By Uche Mbah
The Plateau carnage has been on the front burner of national discourse in recent times, though not unexpected. Never in the history of Nigeria was the level of violence and Massacre witnessed in this regime experienced in the country and based on current circumstances, there appears to be no possible respite for the embattled region. But this magazine was reliably informed that the problem could not have been as bad if Buhari has followed the security hand over notes-and direct appeal-from his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan on the issue.
Former President Jonathan was facing a herculean task on two fronts as far as insurgency was concerned-the fifth columnists within the security agencies that were a clog in the wheel of the fight against Boko Haram (and their sponsor), and the rising profile and activities Herdsmen, generally referred to as Fulani herdsmen because of their connection with the historical Futa jalon. He tried to tackle the Boko Haram insurgency through directing General Ihejirika to make sure they are eliminated, a duty Ihejirika pursued with Catholic zeal. But unnecessary casualties were recorded due to members of the armed forces, particularly of the senior officer cadre, who gives counter orders during raids that always resulted in heavy casualties against the Nigerian Army Political and regional intrigues surfaced in the bid to discipline erring officers, and this went as far as resulting in mutiny of junior officers. The Presidency resorted muting the idea of importing mercenaries from South Africa to eliminate the activities of the fifth columnists-an idea he eventually embraced and implemented. But even this, it was gathered, was sabotaged by the army that was to collaborate with them, and wrong information allegedly resulted in the death of one of the fighter. The reaction was mutual distrust, and more political pressures to discontinue with the idea.
But the more frightening issue was the burgeoning cases of herdsmen attack. This is evidenced by the experience of the former governor of Benue state, Gabriel Suswan. According to reports, Suswan, in 2014, was worried about the reports he was getting from some Villages in Benue state, where it was being reported that Herdsmen are sacking and occupying Villages, raping and killing women and Children. He then mobilized the press, Police and the Military for on ground assessment. Suddenly, the soldiers refused to continue with him based on orders from above. He nevertheless plodded on, only to meet a barrage of gunshots from the Herdsmen, who bombarded the convoy with heavy attacks. He personally took part in the shooting, being a retired military officer, and together with what was left of the convoy they repelled the attacks. He went back and mobilized more forces and went back. This time there was no resistance.
Based on this, Suswan reported to the then President Goodluck Jonathan, warning him of a brewing security crisis that may well engulf the whole nation. On the strength of the report, Jonathan set up a committee to look into the herdsmen crisis, and made Suswan the Chairman. They were travelling round the world looking for possible solution, and had been able to formulate a plan that will be able to solve the problem of the herdsmen. This was at the verge of the 2015 presidential elections. After the elections, together with other security reports on the issue, Jonathan was said to have taken Suswan to the new president, and told him of the grave danger posed by the herdsmen menace. He was said to have begged Buhari of that one single favor, to look into the report and implement it. He told him that if not tackled properly, the Herdsmen menace will eclipse the Boko Haram scourge. That appeared to have ended the story. The report was jettisoned, and the first thing Buhari did was to terminate the contract with the South African Mercenaries.
The problem of the herdsmen versus farmers in the middle belt has been a ding dong affair for over fifty years. For example, during the Civil war, some Fulani herdsmen who joined the army left their herds of cattle with middle belt indigenes to look after until they come back. Before they came back to demand for their cattle, the general reply was “Muncin”-we ate them. That gave them the name of Muncin People. This never went well with the herdsmen, and they never forgot nor forgave. But even at that, the relationships with the traditional herdsmen who live among them are cordial. The current imbroglio in Plateau, it is alleged, started from some indigenes who were piqued by the treatment meted on former governor Jona Jang by the Economic and Financial crimes commission, EFCC, and subsequent remand in prison. It has been alleged that the youths rustled Fulani cattle, killing some of the herdsmen in the process. That appears to be why the security agencies searched the houses of the Plateau indigenes for arms.
The militant version of the herdsmen, as distinct from those that carry sticks, then planned and executed the revenge. They appear to have a standing militia, which some call the Godogodo people. They were said to have been used in the mop up operations during the Biafra war. These comprise of deserters in the Nigerian Military, of which there are many, and they carry sophisticated weapons provided by their sponsors, allegedly some politicians. They were also the ones that carried attacks on Nimbo community in Enugu state. Instructively, the traditional herders vanished with their cattle two days before the Nimbo attack.So the President is not altogether wrong in saying that herdsmen don’t carry guns but sticks.
It should also be noted that the traditional herdsmen even were able to warn their friends before the attack. That underlies the relationship between them.
It is imperative that the solution lies in president Buhari excavating the report on herdsmen handed over to him by the Jonathan administration. But, based on antecedents, this may never happen. Thus, fifth columnists in the military and politicians will continue to benefit from the blood of the citizens.