No fewer than 120 persons were weekend killed in several villages in Barkin Ladi, Mangu and Riyom local government areas of Plateau State in fresh attacks by gunmen suspected to be herdsmen, while over 200 others sustained gunshot injuries.
However, Commander of the Special Military Task Force, Major General Anthony Atolagbe, last night confirmed that 56 persons were killed.
Major-General Atolagbe, who spoke from the bush where he was directing operations to apprehend the perpetrators, also said three of the killers had been arrested, adding that they confessed to participating in the killing.
"The suspected killers have been giving useful information about others involved in the killings and their hideouts. We are going all out for them. Also, troops have been deployed to ensure normalcy is restored," he said.
This came as 13 persons also lost their lives in an inter-communal conflict between two communities in Cross River and Ebonyi states.
The scale of destruction in Plateau, which also led to burning of houses, compelled the state government to declare a dawn-to-dusk curfew in the affected local government areas to stave off further killings.
But Plateau State Police Command said at press time last night it had counted 86 bodies, asserting that it could not ascertain the actual number of casualties since some families took away bodies of their loved ones without notification.
Vanguard gathered that heavily armed gunmen invaded the affected villages, including Exland, Gindin Akwati, Ruku, Nghar, Kura Falls and Kakuruk, all in Gashish district as well as Rakok, Kok and Razat villages in Ropp district of the local government area, shooting sporadically, killing people, injuring others and setting structures ablaze.
The latest attacks sparked off protests by the youths who barricaded roads along Mangu Halle in Mangu Local Government Area, protesting incessant killings in the area.
An eye-witness, Masara Kim, who narrowly escaped being killed in an ambush while returning from a funeral service near Kura Falls, explained: "The attack occurred a few metres away from a military checkpoint in Kafi Abu village. The attackers opened fire on the convoy of sympathizers and bullets hit a vehicle which I was travelling in, injuring one person.
"At least four other travellers were critically wounded in different other vehicles. In one vehicle, the driver and another woman were shot in their legs. Another driver carrying over five passengers was shot in the arm, resulting in the car crashing.
"All on board fled into the bushes amid heavy gunfire. The attackers by their looks, were herdsmen."
The pastor in charge of Church of Christ In Nations, COCIN, Regional Church Council, RCC, Rop in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area, Pam Chollom, said majority of those killed in the attack that lasted several hours were mourners.
He said: "Herdsmen attacked our members who attended the burial of the father to one of our clergy, Baba Jakawa, at Gidin Akwati, Gashis district. Late Jakawa was aged over 80 years, a committed member of COCIN, so his burial attracted many sympathisers.
"The armed men ambushed the sympathisers on their way back from the burial, attacked and killed 34 persons from Nekan village, 39 others from Kufang, and 47 people from Ruku village. As we speak with you, many others are still missing in the bushes.
"The sad incident started at about 1:00 p.m., and lasted still about 8:00 p.m. yesterday (Saturday).
"We informed members of the Special Task Force (STF) on Jos crisis. They went to one of the villages, but the attackers had committed the havoc and left."
Spokesman of Operation Safe Haven, Major Adam Umar, said soldiers were immediately deployed to the affected villages, following sporadic gunshots which drew the military's attention.
He said: "There was an incident yesterday (Saturday) in Barkin Ladi, some attackers stormed the general area and started shooting sporadically.
"The sound of the gunshots attracted our personnel, they immediately mobilized towards the area the gunshots were coming from. On reaching there, they came under heavy fire. The incident is still ongoing though under control.
"There are casualties because there were gunshots and fire-fight between our personnel and the attackers but for now, the number is not ascertained."
It was learned yesterday that many people were still trapped in the bushes, as sporadic shooting continued yesterday.
Those evacuated were said to have been taken to Jos University Teaching Hospital, JUTH, for treatment.
Acting Public Relations Officer of the hospital, Mr. Haruna Manzo, who confirmed this to Vanguard yesterday, said: "On Saturday, five people were brought with gunshots wounds, one was treated and discharged and four are on admission.
"On Sunday, 21 new casualties were brought and the total we received was 26, we don't have any dead body here."
However, Police Public Relations Officer in Plateau State command, ASP Mathias Tyopev, gave some figures, saying "we have recovered 11 corpses so far and deposited in a hospital.
"We can only account for 11 from Exland, Kura Falls, Gindin Akwati and some other villages. We are not working on speculations but on numbers we have but if somebody died and the relatives did not report to the Police, there is no way we can know. We have deployed enough personnel in Gashish district as we speak."
Gov Lalong slams curfew
The attacks forced the state governor, Simon Lalong, to immediately return home from Abuja where he participated in the national convention of the All Progressives Congress, APC, which held at the weekend.
The governor, who condemned the attack, directed security chiefs to checkmate the assailants and appealed for calm, saying "government has fashioned out a lasting solution to the present challenge."
Riyom, Barkin Ladi, Jos South LGs affected
The state government immediately imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on Riyom, Barkin Ladi and Jos South local government areas, saying the move was to avert a breakdown of law and order.
The government in a statement by the Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Rufus Bature, said: "Movement is restricted from 6pm to 6am, except for those on essential duties."
Also reacting to the attacks, the state's Commissioner for Information and Communication, Yakubu Dati, has said the government was deeply pained that "despite concerted efforts which had led to the restoration of relative peace across the state, some unpatriotic elements are bent on disrupting the gains so far made."
The statement condemned the attacks, assuring that government had mobilised the "full compliments of security forces that are restoring normalcy in the affected areas and the environs."
Reacting to the development, Plateau State chapter of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, described the incident as "genocide" and called on the international community to come to the aid of the state.
