Human lives have become increasingly cheap in Nigeria, and politicians are taking advantage of the insecurity situation in the country to position themselves, President Muhammadu Buhari said yesterday.
"We know that a number of geographical and economic factors are contributing to the longstanding herdsmen/farmers clashes. But we also know that politicians are taking advantage of the situation. This is incredibly unfortunate," the president was quoted by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Shehu Garba, to have said in a reaction to last weekend murder of over 100 souls in three local government areas of Plateau State by yet to be identified gunmen.
Notwithstanding the provocation, Buhari still admonished, "Nigerians affected by the herdsmen/ farmer clashes must always allow the due process of the law to take its course rather than taking matters into their own hands."
Explaining the cause of the gruesome massacre, Garba said information available to the presidency showed that the rustling of about 100 cattle by a community in the state led to the killings by some herdsmen.
The statement attracted an instant rebuke by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, dismissed it as insensitive and demanded for an unreserved apology to Nigerians from the president.
The police and the military, however, announced fresh measures, including the deployment of special forces in the troubled state to forestall escalation of violence even as the herders' umbrella body, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN), justified the killings, saying it was unrealistic to expect that theft of about 100 cattle by the affected community would not attract reprisal from its members.
Expectedly Miyetti Allah's statement was seen as brazen by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), which has now externalised the conflict, calling on the international community to come to the aid of its members who are largely affected by the persistent violent conflicts.
Garba's statement had explained that the state Governor, Simon Lalong, had invited the aggrieved groups and pleaded against further action while the law enforcement agents was looking into the matter but that less than 24 hours later, violence broke out.
"Some local thugs then took advantage of the situation, turning it into an opportunity to extort the public and to attack people from rival political parties," he said, adding, "There were reports of vehicles being stopped along the roads in the state, with people being dragged out of their cars and attacked if they stated that they supported certain politicians or political party.
According to the presidential aide, "On his way back to Jos after attending the All Progressives Congress (APC) Convention in Abuja, the state governor had to dismantle a number of illegal road blocks set up by these thugs. There were also a number of dead bodies thugs had killed, lying along the road."
As the nation tried to make a sense out of the violence, Vice President Osinbajo took a condolence trip to the Plateau to commiserate with the government and the people who lost loved ones as well as the injured.
The vice president who landed in Jos about 4p.m. yesterday was expected to also meet with stakeholders to explore ways of finding peace and stop the wanton killings.
The Plateau State Government that appeared overwhelmed by the recurring violence in its domain yesterday, expressed concern over the manner in which gory pictures of victims of the attacks in parts of the state were being circulated on the social media, fearing it could exacerbate the strife.
A statement by the Commissioner of Information, Mr. Yakubu Dati, said, "While sympathising with affected families and communities, government is advising citizens to respect the sanctity of both the living and the dead, particularly, at this time when the entire state is in mourning mood," adding, "Government appeals to citizens to remain calm, vigilant and report any suspicious persons or activities to security operatives."
He assured the people that government would not relent in its commitment to protect the lives and property of its citizens.
Miyetti Allah Explains Attack
MACBAN explained yesterday that the latest attacks were a retaliation for the theft of 100 cattle by the affected communities, contending that the persistence of rustling of their ware could not continue without consequence.
"These attacks are retaliatory. As much as I don't support the killing of human being, the truth must be told that those who carried out the attacks must be on revenge mission," the Chairman of the North-central Chapter of MACBAN, Danladi Ciroma, said.
"Fulani herdsmen have lost about 300 cows in the last few weeks, 94 cows were rustled by armed Berom youths in Fan village and another 36 cows were killed by Berom youths. In addition to that, 174 cattle were rustled," he explained.
Residents in the state had said over 120 people were massacred in separate attacks at different locations.
But the state police command said 86 people were killed in the attacks.
The state government had imposed a dusk to dawn curfew in parts of the state, amid growing tensions between locals and migrant herdsmen community. Residents blamed the attacks on Fulani herdsmen, a group represented by the Miyetti Allah.
