by journalist Masara Kim
Muslim Fulani jihadists have ordered Christians in Plateau State to vacate their homes or face death. Peter Gyendeng, a member of the Plateau State House of Assembly, said on 24 May that the killers told villagers in his constituency in Barkin Ladi that all lands in the area belonged to them.
"We are working for peace and our people are God-fearing and law abiding. But we are still attacked and this time we are asked to vacate our homes. Where will we go to?" said Gyendeng in a meeting with state peace-building officials in Jos. Gyendeng did not specify the date of the threat, but some Christian farmers were last April attacked in their farms in Sopp village in Riyom area, after they were warned by Fulani Muslims to stay away.
This is "pure land-grab", said Rev. Victor Gwom, a pastor with Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN). “The attacks aim to "forcefully institute Islam in the villages," said Rev. Victor who is in charge of Kwi church in Riyom where eight Christians were killed on Sunday, 23 May.
"They are trying to wipe us [Christians] out. Most times when they come for attacks, you would hear them shouting 'Allahu'akbar! Since you won't peacefully vacate, we will kill you’," Rev. Victor told our correspondent.
In June 2018, over 200 Christians were killed in Gashish District of Barkin Ladi area. Some survivors say they were shielded by an imam in a mosque. The now internationally celebrated imam – Abubakar Abdullahi – was said to have interacted with the killers when they came for the over 200 Christians hiding in his house and mosque, but neither he nor any Muslim was touched. At least five churches were razed and over 15,000 houses turned to rubble in 11 villages, but none belonged to Muslims. More than half of the villages are still no-go zones for the Christian natives.
There are at least 60 communities that were occupied by force in Riyom, said District Head of Riyom Samuel Jok.
"We are under siege. They have taken and renamed many of our villages and even converted some churches to refuse sites or mosques. Our people can no longer go to those places, not even to visit their farms, and that means death, because if we can't farm, we can't survive. We are predominantly farmers with no alternative sources of income," the district head said in an interview.
At least 30 Christians, mainly farmers, have been killed in the central Nigerian state in the last eight weeks.
On 31 March, a security detail attached to a former minister, Damishi Sango, was killed in Riyom area, when he went to prepare his country farm. On Friday 9 April, armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked a Christian farming community near a government science school in Jos South area, killing eight. And on Thursday 15 April six Christians were killed in Wereng village in Riyom.
On 19 April, a Christian villager was found dead in Jos South area after allegedly being arrested by military operatives over the disappearance of a Fulani herdsman. The next day a community leader and church elder in Tangur village of Bokkos Local Government Area, Ayuba Dadel, was killed in his house. Before his murder, two farmers were killed in Bassa area in an ambush near a military base. Then on 26 April a disabled farmer, Iliya Samuel Kukor, was killed in Bokkos area of the state.
After a month's break, about 20 people were killed between Saturday 23 May and Tuesday 25 May in Dong village near Jos Wild Life Park, and Kwi village near Jos International Airport.
Collusion of security agencies
In January 2021, the Department of State Services sent signals to police and military officials warning of planned Islamist terrorist attacks in Plateau and other central Nigerian states.
On 19 May, a similar signal was sent to police departments and commands from the force headquarters alerting them to possible terror attacks in the same states. This is in addition to numerous social media reports warning about planned attacks. No arrest or security deployments were made. But security teams have been deployed to guard Fulani herdsmen against perceived reprisals when Christian communities are attacked.
After the 23-25 May killings in Jos North and Riyom, the senator for Plateau North in the Nigerian National Assembly, Istifanus Gyang, said some persons (referring to Fulani herdsmen) at a meeting with police a week earlier, "vowed to visit mayhem on helpless communities". However, nothing was done about it.
"This is pure collusion by the security agencies to aid the jihadists' expansionist movements," said human rights lawyer Solomon Dalyop.
President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari is both commander-in-chief of the nation's armed forces, and grand patron of the Fulani Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), casting his integrity into doubt. His silence on the attacks makes his stance even more questionable, said Dalyop.
The president has not come out in clear terms to condemn the atrocities of Fulani herdsmen “simply because they are his kinsmen", Solomon added.
The killers are often freed following their arrest on "superior orders", to return for more killings, a state lawmaker, Timothy Dantong, said.
"We as lawmakers have advocated, sponsored bills and motions for these criminals to be dealt with but our efforts are always frustrated. Even when they are arrested, pressure often comes from whatever powers we don't know, and they are released," said Dantong.
But locals carrying den guns and clubs to defend their communities during attacks have been arrested and prosecuted for illegal possession of firearms, said a former polytechnic rector, Dauda Gyemang. According to Gyemang, some have been tortured to death by security forces.
"Last year three of our youths were arrested when they went out to defend their community [Kwi village in Riyom LGA] during an overnight invasion. Soldiers who were called upon by the locals to provide support ended up arresting them. We kept following up on the case but were denied access until three months later we found their dead bodies in a morgue, where they were said to have been donated by the military for hospital anatomy," Gyemang said.
This has left the communities helpless and hopeless, said the ex-college official. "Most of our land has been seized by the Fulani. And we have nowhere to run to, or anyone to turn to," he said.
Damage to the economy
At least $1million worth of crops was exported every year from each of the 15 districts in Riyom until 20 years ago," said a former state commissioner of finance, Davou Mang. The attacks, which have forced locals to flee their homes and farms have led to billion-dollar losses, said Davou.
"Apart from human lives, we have lost over $6 billion in terms of properties, farmlands, and mineral resources in Berom land alone," said the former official.
Since 1904, when the British commenced large-scale tin mining operations in central Nigeria, the Jos Plateau has been one of the world’s major suppliers of tin. The world’s largest known deposits of columbite, an ore of niobium associated with tin, have also been exploited since the 1940s. Smaller quantities of tantalite, wolfram (tungsten), kaolin, zircon, and uranium are also mined there, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. Lead and iron ore are found in eastern and central Plateau state, says the article.
The state government's director of research and statistics, Prof. John Wade, said in a recent public lecture, however, that scientific studies show that only 15 percent of these deposits has been mined.
Beside the economic advantages for human and political life, money plays a vital role in religious advancement. Plateau State, whose capital Jos is nicknamed "Jesus Our Saviour", was one of the first points of call of British missionaries in Northern Nigeria. Its Christian reputation has made it a target since the 1970s.
In the last two years, Boko Haram terrorists have executed three Plateau Christian hostages at different times, as "revenge" for the "frustrations" faced by their "brethren" in Plateau State. At least two Christian girls and a pastor from Plateau, kidnapped by the terrorists in the last year, have not been released, despite huge ransom offers.
Capturing Plateau is therefore desirable on multiple levels. However, the target is beyond the state, said former Commissioner Davou Mang. "When they finish with Plateau, they will not stop there. They will look for the next target until they capture Nigeria and eventually the whole world," Mang said.