(All editing errors regretted. There isn’t time to proofread the article thoroughly this late)
When it became clear that the Defence Headquarters are bent on carrying out its security operation in the areas it announced, we put our heads together to see what best we can make of the situation to ensure minimum difficulties for the Fulani that were to be affected. Saleh Bayari, the Protem National Secretary of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association who was just released yesterday after a four-day detention by the SSS, was very handy. I got over to him and together with some Miyetti Allah leaders from the affected areas we visited the Special Task Force (STF) Headquarters near Hill Station Hotel, Jos, to iron out some issues regarding how the operation would affect the Fulani.
Principally, we wanted to, one, finalize on the camps to relocate them temporarily should we be successful later in the day in convincing them to the relocate for the period of the operation. The Defence has that evening given the nation the assurance that the displacement is temporary and not a design to evict the Fulani from the area totally. The three camps listed in the day are all located in areas heavily populated by Beroms. The Fulani will just not accept to go there. Also, moving the Fulani is not like moving other people. Their masters – the cows – must be taken into consideration. The cows have to graze in a secure place, away from farms. Otherwise, na another wahala kuma.
Two, we also wanted to ensure that the Fulani are secured in their camps, along with their cows. Their property back home must be secured also. Without this assurance, the possibility that the Berom attacking them and the houses they would leave behind should not be ruled out completely.
Three, we also wanted to know what arrangement was made to deliver adequate relief materials to their camps to cushion the harsh experience of displacement and avert humanitarian crisis. Speaking to one of the local government chairmen around 2.30am earlier, he confessed a colleague that this would be the first time in the history of Plateau crisis that they would be camping the Fulani. So they do not have the full picture of their humanitarian requirements, he said. In previous situations, typically, the Fulani simply left to other areas on their own without seeking any assistance from the Plateau State government they amply mistrust. Even in this case, they refused to communicate with officials until Malam Shehu Buba from Bauchi intervened.
Four, the reassurance from the STF commander that these IDPs will return to their homes immediately the short operation is completed.
In our meeting with the commander, Maj-General Henry Ayoola, he and his team assured us that all he wanted is to restore peace to the Plateau. It really took them a good deal of explanations to convince most of us that they are not playing the game of Jang, the Berom state governor.
The secret of the matter, they told confided in us, is that they do not believe that the people they encountered in the mother of all battles last Tuesday in the area after a policeman was killed were Fulani. Our Fulani, they said, do not have that firepower. Boko Haram, they strongly suspect, could be behind this. So they want to go into the places those people are using as hideouts to flush them out, within a period of one day or – maximum – two. “If I can do that without firing a single shot,” Ayoola assured us, “I would be very glad.”
Though many of us are not privy to the intelligence information that is available to the commandant, there is the general belief amongst us that the exercise is unnecessary if its aim is just to flush out the perceived outside attackers. They must have left already because tomorrow it would be two weeks and so much information on the intention of government has been made public. If the security challenges of the country are anything to go by, the attackers must have thought ahead of government and left since.
Honestly, being at the middle of a situation like this is extremely difficult for us. Maj-General Ayoola himself is just recently posted to head the STF in Jos. He is a young man in his forties, I believe, except if he is looking younger that his age. He may not be in the full picture of any hidden machination that may be employing the STF to dislodge the Fulani, now or in the long run, from the place after the Berom have failed to do so for over a decade. The level of deceit played in the crisis on the Plateau is really unprecedented in this country. Everybody that attempted to bring peace to the state will tell you the same story. I will be glad if Ayoola will prove me wrong.
This is a suspicion shared not only among the Fulani but also among many international organizations that have been discussing the matter since the evacuation order was given. Leaders of this country have proved to be pathological liars who cling to power through deceit, preoccupy themselves with looting the treasury and leave the country to run on autopilot. This is the result. The world has been watching them all along. The UN is particularly serious about this operation. Only God knows how many emails were flying last night between New York and Geneva on this matter, an official of a UN body told me. Ayoola and Defence Headquarters must therefore know the gamble they are making. If in the end of the operation or even in the long run it is proved that the operation was done to place the Fulani at a demographic disadvantage in the area or make them vulnerable to attacks by the Berom, heads will definitely roll at the Hague in addition to the internal crisis it will generate. Then as I said in my previous article we will be faced by a crisis worse than Boko Haram.
