It was indeed a sad Saturday on the 14th of August, 2021 when a convoy of five buses, conveying Fulani Muslim travellers, who were travelling from Bauchi to the Southern part of the country, were attacked along Rukuba Road, Jos, the Plateau State capital.
The travellers were said to be returning from a religious programme in Bauchi organised by the Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi Foundation to mark the Islamic new year.
Unfortunately for the travellers, 22 of them were hacked to death, 14 injured while many others were unaccounted for immediately after the attack. The attack on and killing of the travellers, no doubt, was another low point in Nigeria’s fast deteriorating security situation. It showed and projected the attackers, and Nigerians at large as animalistic and a nation that do not have any respect for the sanctity of life.
The nation was at rage! Emotions ran high and voices of condemnation rented the airwaves, filed newspapers and occupied online media spaces.
While many Nigerians, including President Muhammadu Buhari, who Garba Shehu said could not eat, governors, prominent Nigerians and groups, especially northern-orineted ones, raged and threatened fire and brimstone, the Plateau State Police Command, in a move yet to be understood by men of reason, hastily came out to blame the attack on Irigwe people, their youths and ‘mourners’.
That singular misstep by the police in Plateau has continued to stoke both ethnic and religious tensions in the state, in the aftermath of the attacks, with growing possibilities of reprisals.
Many of those who shouted on the rooftops in condemnation of the killings, described the travellers as innocent, a description that fits perfectly. Their holy indignation, may also have stemmed from the belief that those who were dispatched to the great beyond by their attackers in gruesome manners, were innocent and should not have been subjected to such treatment they got.
However true this maybe, it is also clear and glaring that other victims of attacks in every part of the country, have been largely innocent victims, who were unfortunate enough to have been in a country where their safety could not be guaranteed by their government. They were innocent farmers, who merely went to their farms in Ibarapa area of Oyo State, innocent and hardworking men and women, whose farming prowess in Benue have earned their state the nickname, Food Basket of the Nation.
They were innocent natives of Southern Kaduna, whose identity may be the only reason for their becoming endangered species in a state and a region that frowned at being Katafs or Atyap amongst other lesser reckoned tribes and ethnic groups.
It is also true that the about 70 persons killed in Bassa Local Government Area of Plateau State were innocent Irigwe people, who were hacked to death in their villages by suspected Fulani militias. Their farmlands that were destroyed and about 500 of their houses that were razed also committed no offence, so they were equally innocent.
What about those who are being killed daily in Katsina, in Zamfara and many other parts of the country? What about innocent children of innocent parents who have remained in bandits’ captivity after several weeks? The innocent students of Bethel Baptist School in Kaduna, the innocent children of the Islamic School, Tegina, Niger State, the innocent students of Federal Government College, Gombe and lately, the innocent students of the College of Agriculture and Animal Science, Bukura, Zamfara, readily come to mind.
One is tempted to ask what makes the Jos Fulani Muslim travellers different from Yoruba natives of Ibarapa, Kataf and Atyap people of Southern Kaduna, Irigwe people of Plateau and those in Zamfara and other parts of the country? Why have Nigerians, and the Nigerian government failed to show the same level of indignation with the other attacks in the country, compared to that which attended those of the travellers?
It should be noted that the Saturday attack was not the first time travellers would be so attacked and hacked to death, so one cannot say it was because they attacked, neither was it the first time such senseless killings will take place in Plateau State. Bassa and Irigwe people have been in the news for the past three weeks, with stories of almost daily attacks and killings and other form of destruction, but not even the state government or the ‘super effective’ police in Plateau responded in this current manner.
It is actually curious that Governor Simon Lalong, could not be bothered to declare any form of curfew on Bassa LG when attacks leading to the killing 70 Irigwe people took place but could swiftly lock down part of the state on Saturday! Though one may accept that he was trying to prevent reprisal and descent into anarchy, what was his response to the Irigwe massacre and other killings that have persisted in the state?
Nigerians of conscience, are beginning to question the lopsided response of government to killings across the country, wondering if some lives are more important than others.
In response to the current crisis in Plateau State, the Irgwe Development Association (IDA), in a statement on Thursday, asked questions on what could be their offence, making security agencies and government both at the state and federal levels not to be concerned about their plight.
The IDA said: “For more than a decade the Irigwe people have been under attack from Fulani Militia, always referred to unknown gunmen, that resulted in loss of lives, properties and farmland.
“The last two weeks, especially from Sunday 23rd July to Monday 2nd August 2021 have been the worst nightmare of the entire Rigwe land. After invading more than 13 villages, the militia burnt and destroyed not less than 505 houses and churches inclusive, displaced about 24,000 people and destroyed thousands of hectares of farm crops.
“What is so intriguing to many observers for a long time now is that the villages, where these killings and burnings took place, are basically located behind the 3rd Armored Division Barrack of the Nigerian Army, yet these militias perpetrate their heinous act unhindered. This in the least, is fastly eroding the confidence of the populace on the military and security agencies, as unbiased protectors and defender of all Nigerians, regardless of tribal, ethnic or religious affiliation.
“It is sad and painful that while the Plateau State Government and the Law enforcement agencies were so swift to action to visit the injured travellers in the hospital with VIP treatment, the Irigwe people are yet to enjoy such comfort commiserate to them, as what is good for the goose is also good for the gander; while the President could not eat (according to Garba Shehu) because of the 22 Muslims travelers killed at Rukuba Road, he never lose a sleep over the sustained attacks and deaths on Irigwe land; while arrests of suspects in the Rukuba Road massacre is daily happening, nobody has been arrested for the killing of Irigwe people over the years, especially, most recently.
“We are like a people meant for the slaughter slabs. We have no father or mother except God. He rules and have a say in the affairs of men. The blood of the innocent shed in Irigwe land has taken the report to God, just like Abel’s blood did on Cain, and He would arise with judgment upon our foes.”
The statement from IDA, unfortunately, represents the general feelings of several ethnic minorities in the country, especially in the Northern part of the country, whose people are daily murdered in cold blood, in their sleeps, farms or on the road. They no longer have any sense of belonging; they feel unprotected and unwanted!
Government at all levels must take concrete active steps to correct these feelings and make every Nigerian feel belonged. They must show that, it does not matter what tribe or ethnic group you belong, you are a Nigerian and no other Nigerian has a greater value than you! Lives of minorities must matter just the way a Fulani, a Yoruba, Hausa or Igbo may matter!