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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Are Plateau’s Christmas Eve massacres Forgotten? – Emmanuel Onwubiko

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In my entire career as a Human Rights Practitioner and as a Journalist, I have never been threatened like the way the defence headquarters of Nigeria armed forces forcefully attacked me and my platform (HURIWA) for our persistent and consistency on getting to the fundamentals of the Christmas eve massacres in selected rural communities in Plateau State. I think the reason I was attacked by the armed forces of Nigeria is because I have remained categorically clear that intelligence failures led to those killings. This sort of phenomenon happens only in nations whereby the institutions are weak and the individuals wielding temporary powers because of their offices, feel that they are invincible and shouldn’t be questioned.

As i said in the preceding paragraphs, our country Nigeria is such a fascinating and at the same time intriguing place to be. It has been theorised that surviving in Nigeria should be classified as a skill. I think it is true because government officials don’t want accountability and transparency.

The Country is such a place that the citizens are mostly inactive politically. Even when illiteracy is not such a big national challenge, even some of the most educated Nigerians are bereft of any working ideas about their fundamental rights as citizens and their responsibilities to keep governments on their toes. Citizens need to be informed that they have a duty to monitor governance and to exercise their constitutional freedoms of expression and information to pass on their messages to government officials without fear or ill-will. Constructive criticism is therefore the life of democracy founded on law and Constitution.

A reading of the extant constitution and more specifically, section 14 (1) (2) of the Nigerian constitution, then a critical look at how so forgetful the citizens are to demand accountability from government, therefore reveals our frightening emptiness as citizens in failing to ask the government the right questions.

Section 14(1) (2) of the Nigerian Constitution provides as follows: “14(1) The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.

(2) It is hereby, accordingly, declared that:

(a) Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority;

(b) The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government: and

(c) The participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”

And because most Nigerians are too timid and afraid to ask questions to the government, those in government now believe that they are above the law. The truth is: nobody is above reproach and no one holding position of authority can’t be questioned even if he controls and commands hundreds of thousands of armed troops in Nigeria.

The above conclusion was reached by me because it has been three month since after one of the most beastial and crude violence on a big scale was unleashed on some of our citizens, but in Nigeria of today, it is business- as -usual with the exception of the families who have now been forgotten and abandoned to carry their cross. This is grotesque and unintelligent and needs to be properly challenged.

Most Nigerians reading this, are even unaware that yours faithfully, this writer, as the founding executive director of HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) was attacked by the defence headquarters for raising pertinent questions with a direct conclusion that the Christmas eve killings in parts of Plateau State that left over 200 citizens dead, were allowed to happen by those in position of authority and duty to defend us. The constitution says in section 14 (2) (B) that “The security and welfare of the people SHALL be the primary purpose of government.”

As the head of my organisation of Human Right Practitioners known with a simple acronym of HURIWA, we issued series of statements to the media challenging the Chief of Defence staff for not adopting what we think is the best law-based approach to get to the roots of that Christmas eve genocide of Plateau natives by armed Fulani herders.

But the Defence headquarters took a big offence at what they may have termed as our effrontery to raise objections and then accused us of misinformation; even as the Defence headquarters threatened to drag us to court. On the day this threat from the military to us was publicised, I observed some unnatural movements in and around my car and as I drove to a meeting at the Central area Abuja, a strange looking car followed me not until I decided to branch into a well populated place and suddenly, that strange car trailing me disappeared. Well, we notified both the media and the diplomatic community in Nigeria. I got calls from a few of the Embassies asking to find out about my wellbeing and that of my team members. This is the frightening stage that Nigeria our country has been dragged into by government officials to an extent that there is a pervading climate of fear almost over. It is difficult to differentiate between attacks by terrorists and by state actors.

It is this fear of the unknown that made many Nigerians to easily forget about demanding accountability from the government that purports that it was elected by this same electorate. But should we because of fear of attacks by that powers-that-be, and abandon our constitutional responsibility to demand accountability?