Police, Military Deploy Special Forces
To contain the violence, the Inspector-General of Police (IG), Ibrahim Idris, has deployed a Special Intervention Force in the state to restore peace in Barkin Ladi, Riyom, and Jos South local government areas as well as other flash points in the state.
A statement by the force spokesman, Jimoh Moshood, yesterday in Abuja, explained that two police aerial surveillance helicopters, five Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and three Police Mobile Force Units (PMF) were deployed.
He said that two Counter Terrorism Units (CTU) and Police Intelligence Unit and conventional police personnel from other states had also been deployed in the affected areas.
Moshood added that the Deputy Inspector-General of Police (DIG) in charge of operations had relocated to the state on the directive of the IG to coordinate and supervise the operations.
He noted, "The IG has directed the Commissioner of Police in charge of IG monitoring unit to lead the police special investigation team to the affected areas and other flash points in Plateau."
He stated that the investigation team comprised the Intelligence Response Team (IRT), the Special Tactical Squad (STS) and the Technical Platforms.
He said, "The team is to carry out thorough and discreet investigation into the killings and promptly apprehend those responsible."
The spokesman added that the police special intervention force included personnel of Force Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Department (FCIID), a detachment of Police Explosive Ordinance Department (EOD), Police K9 (Sniffer Dogs Section), conventional policemen, special anti-robbery squads.
Moshood said that the team, which had started arriving, were already working with the police command in the state to restore peace and sustain normalcy in the affected areas.
He called on traditional rulers, religious leaders, community leaders, youth groups, public office holders, politicians, opinion leaders and parents to support the police.
Moshood also called on the public in the affected areas, other flash points or in any other location in the state with information to call the following numbers: 07059473022, 08038907662, 08075391844, and 09053872296.
From the military came the information that the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin, has authorized the deployment of additional Special Forces to the state to beef up the strength of Operation Safe Haven (OPSH).
The Director of Defence Information (DDI), Brig-Gen. John Agim, in a statement yesterday, said the additional troops, which arrived Jos, capital of Plateau State on Monday were received and briefed by the Commander OPSH, Maj-Gen. AM Atolagbe, on their new assignment.
Agim in his earlier response to THISDAY inquiries, said the forces were deployed as part of the Joint Task Force (JTF) operations to ensure order and security.
He explained that the mandate of the special operations was to bring the crisis to an end, noting that any further task would have to come from the political authorities at the state or federal government levels.
According to him, the Special Forces are specifically trained and designed to handle the kind of crisis in the state.
He said: "The DHQ has deployed Special Forces to end the crisis. The Joint Task Force is to enhance the existing operation. This is in order to beef up security with the Special Forces who are trained to handle this kind of operation.
"The rest of the issues are to be handled by the government. There is a government in place there. Our own is to ensure that there is peace and stability in the state."
PDP, CAN, Others React
Meanwhile, the PDP has condemned as extremely callous, inhuman and brazenly divisive, the statement by the Presidency on the incident.
Saying the president had politicised a criminal matter, it stated, "It is disgusting that the Buhari Presidency relegated the main issue of the murder of our citizens and how to track down the perpetrators and bring them to book, thus confirming the fears of most Nigerians that this administration does not care about the lives of the people.
"PDP insists that the basic responsibility of government, which is to ensure the safety and harmonious living of all Nigerians, ensure that our laws apply at all times and circumstances, without any fear or favour, has been completely abdicated by the Buhari administration, thereby leaving our people at the mercy of marauders."
It, therefore, demanded an unreserved apology from the president for his comments.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) yesterday cried out to the United Nations (UN), African Union (AU) and the Commonwealth for rescue.
The association said the cry to the world bodies for rescue had become imminent, given the failure of Nigerian security agencies in preventing incessant cases of killings in the Middle Belt in the last three years.
Speaking on the killings, CAN President, Rev. Supo Ayokunle, said the association was disappointed and shocked at the spate of killings that was unleashed on three local government areas of Plateau State by herdsmen.
It stated, "Against the backdrop of the wave of attacks on innocent citizens, CAN has come to the conclusion that the federal government has been overwhelmed by the current security challenges.
"We once again call on the UN, Commonwealth of Nations and the AU, among others, to assist the Nigerian government to protect us against these criminals."