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SPECIAL REPORT: The Genesis, Ethno-Religious and Socio-Political Vista of Decades-Long Bloodbath in Plateau

For over two decades, Plateau State, formerly known as the Home of Peace and Tourism experienced a series of devastating ethno-religious and political devastations involving clashes between Christians and Muslims as well as between herders and farmers. The recent surge of violence in Mangu claimed over a hundred lives and turned homes, mosques, and churches to ashes. This tragic incident demands a closer examination, not only to understand the root causes but also to shed light on the factors exacerbating the conflict and the potential pathways towards reconciliation. WikkiTimes Babaji Usman Babaji Writes.

In a recent incident in Mangu local government area of the state, over a hundred people were killed, and several houses including mosques and churches were burnt down in the recently resurfaced ethno-religious conflict.

WikkiTimes gathered that the crisis originated from a dispute between a Fulani herder and a Mwagavul farmer, but later took on a different face with continued ethnic attacks and counter-attacks and then with a religious dimension, escalating into violence that resulted in fatalities and the destruction of worship centres belonging to both sides.

VICTIMS RECOUNT

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Sumayya Sulaiman, the mother of four and one of the victims told WikkiTimes that she lost all her belongings to the conflict. “As I am talking to you now, I have only the clothes on my body spared, they burnt everything.

“We are still squatting with my relatives because our house is no more. Our escape was just a will of God, we would have been lynched,” she said.

According to her, they were attacked by the armed youths who started burning their houses and also set their mosque ablaze.

For Munidang John, the widow who looks after four orphans was left with nothing, “Our house is burnt down to ashes and nothing left for us – no food nothing nothing,” she told WikkiTimes.

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Weeks after the clashes, Mrs John is still grappling with the horrible post-crisis life that turned her into penury and altered her life.

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CRISIS ATTRACTS COMMENTS, ALLEGATIONS

Sympathisers as well as fake news mongerers took advantage of the crisis and the accessibility of social media platforms.

Bala Dahiru, one of the residents said the clash ensued after the youth allegedly of Mwagavul – the indigenous farmers in the area – insisted that a community he identified as Gangaran Kwata, to hand over to them some Fulani herders who were earlier displaced in the neighbouring communities.

For refusing to surrender them (Fulani refugees), he said the youths started attacking the residents in the area. “That is how the thing started just like a normal fight before it escalated and led to a loss of lives and property.” He said at least four people including his brother were killed during the clash including one herder and three Hausa men who were the residents of the area.

The affected places according to the locals include Alagwang, Kwata, Dawo, and Unguwan Maijirgi. “They burnt down a mosque close to the Police Station located at the Mangu Monarch Palace. 

However, Joseph Nanle, a resident, said the crisis started after some suspected Fulani herders blocked a road in the area and attacked some of the residents.

“So, as a result, the people of the affected community went to where the suspected herders reside. That was where the fighting started.”

Nanle disclosed that several churches were set ablaze during the day-long face-off, which resulted in the death of scores of people and the destruction of several houses and shops.

The National President of the Mwaghavul Development Association (MDA), Sir Joseph Gwankat, believes that the motive of the herders was to grab their ancestral land for grazing. “It will appear to me that they want to take over our land for grazing. My people are predominantly crop farmers.

Gwankat however recalled “We have lived in peace with them for a decade; they embraced us, and we equally embraced them. We accommodated and kept our animals with them; we are intermarried, and some of them speak Mwaghavul better than I do. Already, there is pressure on land; there is drift from the north as a result of desertification to the Middle Belt as a result of pressure on land. So I want to believe that it is land-grabbing.

Blames among the warring groups continued, including the so-called Christmas Eve attack that reportedly led to the death of nearly 200 locals.

Alfred Alabo, the Plateau State Police Command Spokesman on Thursday, January 25, said the command arrested 17 suspects in connection with the attacks and killings in Mangu, Bokkos and Barkin-Ladi Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the state.

Similarly, the Nigerian Army Headquarters paraded 10 youths accused of attacks and looting of properties in Kyarang, a community in the area. They also attacked Airforce Personnel enforcing the 24-hour curfew in Kerang Mangu where dangerous weapons used in the attacks were seized by the force.