In a statement issued in Jos and signed by the Publicity Secretary, John Akans, PDP said: "We received with rude shock the level of genocide going on now in Gashish District, Razat, Ruku Nyarr and Gana-Ropp, all in Barkin Ladi Local Government.
"We also note with great pains the dastardly attacks ongoing in many other local government areas in the state by the militias.
"We condemn in the strongest terms the level of continuous genocide of Plateau people. At the moment, Barkin Ladi is under siege with over 130 people feared to have been killed. As at time of this statement, the (SOM) CAPRO School of missions Gana-Ropp is under heavy attack by the militias.
"This unholy act of systematic genocide and the destruction of the cultural heritage of Plateau people must stop.
"We call on the international community to come to the aid of Plateau people as, besides the over 130 people killed, many are missing."
Also reacting, Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, in 19 Northern states and the Federal Capital Territory, Rev. Yakubu Pam, condemned the wanton killings of innocent villagers in restive communities of Barkin Ladi , Bassa and parts of Riyom local government areas in Plateau state.
Rev Pam in a statement issued in Jos yesterday, lamented that while the people of the state have started forgetting the memories of the past, the recent resurgence of attacks and killings of villagers in the restive communities of the affected three local government councils of the state should be condemned by all peace loving citizens of the state.
Pam, who commended the Plateau State government for the relative peace it has restored to the state in the last three years, challenged the government and security agencies in the state to bring the on going madness in the affected communities to an end as quickly as possible.
The Northern CAN leader alleged that crisis merchant who do not want the state to be at peace were at it again to plunge Plateau communities into another round of violence.
He urged security agencies to go after those that were hell bent on destroying the peace of the state.
In its reaction, the state chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, in a message from its Chairman, Rev. Soja Bewarang, said: "The continued genocide going on now in Gashish District, Razat, Ruku Nyarr, Gana-Ropp, Shalong, Gwararza etc in Barkin Ladi Local Government and other communities in Riyom and Bokkos are very disheartening to say the least.
"The killings are becoming no longer herders and farmers again but deliberate attempt to conquer and occupy the land of the peoples' ancestral heritage. CAN also notes with great pains the dastardly attacks ongoing in many other local government areas in the state by the herdsmen militias.
"CAN condemns in the strongest terms the continuous genocide of Plateau people. Barkin Ladi is under siege with more than 200 innocent precious human lives killed and countless driven out in the rains and left without shelter.
"CAN is also saddened by the news of attack on CAPRO School of Missions (SOM) in Gana-Ropp by the militias. CAN had yesterday made a statement concerning the incident at Mangu Halle as very unfortunate; commends the youth in Mangu and environs as well as youth in Riyom, Barkin Ladi, for their peaceful action that guaranteed peace or else things would have been worst. Commend some security agencies, religious and elders for efforts to calm the situation.
"The soil of Plateau smells with rotten dead bodies as a result of silent killings and besides, many people are missing. CAN mourns with the families and churches who lose their loved ones prematurely and untimely and calls on the government, the security at all levels to please rise and do the needful by discharging their constitutional responsibility of protecting lives and properties of its citizens."
At press time yesterday, tension had started mounting at Anguldi, Zawan and Bukuru areas of Jos South Local Government Area of the state but no one was certain about the cause as residents were apprehensive and calling for security to ensure no life or property was lost.
Meanwhile, about 13 persons were reportedly killed and two villages razed, also at the weekend, in the raging inter-communal conflict between the people of Ukele in Yala Local Government Area of Cross River State and their Izzi neighbours of Ebonyi State.
The conflict, which is caused by struggle for farmland along their common border, has been a recurring issue, particularly during yam and rice planting seasons and many lives have been lost to the conflict since 2003 when it first occurred.
The recent conflict started on Monday when a woman was reportedly shot in her farm and on Wednesday when some youths in Ipuolo village returning from a meeting were reportedly waylaid by their Izzi counterparts, leaving many of them with gunshot wounds.
Last Friday's killings and burning of houses, according to Mr Vincent Egbe, the Community Relations Officer to Cross River State Governor, Senator Ben Ayade, started when some Izzi assailants invaded the venue of a peace meeting convened by the Divisional Police Officer for the Area and his Ebonyi State counterpart to find a peaceful resolution to the matter.
"We were already in the meeting venue waiting for the arrival of the DPOs from Yala and Izzi Local Government Areas when some youths invaded the venue of the meeting and shot into the crowd and wounded many people," Egbe said.
He said Ukele youths mobilised and managed to repel the attackers and it was in the ensuing battle that the village of Nkaleke and Nduabonyi were razed and many people lost their lives.
"They are the aggressors and all our people have been trying to do is to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict, yet they keep launching attacks on us," he said.
Mr Hafiz Inua, the Cross River State Police Commissioner, could not be reached on phone but the Police Public Relations Officer for the state police Command, Ms Irene Ugbo, said the Commissioner travelled to the area to restore calm.
According to her, the poor network is the reason it was not possible to reach the commissioner on phone.
In a telephone chat with the Divisional Police Officer of Izzi local government area of Ebonyi State, Ikechukwu Ogonna Nwenyi, who said he was not disposed to talk as he was in a battle zone, explained that no side could accurately said the number of those affected by the inter-communal conflict.
According to him, commuters are free to ply the road now "as we have opened up the road for access to everyone."
On the claim by Cross River that 13 persons were killed by Izzi assailants, the DPO further stressed that there was no real figure of causalities on both side.
"The real figure is not ascertained; the figures of the causalities are not yet known; the road is now free to passersby and commuters. People are now free to go about their businesses," the DPO said.