- Displaced old men in Plateau IDPs camps resolve to return home to forestall land grabbing by herdsmen
Gyang Bere, Jos
“It’s better to face death than run away and allow Fulani herdsmen to conquer our land for grazing.” This is the sentiment resonating across the 17 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps, spread across Barkin-Ladi, Riyom and Jos South local government areas, where scores of survivors of the armed herders butchery have resolved to take the perilous option of going back to their abandoned homes following news of a growing pattern of herdsmen settling down in their communities after staging wipe-out attacks. One of such massacres claimed at least 230 lives on Saturday, June 23, 2018.
Spearheading the “return home” resolution are aged folks from rural communities in Barkin-Ladi and Riyom Local Government Areas. The men and women, speaking with Saturday Sun express their resolve to take their fate into their hands as a last-gasp effort to reclaim their land which they alleged is being systematically occupied by the Fulani who dislodged them with violence.
They have resolved to return to their respective villages on or before today, Saturday, July 14, 2018.
A brigade of old-and-ready-to-die refugees
Pa Bulus Pam, an 82-year-old resident of Ngnar village of Gashish District, Barkin-Ladi Local Government is currently a refugee at Riyom Com- munity Hall IDP camp. The octogenarian survived the bloody bloodshed unscathed, but at a great cost, losing nine members of his family, including his wife, son and two grandchildren, in a killing spree that claimed 72 lives. Ngnar village was completely razed to the ground by the marauders.
Following the death of a fellow villager, Dachollom Bature, 70, last weekend at the Riyom Mini Depot camp, Pam came out of his inertia. Now he is resolved to return to his ancestral home, ready to be martyred protecting his village from forceful occupation.
“I know the mission of the herdsmen, some of them are troublemakers,” he says, “They caused trouble by killing people in a terrified manner to create fear so that the villagers can run away and leave the land for them.”
He tells Saturday Sun: “I will not yield to their threat, I prefer to die in my village than live as a slave elsewhere.” He adds: “Now that people have run away from the village, they have the whole day to graze directly into our farmlands and destroy the crops. I have been informed that cows and the goats now graze on the farm without restriction, that is why I am determined to return home now and face death.”
After surviving a deadly raid with a colossal loss that includes three family members, home and property, Sunday Malang, 68, is infuriated at the news that his crops have become livestock feed as cattle graze without restriction across the farmlands in Kuzun village. Though traumatised by the bloodbath of Sunday, June 24, Malang vows to return home this weekend to contend with the herdsmen.
“Staying in the camp is like being in a prison. I don’t have the freedom to do anything, and that includes even food and a place to sleep. I have made up my mind to go home this Saturday. It is better to die defending my ancestral home than become a permanent slave in the camp while herdsmen walked freely in my village.”
Mrs Kazaura Danjuma echoes the same sentiment. Danjuma, 69, from Shonong village is presently a refugee at the Geo-Sciences IDPs camp. She also prefers to go home and die honourably than becoming a perpetual beggar in the camp. “I am not any better than my relations who were killed. Seeing women and children clustered in the camp gives me concern. If we all remain here, the Fulani will take over our villages. There are places in Shonong II that no natives can go there today. The Fulani are cultivating the land. Some have even built there without permission. We will not allow that to happen. We will go back and occupy our lands.”
Mahand Badung, 80, had stubbornly refused to leave his homeland when others were running for their lives, not until he came close to being bludgeoned to death and had to escape by lying on the ground and pretended to be dead.
He is still haunted by the memory of the harrowing experience. “The Fulani packed out our foodstuff and other valuable items in the village and set the houses on fire,” he reminisces.
A few weeks later, he is emboldened by anger to go back and confront the dangerous invaders. “Presently, we have been told that cows are grazing in our farms. I have made up my mind to go home this Friday. Some of my colleagues have agreed to go back to the village. We cannot remain in the IDPs camp while some people are gradually taking over our villages and farms. It is better we face them and be killed than run away and leave our lands to them.”
As for Pa Andrew Kwong, 91, the horror he witnessed was not enough to deter him from going back home. Kwong, from Bachit District of Shonong, affirms: “I am convinced that if we do not go home, they will take over our land and retrieving it back will be another battle because that was the essence of the killings. They want to take over our land for grazing but we will resist that.”
