Saturday, February 24, 2024

There are deliberate, orchestrated plans to wipe out people in Plateau State – Governor Mutfwang

The Governor of Plateau State, Caleb Mutfwang, has said that 80 per cent of the attacks in the state are pure genocide. Mutfwang lamented that more than 15 communities have been attacked and over 30,000 people displaced. He regretted that it is a problem that has built up over the years, saying that there is a breakdown of trust at both intra-community and inter-community levels. The governor, however, expressed delight that President Bola Tinubu is willing to address the crisis in the state. In this interview, the governor speaks extensively about the closure of Mangu Local Government Secretariat by the state Commissioner of Police, and the attempts to shut down the state House of Assembly among other burning issues in the state. Excerpts:

There have been renewed attacks in some parts of Plateau State in the past few days. What actually is happening in your state; can you give us an update?

This is an opportunity for me to put things in proper perspectives. Let me say that about a month before my inauguration as governor, things began to escalate, and right after my inauguration, things have deteriorated to a large extent.

When you look at the development, you would notice that the epicentre of this renewed insurgency is concentrated in the local government area where I come from and where my deputy comes from. So, you begin to ask whether it is a response to our emergence as governor and deputy because that is the interpretation that people are giving to it.

But whatever it is, a lot of criminality has come into play. What we are seeing is clear genocide; a deliberate and orchestrated plans to wipe out a number of people. I want to thank the security forces because to a large extent, they have done a lot. But, I want to say that they can still do a lot more.

With the right kind of empathy and mobilization, I believe that the security agencies can do a lot better. Of course, the traditional belief is that there have been herders/farmers clashes, but that is not the reality.

A situation where people are sleeping in their homes and they are attacked cannot be said to be farmers/herders clash; therefore, the questions to be asked are: Who are the people behind these attacks? Where are they coming from? Who sent them? Who are the real leaders behind these insurgencies?

There is a lot of intelligence that is coming up which we are putting at the disposal of the security agencies, and we are confident that with the new change of guard in the security arrangement of the country, we would be able to get some mileage in putting this ugly phase behind us.

“But whatever it is, a lot of criminality has come into play. What we are seeing is clear genocide; a deliberate and orchestrated plans to wipe out a number of people. I want to thank the security forces because to a large extent, they have done a lot”

You said this started shortly before you came into office; what were some of the early warning signs that you noticed before you got into office, and what did you do to ensure that the people’s lives were secured?

The early warning signs would include some of the intelligence that we had. The interesting thing is that we had notice of some of these attacks before they happened, and of course, what we normally would do is to turn them over to the security agencies.

Again, we have a lot of ungoverned spaces because there are a lot of farm lands that are lying fallow. We have a lot of mountainous areas and I believe it is difficult for the security agencies to cover all of those places.

But, when we turn over the intelligence to them, sometimes due to operational reasons, they may come a bit late; they may come in inadequate or come in ill-prepared, and therefore, it will be challenging. But, I can tell you that some of the field officers have done a lot within the constraints of the facilities available to them to be able to curb some of these tendencies, if not, it could have been worse.

According to a witness account, one of the incidents that happened was that the attackers came and started shooting sporadically in Mangu LGA. In some other climes, the local people form a kind of local security guard to protect the villagers. Are you, in any way, looking at that possibility to see how you can help your people because you are the chief security officer of that state?

Definitely, what is happening is quite worrisome. As narrated by the eye witness, you can see that this has nothing to do with farmers/herders clash, because when people are sleeping at night and they are attacked, certainly there is no grazing at night and you wonder why these people suddenly pounce on the villagers.

A lot of the villagers on the plateau have certainly lived in peace with all the people that have settled among them, so they never thought of carrying arms. I can assure you that there has been no farmer on the Plateau who thinks that he needs to carry AK-47 to the farm, so they came in and were attacked because they were ill-prepared.

So, it is going to be surprising if a lot of those communities do not think of how to arm themselves, but as a state government, we cannot be involved in arming the local populace. We can only try to improve the operational capacity of the security agencies on ground.

Therefore, we are trying to see how we can provide better facilities and working tools for the Military, the Police, the Civil Defence Corps, and of course, the official security outfit of the state called ‘Operation Rain.’

We will see how we can retool and re-energize them so that they can carry out their functions creditably, particularly, the function of intelligence gathering, which is key to nipping these incidents in the bud.

But, again, we are very hopeful that the body language of Mr. President, as demonstrated in reorganizing the security architecture, will help us to deal with these criminals and make sure that they are clearly shown that their end has come. And I believe that with the right posting of personnel, we are going to have the kind synergy that is required to deal squarely with these challenges.