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Hitherto, Mangu LGA was a peaceful council, notably spared from ethno-religious crises bedevilling the state over two decades ago.

However, since April 2023, there has been a series of serious bloody attacks among the locals that claimed over 200 lives and properties worth millions destroyed.

Until the latest crisis that erupted on Tuesday, January 23, 2024, the clashes were mostly between Fulanis who are mostly Muslim herders and the Mwagavul farmers who have a greater percentage of the Christians on the other hand.

GENESIS/BACKGROUND OF PLATEAU CRISES

Although the Plateau crises could be traced far back to 1994 as fact-checked by WikkiTimes, the notable mayhem that devastated the formerly home of peace and tourism was the 2001 Jos riots involving Christians and Muslims in the state capital clashes started on 7 September and lasted nearly two weeks.

Due to the city’s geographical placement in Nigeria – located in the middle of the country – lying between the predominantly Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south and its known job opportunities had led people from around Nigeria to move there for greener pastures.

While Muslim communities mostly Hausa-Fulani who lived in the state for centuries controlled a great portion of the economic strive, the indigenous tribes regarded them as settlers who wanted to grab their ancestral lands and a threat to their socio-economic success.

Therefore, the Plateau State crisis has notably the economic, political, ethnic and religious outlook.

The immediate cause of the crisis in 2001 was believed to be the appointment of a Muslim politician, Alhaji Muktar Mohammed, as local coordinator of the federal poverty alleviation program. Tensions turned violent when a Christian woman attempted to cross a barricaded street outside a mosque during Friday prayers leading to a conflict between her and a group of Muslim worshipers.

The fight eventually spread to other parts of the city and later to other local governments of the state. No less than 1,000 people were killed during the riots, thousands of others were injured and about 50,000 civilians were displaced. Many houses, shops, mosques, and churches were burned or damaged.

A 2004 riot in Yelwan Shendam, another town in Plateau’s Shendam local government resulted in the so-called ‘Yelwan Shendam massacre’. No less than 600 people most of which were Muslims were killed and accorded mass burial.

In 2008, another riot ensued between 28 and 29 November 2008, as a result of rumours that began that the election conducted at the time was won by the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Timothy Gyang Buba, defeating the candidate for the then All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) even before the electoral body publicly list the winners.

People from the largely Muslim Hausa community, began protesting, which resulted in a clash that claimed at least 761 dead and hundreds injured from Muslims and Christians. Over 10,000 people also fled their homes.

Human Rights Watch alleged that soldiers and police carried out more than 130 extrajudicial killings while responding to the 2008 riots.

There have been persistent attacks and counter-attacks across most of the local governments of the state over the last two decades in Plateau State.

The recent Mangu killings like in other councils, were in the form of attacks and reprisals between Fulani herders, and Mwagavul natives.

Locals in the area however traced the cause of the crisis to when some cows destroyed a farmer’s banana plantation which triggered myhem that continued for barely a year with lives lost and destructions becoming unabated.

Abdullahi Mohammad Nura, the Chairman Plateau State Chapter scores of herders were killed during the conflict apart from Hausa communities also killed in Mangu town. He mentioned Shagal, Tam and Kauwan Ali as places where their members were killed and over 100 cows were rustled in addition to the burning of about 100 houses.

Nura blamed the state government for fueling the crises by not taking appropriate measures to handle it.

According to him, the state government was using the local security group Operation Rainbow to execute its political and malicious agenda. “They (Operation Rainbow) are those leading the people that attacking us with their sophisticated weapons.”

“The federal government must intervene for lasting peace to reign, but it seems like the state government is far from steps to the solution.

He said one of the causes of the conflict was cattle rustling which was prevalent in places like Mangu, Bokkos and Barkin Ladi Local governments of the state. “When they rustle the cows, the affected herders would normally resist and the crises usually start at that point. “This is 85 per cent of the causes.”

SPREAD OF FAKE NEWS

The fake news continued to get momentum before and after, but especially during the crisis when the incident was trending on social media platforms and also became topical among the discourse of gatherings.

