Fulani mercenaries are carrying out genocidal attacks against us —Prince Ashi, leader of Plateau’s Irigwe people
In the last one week, no fewer than 40 persons have been killed and several farms destroyed amidst hostilities between Irigwe natives and Fulani herders in Bassa Local Government Area of Plateau State. In this interview by ISAAC SHOBAYO, the national president of Irigwe Development Association, Prince Robert Ashi, speaks on the goings-on in the area.
How did the situation in Irigwe degenerate to this level?
We have been having challenges with the Fulani herders. The encroachment on our farms has continued unabated through mischievous grazing but the latest simultaneous attacks on both people and farms are a big surprise and unbearable. If they graze on your farm and you complain, they feel offended, and the next thing is that they attack you. Grazing in unauthorised places such as residential areas, farms, grave yards and shrines is very common and these places are often violated by these herders. We have experienced attacks before but the latest ones are unbearable.
We have had situations where herders would beat up farmers in their farms simply because they complained of authorised grazing. The latest attacks are particularly disturbing but we have discovered that it is not the Fulani that we know that are carrying out these atrocities. These mercenaries were brought into our land to commit genocide and it is quite unfortunate. They are Fulani mercenaries brought in by some elements to destabilise this local government and others in the state. We understand that the special task force has a role to play in ensuring peace, especially around this axis, but they are not doing what they are supposed to do. In most cases, these attacks are carried out under their nose. The purpose of these attacks and killings is to chase us out of our ancestral land.
We have been reporting destruction of our farms but nobody is doing anything about it. It seems we have been abandoned by the government. They [Fulani herders] allege that we don’t want them to graze but we hold series of meetings with them. I have also made it known to them that this is a farming season and there is no way we would allow them to graze now. I said they should allow us to harvest, after which they can come and graze their animals. That has been the practice passed down by our parents and their forebears. We don’t know why they are insisting on grazing on our farms. They are saying no one can ban them from grazing and that is one of the major causes of this problem. What has been happening for the past weeks is unfortunate. While some people are being stripped of their livelihoods, others are being killed just to dispossess them of their ancestral land.
When they killed one of our boys a few weeks ago, there was retaliation. We sat down and concluded that nobody should do such a thing again but the following day, the Fulani came in their numbers and killed people in various communities. The killings continued until this week. Some of our boys who had been protecting the area were killed by these killer-herdsmen who bear highly sophisticated weapons. In the night of Saturday, some people were killed in Rafin-Bauna, where several houses were burnt. We filed a report to the military at Sector 3. Even at our last meeting, we said that the military should be stationed between the two settlements. They didn’t do that. The Fulani and their mercenaries came and destroyed the communities. They came with sophisticated weapons and overpowered our boys who were keeping watch. Our boys stood no chance against their superior fire power. They burnt many houses. The military who we thought should be able to repel the attack did not come to our rescue. As I talk to you, we have about 34 dead bodies waiting for burial.
We have the special task force commander who doubles as the General Officer Commanding, 3rd Armoured Division, Rukuba Barracks, Jos. We believe he should be able to arrest the situation but it is surprising that under him, this sort of thing is happening without any sign of stoppoing. The barracks is within our community. I had thought that as the special task force’s commander, he should be able to deploy military strength to save the situation but surprisingly, nothing like that has happened.
What proof do you have to back your claim that those carrying out the attacks are Fulani mercenaries?
We know the Fulani around us. They are not more than 200. To me, this is ethnic cleansing.
It is believed that those carrying out the killings are avenging the killing of their kinsmen by the natives. Do you subscribe to this?
If somebody entered your farm, will you ignore the person or allow him to kill you? We have talked to them about this devilish grazing of theirs but they simply don’t want to change. We have tried several times to make peace with them but they are not ready for peace. We don’t go to Fulani settlements; we have enough land to ourselves. It is unfortunate that the state commissioner of police, in one of his recent interviews with newsmen, said the Irigwe were aggressive. For goodness sake, what is aggressiveness in trying to chase out those mischievously grazing on your farm? What is the crime in that?
Several peace summits have been organised by the state government and security agencies through the Plateau State Peace Building Agency. Why are the resolutions of such summits and pacts not implemented to bring about peace and reconciliation?
It is true that we don’t do what we signed and agreed to do. Now we have an eight-man committee set up by the STF commander whose mandate is to see that no Fulani person is allowed to graze on people’s farms. The STF commander reiterated this during its inaugural meeting with us. He said that no herders should cross to where farming activities are going on. And we also agreed that there are hills where no farming activity should be taking place; these herders can graze there. Military men are stationed in various strategic points in the local government but we are not feeling their impact.
Are you saying that the government and the security agencies are not doing enough to stop arrest this ugly situation?
They surely are not doing enough. They are not doing anything to quell the crisis, which has continued to fester despite the presence of the military. The solution is for the Fulani to stay out of our farms and stop grazing in residential areas, burial grounds and shrines.