Opinion: All the facts about the plateau crisis in Nigeria


By kuba Aminu Alhassan

Where is the Jos Plateau ?

Jos plateau is located in North central Nigeria in addition to Benue, Nassarawa, Niger, Kogi and Kwara States. It’s the northernmost state of the states in the geopolitical zone. It’s located almost in the middle of Nigeria dividing the country into almost two equal parts. It has the unique position of bordering both the north east and north west geopolitical zones. To the west and north, it shares a long border with Kaduna state’s LGAs of Sanga, Jama’a, Kaura, Kauru and Lere in that order.  To the east it is bordered  by Bauchi whileTaraba and Nassarawa completes its borders  to the south.
Majorly, the fight is between the Birom (the majority ethnic group for the state and of Riyom, Barkin Ladi, Jos South and some parts of Jos East and Jos North LGAs) and Fulani cattle rearers spread across all the LGAs of the the state but in minority numbers.
How it all Started
On Friday September 7th, 2001, violence erupted between at Congo Russia Jumaat Mosque in central Jos between MUSLIMS and CHRISTIANS. This followed about a week long protests and recriminations by the so called indigenous communities over the appointment of Alhaji Muktar Muhammad, a HAUSA man by the then Obasanjo regime as state coordinator of the then newly established National Poverty Alleviation program. The so called indigenes were not happy that a SETTLER was appointed to a position in the federal government to represent Plateau state.
By the time soldiers were deployed two days later, over 1000 people had been killed on both sides. Up until this time, the Fulani were not involved as a group except for those caught up in the melee in Jos, Bukuru or environs like Tim-Tim, Dilimi, Mai’adiko etc.
Prior to this period, there was never a recorded case of serious ethnic or religious violence in Jos or its environs involving the Fulani.
Then came Monday September 10th, 2001. With the full strength of the military deployed and patrolling the streets of Jos, Bukuru and surrounding areas, local Birom leaders and some in Pankshin, Lantang North and South and Kanke LGAs organized a so-called peace meetings to which they invited every notable Fulani and Hausa leader ostensibly to find ways and means to prevent the spillover of the crisis from Jos to rural plateau.
Unknown to the Fulani and Hausa communities, the locals had planned in advance to eliminate them all before heading to what remained of their families in their various communities.
The scheme succeeded to various degrees depending on location and in some cases, information leaked by some of the locals to good neighbours. Notable victims of such  scheme included the Fathers to two prominent Islamic scholars that people can relate to; Sheikh Yahya Haifan who was then the Imam of the central Mosque in Heipang (the airport village). He was caught, tied, brought to the mosque and slaughtered in front of the frightened Muslim community that had gathered in the mosque and dumped in the mosque well. The same fate befell all others that took refuge in that mosque. It was the first recorded case of mass murder of the crisis. The next example is the father of yet another notable Islamic scholar, the Imam and proprietor of Almanar Mosque and schools  respectively all in Kaduna, Mallam Adam Tukur Almanar. His father was also murdered in similar circumstance of ‘Community Meeting’ by children of his own neighbours and childhood friends while they watched pretending that the youth had overpowered them. Luckily, my father escaped a similar fate in a similar meeting.
This betrayal was replicated across (at least all the Birom dominated) LGAs affected by the crisis (or natives’ uprising to put it in proper context).
Done with the leadership of the Hausa and Fulani communities, the Birom then organized themselves into groups of dozens of men armed with any and every weapon they could lay their hands on and spread into Fulani and Hausa communities. By the time they were done two days later, virtually every Fulani hamlet in Jos South, Riyom, Barkin Ladi, parts of Jos East and North, parts of Bassa, Pankshin, etc had been totally cleansed of anything Fulani or cattle. In communities like Kaduna Vom, Vwang etc entire families wiped out.
Those that survived the pogroms by using the cover of night to run made it to safety in neighboring states like Bauchi, Kaduna and Nassarawa states. What remained of the Fulani resistance made a desperate last stand at Luggere Shau (now popularly called Mahanga).
