At least 247 people have been killed in Plateau and Taraba States in four years by a ‘self-acclaimed’ traditional ruler, reports say.
Mr. Shehu Jatau, the Ponzhi (Tarok name for King) of Plateau bordering Kurmi village in Ibi Local Government Area of Taraba State, allegedly runs a criminal syndicate that terrorized communities in the two States since 2016, leading to widespread displacements.
His victims, mostly people who opposed his ‘draconian’ laws were tortured, shot or hacked to death by his gang, sources say.
Between March 2018 and October 2019 alone, the group is thought to have killed at least 17.
It allegedly killed among others, two natives of Yal village in Kadarko District – Mr. Ishaya Adamu Chirpyen on March 3, 2018 and Mr. Nanmen Zhantur Nimmak on March 26, 2018.
It later hung one Mr. Mbani to death on May 15, 2019, it was alleged.
Same day, 20 others were reportedly burnt to death by the same team. A survivor of the mayhem identified as Mr. Sonan Nimyel was said to have been tortured and left for dead.
Shortly later on July 12, 2019, the militia murdered at least 10 people in Jawuri village, it is said.
The victims were identified Mr. Nanvem Ramnap and his son, Nanlir, Mr. Kapbin Ndam, Mr. Langnim Dilla and Nansoh Fallang. Others are Dul Ndam, Haruna Ade, Sallah Maikarfi and Danladi Sani.
On August 29, 2019 a husband and wife – Mr. and Mrs. Rimfa Gonto were supposedly murdered in Wurmat village. The following month, the village Chief of Taknalam (Langtong) was killed along with one Mr. Bamnap Gabong on September 14, 2019, also believed to be by the same group.
14 unnamed others had been allegedly killed between 5th and 13th September, 2019.
The killings climaxed with the murder of one Mr. Ladam Guktur on October 19, 2019 before the “notorious militia gang leader” was arrested by the Nigerian Army in Abuja on November 2, 2019.
The Army Operations Media Coordinator, Col. Aminu Iliyasu, told journalists after the arrest that Jatau and his gang were “very active in the unfortunate Plateau crisis that caused the lives of citizens and destruction of properties worth billions of naira.”
After authorities successfully suppressed the violence, “the criminal gang resorted to kidnapping, extortion and unleashing unprecedented carnage on innocent residents,” the army spokesman said.
According to local sources, Mr. Jatau’s gang demanded a ransom of at least N50,000 from displaced residents to resettle in their homes and harvest their farm crops.
He was arrested along with others after a peace meeting organized by the Plateau State government at the Plateau State Liaison office in Abuja on October 30, 2019 in his hotel room.
A machine gun was reportedly found in his possession.
The arrest was however opposed by the national body of the Tarok community association, Ngwang Ishi O’Tarok (NIO) as an attempt to ruin the reputation of the local chief.
The NIO in an undated press release signed by its President, Mr. David Dashe claimed the arrest was already generating tension in the affected community.
Its Wase chapter however insists the arrest has restored peace in its communities.
A statement signed by its Chairman, Hon. Longka Zinkat and Secretary, Sunday Miri on November 11, 2019 recommended similar measures in other communities facing same conflicts.