Despite our misgivings, we decided to be on the side of hope, based on the assurances the STF gave us and left the rest to God, the Able that knows what the hearts conceal and what they reveal. Four vehicles were arranged to convey us to the place to prove to the STF that there were still thousands of people in the vicinity of Mahanga. This was necessary because Ayoola and Col. Abdulmumin Jimoh, one of the field commanders, were emphatic that not up to 10% of the population remained there. Ayoola said he was in all the places yesterday and he did not see people. Those of us from the area refuted the claim out rightly and told him that thousands of people were still there. Of course, he was right that the Berom since a week ago have fled from most of the villages in the area into the neigbouring Kaduna State and other towns.
It turned out that our going to Mahanga, the epicenter of the faceoff between the STF and the Fulani, averted what would have been a major humanitarian catastrophe. If we had left Ayoola with his belief that people have already left the place, his soldiers would have killed thousands of Nigerians there after the start of their operation, when they would declare anybody seen in the place a potential target of elimination. In just less than five minutes of our arrival, we were able to prove our point. Families started trooping onto the high ground we stood on from all directions. The Deputy Commander of the STF, DSP Umar Magiri, immediately became convinced that people have not left. He informed the commandant instantly. The task of convincing them to evacuate then started. I leave you to imagine how difficult it was to disabuse their minds and reassure them that no ill was intended, more so when the Berom did not help matters. The Fulani complained that the Berom were beating drums of victory throughout the previous night in the neighbouring villages, jubilating that the Fulani will finally be evicted from the area. See?
We overcame these difficulties. In the end, we got their leaders to agree on the evacuation and allowed them to choose the locations of their camps, separate from those of Berom which, in any case, were too far. They chose the nomadic primary schools at Dogo and Sharuk in Barikin Ladi LGA and those at Diyan and Rim in Riyom LGA. These are places on the rim of the Mahanga Basin from where the Fulani can see the happenings in their dwellings that are dispersed in the undulating valley of Luggere below.(One of the locations, Rim (Makaho) was where my maternal grandfather, Ardo Shehu, once lived for many decades. It was there my mother raared cows as a small girl in the early 1930s. I used to visit him with my uncle Bello in the mid-1970s before the Ardo agreed to relocate back to Toro around 1980 where he died five years later. Huh! The old man was really hot-tempered. Kai Kai!)
Then the commander promised that no further molestation and plundering of their property by soldiers would take place. We later returned to the crowd for the address by the DC.
The DC’s speech composed of the following six points:
(1) The reason behind the operation and the assurance that it will hardly be for more than a day or two.
(2) The assurance that everybody will be allowed to return to his house immediately after the operation.
(3) That the STF personnel will immediately arrive to provide security to Fulani properties.
(4) That nobody should run away when faced by a soldier. He should stop and surrender instead for his safety.
(5) That the operation is in no way aimed at driving them away from the area.
(6) The announcement of the locations of the camps as agreed by their leaders.
We have him on videotape, not for Youtube, but just in case.
Movement was to begin immediately. It was already 4pm. The operation could start any time after the deadline of 12pm later in the night. Contacts were immediately made with officials of State Emergency Relief Agency (SEMA), which were in the waiting already. The locations of the four camps were immediately passed to them. They promised to start delivering relief materials right away.
We returned to the STF headquarters in Jos around 5.30pm. We told the command that leaders of the Miyetti Allah will be monitoring the camps during the period of the operation until the IDPs return to their homes safely as promised.
Before I close this update, I would like to express our gratitude to the individuals and various local and international bodies that showed serious concern over this issue. They have understood that this is a matter that borders on gross war crimes and violations of the Kampala convention. For the first time, the nation was united against government arbitrariness to the weak. It is left to the government to fulfill its commitments to the people it is displacing intentionally. If in the end it proves to be a deceitful, then its officials will have themselves to blame. Nobody – from the field commanders to the President – will claim ignorance because they have been adequately reminded by local and international organizations about their obligations under the international conventions that it ratified. It got away with the massacre of Muhammad Yusuf and his group. It will not get away with this.
Our lawyers are already placed on notice. Combined with a catalogue of previous evidence of genocide on the Plateau, a convincing case will not be far-fetched at the Hague.
We are humbled by the gross support the Fulani received from their brethren including many dignitaries across the country and the thousands of youths in the social media. The solidarity expressed for the Fulani cause by the entire Hausa community in Jos town is unprecedented. The township was empty. Though the city calm and banks and offices have opened, virtually all shops were closed. We appeal to people to remain calm as we update them daily with the happenings on the matter. The entire Fulani community in the country remains indebted for the high level of support they received.
Finally, the cooperation of the STF team is hereby acknowledged and highly appreciated. We hope they live to their promises. We will commend them if they live to their promises and behave professionally. If they do not, apart from inviting our condemnation, they will definitely have themselves to blame.
16 July 2012