by Hir Joseph, Lafia
While stakeholders were meeting in Nassarawa State Government House four days ago, to find ways of ending the carnage that has become synony mous with of the state, four settlements, Mai Akuya, Agbalagu, Kanpani, and Bakyano,were hit outskirts of the state capital Lafia.
Ealier, Alingani Fadaman Bauna, Ikposogye, Agyaragu Tofa, Daddere and Tudun Adabu in Obi, as well as Bakin Kogi and other communities in Assakio area of Lafia-East and Arikya in Nasarawa-Eggon had been affected by the latest wave of violent confrontation between the Eggon group Ombatse and Fulani mercenaries.
Before last week’s attack, which brought the number of affected villages and towns close to a dozen, the northern and southern zones of the state had suffered a weeklong bout of hostilities between the Ombatse group and Fulani mercenaries. This is coming barely three months after the prolonged violence between Tiv peasants and Fulani nomads in the south, as well as Eggon and Gwandara ethnic groups in the north.
Reports said dozens had been killed. Authorities, however, have not relased casualty figures.
During the crises, nine children between the ages of two and 10, who had safely fled the troubled Assakio along Lafia-Shendam Road, drowned in a surging river midnight in an attempt to cross into Plateau State.
River Guyaka in Ughah in Assakio swallowed up the nine children, when the killing heightened in the area, said Alhaji Abdullahi Magajin Oron Akye, a second class chief in the area.
“We decided to use the boat to ferry the children out of the community after trekking for over 21 kilometers in the night. Unfortunately, the boat capsized and nine out of the 13 children drowned, while four were rescued. None of their corpses has been recovered yet. I have reported the incident to the government and equally helped the survivors to Lafia, the state capital,” he said.
Thousands have been displaced on both sides and are now struggling to survive under the heavy August downpours, in conditions that have made the humanitarian crisis worse. Fleeing women and children are now taking shelters along major roads in urban centers, where they have to endure heavy rainfall for two straight weeks now.
Lafia, environs swell with displaced persons
The number of displaced persons into urban centres has continued to swell, with Lafia, Akwanga, Nasarawa-Eggon and Wamba sheltering close to a million persons now.
Executive Secretary of Nasarawa State Emergency Management Agency (NASEMA), Dr. Abdullahi Idris, said that the four towns had seen one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent times.
He said the state government had quickly deployed resources to set up camps in the four urban centres, adding that relief materials had since been provided to assist the displaced persons. He said the sum of N1 million each had been released to Wamba, Akwanga and Lafia, while Nasarawa-Eggon had recieved N2 million, follwoing the approval of Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura.
Displaced persons who spoke to Sunday Trust in some parts of Lafia, however, said they had been fending for themselves.
Although Governor Al-Makura only inherited the bloody crises in the state, the notorious heights they have now assumed, coupled with the height of impunity which the perpetrators act, raises suspicion about the hands of dirty politics in them.
The crises have continually come and have refused to die down, with a spread that is almost unimaginable.
Nasarawa became a hotbed of bloody crises right from its creation from the old Plateau State in 1996. Only last year, a former police commissioner, Umar Shehu, attributed the crises to the first few months after the state’s creation, saying killings and destructions of property were commomnplace because the perpetrators were never punished.
The police boss, who was posted to the state a week after the May 7, 2013 murder of about 74 officers and men of the police, as well as personnel of the State Security Service (SSS) in Alakyo, told officers of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), who were on a visit to his office in Lafia, that the killing of security operatives in the state was only part of the bigger problem.
The commissioner described Nasarawa’s security situation as “so unique”, explaining that “it is not happening anywhere,” just as he insisted that “It’s too bad. It’s too bad.”
He said “these killings in Nasarawa State started as far back as 1996 [and have continued till] to date. Besides the incident in Toto (Igbira and Bassa killings) in 1999, where people were punished, all these crises we are having now, nobody has been punished. Not even a single person has been punished. All the killings, all these crises, the losses; houses destroyed, human beings killed, vehicles, motorcycles, nobody has ever been prosecuted. Nobody, I am telling you, has been sentenced to even five years imprisonment. That is why these crises have been going on,” he told the team, led by the Director of Conflicts Resolution, Ethics and Good Governance, Mrs. Tina Nwodo.
There was the bloody invasion of Udenin-Gida in Udege area of Nasarawa LGA in December of 2009, allegedly by Fulani mercenaries who murdered over 30 persons, including women and children and burned down everything in their way. There was the Tiv/Fulani killings in much of the southern parts of the state. But none has taken the dimension that the invasions and murders of 2012, 2013 and 2014 have taken.
Suspicious stakeholders’ silence
There has been a suspicious silence from those who should speak, while those who attempt to speak only raise more suspicion over their comments which are widely perceived as provocative.
In hush tones, everybody blames the other and talks of certain agenda, but none of the stakeholders have been able to come out clearly to attack the issues.
The creation of Nasarawa from the old Plateau State in 1996, presented much of these stakeholders with fresh roles among the people, as they have equally benefited from the creation. But before their very eyes, the very state they yearned for has, in a matter of years, turned into a war zone because of interests that are directly or indirectly linked to various leaders of the people.
Concerned persons spoken to say the killings and destruction of property that have taken place between last year and nosw, were senseless, as they did not justify any agitation, be it over land, chiefdom or 2015 politics.
Only between March and April, various settlements in the southern part of the state, suffered similar bouts when Tiv and Fulani people clashed in a prolonged violence that killed dozens, and displaced hundreds. Later in April, Iggah, a settlement in Nasarawa-Eggon in the northern part of the state, was troubled when dozens were killed and hundreds displaced in a violent bout which was widely blamed on the Eggon group, Ombatse. But the leadership of the group had denied the allegation.
