attack Ussa Village in Taraba State on December 26, 2023. Exactly eight days after the attack in Plateau State, terrorists launched another attack in Shere, in Jos East Local Government. A father, his son and an attacker died.

Yet another band of terrorists wrote to tell the people of the Pushit community of Mangu Local Government Area of Plateau State that they were coming to attack them on Friday, December 29, 2023. Mercifully, that did not happen.

The President of the Middle Belt Forum, Bitrus Pogu, is more forthcoming in his interpretation of the killings, which he described as ethnic cleansing by foreign interests that may be affiliated to a caliphate (that he did not name).

He is, however, categorical in his claim that the government is compliant in the attacks against the people of the Plateau, people who have been under siege even from the days of the colonial masters.

Former Chief of Army Staff and former Minister of Defence, Lt Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd.), once alleged that the military (under former President Muhammadu Buhari) was complicit in the attacks against the people of the Middle Belt.

Buhari looked away when cattle rearers (mostly of his Fulani stock) attacked and sometimes killed farmers who resisted their aggression. Even Samuel Ortom, as a sitting Governor of Benue State, was chased out of his private farm by herdsmen which he believed were Fulani militia.

In 1964, people of Plateau staged what was described as Tiv Riots after Cbargbar Apinenega, clan head of Mbalagh, and three others, were killed in the aftermath of the riot that greeted a levy that was imposed by Northern Nigeria Premier, Ahmadu Bello, in 1963.

Like today, the solution proffered by the government of Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (who was incidentally the Deputy Leader of Bello’s Northern People’s Congress), was military, instead of dialogue of mediation and conciliation.

Incidents like this will help you understand the sentiments of the former Minister of Defence, Gen. Domkat Bali, who argued for a big, behemoth, united Nigeria that would protect his Langtang minority people from the oppression of the northern political establishment.

The unconfirmed rumour which claims that a military officer, who is at large, is involved in the Christmas Eve attacks, feeds insinuations that the military is being used by some big people against its own will. It won’t be very easy for the military to disobey civilian authorities.

Another rumour claims that an indigene of one of the Bokkos communities is complicit in the attacks against his people and that he has been apprehended.

You shouldn’t blame the security forces if they neither deny nor confirm this development.

While on Arise TV “The Morning Show” the other day, the former Commander of “Operation Safe Haven,” Maj. Gen. Henry Ayoola (retd.), expressed the opinion that Mutfwang didn’t know what he was talking about, and that the governor had no powers to check the carnage. He may be thinking there may be a need for state police.

“The persecution and oppression of the people of the Plateau require a reasonable, adequate and swift response from the Nigerian state that appears incapable of taking decisive steps to check the excesses of the oppressors.”

While adding that the Nigerian system (or political establishment) is dancing around the issues, Ayoola says there is an urgent need for decisive action to be taken against the aggressors who seem to be interested in taking (or forcefully appropriating) the (ancestral) lands of the victims.

Some suggest that the fertile soil (for farming and cattle grazing), and large deposits of mineral resources, like limestone (for cement), gold, tin, iron ore and others, are the major reasons for the struggle for the territory around the Plateau.

Ayoola acknowledged that the Mahanga of the Plateau were largely of Fulani stock and were not necessarily bad people. He said in the past, before things got awry, nomad Gulani herders introduced themselves to the natives, who allowed them to use their farmlands to graze their cattle.

The waste from the cattle became manure for the farms of the locals, who usually arranged formal send-offs whenever the herders were returning to their homes in the Sahel. There may have been intermarriages between these peoples over the years.

Ayoola thinks that unless the security architecture of Nigeria, which he probably feels is jaded and ineffectual, gets a shift in policy, strategy, structure, institutions and other aspects, the security situation of the Middle Belt may not get better.

Ayoola, who is concerned that some interests and their sympathisers create problems and then invite the military to come and solve the problem, suggested that there is probably a clash of civilisation, bordering on culture, identity, ideology, interests and life pursuits, on the Plateau.

The persecution and oppression of the people of the Plateau require a reasonable, adequate and swift response from the Nigerian state that appears incapable of taking decisive steps to check the excesses of the oppressors.

If this state of affairs continues even under a Federal Government headed by a southern Nigerian, one is tempted to ask if the continued attacks on the defenceless people of the Plateau are ingrained in the DNA of the Nigerian state and its institutions.

Because, even under Maj. Gen. E.B. Welby-Everard, a British officer, as its Officer Commanding, between 1962 and May 1, 1975, the Nigerian military did not quite protect the people of the Plateau. It only came to “quell” their riot in 1964.

Maybe it is time for the people of the Plateau, and indeed of the entire Middle Belt, to stop weeping, wailing, mourning and gnashing their teeth, and then establish their own Amotekun Corp, like the South-West, and establish media houses that will help tell their narratives to the world.

Also, President Bola Tinubu must personally step into the politics of insecurity that a friend, Jumoke Alawode-James, describes as “the unending genocide on the Plateau.” Section 14(2,b) of the 1999 Constitution says, “The security… of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”
Enough of the state conspiracy against the people of the Plateau.