Most of those that lost their lives died from bleeding from their injuries sustained without treatment. Others from Snake bites in the jungles between plateau and Kaduna and Nassarawa States. Many children drowned from the fast flowing rivers of the Jos plateau. After about a week of sustained, mostly unreplied violence, finally, the soldiers were deployed to the hills and valleys of rural plateau. They were supposed to rescue the Fulani, but only a handful of distraught, disorganized, disoriented souls remained. Even the Birom were surprised with the ease with which they accomplished their self assigned task. The Fulani that once had a ‘Buteru’ in every hamlet in those LGAs have now been reduced to less than 5% of the land they labored for generations to buy, build and develop.
It was a total victory without a fight. My Mom’s elder brother and beloved uncle’s bones were only to be buried months later after being feasted upon by vultures. His younger brother drifted in and out of consciousness from his injuries for 5 days on the back of a kind neighbour that refused to abandon him before help finally came and he was rushed to the hospital. He miraculously survived and still alive.
The Day After…
The deployment of the military of and feeble life and death resistance offered by the Fulani at Luggere Shau prevented what could have become a total annihilation of a ten of thousands of people of every age of a population that only a week earlier had been an organic part of the people that gave plateau its erstwhile slogan ” Home of Peace and Tourism”.
Without the benefit of mobile communication, it also gave people the opportunity to move around in order to assess the damage, search for survivors, missing ones, bury the decomposing dead and understand what had hit them. With the role that some members of the Nigerian police force had played in aiding and abetting the massacres in places like Riyom, Tim-Tim, K-Vom, Heipang, Inding, Nafan, Wereng etc, survivors’ hostilities forced authorities to withdraw them while soldiers helped in the evacuation of the injured, mass burial of dead and gathering of what remained of livestock. They also assisted in helping secure the way for  those that wanted to leave plateau state. Many, majority, left and never returned.
If you are familiar with the road between Jos and Bauchi, that was how places like Sabon Garin Narabi, Tilden Fulani, Miya Berkete, Magama Gumau, Kogga, Rimin Zayan,…..etc became towns. God bless the day Alhaji Ahmed Adamu Muazu was born. As executive Governor of Bauchi state then, he did everything to provide succour to victims the well planned and premeditated mass murder. From building homes, providing food, land for resettlement to psychological care to medicare, he did everything for the thousands displaced.
Back to Plateau state, the state government under the leadership of chief Joshua Chibi Dariye and affiliated LGAs provided not even a grain of food nor a sheet of roofing material nor a tablet of paracetamol to relief the pains of injury nor even a word of consolation to the memories of the murdered or the emotions of the disoriented living. What survivors heard in broadcast over their transistor radios weren’t words of consolation or regret or even sadness, but speech after speech of things that emboldened the mass murderers and blamed the victims. He called the Fulani settlers that should relocate to wherever their great grand fathers may have come from. It was as hopeless and humiliating as anything could ever be, and in my opinion, that reaction to the immediate aftermath of the violence by persons in authority gave impetus to the events that could eventually, turn the story of the Jos plateau to what it has become today.
The story wasn’t totally about betrayal, murder and evil though. For instance, my relatives, the Bakori family trapped in Forom for days, were saved from guaranteed annihilation by their Birom neighbours. They were later freed without anyone getting killed or any of their livestock missing or killed I’m sure there are others like them whom story am not aware of.
For survivors left on the plateau, the period between late September 2001 and March 2002 was time for sober reflection. Unlike those that left for safety at the heat of moment, they stayed back to watch the victors and new lords of the land rule their world. What they saw, forced them to quickly decide on two options only; FIGHT or FLEE. Many decided to fight.
Two major things in my opinion, shaped the stories that were to be told later; one, the reaction of the victors (in this case the Birom) and two, the fate of cattle of those Fulani herders that left for neighbouring states.
