MANGU, PLATEAU: Earlier this month, Caleb Mutfwang, the Plateau State Governor, imposed a 24-hour curfew on Mangu Local Government Area of the State following recent clashes between some communities in the local government.
The governor issued the directive after clashes between the Bwai, Kombun, Mangu, Pushit, and Kerang districts in Mangu, which led to the death of over 200 persons.
While the real cause of this conflict is unclear, a source from one of the warring communities said a community member was killed after he dropped off a passenger at a nearby community, and the community only retaliated.
Joseph Gwankai, the national president of the Mwagavul Development Association, a socio-cultural group of one of the tribes in the warring districts, said as of July 7, they had recorded the death of over 100 people, with many more hospitalised.
“We, the people, want to live in peace with everyone, irrespective of their ethnic backgrounds,” he says. “However, we cannot fold our hands and continue to watch our villages being overrun by terrorists and our people being killed by them. I’m calling on the government to do something.”
Also, the umbrella group of pastoralists, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria or MACBAN, said over 200 pastoralists among their people were killed in the last two months and over 40 settlements burnt down within Mangu Local Government Area.
“We call on the Federal Government with immediate effect to bring to book the perpetrators and other actors to serve as a deterrent to others as well as a panacea to peace in Plateau State,” said Baba Othman Ngelzarma, the national president of the association, in a press release.
Before the recent clashes in July, earlier on April 17 2023, at Kubat village of Bwai district in Mangu, a fight between a farmer and herder metamorphosed into a crisis that led to the death of hundreds.
The herder from the Fulani tribe is said to have led his cow into the farmer’s farmland. In the ensuing melee, the herder stabbed the farmer to death.
The herder was later caught and mobbed by some villagers. Then, the herder’s people came back to retaliate in an incident that later turned ethno-religious and claimed many lives and properties in various districts across Mangu.
“The attackers invaded our settlement, killed some of my family members, raged their homes, and even got away with many cows,” Hussaini Abubakar said.
He also shared with Prime Progress that presently, in the Maraban Pushit district, where he resides, only a few men are left there, as other women and children who also survived the attack are displaced and now settling in Gindiri and Jannaret districts.
A troubled past
Regarded as the “home of peace and tourism,” Plauteau has, in recent decades, been embroiled in ethnic and religious clashes that barely makes the state peaceful and has driven tourist away.
In the last two decades, the competition and hunger for local political power over indigene rights, fears of religious and ethnic dominations, control of fertile farmlands, and resentment that local government policies have failed to calm in Plateau State have grown into a fierce communal conflict affecting the state.
Depending on which part of the State this violence is happening in, it could be religious, ethnic, communal or even gang-related.
In September 2001, violent clashes between Christians and Muslims in Jos, the state capital, led to the burning of churches and mosques.
When the warring parties shielded their swords, at least 1,000 people were dead, according to a September 2002 report by a panel set up by the Plateau State Government.
In November 2008, disagreement from a disputed local government poll metamorphosed into a religious crisis that claimed the lives of at least 700 people in Jos, according to US-based Human Rights Watch.
In January 2010, the police reported that 326 people were killed through gunfire after another clash between Muslim and Christian gangs in Jos.
A report by Human Rights Watch claimed that the conflicts in Plateau State have claimed more than 7,000 lives, displacing up to 220,000, since 2001.
Despite the involvement of security personnel, peace agreements by communities in the state are usually short-lived due to the proliferation of armed groups in rural areas and possession of weapons.
What the government is doing
In his efforts to bring peace to the warring communities, Muftwang, on July 12, 2023, met with Taoreed Lagbaja, Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff or COAS.
The Governor said his meeting with the COAS is to “ensure that Plateau remains home to every Nigerian and a compelling destination where every Nigerian that wants to find a place of refuge and a place of rest will go.”
Responding, the COAS said the Nigerian Army is well prepared and capable of ending the communal crisis bothering Plateau State.
“Be rest assured that you have come to the right place to seek a solution to the security challenges. We have taken some measures, and we believe those measures will yield the desired results quickly,” he said.
That same day, troops of ‘Operation Safe Haven’, while responding to a distress call around the Pushit district in Mangu, engaged in a gun battle with a group believed to be some of the bandits fueling the conflicts in the LGA.
The troops neutralised three bandits, recovering three AK 47 rifles, 14 7.62 special rounds, one motorcycle, and a Constabulary Police ID card. Some of the bandits were said to have escaped with bullet wounds.
AE Abubakar, commander of ‘Operation Safe Haven‘, explained that the protection of the lives and properties of citizens remains paramount and that with the redeployment of his headquarters to Mangu, all distress calls would be responded to promptly as several combat teams have been moved to remote areas in the Local Government for enhanced rapid response.
Still in the face of challenges
The conflicts in Plateau State have led to the loss of lives and displaced people and livelihoods for many.
For instance, the Terminus main market was at one point considered one of the biggest markets in Nigeria. The place was always filled with buyers and sellers, even from places like Borno, Yobe, and faraway Chad and Cameroon, and it was also one of the biggest sources of revenue for the Plateau State Government.
However, most parts of the market were destroyed during the 2001 riot, and subsequent governments have struggled to bring back life to the once-bubbling market.
Umar Ali, who used to sell tomatoes and pepper in the market, said that the incident made life difficult for him.
“After learning that shops in the market and even tents where we keep our goods have been destroyed and our house also burnt down, I had to leave and settle in Garba Chede in Taraba State where I do local irrigation farming,” he said.
The conflicts leave a mark on the communities, disrupting farmers’ and traders’ businesses. Also, communities affected by the conflicts take a long time to rebuild, with many residents relocating to other places.
During the 2010 clashes in Riyom, a community 30km from Jos, Thomas Njendayang saw his brother killed and was forced to flee with his wife and children to Gombe, where he has been rebuilding his life.
“Our people were killed. It was sad to accept the losses. I used to run a trading business and go to the farm during rainy seasons but the conflicts have ended all of these,” he told Prime Progress.
What should be done?
Musa Haruna, a peace and security activist, said military presence alone could not guarantee peace in the area, saying that the government needed to adopt a more sustainable solution to the crisis.
Haruna advised the government to act as a bridge in an area where inter-religious and communal trust has been eroded. Haruna said the government should ensure dialogue and reconciliation among the warring parties.
“For us to bring a lasting solution to this crisis, we have to understand the root causes and tackle them first-hand,” he told Prime Progress.
Haruna added that the indigene-settler divide should be solved, while discrimination and marginalisation based on religion and ethnicity should be curtailed, and that will be a good starting point.