By OBINNA EZUGWU
Months of renewed violence in Plateau State, North Central Nigeria, took further tragic twist Saturday morning when about 90 travellers said to be Sufi Muslims who attended an annual Zikr (prayer session) and celebration of the Islamic New Year at the Dahiru Usman Bauchi Mosque in Bauchi, were gruesomely attacked along Rukuba Road in Jos North Local Government Area of the state, on their way back to the South where they reside.
Death toll from the orgy violence has risen to 27, up from initial 22 deaths reported, as some of the injured continue to recover in hospitals, authorities have said.
Many of the victims were said to have been based in Ondo State, Southwest Nigeria. The state governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, had on Saturday, condemned the attack in a statement.
The killing followed months of repeated clashes between Irigwe youth and Fulani herders who had reportedly sustained attacks in the area for periods, part of a larger security problem fast getting out of hand in the country.
Last week, global human rights body, Amnesty International said in a report that not less than 112 people were killed, 160 abducted and thousands displaced in communities in Kaduna and Plateau states from July to August 5, 2021.
A resident of the area who preferred anonymity told our correspondent on Sunday that the herders had killed a number of people in the past few days, while about 50 houses had been burnt, with half of that number completely razed to the ground.
In the past two days, Irigwe youth whom the police blamed for the attack, had announced that they were conveying the corpses of their kin slain by the suspected herders for burial in Bassa on Saturday.
Reports said they had set out in a convoy for the burial on Saturday morning when violence broke out along the way at Rukuba Road. And as they went with the corpses, they met some vans conveying some Muslims identified as Fulani along their way and stopped them. And explanations by the travellers that they were only commuters from Bauchi, fail on deaf ears as the angry mob insisted that Rukuba road does not connect Bauchi highway.
Suspecting that the travellers may have come to attack at the burial ground, the mob descended on them with stones, machetes and just any weapon their hands could find. When dust settled over 20 lay dead, while the injured were rushed to hospitals by personnel of Special Task Force (STF) who arrived the scene amid the violence.
The STF managed to put a stop to the violence and has so far arrested at least 20 people in connection with the attack, but the city is still enveloped in palpable tension, even as condemnation continues to trail the attack.
The State governor, Simon Lalong, had few hours after announcing a dusk-to-dawn curfew in three local government areas of Jos North, Jos South and Bassa, on Sunday, directed the imposition of a 24-hour curfew in Jos North to contain further security threats.
Governor Lalong’s Director of Press and Public Affairs, Macham Makut announced the curfew in a statement in Jos, quoted the governor as saying that “from 2pm of today, Sunday 15th August 2021, a 24-hour curfew will come into effect in Jos North Local Government Area. This is necessitated by security reports which indicate rising threats to the safety of lives and properties within the Local Government”.
The Governor urged citizens to abide by the curfew and remain indoors to allow security agencies maintain law and order and deal with those bent on causing chaos.
The Governor said that the 24 hour curfew in Jos North Local Government will remain in force until further notice adding
“Again, citizens are to note that the 24 hour curfew in Jos North will take effect from 2pm today 15th August 202.”
As at Monday morning streets were empty as residents stayed indoors in compliance with the curfew, even as the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Usman Baba, on Sunday ordered the immediate deployment of Police Intervention Team to Plateau State to carry out an on-the-spot assessment.
The team, which comprises personnel of Police Tactical Units – the Police Mobile Force (PMF), Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU), Police Special Forces, amongst others, is being led by the Deputy Inspector-General of Police in charge of Finance and Administration, Sanusi Lemu.
Also deployed are investigators and covert operatives from the Force Criminal Investigations Department (FCID) and the Force Intelligence Bureau (FIB), who are expected to provide additional investigative, intelligence and forensic support to the Plateau State Police Command in the ongoing investigations and rescue operations.