In summary, while state officials behaved like the government of the pharaoh towards the Fulani, the Birom, obviously didn’t have a word called magnanimity in victory in their dictionary. Plateau state because of its unique geography, has (or had) numerous cattle routes traversing it linking the South and North of Nigeria. Nomadic cattle herders would normally cross the state twice each year; in the summer (May-July) and the winter heralding the dry season (November to January). Nomads would leave States like Niger, FCT, Kogi, Benue, Nassaraw and Southern Kaduna at the beginning of the rainy season and move north to Bauchi, Kano, Gombe and as far as Yobe. They returned using same routes in November to January.
For those who are trying to rewrite history that local tribes are only starting to block high ways to kill innocent commuters, this should educate you. The Birom, suspecting that the Fulani were planning a return match of the violence, were suspicious more of those that fled than those still with them. While they treated those that chose to stay as a conquered people, they regularly mounted road blocks and cattle routes blocks to search, humiliate and even kill Fulani passers by. This heightened after survivors of the initial massacre in Turu near Vom launched a failed reprisal attack.
Road and cattle route blocks were mounted with increasing frequency and intensity. Many innocent Fulani passersby were murdered in cold blood at the railway crossing in Tahoss after Riyom on the way to Abuja while multitudes of innocent nomadic Fulani were murdered with their cattle confiscated on the many cattle routes traversing the state. Relations that escaped the violence to neighboring states could not visit state for fear of interrogations and possible death.
For the Fulani that escaped the pogroms with their cattle to neighboring states, they now faced a new challenged; the cows were dying in multitudes. Used to the clement weather and disease free waters of the Plateau, the cattle could not survive the infections of the tropical bushes and waters of neighboring states. Many reasoned that it was better to die from a bullet than be killed by hunger. So they decided to return and fight.
For the Fulani survivors of the initial violence that made the choice to stay and fight, these were all new allies. And with the intimate knowledge of the jungle, the will to survive and the blessed cover of the nights, they met, strategised, planned and trained for months until somewhere around August, 2002 almost a full year after the massacres.
Then the reprisals began, and the Media became aware that, apart from other Muslims affected by the massacres, there were also an ethnic group called Fulani. The killer herdsmen appellation was to be invented later.
The Reprisals
Whoever designed or modelled for the tribes the cleansing of Muslims or the Fulani in particular from the Jos plateau must have had only one goal in mind; the total removal of the target group from the areas of interest. Otherwise, with the scale and ease with which they decimated the Fulani from over 95% of the areas where they were formally resident, they would have declared victory party and sued for peace with the knowledge that to eliminate a population totally was a near impossible pursuit. So the question that many people had asked some of us over the years has been; why are they fighting you? What is their overall stated or intended objective? To be honest, I don’t know. But having witnessed the violence at close quarters for nearly two decades, I think it’s safe to state that I align myself with the what the Fulani people generally believe the goal is, which is their removal by any means necessary from not only plateau state, but places like Benue and Taraba. Recent happenings in the two states like the June 2017 repeated massacres on the mambilla plateau and the anti-grazing law passed in Benue followed by the upsurge of ethno religious violence in the state lend credence to this view.
So what were and now is (are) the goal (s) of the reprisals by the Fulani launched almost a year after the pogroms of September 2001? Or as many people have asked, why do the Fulani reprise attacks? Why can’t they just forgive and let sleeping dogs lie?
Well, contrary to the popular held view and the media propagated narrative of an unforgiving mindset, the major reason behind the reprisals wasn’t vengeance. For if it were to be, it would have involved the majority of those that lost the most in the initial convulsions many of whom had left the state for good, settled in their new abodes and moved on with their lives.
When the dust of the violence finally settled and people could think straight again, the Fulani survivors realized that they had been hemmed in with thousands of livestock in a very tiny space surrounded from every direction by the Berom. They could not venture beyond a certain distance to graze and water their cattle without risking being attacked and possibly losing their wealth and lives. Even though they were just some 25-30km from Barikin Ladi, they couldn’t get there without a Birom man’s permission. Worst, they couldn’t access medicare and and the cattle market without crossing territory where the Birom decides whether they lived or died.
