Central Nigerian Meyango District, in Plateau State’s Bassa Local Government Area has witnessed dozens of armed attacks since September 2017.
At least 300 villagers have been killed in the attacks suspected to have been carried out by Fulani herdsmen.
The attacks have mostly occurred after communities agreed to work for peace.
Thus, when the Plateau State Peace Building Agency facilitated the signing of a peace commitment during the celebration of the 2019 international day of peace in Meyango town, in Bassa LGA, the locals protested.
The government and community representatives did sign the document, but the attacks resumed 48hrs later, with the killing of three people in the LGA’s Hukke village.
The document was not a peace accord, said the Director General of the Peace Building Agency, Mr. Joseph Lengmang.
“It is a process and one that needs to be nurtured,” Lengmang said at the dialogue and reconciliation meeting during which the commitment was signed.
However, with at least five of such failed agreements recorded so far, the natives seem no longer confident in the possibility of a peace deal with the settler herdsmen.
Every time we have a meeting seeking for peace with them (herders), that very day they will attack us or the following day.
This seems like the Fulani do not even want the peace that we are talking about at all,” said President of the Irigwe Development Association, Mr. Sunday Abdu.
‘We are a small tribe’
The Irigwe tribe is very small, and might not survive such violent attacks for long, Mr. Abdu told MK news.
I have told the Fulanis that we are no match for you. You are coming from different countries – Mali, Senegal, Guinea and all what not.
But we are a very little people even in Plateau we are not a big tribe. Leave us alone and go and fight the big tribes. What do you want? We will do it just so you can leave us in peace.”
The IDA President’s concern is predicated on the fact that the reoccurring attacks have continually increased vulnerability for women and children in the locality.
This group often suffers most, each time conflicts arise, spokesperson of the Irigwe women association, Mrs. Victoria Chega told MK.
“Whenever things like this happen, it is we the women and children that suffer most.
The attacks often leave us with no one to cater for us, or provide for us. Let the government end these conflicts to save us. I am sure they know who the killers are. Let them serve them justice.
The Nigerian government has done much to reduce the vulnerability of the locals, but perhaps, not much enough.
What have they done in Irigwe land? Who are the criminals that they have arrested? Who are these herders that have been killing? How unknown are the unknown gunmen? These are not invincible people. There is a place they operate and they know it,” President, Irigwe Youth Movement, Mr. Chinge Dodo said in an interview.
With the increased laxity of government, soon, violence might be the only option available to the locals, fears Mr. Dodo.
I think time will come when people will begin to clamour for the legalization of weapons. Because if you have a weapon and know I have one, you will be cautious when coming to attack me. This is called balance of terror,” he said.
According to the youth leader, the nonviolent solutions the government has proposed are “too elitist” to solve the conflicts.
People are called to exotic hotels for meetings while the real victims are left in pains. What is happening to the issue of justice and compensation? Now what we hear is an attempt by government to build RUGA (defined by government as Rural Grazing Area) for people that have been killing.
The killers are the ones who are being housed while the victims whose relatives have been killed and their homes and means of livelihoods destroyed have had nothing coming their way,” he said.
The violence in Plateau State has persisted for nearly two decades due to mutual suspicions and conclusions which are often based on rumours not facts, says Plateau State Chairman, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Mr. Nuru Mohammed.
Anytime an attack happens, people jump into conclusions without having to investigate. This will not take us where we should go. There is need to investigate to understand who exactly is the culprit, and what happened, before taking the necessary step. But if we will just jump into conclusion without investigating, we might end up victimizing the innocent.
Let us not just be in a hurry to conclude that a Berom or Irigwe man is the suspect when a Fulani man’s corpse is found or when a Berom or Irigwe corpse is found, a Fulani man is at fault. When it is investigated, it might be found that the real culprits are different.
The real conflict drivers according to Nura are largely parties not directly connected to the farmer-herder conflicts.
Much of what is happening is the activities of criminals who have taken gun violence as a business. These include armed robbers, kidnappers and others. Those that are also into gun and ammo dealing are always out there looking for ways to keep their business alive
The day we will all come together and sincerely work for peace, and say these criminals must be exposed, we will all be surprised because these criminals are all among us and in every tribe and religion.
One way to rid communities of criminals is joint neighbourhood watch, says Plateau and Nasarawa State Coordinator, Search for Common Grounds, Ms. Patience Chaimang.
The fact that people are making commitment to peace does not mean that they should be relaxed. They have to at the same time strengthen mechanisms for the protection of their communities. Protecting their communities means that they must set up a joint vigilante to secure their borders and the neighborhoods to know who comes into a community, when, from where and why.
According to her, dialogue and community cooperation remains the safest option to peace.
Conflict merchants will always come in to cause distrust but there are people from both sides of the conflict who are committed to the peace process. These people need to be identified and utilized,” she said.
Multi-stakeholder engagements, Chaimang said would provide better ways out of the conflicts.
If we have more than two people groups in Bassa other than Fulani and Irigwe, can we identify others and bring them in? Bringing other tribes to the peace table could also be helpful. In the peace process, everybody needs to be involved. From tribal groups to associations and all other social groups, everybody should be brought on board so that they can add their voices to the processes.
‘Herdsmen Attacks’ in Plateau
Herdsmen attacks began in Plateau State began with the alleged killing of over 500 people in Dogon Nahawa, in Jos South Local Government Area, in March 2010.
This followed nine years of recurring religious conflicts in the Plateau State capital.
Thousands of people are believed to have been killed since the start of the attacks with dozens of communities sacked and taken over.
The Plateau State government in 2016 established the State Peace Building Agency to promote reconciliation and forgiveness, but justice appears to be the major cry of the people.
The agency however believes that justice alone cannot produce the desired peace in the state.