Plateau State again has exploded in an orgy of killings and destruction after a three-year period of relative peace.Today, literally, there is a fire on the mountain and people are running for their lives. Between Thursday and Saturday, attacks and reprisals killed 86 persons in villages in Barkin Ladi, Riyom and Jos South local government areas, according to the police. On Thursday, youths suspected to be Berom, reportedly kidnapped 5 herdsmen returning from a cattle market, set fire to the vehicle they were in and burnt a cow.
Two days of revenge attacks brought the death toll to the 120 quoted by unofficial sources.
As expected, our political and religious leaders have been making the ‘right’ noises,condemning the return of violence on the plateau. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, on a visit to Jos Monday said: “The resurgence of violence is reprehensible as much as (it is) condemnable. This is a stark reminder of the magnitude of the peace and security challenges staring us in the face.” Osinbajo’s visit was followed by that of President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday. He commiserated with victims of the violence and directed the security agencies to end the killings across the country, arrest anyone in illegal possession of weapons and prosecute them.
On their part, as they always do when violent crises occur, the security have swung into symbolic actions. The army, directed by the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, has deployed special forces to strengthen Operation Safe Haven on the ground already. The Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim K. Idris, has also sent in a Special Intervention Force to “engage in continuous raids of identified hideouts of criminals and black spots with a view to arresting promptly those responsible for the killings and nip in the bud further attacks”. The government of Plateau has also gone for the obvious, which is to impose a 12-hour curfew that keeps people indoors between 6 pm and 6 am “to avert the breakdown of law and order”. The breakdown already has happened. As to what the curfew is aimed at achieving, we think very little because we understand that the revenge attacks on Friday’ for example, happened between noon and 7 pm, not well into the night.
What both VP Osinbajo and governor Simon Lalong said is revealing. Both said the weekend killings came after three long years of “stability in terms of peace and security”.In other words, lulled by the seeming peace, everybody concerned about the security of life and property, simply went to sleep instead of building on the foundation of the cessation of the last hostilities. The result was what happened last weekend. Experience should have taught us that communal violence such as is taking place in Plateau State is an on-and-off thing.
Nobody can predict when it will happen because it is like the bush fire. This is why it is important to take measures to stop the “fire next time”. In this this case, we did not. This is the tragedy.
Governor Lalong said his government was “working to tackle the underlying causes of conflict”. President Buhari does not believe religion is one of them, but politics. His initial reaction to the Plateau killings was to blame opposition politicians of fueling the violence ahead of next year’s general elections. We want to believe that the President has his facts’ Let him name the politicians inciting people to violence so that they will be prosecuted. He has directed security forces to “end the killings”; he should help them with his list of the politicians behind the massacre of ordinary, undefended Nigerians.
It is very important that we get to the root causes of the killings in, not only Plateau, but also in many of the other states. It is not difficult to tell. Sociological research findings have identified factors like rising populations exerting a strong pull on diminishing resources including land and social infrastructure, as well asexternal factors such as the collapse of Libya, a country further north, leading to an uninhibited flow of small and heavy arms into Nigeria. The domestic factors we can deal with, but the external ones require a multilateral approach that will involve all the countries that border Nigeria and through which the illicit arms enter our country.