Fulani attacking Plateau: Its about land grabbing. They’re renaming our villages, FG supports them, builds school for invaders.
Says Plateau House of Rep member Simon Nwadkwon
Plateau State appeared to be peaceful until a few months back. What do you think is the cause of the resurgence of attacks and killings in the state?
Those who are carrying out these attacks usually escalate the onslaught against the people during the cropping season.
Their target is to destroy the means of livelihood of the people so as to introduce poverty, subdue and conquer them with a view to taking over their land. The whole thing is about land-grabbing. When the people are preparing to plant their crops, the attacks will come; and when they want to harvest their crops, you see the same thing and the attackers will chase them away from their villages and harvest their crops.
Are the attacks reprisal?
The attacks are not reprisal. Nobody provoked anyone to warrant that; neither was there any form of cow rustling. The intention is to introduce severe hunger. Last week’s attack on the Wereng community in the Riyom Local Government in which six natives were killed was the third time they were attacking that community. In fact, two weeks ago, two youths in the area were ambushed and killed, while three others escaped. And there is only one major road to the village and the villagers have no other road to follow.
Right now, we have intelligence that there are plans to attack more villages in Plateau State, especially in my constituency and other communities in the neighbouring local government areas of the state.
Who are those responsible for the attacks?
I have heard some people calling the attackers unknown gunmen, but there is nothing like that. We have cried out that they are stranger settlements in our communities. If you go to the Rankum community, which the Fulani are claiming to have renamed Mahanga, and down to the Kura Falls community, you will see several new houses erected by these strangers. If you also go to the Rahoss community, you will also notice several new houses with new roofs springing up in the area and extending to other communities.
Who are these people and where did they come from?
Look at what happened in the Foron district in Barkin Ladi LGA. The traditional ruler complained that there were stranger elements in his domain and he wrote a complaint letter to the Special Task Force Commander in the council area. They now called him to withdraw the letter, but he refused and it was that same night that he was killed. So, there is nothing like unknown gunmen. Let’s call a spade by its name and this means that we must tell the truth. These killings are done by our Fulani brothers. No one is saying that all of them are involved in the killings.
Who are the victims?
The victims are mostly the indigenous population, who are being killed and their ancestral lands being taken over by force.
Is the state getting the required attention in terms of checkmating the bandits’ attacks?
I don’t want to see them as bandits.
There are land-grabbers. I told you earlier that they have settled in our communities in their thousands and built houses. Even the Fulani that we know have been complaining as well that there are stranger elements in their midst although they are divided among themselves. Some of them are harbouring the killers and offering tactical support, while some others are not interested in what is going on. So, the killers are not bandits. If they are bandits, they will kill and disappear; but these ones will kill, build houses and occupy the land, and what are they if not land-grabbers? That is what is happening in my constituency.
The kind of attention we are getting from the government is not what the people deserve.
But the people are not convinced and I will give an example of a recent incident in the Jol community, where the Federal Government built a school with about 12 class room blocks. It was built in the Rakum community in my constituency and completed within three weeks or thereabout. The worst part is that it was built during the lockdown, when the issue of COVID-19 was at its peak. The community actually did petition the Federal Government over the school.
All this while, the communities have been crying that the Federal Government is aiding and abetting land-grabbing within their communities and the Federal Government has continually denied that it is aiding the Fulani occupation.
But that school became an obvious example to justify what the people have been crying about, because that school was built by the Sustainable Development Goal office, which is in the Presidency. So, the community petitioned the Presidency and said, ‘Well, we have accused you of helping the Fulani to take over our land and you have been denying it; now, you have built a school from your office without recourse to the people of the community and the traditional rulers, and even without consultation with the Primary School Education Authority in Plateau State. Even the SDG office in Plateau State and the local government authority were not consulted yet, the Federal Government went ahead to build the school.
The Federal Government did not only build the school, it went ahead to give the school a name being contested by the indigenous community. The original name of the community is Rakum, but the Fulani, who are occupying the community after chasing the natives away, claimed to have renamed it Mahanga and that is the name, which the SDG office settled for. To add insult to injury, the Federal Government equally named the school after a Fulani leader.
That is why the native Jol community petitioned the Federal Government and wanted to know who asked for the building of the school. Why was it built without any recourse to all the categories of persons that I mentioned before? Moreover, why should it be named after that Fulani leader?
So, the native community pointed out that there is no single public primary school that is named after an individual in Plateau and demanded to know the achievements of the Fulani leader, who the school was named after and what he has contributed to Plateau State that will warrant a school being named after him.
We have prominent sons and daughters of Plateau State, who have sacrificed a lot for Plateau as a state yet, no school was named after them.
