Jos/Abuja — Fulani communities who were relocated to allow for military operation in the restive villages of Plateau State have began abandoning their camps because of lack of essential supplies.
After three days in camps in Riyom and Barkin Ladi, the herders complained to the military authorities that they lacked basic supplies and so needed to go to their villages to pick certain items ahead of the month-long Muslim fasting period.
The Fulani villagers said they lacked potable water and good food, as a woman died in one of the camps on Tuesday while two others gave birth.
There was conflicting information yesterday as to whether the villagers were allowed to go home to pick what they needed or they defied the Special Task Force operatives to leave.
The herders were forced out from their villages by the STF for a military operation authorities said were aimed at fishing out "terrorists" after deadly attacks in the areas.
Some of the leaders of the displaced people, among them women and children, said by yesterday it was becoming too difficult to survive at the camps because supplies were erratic and meagre.
A Fulani leader, the Hardon Riyom, Alhaji Mamuda, told the BBC Hausa yesterday most of the people in his area had abandoned the camp and returned home.
"Hunger will not wait for anybody," he added.
Ibrahim Yusuf, who is among the returnees from Barkin Ladi camp, also said they started leaving the camps on Tuesday night while others left yesterday.
The BBC reported that the Fulani complained that they were also harassed by the STF's shooting in the air asking those leaving to return.
Daily Trust gathered that one Aisha Yakubu died in Diyyan camp while two women gave birth in the same camp.
The villages vacated to make way for the STF operations are Mahanga, Kakuruk, Kuzen, Maseh and Shong.
Spokesman for the STF Captain Salisu Mustapha said they received reports that a number of Fulani people in some of the camps were returning to their villages to get their belongings ahead of Ramadan.
He said the STF was aware of the commencement of Ramadan and sympathised with the people. However he said the instruction for them to vacate their villages was in their interest and goes beyond STF.
He added that the STF had already commenced operation around the vacated areas.
"The operation is around the hills and mountains around the villages not in the villages. The people were asked to vacate the area because we didn't want any adversary that may lead to collateral damage. We fear that the targets may run to the villages and you know that could lead to collateral damage," he said.
National secretary of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN), Alhaji Saleh Bayeri, told our correspondent that the Fulani have not actually been allowed to return home.
He said their leaders approached the STF to allow them to return to their houses to pick essential items and medications which they had left behind due to the hurried manner they were asked to leave their villages.
He said since the exercise has now lasted for more than 48 hours, contrary to the promises given by the STF earlier, and relief materials were not forth coming, the Fulani leaders decided to plead with the STF to allow them go back and pick items such as grinding machines, grains and sugar to prepare for the fasting period which the soldiers allowed.
He confirmed that many of the Fulani were able to go to the villages and pick such victuals especially in areas where the STF had concluded their operation, while many have returned to the camps at the time.
Former minister of information and communication, Alhaji Dasuki Nakande, also said there was a meeting between the STF operational leaders in the area and the Fulani leaders in Barkin Ladi local government.
It was at the meeting that it was resolved that they be allowed to go and inspect properties they left behind in the villages to assure them that they have not been tampered with.
"So in order to assure them that nobody tampered with the properties, they were allowed to go back and see things for themselves," he said.