A national newspaper reported that more than 200 persons have already been killed in your state as a result of this latest development. What are the measures being put in place by the state government to deal with the situation?

Broadly speaking, we have only two options at our disposal- the kinetic and non-kinetic options. Of course, I will dwell largely on the kinetic option, which the military high command is looking at.

And I want to believe that the new leadership of the military will deploy the right tools for this assignment. But, we are also looking at the non-kinetic dimension, which is the engagement of critical stakeholders.

We will be stepping up on that in the coming days. We are engaging at various levels with the community leaders to build bridges and restore understanding, so that no part of any community is vulnerable because of disagreement or misunderstanding.

For me as a governor, I have said it during my inaugural speech and I will continue to say it that I am a governor to all and I am going to look out for the welfare, peace and security of everyone. What we are dealing with is a challenge that is beyond the religious or tribal magnitude.

As long as Plateau State is de-marketed, all traders are affected, irrespective of their religion and ethnic inclination. Therefore, we must see this as a collective duty to fight and preserve the Plateau State.

It cannot be done by the government alone. Leaders at every stratum of leadership in the various communities must arise so that they can build bridges, and restore understanding.

This is what we are trying to facilitate as a government, so that we can have a common buffer against these insurgents and attackers, because Plateau State has been known as the home of peace and tourism and some people want to distort that narrative; and this, as a people, we must resist.

We are peace loving people. We have some of the best lands in the country and we are going to ensure that what God has given us is well preserved, whether it is among Muslim or Christian communities. We are going to ensure that all the lands are preserved for the people, and I am sure that before long, the insurgents will know that in Plateau State, it can no longer be business as usual.

You were quoted in the papers as saying that some of the attackers are coming from outside the state. But, last week, the former IGP, Baba Alkali, closed one of the local government areas in the state because of the insurgency; a decision that attracted condemnation from some quarters. Why was the closure? And was it the right move at that time?

Certainly, the closure had nothing to do with the insurgency. It was miscommunication and misinformation that made the IGP give that order and it is the same misinformation that we are trying to correct.

We did correct it before the former IGP stepped aside, but now, we have to ensure that the new leadership in place gets the right picture.
There is no crisis in any local government headquarters in Plateau State except what happened in Mangu Local Government Area about four days ago, and it was a local problem that had nothing to do with the local government administration.

“Therefore, we are calling on the new IGP to instruct his men on ground to always give the right information and remain neutral and apolitical when these political issues arise”

So, it was a separate incident on its own. Of course, the closure was ill-timed and ill-advised, and that is why we are trying to put things in proper perspective, so that the new IGP will understand that the order escalated the situation, rather than deescalating it.

I am glad to inform those who care to know that when the incident broke out in Mangu, it was the local government administration, which had been locked out, that rose to the occasion to control the situation, and today, we have very significant and relative peace within Mangu metropolis where that crisis erupted.

So, that is a local issue we are separately dealing with, and I believe that in the coming days, the police hierarchy will see the need to reopen those secretariats so that government works can go on.

This is because the local governments are critical in dealing with these insurgencies and we cannot afford to have them closed at this point in time. They are the ones that are closer to the people. So, we will be engaging the police high command in this regard to ensure that the closure order is reversed.

That being said, a lot is still being done at the local government level because we are responsible people and we must make the best out of every bad situation.

We understand that even the state House of Assembly was also closed at some point by the state commissioner of police. Do you suspect any political undertone to all of these?

Well, you know that sometimes, the interpretation of events on ground by those in leadership in some of those security agencies leaves a lot to be desired, and it has nothing to do with the hierarchy of command in Abuja. But sometimes, the local leadership here, for whatever reason, tries to get involved in politics.

Therefore, we are calling on the new IGP to instruct his men on ground to always give the right information and remain neutral and apolitical when these political issues arise.

Before I came in, there was a tussle with the House of Assembly, and even with valid court orders and instructions, there were attempts to shut down the House of Assembly.

Even after I was sworn in, there was still another move to shut down the House of Assembly, which we strongly advised against and the police leadership listened to our advice and allowed the Assembly to function.

In the same vein, we will continue to encourage the police leadership to stay aside from politics because even if there are political disagreements, the courts of law are there to deal with such disagreements.

Therefore, steps must not be taken to show partisanship by the police hierarchy. We need the forces, for example, some of the policemen unnecessarily manning the local governments could have been better deployed to deal with these insurgencies. I, therefore, want to call on the IGP to expedite action in reversing that order because it is uncalled for; it is unnecessary, unhelpful and therefore, whatever information he got on ground from his men is totally misleading. I believe that in the overall interest of the situation at hand, it is good to have a local government secretariat function.

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