Hundreds of the claims about the crisis were either distorted or totally fake, mostly created by some seeking sympathy and others were orchestrated to fuel more hostilities.

Claims, pictures and video clips on Facebook pages, and Twitter (X) handles were too obvious and contributed to negative reactions.

Umar, shared a video showing soldiers shooting some unarmed locals, which he said was during the Mangu mayhem; but it is fake.

WikkiTimes fact-checked the claim and proved it a fake. The video clip went round some years back particularly in 2018 believed to be one of the extra-judicial killings of Nigerian troops in the Northeast.

A claim by the Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Mangu LGA, Rev Timothy Daluk, declared that troops were abating attackers against the indigenous people in the area – mostly Christians – it attracted a wide negative impact.

He accused the Nigerian military of aiding Muslims to burn their residential houses and churches while implementing the imposed curfew only on the Christian fellows, claiming that the military supported killings and was involved in the destruction of properties.

“I am here to report the situation happening in Mangu Local Government for the whole world to understand. What is happening in Mangu at this particular point in time, the military are the ones sending our people away for the militia to burn their houses,” he said in the video.

Daluk’s claim triggered reactions by locals and frustrated not only the national body of the CAN, but it attracted international sympathy; it was misleading.

His claims were dismissed by the Defence Headquarters, describing it as malicious. “The attention of the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) has been drawn to a malicious video made by the Chairman Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Mangu Chapter, Reverend Timothy Daluk.

“The video has been circulating in the media, aiming to malign military personnel deployed to address the security challenges in the Mangu general area.

“The video made baseless and untrue accusations, claiming that the military is biased and supports a particular group against others. We categorically state that these accusations hold no truth, are malicious and lack any reasonable foundation.

“It is important to recall that on 23 January 2024, there was a breach of security in the Mangu municipal area, resulting in the Government of Plateau state declaring a 24-hour curfew,” Brigadier General Tukur Gusau the Spokesperson for Defence Headquarters said in a statement.

It explained that troops of Operation SAFE HAVEN were reinforced in Mangu to enforce the curfew and bring the situation under control, thereby preventing its spread to other areas.

The herders as well, on several occasions, accused the military officers of leading and aiding the indigenous natives to torch their residential houses and also kill their cows. However, the allegations were often refuted by the officers.

Similarly, Ibrahim Taura on a Facebook group shared a decades-long picture claiming that it was part of the killings of cows belonging to the herders in Mangu – It is fake.

WikkiTimes fact-checked the pictures by scrutinising them into fact-checking tools and discovered that they had been in existence for over ten years and were not in Nigeria.

The image was in 2011 reported as one of the evidence of severe drought in northern and eastern regions of Kenya, south-central Somalia and eastern Ethiopia happened in 2009.

Citizen Observer, an X user shared a post claiming that, “Fulani terrorists invaded and slaughtered over 40 #Christians in Mangu LGA, Plateau State, Nigeria. When will Nigerians, especially the people of the Middle Belt, ever stand up and defend themselves?”

WikkiTimes also fact-checked and discovered that the gruesome pictures were posted over a year earlier as fatalities of an attack elsewhere near Mangu, as claimed by International Christian Concern and other platforms.

PLATEAU STATE AND BANDITRY

Since 2022, attacks linked to the ongoing Nigerian bandit conflict erupted in Wase and Kanam local governments of the state predominantly Muslim inhabitants, resulting in the killing of hundreds of people in a series of attacks and many got kidnapped.

On 10 April 2022 for instance, a bandit gang, believed to be herders attacked nine villages killing at least 50 people and kidnapped about 70 others, also torched and looted houses during the rampage. The victims who died in the attacks were buried in a mass burial in Kanam.

But most crises in Plateau State are ethnoreligious and also have political and economic outlooks.

ILLICIT WEAPONS FACTORY IN PLATEAU

Nigerian troops under ‘Operation Safe Haven’ on February 15, 2024, said it had discovered a weapons factory in Pakachi, a village in Mangu Local Government Area of Plateau State. The military said a suspect, Tapshak Plangji, 25, has been arrested in connection with the facility while Nuhu Meshack, who is suspected to be the owner of the illegal factory is at large.