The truth remains that the relatives of the victims of that Christmas eve attacks in Plateau state and the state government, have yet to get closures to their bereavements and the unwarranted violence visited on their families. Those who were unjustifiably killed should be granted social justice. This is the essence of government.

To show you my readers how severe those attacks were, you need to read the following lines by a reporter depicting those deadly and bloody attacks in Plateau state last December, just hours to Christmas.

The newspaper reported that as dusk descended, a chilling breeze seeped through Kambar Pelli, a community in Ruwi, Bokkos Local Government Area (LGA) of Plateau State, and residents retired for the day oblivious of the horror lurking around.

Augustine Ezekiel, a hunter, was on a night watch with a colleague when he heard strange movements. As he moved to check, he heard loud bangs on the door of a nearby building.

Some people were trying to force their way into the house which lay beside a vast field of bush and farmlands that stretched to Kerang in neighbouring Mangu LGA.

Gunshots rent the air and Mr Ezekiel took cover behind a tree. “I saw two people behind the house while I hid behind a tree. Immediately, I knew they were not here for any good,” he stated.

“I shot at one but he fled. There were many of them. I couldn’t stand them, so I ran too.”

Mr Ezekiel’s first destination was his home, located two houses away from the house under attack, to make sure his family fled before the attackers reached them. When he got home, his wife and mother had already taken to their heels, giving him a sense of relief. Then comes the intricate tale of how many lineages were slaughtered by these marauding terrorists who are yet to be arrested and prosecuted.

The reporter gave us an insight of what transpired on the hours of those attacks and affirmed that inside one of the six rooms in the attacked house was Armak Isa. Mr Isa said he was nudged to consciousness from his sleep by gunshots and loud bangs on the doors.

“Almost immediately they were in our compound hitting the doors with stones,” he said, adding that the attackers spoke Fulfulde as they broke into the rooms one after another.

“I opened my door, scaled the fence and ran,” he recalled.

That night, the assailants killed Mr Isa’s entire family: his older brother, Panmun Isa; Panmun’s wife, Namban Panmun and their four children – Makroghop, Tapji, Jiret and Precious.

This is how cruel and wicked these terrorists were.

On 27th December 2023 in an interview on Channels television state Governor, Caleb Mutfwang, stated, “This has indeed been a very gory Christmas for us. We have had to celebrate with a heavy heart. Just when people had finished preparing for Christmas celebrations, unprovoked attacks were unleashed on several of our communities.

“As I’m talking to you, in Mangun Local Government alone, we buried at least 15 people. So far this morning in the Bokkos Local Government, we were counting not less than 100 corpses. I have yet to take stock of that of Barki-Ladi. Most of the communities affected in Barki-Ladi share a border with the Bokkos Local Government.

‘’He further disclosed that no fewer than 64 communities in the state had been displaced by terrorists who were occupying schools in the local government area.

He said, “When people are dislocated from their villages and they have to run for shelter, now we are struggling to provide shelter for these people that have been displaced and dislocated from their communities.

“If they stay away from those communities for a sustained period, the terrorists would come in. As I am talking to you today (Tuesday), in the Riyom Local Government and in Barkin Ladi Local Government, schools have been occupied by these terrorists for almost a number of years now. We have not less than 64 communities that have been displaced and their lands have been taken over by these terrorists.”

“Under the last regime, the feeling among people in Plateau State particularly the victims of these terrorist attacks is that it looks as if the terrorists were given official government backing to be able to terrorise them because little or nothing was done to repel these attacks.

“I can tell you these schools that are being occupied, it didn’t just start now, some of those schools have been occupied in the last three, four, five years.

“Children therefore in those schools have not been able to go to school. They have to relocate. We even have primary health care centres abandoned because of these terrorists which means that our health care system is put in jeopardy; what do we need to do? I think this is where the President needs to come in,” he added.

Dear readers, what is beyond logical reasoning is the reason offered for those attacks as made by the military, of all institutions.

The statement of the defence headquarters is heart-rending, to describe it mildly and these words were captured in news publications which can be obtained on the internet. This is so the Defence headquarters wouldn’t accuse this writer of misinformation. The Internet doesn’t forget!