Iggah also to suffered similar bloody crisis only about a year ago after Eggon, Fulani and Gwandara people were locked in hostilities which later culminated into the May 7, 2013 incident in Alakyo.
A total of 534 persons were killed in some communities across the state in 10 months alone following the bloody ethnic violence that hit the state in much of 2012 and 2013, a report to the state government had said.
Eggon leaders, including Senator Solomon Ewuga (Nasarawa-North) are already in court, challenging the commission’s report and the government’s whitepaper on it.
The latest wave of killing started as a minor misunderstanding between a Fulani and an Eggon in Alingani Fadaman Bauna, leading to the killing of one person and a backlash that resulted in widespread inter-ethnic violence between the two groups. On the first day of the violence, two more people were reportedly killed, and many others displaced from the community which was burned down within the weekend.
Domination and agitation to reverse trend
Now, stories behind the scene have tried to dig deep into the causes of the violence, particularly those blamed on Ombatse, as well as those blamed on Fulani mercenaries. The politics of 2015 and the quest for control of ancestral lands have severally been mentioned.
The Eggon people perceive that they have had to face suppression from their neighbours over the years, over land and chiefdoms, as well as politics. The case of Assakio where a clash first broke out between them and Alago people in 2012 is always readily cited as a proof. That year, the Eggon people refused to pay royalties to the Assakio traditional ruler. The Alago people insisted the payment had been a longstanding tradition over a particular piece of land, but Eggon people insisted they were suppressed. A panel of inquiry was set up by Al-Makura, with its report indicting both the traditional ruler, an Alago, as well as about five Eggon people. None has been punished.
On the political scene, hush tones have alleged that there was a gentleman’s agreement between Al-Makura, and Senator Solomon Ewuga (PDP, Nasarawa-North), with the former promising to serve only one term, after which he would hand over to the latter in 2015. Ewuga has had three shots at the Government House on the platforms of the defunct UNCP (in 1996), the PDP (in 1998) and the ANPP ( in 2007), after he dumped his old party, the PDP. Now, he is back to the PDP, after he went to the Senate on the platform of the APC.
Al-Makura needed him, as he needed Al-Makura; with both said to have benefitted from each other in 2011. The two politicians are popular and they pulled their weight to oust the PDP after 12 years in power.
But distrust had set in barely a year after their election victories against the PDP, because it is widely alleged that if there was an agreement, it may have been broken. Crisis erupted in much of the southern parts of the state between 2012 and 2013, especially between Eggon and Alago and Eggon and Fulani. Al-Makura and Ewuga have been widely accused by various communities and groups at the public hearing of a panel, with Ewuga accused of being behind the Eggon onslaught on communities, while Al-Makura was accused of sponsoring Fulani mercenaries to raid Eggon villages.
Behind the scene too, traditional rulers in the southern parts have been blamed for aiding and abating violence against farmers, using Fulani mercenaries. A suspicious trip by Eggon youths to Awe, at the border with Benue State, which was tipped off by Alago people, leading to the September, 2013 invasion of Alago villages, was believed to be a mission to face suspected Fulani mercenaries said to be launching attacks to establish a stay on some parts of the state. The Tiv people, like Eggon people, have severally complained of perceived suppression by traditional rulers, although only in hush tones.
Alago people, days after the attack on them in Adabu Alago, Obi and Assakio, accused d the Tiv people of aiding the attacks. But in their paid advertorial, they only named “cohorts”, to have aided the attacks.
In the current crisis between Eggon Ombatse and Fulani mercenaries, Alago and Tiv people have been caught in the crossfire. Alago people, especially recorded high level casualty, just as they lost property worth millions of naira in Assakio in a confrontation they are believed to have no direct part to play.
Eggon leaders, assembly shun peace talk
A peace summit organized by the government frowned at certain leaders who failed to be present during the event which deliberated and resolved on ways to address the recurring bloodshed in the state.
Much of Nasarawa stakeholders, especially Eggon leaders, were absent at the event which invitation was widely publicized.
But Chris Mamman, leader of the Eggon people said his people could not have honoured what he called “a charade,” explaining that the authorities knew the problem, and did not need a negotiation with Eggon leaders to solve it. He alleged that mercenaries were brought into the state and camped at various locations to unleash mayhem on his people and called on the government to locate them and make arrests, and desist from a face saving peace summit.
But Senator Walid Jibrin, leader of the Fulani in the state, who attended the meeting, told newsmen that his presence was because his people were massacred for no just cause. He said he did not need the permission of any stakeholder to partner with the governor by attending the peace summit to find ways at bringing peace in a state which creation he agitated for.
This is just as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers in the state assembly stayed away from the event. This was after they had declared Monday that the House will not honour the invitation because the governor failed to accent to bills, as well as implement resolutions by the House to deal with previous crises.
A communiqué read at the end of the summit by Mohammed Abubakar, an elder statesman, said: “the meeting frowned at the attitude of some invited critical stakeholders who failed to attend the meeting without any apology.”
Some prominent leaders of Fulani and those of other ethnic groups in the state, including Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa Abubakar, Clerk to the National Assembly, as well as leaders of Alago, Tiv, Mada, and all other ethnic groups attended the summit which resolved that the state government should implement all government whitepapers on the previous reports of communal violence/disturbances in the state to the latter in order to serve as deterrent.
“That government and security agencies should collaborate with community leaders and cultural associations to disarm ethnic militia groups in the state,” the communiqué said in part. “That culprits of offences should be seen to be punished.”
The communiqué also added: “The summit supports the proscription of Ombatse as it is already outlawed. Anybody professing membership of the cult group should be apprehended and prosecuted.