He had witnessed the killing of eight members of the village. “It was on Saturday while we were in Palang village that we were informed about what happened in Shonong but the attack spread to the village on Sunday. We all ran and escaped, but four of our boys were killed by the Fulani on their way to Kaduna State. When we fled the village, they removed our property and destroyed the houses and we couldn’t return because there was no roof over our heads.” Eight villagers were killed with two burnt inside a room beyond recognition, the corpses still unburied, lying in the mortuary of Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH).
Yet, Kwong is rearing to go back home. “I am not happy in the IDP camp. It was not my wish to be here. I prefer being in my village were I was born. We are going back home on Saturday to protect our land,” he insists.
A farmer, Iliya Gwap, 57, gave Saturday Sun the most vivid account of the unimaginable killings that uprooted them from their native homelands.
His words: “We were in a church for the burial of an elderly man when the news came that a woman had been killed at Gindi-Akwati and another, a relative of the deceased, attacked and killed at Kura Falls.
“We hurriedly carried out the corpse from the church to the grave site and buried it. As we were returning home, we noticed that Fulanis were evacuating their children and women using motorcycles to a safe place, while those who have returned changed their clothes to black.
“I noticed this because we live almost in the same village and we were very close with them. Suddenly, I saw a group of Fulani numbering 30 persons gathered in one house. A few minutes later, I saw a different group of 27 going into a different house all dressed in black cloth. I immediately alerted the security operatives about the convergence and we were advised to be on alert and to also inform neighbouring villages about the gathering, which we did. We asked the five police officers on the ground to assist us by requesting for more military officers.
“Seven military men came in a vehicle and the police explained to them about the gathering of the Fulani. The military men came from their vehicle and walked around without going close to the Fulani gathering and a few minutes later boarded their vehicle and left for Kakuru. “When the Fulani noticed that the military had gone, seven of them came out with weapons and started shooting. We ran to the five policemen who told us their weapon was no match for the Fulani’s and that they too were running for their lives. We followed them and later met the military officers along the way who told us that Kakuru is also not safe and that houses were seen burning in the community. They took us to Kura Falls where the military was camped.
“We slept at the military camp that night. The following morning, we started searching for those that were missing. Some people were killed and the entire village burnt down. We joined the vehicle conveying the corpses to the mortuary and made it to the IDPs Camp.”
He concludes his narration in an emotion-laden voice: “I went to the village after the attack. There was no house standing. They set the entire buildings on fire. Our properties were not spared. They took away some of the properties and burnt the houses. My goat was also taken away.” A further account by Sunday Vogam, 82, expanded the big picture: “The herdsmen invaded our community at about 2 am on Sunday with heavy shooting, unfortunately, they killed 8 persons and six corpses were later recovered while 10 houses were burnt.
“I wanted to run for safety but I realized that they will overrun me and I decided to hide myself close to my house. When they came, they couldn’t see me but move straight to my house and remove all my property and set them on fire.
“I watched them killed two persons and set most of the houses on fire. I couldn’t intervene because I had nothing to defend myself. After that, I ran to where the military was stationed in the village but none of them was on the ground.
“Women and children jumped through the windows that night to survive. It was only God that help some of them. The children and some of us slept inside water that night until good Samaritans from other villages came to rescue us. “The women trekked with children for more than six kilometres to Sanga Local Government Area of Kaduna State. I joined a military vehicle that came to convey corpses to the mortuary to the IDPs camp.”
Cry for help
In the meantime, the Berom ethnic nationality of Plateau State has decried the deplorable condition at the various Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps.
The camps, harbouring over 38, 000 people, are located across five local government areas in the state. A joint statement signed by executives of Berom Educational and Cultural Organization (BECO), Berom Women Development Association, (BEWDA), and Youth Moulders Association, describes the condition of IDPs in the camps as pitiable and dehumanizing.
“The camps lack basic facilities and services such as toilets, water, beds, medical care, food, sanitation and are poorly managed and insecure currently. Most of the camps are overcrowded thereby making victims of gruesome attacks vulnerable to the outbreak of diseases,” reads the statement. The group expressed worry that most children at the camps had missed their examination and do not know when to return to school.
They also urged National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) to provide more facilities and increase supplies to the camps, while appealing to faith-based organizations, international charity organizations, and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) to come to the rescue of the displaced persons.