By Pwanagba Agabus, Jos
Amongst the myriad of problems Plateau State has grappled with for close to two decades, security of lives and property appears to be the most pressing of such problems since the outbreak of hostilities on 7th September, 2001, in the city of Jos and other communities in the state.
Regrettably, the military which carries the onerous burden of enforcing security has been caught in the web of credibilty, leaving residents with the option of subscribing to the awkward doctrine of “everyone to himself and God for all”.
The widely acclaimed “Home of Peace and Tourism” had in the recent past, attracted headlines on both local and international media.
The once serene city was punctured by series of ethno-religious crisis, as wanton destruction of lives and property held sway in the state.
Houses and places of worship were torched and razed down; innocent people were hounded, hacked to death or maimed on account of belonging to a particular faith.
At the wake of the ethno-religious crisis, the then President, Goodluck Jonathan in 2010 ordered for the immediate deployment of troops to ensure security of citizens in the entire state, a decision that saw
the complete takeover of the entire security network in the state by the Nigeria Military, supervised by the General Officer Commanding, 3 Armoured Division, Jos, Major General Saleh Maina, now retired.
Shortly after the deployment, the volatile situation that hitherto gripped the entire state was ameliorated tentatively.
Arrests of culprits were made, and typical of the military’s modus operandi, hoodlums who enjoyed free latitude to perpetrate acts of brigandage had their cups full, criminal elements who took advantage of the crisis to loot people’s property were ruthlessly dealt with and normalcy was regained in some places.
But shortly after the intervention of the military, traumatized citizens of the state, especially Jos and environs, began to castigate the military for alleged complicity, especially as they accuse them of partisan conducts in favour of certain parties in the conflict.
The then GOC, Major General Saleh Maina was on several occasions fingered for taking sides with the Hausa/Fulani residents against the natives in particular and other settler communities in the city.
The accusations were so strong that it begot a press briefing to reassure the people of their safety.
Also, reports of fake soldiers operating in military camouflage uniforms were also peddled, as killings in the villages continued.
The Military under the command of the GOC was among other things accused of attacking target populations in their homes, with many of such people shot death in their homes despite their adherence to the then 24 hours curfew declared by the State Government.
A recent case was during the present COVID-19 lockdown, on the 12th May, 2020, mission street Hwolshe, a community in Jos South Local Government Area of the State was thrown into mourning following the shooting of a 20-year-old man, Rinji Peter Bala by operatives of the Operation Safe Haven.
It was also gathered that Bala, a 300Level student of the University of Jos, was arrested at about the night he was shot, in his neighbourhood, Hwolshe, during lockdown.
Bala and six others were said to have been taken to Sector 1 headquarters of the Operation Safe Haven (OPSH) near Jos Zaria Road new stadium, in a military patrol van.
One of those arrested alongside the deceased said, “We were never told our offence, but they tortured us for over an hour before releasing us.
“On our way out, at the gate of the headquarters, some soldiers asked us to run. When we took off, they opened fire. Bala fell a few meters from the gate and was later confirmed death”, he explained.
However, the OPSH, through its spokesman, Major Ibrahim Shittu, said, they were arrested as suspected cultists/armed robbers, because they OPSH received reports that the two aforementioned groups were terrorising the community during the lockdown.
Shittu, explained that when they were asked to leave the premises of Sector one, a personnel of OPSH doing sentry, thought they were trying to escape and fired, which mistakenly hit Bala, and killed him.
At the moment the said personnel has been handed over to the police for further investigation/prosecution.
Over the years, it was strongly alleged that the military taskforce was polarized along religious lines leading to mutual suspicion amongst the military as well as the civil society.
The suspicion was then heightened with the removal of name tags from the uniforms of the officers, and men of the military; according to them it was to alleviate suspicion arising from the names of the members of the taskforce.
The Defence Headquarters in response to the occasion coined the Special Task Force “Operation Safe Haven” comprising of the three military services of the Army, Air Force and Navy, alongside the Police and other security agencies, which has had many different Commanders, since it was formed, to neutralize the possible reactions arising from the dangerous loss of faith in the operations of the OPSH, which undauntedly subsumed its credibility.
The military taskforce has over the years given free medical outreach to vulnerable communities, and have dug boreholes, among others, just to reassure the inhabitants of crisis ridden communities that it should have confidence in the taskforce peace efforts.
The Dyemburuk [Dogo- Nahauwa] killings of hundreds of women and children a border community between Jos South and Barkin Ladi LGAs on March 7th, 2010, was attributed to the lackadaisical attitude of the armed forces who were said to have been informed handy before the attack was orchestrated.
The then Governor of the State, Jonah Jang as well as other illustrious sons of the State accused the then GOC of unprofessional handling and crass disregard to the military ethics.