Has the issue been resolved?
As far as I am concerned, the matter has been settled, because the Fulani representatives came and said they were not contesting the land ownership with us, the native community. They also said they were not contesting the name of the school either. It will interest you to know that the school in question had been existing before they now build new structures, and changed the name of the community and the school. They said that they thought we were going to say that the school should be destroyed, but that was not what we wanted. But what we are contesting is the new names given to the school and the area it is situated, which the Fulani agreed can be changed. So, we had to leave Abuja and come home.
We led the team again and met the Chairman of the LGA and the Commissioner for Primary Education sent her representatives. The Education Secretary was also there, including the Fulani representatives as well as the native community, and we all agreed that both the name of the school and the name of the area should be changed back to their original names. And that the school should be formally handed over to the local government, because primary school is within the purview of the local government administration.
At the peak of the crisis in your constituency a few years ago, the Federal Government pledged the sum of N10bn for the rebuilding of the victims’ homes and resettlement of the IDPs. Can you confirm if the government has redeemed its promise?
That pledge by the government has not been fulfilled after so many years. On the first day of our plenary as members of the 9th Assembly, I raised a motion on the floor of the House and it was well debated. The prayers were clearly stated that we build on the fact that the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, visited Plateau State when over 300 villagers were massacred in my constituency in the Garshish community and that a promise of N10bn was made and also a promise to build a mobile police barrack in the affected community. Even after the 2019 election, nothing came and that was why I had to bring it as a motion during our first plenary and the prayers were that we needed that N10bn to be redeemed so that our traumatised people could be assisted to rebuild their lives.
I have removed the extract of the motion and attached it to a formal letter, which was forwarded to the office of the President, and I got no reply. I am thinking of sending another letter to the Presidency with the extract of the motion, because the motion is already the property of the National Assembly, and we feel strongly that the Federal Government should respect it. The truth is that government has not been fair to the people by not respecting that motion, because as of the time I presented that motion, it was over a year that the victims had been languishing in IDP camps and the APC government in Plateau has been lying over the situation, saying it has resettled the people. Whereas as we speak now, my constituents are still in IDP camps with nobody to help them. And that is why I will still go ahead to appeal to the Federal Government to still do something and fulfil the N10bn pledge so that the people can heave a sigh of relief.
It is on record that President Muhammadu Buhari had in the past reversed certain policy pronouncements made by the Vice-President and we hope that is not the situation with the N10bn pledge and the construction of a police mobile barracks made by Prof. Yemi Osinbajo to the people of Plateau State. But it appears we are living in a country where the aggressor is being taken care of by the government, while the victim is abandoned. We have seen Boko Haram members being rehabilitated and given amnesty by the government, while the people they rendered homeless and made orphans are left unattended to. The situation should not be allowed to continue.
What do you consider as the solution to the recurrent killings in Plateau State?
The solution is that we must have a government that has the political will and is ready to protect the lives and property of the citizens as they swore to do on oath when they were sworn in after winning elections. The solution will come when we have a government that has empathy and sympathy for its people. But unfortunately, we have seen none of these characteristics in the present administration. Since this crisis started, have you heard that somebody has been arrested and prosecuted or jailed? So, this will continue as far as we have the present government in place that does not care about the killing of its own people.
The security agents are already polarised along ethnic and religious lines in handling the problem and sometimes, they intentionally allow the killings to continue. When I was the council chairman in Riyom LGA, I had an engagement with one of the security operatives deployed in the LGA. He told me, ‘My friend, do you think I have come here to protect the people? If you don’t give me money, I don’t have time’. So, there are security agents who are there just to make money. Another security agent, who did not immediately identify my religion because of my dressing, told me that he had come to defend his religion. Because I was wearing a long gown (kaftan) and spoke Hausa, he thought I was a Muslim and he spoke with me sincerely what his mission was. Immediately, I reported the matter and the man was removed from Riyom LGA. So, there are those among the security agents, who are not interested in protecting the people, but to protect their religion.
Only a few are ready to do the job of Nigerian security agents with utmost patriotism irrespective of the religion they profess and they are in the minority compared with those who are out to make money or protect their religion. So, the security agents are part of the insecurity we are having in Plateau. Will they say that they didn’t have intelligence reports before these attacks and killing of the people? We believe they have them. I want them to challenge me that they were not aware that attacks would happen in the affected communities. But what did they do? Nothing.
Source: Plateau Rep, Mwadkwon
Simon Mwadkwon represents the Barkin Ladi/Riyom Federal Constituency of Plateau State in the House of Representatives which has suffered several attacks and killings by gunmen. In thie interview with JAMES ABRAHAM(The Punch) , the two-term lawmaker