In a statement posted on the official X handle of the Nigerian Army, a large volume of illegal firearms and associated accessories was found during the operation.

This was coming barely three months after the troops uncovered another illegal weapon manufacturing factory in Vom, Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State, as reported by PUNCH.

The military said the operation led to the discovery of a substantial cache of automatic weapons and related equipment that were being produced and distributed to other states, thereby fueling the crisis in Plateau and Southern Kaduna.

CULPRITS OF CRISES NOT PROSECUTED

In the aftermath of the 2001 ten-day violence that left over a thousand people dead – mostly got a mass burial – the authorities arrested several hundred people and set up a commission of inquiry.

The committee identified and named people who were allegedly involved in the violence, but no one was successfully prosecuted.

Similarly, in the 2008 crisis, police reported that more than 500 people were arrested as a result of the riots. But state officials said no one was successfully prosecuted.

OPERATION RAINBOW – THE LOCAL VIGILANTE

In 2013, the former governor of the state Jonah Jang, inaugurated 1000 individuals youth who completed the training course administered by the International Security Academy (ISA) of Israel, to support the national security agents in tackling the insecurity.

The local outfit was however criticised by Muslims in the state on the grounds that the group was established without a single Muslim recruited, hence, perceived to be established to witch-hunt Muslim communities and/or political opponents.

The Muslim communities persistently accused the outfit of bias in its operations.

One of the instances was the allegation by the Jama’atu Nasrul Islam (JNI), an umbrella group of the Nigerian Muslim Community Plateau State Chapter accused Operation Rainbow of glaring partisanship during the Mangu crises.

PLATEAU GOVERNORS AND THE CRISES

Senator Joshua Chibi Dariye was the governor of the state during the 2001 crisis. The crises under his administration persisted.

The governor’s failure to handle the situation led to the escalation of the crisis which resulted in the death of thousands. Thousands of locals were displaced and property worth millions lost.

The crises engulfed most of the local governments in the state except for his town home Bokkos and its neighbouring Mangu.

The persistence of hostilities in the state later necessitated the declaration of a State of Emergency and the installation of a Sole Administrator in the state by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

In his public broadcast, Obasanjo described the situation in parts of the state as “near mutual genocide,” blaming the Dariye for the continuing violence. “As of today, there is nothing on the ground and no evidence whatsoever to show that the State Governor has the interest, desire, commitment, credibility and capacity to promote reconciliation, rehabilitation, forgiveness, peace, harmony and stability.”

Dariye in 2017 confessed that they as governors of the state had failed to promote unity in the state. During the Thanksgiving service at the Government House Chapel in Rayfield, he said there was a need for the elders and stakeholders in the state to make efforts to sustain peace. “We, the elders of Plateau State, have failed Plateau citizens because of lack of unity, especially those of us who are former governors.

The ex-governor had said that during his administration, he made several efforts to restore lasting peace, however, stressing that 90% of the crises in the state are political but were given religious colouration.

The David Jonah Jang-led administration between 2007 and 2015 was the bloodiest period in the state’s history so far.

Besides the death of thousands of locals, the crises cost the lives of notably two federal and state lawmakers – a Senator and a member of the Federal House of Representatives.

Senator Gyang Dantong and the Majority Leader of the Plateau State House of Assembly, Mr. Gyang Fulani were killed while attending the mass burial of about 50 victims killed in Barkin Ladi and Riyom local government areas of the state.

The governor was accused of bias and allegedly vowing to evict “settlers” mostly Hausa/Fulani Muslims. His administration was characterised by bloodshed in the state, especially in places where his tribe Berom were the majority.

In response to questions from journalists on the Plateau issues, after attending the burial of the two lawmakers, Jang angrily said: “Am I God to end Jos crisis.”

He wondered why people were particular about the Plateau crisis. “Is Plateau the only place that has security problems? The security situation is all over the country, so why are you so particular about Plateau State?” He, however, urged citizens of the state to always dialogue to resolve all differences instead of resorting to violence.