According to a statement by the Force spokesman, Frank MBA, the squads are to ensure enhanced, coordinated response to protect the community and boost public confidence in the affected area(s) of the State in order to prevent further attacks as well as bringing the perpetrators to justice.
The police chief enjoined citizens in the affected area(s) to support the security forces deployed to the hotspot by providing useful information that will lead to the arrest of other perpetrators of the crime and forestall any further attack.
The statement added, ”The IGP, while condemning the incident, has called for calm and assured victims and relatives of the attack that the Police are working with the military, other security forces and the State Government to ensure that all perpetrators of the unfortunate incident are brought to book
Earlier In a statement on Saturday, the Plateau State Police Command blamed Irigwe youth for killing, noting that suspects have been arrested for
“On 14/08/2021 at about 0928hrs, the Plateau State Police Command received a distress call that a group of attackers suspected to be Irigwe youths and their sympathisers along Rukuba Road of Jos North LGA attacked a convoy of five buses with Muslim faithful who were coming back from the Annual Zikr prayer in Bauchi State and are heading to Ikare in Ondo State,” the police had said.
“Unfortunately, twenty-two (22) persons were killed and Fourteen injured in the attack.
“Upon receipt of the report, a team of Police personnel, the military and other sister agencies were immediately mobilised to the scene where twenty one (21) victims were rescued and six suspects arrested.
“The Commissioner of Police, Plateau State Command, CP Edward Egbuka along with the GOC 3-Division, Major General Ibrahim Ali, also visited the scene and ordered for a discreet investigation to fish out other perpetrators of this barbaric act at large.
“The Cp warned that those that perpetrated this dastardly act & others that incited it, will be made to face the full wrath of the law.
“The Command urges the public to remain calm and to furnish the Police with useful information that will aid the investigation.”
In his own statement on Sunday, the Plateau Police Commissioner, Egbuka, said those behind the attack were hoodlums who wanted to take advantage of the security crisis in the state “to loot.”
The commissioner stated this at a briefing by the head of security agencies in the state to Governor Simon Lalong, according to a statement issued in Jos by the governor’s spokesperson, Makut Macham.
“These are miscreants and hoodlums who wanted to take advantage of the situation to cause trouble and loot. This was not the first time it has happened. We do not want to name anybody,” Mr Egbuka said.
According to him, 36 persons have been rescued unhurt from the attack and are in good condition, adding that investigations are ongoing to arrest the attackers.
He advised the residents to abide by the 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew imposed on Jos South and Bassa local government areas and the 24-hour curfew imposed on Jos North local government area.
Presidency, Sultan, CAN, Atiku, governors, others condemn attack.
The presidency; the Sultan of Sokoto; Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN); Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, among others, have condemned the attack, while asking the perpetrators be brought to book.
In a statement by Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Saturday, the presidency vowed to bring the attackers to book.
While acknowledging that Plateau State has been one of the states affected by what it called “herder-farmer clashes,” which according to it, “have, in a significant way, been curtailed following the intense peace-building efforts of the administration of Governor Simon Lalong,” the presidency insisted the attack on travellers one of such confrontations.
According Shehu, “this is not an agriculturalist-on pastoralist confrontation – but rather a direct, brazen and wickedly motivated attack on members of a community exercising their rights to travel freely and to follow the faith of their choosing.”
He alleged that, “With the evident preparedness of their attackers, it is clear this was a well-conceived and prearranged assault on a known target, location and religious persuasion of the travellers not an opportunist ambush.
“The Presidency offers condolences to the families of the victims and continues to liaise closely with the local authorities – including security, the police, and governmental agencies.”
Similarly, the Jama’Atu Nasril Islam (JNI) led by the Sultan of Sokoto, Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar II, yesterday warned the killing could lead to against ethno-religious conflict in the country.
The Sultan in a statement signed by JNI’s Secretary-General, Dr Khalid Abubakar Aliyu, blamed politicians for the incident which he warned could snowball into ethno-religious conflict, if not urgently nipped in the bud.
