In Plateau, a week hardly passes without killings by militia herdsmen —Prof. Madaki

Professor Aboi Madaki is the national president of Plateau Initiative for Development and Advancement of the Natives (PIDAN). In this interview by ISAAC SHOBAYO, he speaks on the security challenges facing Plateau State, the lot of the internally displaced persons (IDPs), among other issues. Excerpts:

What is your assessment of the security situation in Nigeria?

The security challenges facing the country are best assessed based on where you live, my environment, being the North Central, Plateau State to be specific. In Plateau State, the security situation in the past few months has been terrible. For us on the Plateau, our children schooling in Borno State are no longer free on the roads. Daciya, a 200 level student of the University of Maiduguri, was recently kidnapped and killed by Boko Haram. That is very terrible for us. Back home in Kulbem community in Mangu Local Government, we have lost many lives to series of attacks. Recently in Kwatas community in Bokkos Local Government Area, we buried 23 persons. To the average Plateau person, things are very bad. What we don’t really understand is the persistent attacks on Plateau people. We found the killing of Daciya and many others very terrible. We don’t expect students from Plateau State schooling in institutions outside the state to be targets of killing. Although people have their ways of looking at it but that is not acceptable to us; we condemn such in all its ramifications. They should know that there are students from other parts of the country schooling as well in Plateau State. Our prayer is that the situation will not degenerate. The government should ensure that students and other people are well protected wherever they are.

 

What is your association doing to protect the indigenous people from constant attacks by gunmen?

In Plateau State, a week hardly passes without somebody being killed. It is just that a killing is hardly reported unless the victim is high-profile, but to those of us who coordinate development associations, we can tell you that a week hardly passes without people being killed in one community or the other by these militia herdsmen. What we have simply done is to appeal to the government because constitutionally, the provision of security is primarily the responsibility of the government. That is why people are not allowed to carry arms whereas these people are killing us with sophisticated weapons. When communities try to defend themselves, law enforcement agents will come and search their houses and if they find a cutlass with you, you will be arrested, not to talk of when they find a Dane gun with you. Even if you are a hunter, they expected you to register as a hunter, but culturally, you don’t become a hunter overnight; you must have passed through someone as an apprentice. To them, having such a firearm is a punishable offence. The government needs to live up to their responsibility. It is the responsibility of the security agencies to provide security for everybody. At our own end, we have encouraged our people to organise hunter and vigilante groups to ward off some of the attacks. We have neighbourhood watch group that has been working with the police and the special task force. But as a community, we cannot do more than that. We are handicapped and that is why we have kept calling on the government over the years. People have been crying for state police, if the [federal] government has given clearance for this, it would have been fantastic because state police would have allowed us to make some restructuring in terms of what we want and how we can defend ourselves. Where the government finds it difficult to defend everybody, it may as well create enabling environment for people to defend themselves. We shall keep crying for that. We are quite pleases that the Plateau State government has agreed to strengthening community policing with an indigenous option. We as development associations will soon meet on this proposal. Although there is some level of community policing on the ground, it has to be strengthened. The government has to look at the various options to see how it can be improved upon.

 

What do you make of community policing without arms?

That is why we said community policing should be reorganised so that members would have some level of arms and ammunition. Community policing without arms is useless to us. We made this clear even at the last meeting. We are also aware that in the North East, the Civilian JTF is carrying arms. So, to us, why can’t we carry arms here? We are appealing to the government to look into the political and legal framework on how operators of community policing on the Plateau can be allowed to carry arms. That is the way to go. Anything short of this will not be accepted. Whenever the militias come, they come with sophisticated weapons and you don’t expect the community police personnel to work empty handed. Community policing will have to be organised in such a manner that community members involved in the policing can, to some extent, carry arms because the only thing the militias understand is arms and ammunition. Therefore, it has to be fire for fire.

 

A lot of villages have been sacked by militias in Plateau State, what efforts are being made to resettle the natives in their communities?