In 2015, came the tenure of Simon Bako Lalong, a tenure that enjoyed relative peace. Lalong administration was commended for its inclusiveness. It was however marred by the national insecurity characterised by banditry and kidnapping.

The administration was also criticised by mostly his fellow Christians who saw him as so lenient to the settlers notably herders who in several instances fingered as land grabbers and for banditry in the state.

As a result, they allegedly rejected his APC’s candidate and voted for the PDP candidate despite rejecting the party at the Presidential level.

Muslims on the other hand gave their support to the APC candidate a Christian Ngas tribe basically for being anointed by Lalong.

This includes the Muslim communities in PDP Mutfwang’s country town, Mangu with the Mwagavul tribe – this, however, triggered his kinsmen.

In contrast, the Ngas tribe established cordial relationships with the Muslims who accorded their son full support. Analysts opined that it was the reason there is peace in places of Ngas tribes despite being surrounded by volatile Mwagavul areas and known for decades-long hostilities.

ANALYSTS BERATE ‘ONE-SIDED’ SECURITY COMMITTEE

The Plateau state Governor, Caleb Mutfwang, in a statement on January 29, 2024, approved a 10-man committee; AVM Napoleon Bali (as Chairman), His Royal Highness the Bomgong Jos Gyang Buba, Prof Ganyir Lambin, PIDAN representative, Brig. Gen’ G.G. Ship, DIG Felix Vwamni (Rtd), DIG Habila Jwalshak (Rtd), Major Toholman Daffi (Rtd), Coordinator, Operation Rainbow and Arc. Samuel Jatau will serve as members of the committee.

However, the security experts as well as especially Muslim communities described it as one-sided accusing the governor of being biased.

This according to them could be an obstacle to lasting peace in the state.

They stressed that the committee failed to involve representatives from all the warring parties, but, considered only one side which according to them could be disastrous to the volatile Plateau State.

Members of the Security Community

Idris Mohammed, a security expert and Founder, Sulhu Development Initiative (SDI) said the governor has set an unbalanced committee to proffer a solution to the ethno-religious crisis which according to him would not work. “Plateau state governor made an error here.”

He said investigating a conflict with ethno-religious undertones requires a committee that represents diverse faith groups. “Inclusivity is crucial for everyone’s perspective,” he added.

He opined that the bias and the government’s failure to include all warring parties in proffering solutions is the major problem the state is facing.

Commenting Brig. Gen. S. Bala (Rtd), President at White Ink Institute for Strategy Education and Research (WISER) disclosed that Governor Caleb is repeating the same mistake the former governor of the state made which according to him, the state is still paying the price “Exactly why the problem of Plateau will never abate. No one wants to listen. Same game Jang played to raise the conflict to what it has become today.”

“The problem of Plateau is a truth, mediation, reconciliation and transitional justice matter, and not a combat and law enforcement one. The sooner the leaders of Plateau and their collaborators understand this and truly want peace, the better,” he added.

They called on the governor to accommodate and involve all the warring parties with all tribes and religions involved in the peace-making process.

Timothy Avele, a security expert, MD/CEO Agent-X Security Ltd, Lagos, said “In conflict resolution, all sides must be represented even the known spoilers are to be included. This is the surest means to ensure peace.”

However, after the public outcry on the committee, Mutfwang pledged to include especially the Muslim communities in the committee.

Reacting to the development, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) Samuel Nanchang Jatau in a statement said, “The attention of the Plateau State Government has been drawn to a letter being circulated on social media about a security committee constituted by the Executive Governor, Caleb Manasseh Mutfwang, which is generating concern among members of the public.

“For the avoidance of doubt, this committee was constituted to provide a roadmap to be implemented by the government to ensure sustainable peace and security in the state. “Part of the mandate of this committee is to come up with a comprehensive list of critical stakeholders across the three Senatorial Districts, cutting across the divides of faith, ethnicity and gender towards possibly convening an All Plateau Confab as a strategy for building trust in the state,” the statement added.

Samuel Jatau assured the people of the state that Governor Mutfwang would run an all-inclusive government.