The Defence Headquarters (DHQ) had put the blame for the renewed killings in Mangu local government of Plateau State on inhabitants of the area, describing it as self-inflicted.

It said the latest round of bloodshed was triggered by cattle rustling and the killing of a bicycle-riding Wangagu man by militiamen in defiance of efforts to keep peace in the area.

The military authorities, who were reacting to claims by a faith leader – that soldiers were biased and were aiding and abetting the marauders killing the natives in their communities, however, said troops were doing their utmost restore peace across in the affected areas and across the country.

The director of Defence media operations, Major General Edward Buba, who disclosed this during the biweekly update on military operations, said troops had neutralised 94, arrested 171 terrorists and rescued 29 hostages in ongoing operations.

He said, “The Mangu crisis of 23 January, 2024, was triggered by cattle rustling and killing of a Wangagu man by herders’ militia. The Wangagu man riding on motorcycle ran into the militiamen who killed him, triggering a reprisal from the locals. We witnessed burning of places of worship, giving a religious slant to the Mangu crisis.”

He said the troops of Operation Safe Haven on January 17, 2024, responded to information on large numbers of armed Fulani militiamen mobilising to attack a community in Bokkos local government area (LGA) of Plateau State.

He said the troops made contact with the violent extremists/Fulani militias and following a fire fight, troops neutralised 10 insurgents and recovered 10 AK47 rifles, 210 rounds of 7.62mm special ammunition, five mobile phones and 29 rounds of PKT ammunition.

He said the troops also arrested suspected violent extremists/insurgents and Fulani militia gang leaders in Mangu and Wase LGAs of Plateau State.

He further related that troops again on 18th January, 2024, acting on credible intelligence conducted sting operations and arrested five suspected violent extremists/terrorists in Mangu LGA of Plateau State, recovering 168 assorted weapons and 2,757 assorted ammunition in the week under review.

He disclosed that the military high command had deployed special forces to some of the hotspots on the Plateau in order to conduct targeted operations, adding that several battlefield enablers had been deployed to enhance intelligence and strike capability on the terrorists in the state.

He therefore encouraged the warring factions to sheathe their swords.

Imagine the Defence headquarters preaching to terrorists as if the fight is one small inter-village conflicts.

Then the chief of Defence staff added to the bewildering excuses made by his subordinates on why the attacks happened.

The Defence Headquarters has said the Christmas Eve attacks across communities in Plateau State that left close to 200 dead, many injured and many displaced were planned to embarrass and make the Federal Government look stupid.

The killings marked the seventh month of Mr Tinubu’s assumption of office as President.

“The shocking incident that occurred in Bokkos, Barkin Ladi was quite unfortunate. There was no reason for the attack,” the Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Musa, said in an interview with Channels TV on Monday.

He said, “I think the purpose is to embarrass everybody and to make the government look stupid.”

General Musa as reported by the media, added that Nigerian military was “making some arrests” connected to the Plateau Christmas Eve killings and explained the military’s delayed response to the distress calls from the attacked villages.

Were it not that Nigerians are a population that are often in a hurry to forget about tragedies and do not ask the right question because of a lack of a national sense of outrage, I think by now the questions for the federal government is to demand full disclosure on the number of arrest of the suspects.

The Defence headquarters mentioned that in passing, that some arrests were made, and that has been all grom the federal government side. From Nigerians, we have all moved on.

But Nigerians must ask the Federal Attorney General and the Attorney General of Plateau State about the legal processes regarding those atrocities.

If some suspects were arrested as we were told by defence headquarters, where are those suspects now and why are they not been prosecuted for their crimes against humanity? If they are been prosecuted, for what and which courts of law? Or are they undergoing secret prosecution?

To the federal government and more specifically to President Tinubu we ask:Why have you not fired any of the security heads in plateau state that did nothing but allowed such callous killings to happen? It is only in Nigeria that citizens will be slaughtered by armed non state actors, and no official of government or security forces is dismissed for dereliction of duties.

Emmanuel Onwubiko is the head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.

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