Therefore, the number one priority was economic survival. Outgunned, outnumbered and out moneyed and facing a hostile security force deployed in every nook and cranny of the state, the Fulani led by a young, confident and brilliant Commander, devised a means that enabled them to hit at areas that would open up more grazing areas, soften the blockade, create alternative exits and inlets and allowed them buy and sell. The intention was also to restore morale, evade security as much as practicable and minimize casualties to the barest minimum. The sole aim was to survive, graze, trade and prevent recurrence of the September 2001 massacres.
Far flung communities that committed the most atrocities and were also contiguous to nearby communities that could be persuaded to take a cue and retreat on their own were targeted. Within a few months, the strategic objective of the reprisals was achieved.
With the establishment of this egalitarian balance of terror, some normalcy was restored. There was more space for grazing, people moved in and out with some relative ease and social interaction began to be enjoyed once again. This at least was the state of affairs in Jos South, B/Ladi and Riyom LGAs when the Yelwan Shendam massacre of mostly Hausa Muslims by Tarok/Yargang tribesmen that necessitated the declaration of state of emergency, removal of Dariye and subsequent appointment of Maj. Gen. Chris Alli as sole administrator  by then president Obasanjo happened.
Chris Alli worked very hard to consolidate on the relative peace he inherited in those LGAs and by the time he left, confidence and mutual trust had reasonably returned. This was the state of affairs when campaigns for the 2007 governorship elections commenced. Then Air Cdr David Jonah Jang (rtd) who had contested and lost the governorship elections on the platform of the then opposition APP even when Buhari was flying the party’s presidential candidate flag in 2003. In 2007, Jonah Jang decamped to the then ruling PDP and largely campaigned on hate and division and succeeded in reigniting the issues that led to the bloodbath of 2001.
Whipping up religious, ethnic and sectarian sentiments, he went on to win the election to become the first Birom Governor (military or civilian) of plateau state. Myself and three senior cousins were watching TV in Kaduna on an evening after the election when another cousin called to break the news that Jonah David Jang had been declared winner of the state governorship election. The silence that followed told a story of events that would subsequently define Jang’s leadership of the state to the end.
Came in Air Cdr Jonah David Jang (rtd)
When Jang won the governorship election and was sworn in as the executive Governor of plateau state on May 29th, 2007, the Fulani community, and by extension, the Muslim community in the state were under no illusion of the fate that awaited them if his past was to be used as a yardstick to measure his behaviour towards them. What they weren’t clear about was the extent to which he was willing to go. Eighteen months later, they were going to find out. If Jang as a politician and candidate of political party that should need their votes behaved the way he did during the campaign, they could only imagine what he was prepared to do with the new power he had now acquired as executive Governor.
Mid November, 2008 provided the opportunity for Jang to begin to implement his plans against his avowed enemy…, the Hausa and Fulani. Local government elections were conducted across the 17 LGAs in the state. Traditionally, Muslims hold majority in three of such LGAs; Jos North, Wase and Kanam where they always won elections and produced chairmen and house of reps members. Here however, Jang and company had different ideas especially as it affected Jos North LGA which is metropolitan Jos itself that the Birom have hotly contested ownership with the Hausas.
PDP’s candidate in the election was a Birom man and a younger brother to the Gbon Gwom, da Buba Gyang, the paramount ruler of Jos and chairman plateau state council of chiefs. Buba had then recently retired as CG, Nigeria Customs Service and had been rumored to have bankrolled Jang’s campaign to become government. They were blossom friends and Jang really wanted to return a favor by making Buba’s brother chairman of Jos North LGA. The Muslims in Jos suspected that long ago. So when elections were conducted peacefully but officials refused to count and paste results at pooling booths, their fears were confirmed that Jonah David Jang would rig the election in favour of his friend’s younger brother. So they began to protest.
Jang as a sitting Governor, did not send police or call in the military to restore calm. What confronted the protesters were Birom youth armed with waitedtic weapons. By the time the military and police came in rescue of the Muslims two days later, over seven hundred people were officially declared dead. The Jos central mosque alone received over 500 dead bodies. Jang had gotten the opportunity he had waited and spent eighteen months to prepare for.