EXPERTS’ VIEW

Dr Kabiru Adamu, the Managing Director, Beacon Consulting Ltd, Nigeria’s security intelligence firm attributed the lingering clashes in the state to the government’s laxity, “The government is not serious,” he said, citing the failure of successive administrations to implement the recommendations of the previous commissions of inquiries set.

“At least six of them and none of their recommendations were implemented, even a white paper was not provided by the successive governments.”

According to the security expert, there were issues of indigene/settler dichotomy identified in the previous reports by the commissions.

He lamented that Plateau State is among some Nigerian states that do not honour the indigenship rights despite clearly outlined by the constitution, “My understanding with the provision is if you reside in a place for two years, you have the right to own a land and participate in politics, ” States like Plateau rejected such provisions.”

Police Arrest 17 Suspects Over Renewed Plateau Attacks

He said the unhealthy politics of sectionalism, religion and tribalism also exacerbated the hostilities among the people of the state.

Another factor according to Dr Kabir is “the nongovernmental groups of youths that were given weapons for political purposes, mostly by certain sections, politicians, etc. And the armed groups could be hired by anyone, hence, the proliferation of arms is so obvious. Drug abuse among the youths and the government’s inability to outline land ownership policy are also other factors.”

For Mr Timothy Avele of MD/CEO Agent-X Security Ltd, the root cause of the Plateau crisis is the struggle for survival and the fear of dominance against each other citing economic and political trends as the major forces pushing the crisis.

He told WikkiTimes that “both the state and federal governments are yet to touch the root causes of the crisis because of its delicate nature.

“The measures being adopted are reactive, not permanent. But it’s best to bite the bullet once and for all in order for enduring peace to return,” he said.

THE PATH TO LASTING PEACE

Mr D. Dankaka, President of Mwaghavul Youth in Plateau State said for peace to return in the area, attacks on villages and cutting down of farm produce allegedly by Fulani herdsmen must be stopped. “Grazing of cattle on the native’s farms without permission must also be stopped. With this, we believe that there must be peace.”

On the other hand, the Youth Leader of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) in the area, Saidu Jauro, said the search and killings of the Fulani members on the roads in the areas must stop.

Another thing to pave the way for peace according to Jauro is to stop cattle rustling, advising that “a high-powered committee comprising of Fulani and Mwaghavul youths be formed, “Our members must be allowed to move freely and their cattle to graze without fear of intimidation across the area.”

Commander of Operation Safe Haven (OPSH), Major General A. E. Abubakar suggested that for peace to reign, all warring parties must forgive each other.

But Timothy Avele, MD/CEO Agent-X Security Ltd, opined that to ensure enduring peace, deliberate sacrifices and compromise must be made by all sides. “This will require a political will to execute especially at the state level, supported by the FG. Due to intermarriages among both groups, duration of stay, economic and other factors will almost be impossible to drive out the minority (settlers) tribes.

“The best and most realistic option for peace is to accommodate. Don’t forget that even tenants have the right to survive. On the other hand, landlords also will do everything to secure their land now and for future generations. It’s all about fear of the unknown and the future.”

Timothy Avele suggested that a joint conflict resolution and reconciliation committee be set up with respectful leaders from both sides across ethnic, religious and political divides to be included including those considered to be spoilers and troublemakers.

He further said the state government supported by the Federal Government should be ready to implement the recommendation of this committee and intelligence-backed security measures be put in place to protect the communities and deal with troublemakers.

For Dr Kabir of Beacon Consulting Ltd., the government must strive to ensure that violence should not be used to suit one’s political ambition, advising the Plateau State governor to strengthen the inclusive security formation in the state.

“The governor must also run an inclusive government and strengthen its local security outfit Operation Rainbow with all tribes and religions involved, including what they termed as settlers, like other some states, stressing that there must be inclusiveness in groups like Operation Rainbow to include all tribes, religions, and genders. “And if there is inclusiveness, there would never be peace,” he stressed.

The Managing Director urged the people in the state to adopt transitional justice where citizens can identify what is right and wrong and apply justice and forgiveness among themselves.

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