Till date, the Operation Safe Haven (OPSH) is still being accused of having a hand in the killings in the hinterlands.
However, despite the relative peace being enjoyed in the State even though there were still pockets of killings; on June 23rd/24th, 2018, over 200 persons were murdered in cold blood in some communities of Riyom and Barkin Ladi LGAs by assailants suspected to be herdsmen.
Also, over 38, 000 persons were displaced from their ancestral homes as a result of the aforementioned attack.
Its not surprising when the Senator representing Plateau North Senatorial District and Deputy Chairman, Senate Committee on Defence, Istifanus Gyang in February, 2020 reiterated the calls he and other stakeholders have been making, that there will never be forgiveness without restitution if true reconciliation is to be achieved in Plateau North.
He equally said, “if you are occupying someone’s land or property that does not belong to you during the unrest that have happened in this place, you have to give it back”.
Plateau State has suffered attacks in the last two decades which has claimed many lives and property. The worst hit is Plateau North Senatorial District.
It was gathered that most of the affected communities deserted by the displaced persons in the June, 2018, attacks have been taken over by the alleged attackers.
However, with relative peace and reconciliatory efforts underway, hence the call for restitution by the lawmaker.
Miango District in Bassa LGA of the State and its surrounding villages have for some years now been a subject of attacks by suspected Fulani herdsmen which has claimed over 300 lives and property worth millions of naira destroyed, leaving a huge humanitarian crisis behind.
Also, some communities in Mangu LGA, in Plateau Central senatorial district, have recently suffered attacks, where scores have been killed and property destroyed.
At Nkiedonwro village, in Miango District of Bassa LGA on the 16th October, 2017, where 29 persons were killed, several others injured and many homes destroyed in the process.
The military were accused of compromise, as reports have it that, it was the taskforce personnel that ask the aforementioned victims to go and stay in a particular place for safety, before they were attacked and killed.
The Military Special Task Force (STF) “Operation Safe Haven” deployed to restore law and order in the state, then under the leadership of, Major General Anthony Atolagbe
said it will investigate the involvement of soldiers on duty at the Nkiedonwhro village where 29 people were killed.
Atolagbe, who revealed this when he went for on-the-spot assessment of the attack in the village said the soldiers have been sent to the headquarters of the task force for proper investigation on how the attack took place in the village under their watch, especially that curfew was imposed on the village and there was supposed to be restriction on movement.
Several of such allegations have been made against the military taskforce over the years; but unfortunately nothing concrete has come from the authorities.
There are also allegations that once they are removed from a particular community, assailants begin to attack the area.
On the 3rd April, 2020, the President, Irigwe Development Association (IDA), Sunday Abdu, said the Irigwe chiefdom in Bassa LGA of the State, is worried by the recent withdrawal of men of the special security task force, (Operation Safe Haven) from their domain.
“When this happened beginning from 21 March, 2020, we thought is was a routine military action, and expected to see another set deployed. But it has been over a week since that action was carried out, and here we are with a resumption of hostilities on our soil”, he decried.
“That these atrocities have resumed, is the more reason we need security presence in our land”, he stressed.
The Nigerian armed forces have international reputation in the area of selfless defence of humanity.
The United Nations has found the Nigeria Armed Forces useful in global peace, especially in Liberia, Sierra-Leone, Angola, Sudan, Kosovo, Serbia, among others.
However the opinion of people in Jos and its environs about the role of the military taskforce in restoring peace on
the Plateau in the last decade.
Mallam Sani Musa, a resident of Ali Kazaure street in Jos North LGA said he was very pleased with the military taskforce in the town.
He said, before their deployment, himself and his family could not sleep well, but since they came, they sleep well. Even though he complained about the recent killings in some communities in the state.
Mrs Patricia James, a resident of Anguwan Doki in Jos-South LGA said the military taskforce have lost their credibility; “before the Jos crisis, I used to have great respect for the armed forces, but since the mayhem at Dyemburuk [Dogo Nahauwa] in 2010, and the silent killings going on in rural areas, where people always challenge their pro-activeness, I lost my respect for them”.
However, it is worthy to note that the military is a product of the society, therefore, it is a reflection of the society, there is no point being antagonistic to the military, because within it, you find Christians, Muslims, Pagans and all what not, targeting and killing specific people on the grounds of religion or ethnicity will be killing one’s brothers and sisters, if truly they want to serve this nation.
The military taskforce since its formation ten years ago on the Plateau, has tried to restore peace, but has also cause pains to some communities in the state through some of the aforementioned issues raised above.
The military taskforce (OPSH), is now headed by Major General Chukwuma Okonkwo, who took over from Major General Augustine Agundu two months ago; sadly the killings have continued in the hinterlands.
The question on the lips of virtually every Plateau person is, after ten years on ground and the killings have continued unabated, when will it stop?