Violence quickly spread across the state capital with areas previously spared during the 2001 crisis like Rikkos, Abbatour,  Bukuru etc now targeted by well armed Birom youth. In two days, most places were virtually cleansed of any Muslim be he/her Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba, Ibira, Igala or even Birom. The Bukuru cattle market was attacked with hundreds of cattle hacked to death or burnt in their stalls, its central market burnt to ashes while Muslims in areas like Anguwan Doki, Kwata, Bwandang etc were massacred and cleansed. Those in central Bukuru fought with whatever they could to beat back the Birom killer squad.
Just like in 2001, hordes of Birom youth armed with guns invaded all Hausa villages that survived the prior pogroms or whose inhabitants returned to in the LGAs where they dominated and repeated the same atrocities but with more clinical efficiency. Roads traversing the state were blocked and Muslim commuters brought out and killed or burnt in their vehicles.
The Fulani community had used the relative peace that the state enjoyed between 2003 and 2008 to return to the various places where they once lived prior to the 2001 crisis. This time however, not taking things for granted, they kept their families at Mahanga (where they built houses) and two other large Fulani settlements created after the first round of conflict; Bangai in Bachit District of Riyom LGA and Tafawa just to the west of Barkin Ladi town, same LGA. Most cattle and mostly teenage herders were however, scattered across all the affected LGAs. So when Jang unleashed his gang of killers (he later used same boys to establish the operation rainbow militia) on the Fulani, they did not head for the three major Fulani settlements at Mahanga, Tafawa and Bangai; rather they targeted the vulnerable defenseless cattle boys and their herds strewn across the LGAs. They were so far apart and from home where help could be offered that within two days, they had virtually wiped out all the herders and their cattle. The killings were made more efficient and effective this time because instead of using the traditional crude weapons of daggers, machetes, bows and arrows etc, they had AK 47 assault rifles.
They also targeted the remaining pockets of herders (like the Bakori family in Forom) that had survived the 2001 pogroms via the magnanimity of their neighbours or those stubborn enough to return to isolated places during the period of lull in hostilities. The Bakori family earlier saved by kind Birom neighbours for instance, had to leave in the dead of the night towards Tafawa when their hosts couldn’t restrain the Jang killer squad any longer. In the process, three families of 17 people disappeared with their livestock around Kassa village without trace up till today. No one could go for a search because it was too dangerous. Funeral prayers were offered after weeks had passed without a sign that they were alive.
By the time the Fulani mobilized to confront the Birom militia that were wrecking havoc on cattle boys and livestock, over 280 (can’t recall the exact figure) had been murdered. I was personally involved in tallying the deaths. The average age of those killed was 12.7 years! I will never forget that barbarity. Among those missing and therefore considered killed was a family with a one week old baby.
In the weeks that followed, they went round those quiet beautiful grazing lands picked the  dead they could find, washed them, prayed for the repose of their souls and buried them in dignity and silence.
 For the then political leader of the Fulani and chairman MACBAN Riyom LGA Alhaji Dio Umar Sambo who led the search across the state, he had seen enough death. And he told his family and close friends that he was going to die from all the bloodshed and shear inhumanity he had seen. Few weeks later, he died without a known cause. He just died! I was a youth corp member then serving in Kaduna state. I cried for the first time in many years on hearing the news of his death. He had called me only two days earlier. When we all went home to pay our last respects to his departed soul, everyone left with the foreboding that the Birom had done their worst and the future wasn’t looking beautiful. Something that happened and still remains with me up till today, and perhaps forever, is that on our way back to Kaduna, we met an elderly Birom man named Da-Dung (who was our neighbour and had had a not so good relationship with the deceased and in fact is being accused of participating actively in the 2001 massacres). On seeing us, he bursted into tears and began to weep like a child. He told us in between sobs that, with Dio dead, this land will never know peace again. He was prophetic…
This was the second and last time the Birom could perpetrate such magnitude of evil against the Fulani on the Jos plateau…, not because they didn’t try or never wanted to but because the Fulani had  learnt the bitter and hard way.
To be continued…
Thank you

Malik Oshaf

M: +234 803 1861940

E: malikoshaf@gmail.com

Today News Africa
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