This is another sad issue for us. A few days ago, in the domestication policing programme, one of the issues I raised was getting people back to their ancestral villages and communities. I made it clear that community policing would work well if the framework has a provision that would make them go back to their communities. This is the challenge I threw at the law enforcement agencies.

I said if I came to you and reported that Mr X had taken my shirt and you investigated and discovered that it was true and you said I was right but we should go and live in peace with one another but let him keep the shirt.  That is what is happening as far as land grabbing is concerned. We know those who own the lands but the lands are being occupied by those who sent them away. They killed the owners of the lands. Some ran away and had their lands occupied. The question is: why is it difficult for law enforcement agencies to dislodge the land grabbers for the rightful owners to return. Unless the lands are returned to the rightful owners, these killings will not stop. I want to categorically state that all these attacks are about land grabbing. They killed and intimidated the natives and settled on their lands. If they claim they don’t know the attackers but the Fulani who settle on the lands are accomplices, they should be asked to leave. If somebody has forcefully taken over your property, whose duty is to retrieve it for you? Certainly, it is the law enforcement agencies but they are not doing their job. We have given the comprehensive list of communities and villages sacked by these militias but nothing has been done.

You said you don’t know those killing us. We agreed, since the attacks often occurred in the night. There are accomplices who settled on the land, then send them away to pave the way for the rightful owners to return and provide them with security. This is one of the fundamental things that need to be addressed. The type of community policing being canvassed for is not what we actually need. We would have preferred state police that would enforce rules as stipulated. But the community policing has to be domesticated in such a way that it would address some of the problems. We hope the Federal Government will listen and do the right thing because they own the security architecture.

 

But the claim in certain quarters is that a number of the IDPs had since returned to their ancestral communities…

I am not aware that anybody has returned and resettled. The government attempted to take some people back but when they got back and started rebuilding their houses, some intruders came and pulled down the structures. When they reported to the law enforcement agencies, nothing was done, so they ran away because there was no protection for them. So, I am not aware of any IDPs that have been resettled.

 

Plateau citizens are presently wary of travelling to the North-East for fear of being killed by Boko Haram. There is to be a threat by Boko Haram to kill any Plateau person kidnapped. What is your association, in collaboration with the state government, doing to allay the fear of your people and guarantee their security on the highways?

It is quite unfortunate that we as Plateau people find it difficult to travel to the North East because of the organised attack on us. We have appealed to the state and federal governments to look at the steps that need to be taken to ensure that Plateau people and other Nigerians travelling on these roads are safe. Again, organised attacks on our people are unacceptable. We are appealing to the government to improve on the security.

 

But there are some indigenes of the state that are still being held captive by Boko Haram in the North East. What is your association doing to secure their release?

We have made special appeal to the state government to liaise with the Federal Government to get our people released because we are disturbed that innocent people going about their legitimate businesses are being kidnapped by these militias and killed in the most horrible way. We are calling on the Federal Government to, just like they did in the case of the Chibok girls, secure the release of the people still in the captivity of the Boko Haram. Our governor, who is also the chairman of the Northern Governors Forum, should also see that these people are released. I strongly believe that they are working on it. We pray that God will continue to preserve their lives in the custody of their captors.

 

Do you share the opinion that the security architecture of the country should be overhauled?

We are the first group in the country that asked that the security architecture of this country should be reviewed. When the security arrangement is no longer functioning, there is the need for total overhauling. Today, kidnapping, banditry and other nefarious crimes have taken over the country, yet the government is reluctant to review its approach to the pathetic security situation. The method in vogue no longer gives us result. The president should listen to Nigerians. He should begin to consider changing the security chiefs. They have tried their best but the time has come for a change based on the exigency on ground.

 

A group in the North last week formed a security outfit code named “Operation Kafi Seger,” what is your opinion of this group?

I have not seen their proposal but Amotekun is a security outfit put in place by the South West governors. The legal framework is being put in place to formally legalised its operation. It is a welcome development. Any state that wants to come up with something like Amotekun should learn from the South West governors.

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