“We call on governments and the security agencies not to be deterred on the search for the Rukuba Road assassins and whosoever is found wanting should be dealt with accordingly. The Plateau State Government should also be more proactive in saving the lives and property of innocent Nigerians.
“Muslims, particularly those residing in Plateau, should be steadfast with supplications, as all hands must be on deck to make Plateau State a peaceful and tourist attraction it used to be, for the benefit of the state and all peace-loving Nigerians.
‘’We also like to draw the attention of Christian neighbours, especially in Plateau State and Northern Nigeria in particular, to be wary of the diabolical attempts by some frustrated politicians to ignite an all-out ethno-religious conflict in Northern Nigeria.
“Many states in Northern Nigeria, especially Nasarawa and Kaduna states, and by extension North-Western states, have suffered from the scourge of herders and farmers conflict. It is on records that Muslims in these states have never blocked highways or roads to attack Christians or other non-Muslims in their localities.
“Not quite long ago, Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic was attacked by armed bandits and some people lost their lives, including a student. Yet, the students of Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic, Zaria, located just about 50 metres away from Kaduna-Zaria-Kano highway, never embarked on any violent outburst or targeted killings.
“Therefore, a stitch in time saves nine and nobody should live under any illusion of having a monopoly of violence.”
On its part the governor’s forum in a statement issued by its Head, Media and Public Affairs, Mr Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, in Abuja on Sunday, flayed the attack, describing it as barbaric and senseless.
The forum said the killing had all the colourations of several others like in which locals in particular parts of Nigeria had become inhospitable and unwelcoming to other Nigerians living in or passing through their domains.
“These dastardly actions of Nigeria’s once peaceful locals which have resulted in unwarranted and needless deaths diminish us all as a people and pulls our country down to the deepest recesses of the absence of civilisation,” the statement said.
“They also cause all kinds of reprisal killings and injurious interactions that does nobody any good.
“The Forum views with extreme disgust the horrible and thoughtless loss of precious lives and declare unequivocally that it must stop forthwith.”
The NGF called on the country’s security organisations to fish out all those involved and bring them forward to face the full wrath of the law to serve as a deterrent to those who are contemplating similar action.
It insisted that no human life deserves to be wasted on any ground; be it religious or ethnic, or even on the frivolous altar of mistaken identity.
The governors’ forum hope that Nigerians would desist from taking the law into their own hands so that the country could once again become a safe place for all.
This even as some have blamed the Buhari government’s seeming unwillingness to put an end to the violence of killer herders for the violence, while insisting that all violence should be condemned and perpetrators, no matter their ethnicity or religion must be brought to punished if the country were to extricate itself from the current prevalence of bloodshed.
“Those asking for justice now, looked away weeks ago when christian communities were ransacked by people who identify with their bloodlines and religion,” said a commentator, Sadiya Hamza @Sadiyahamza41. “Why do we feign outrage when the victim is our kinsmen? The irigwe people of Plateau State have lost so many too.”
On her part, activist Ndi Kato whose Southern Kaduna area of Kaduna State has been under series of attacks by herders, on her part, argued that the curfew imposed on the community could be a ploy to target innocent residents in retaliation.
“That community in Plateau State is not on 24 hour curfew because they are trying to stop any fight,” she said via her Twitter handle, @YarKafanchan
“They have locked everyone in so the army can swoop in and drag young boys out of their homes never to be seen again in retaliation. My heart goes out to the community.”
Meanwhile, Plateau governor, Lalong, has held a closed-door meeting with security heads and religious leaders, amid escalating security situation in the state.
The co-chairmen of the Plateau Inter-Religous Council, Pandang Yamsat, and the Emir of Wase, Muhammadu Haruna, met with the governor behind closed doors to discuss the security situation. The meeting, the statement disclosed, was to assist in calming the situation, saying the council will be carrying out its engagements to douse the tension further.