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Plateau killings: Matters Arising

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OPINION

By Etim Etim

The cold-blooded murder of over 200 people by terrorists in Plateau State on Christmas eve continues to dominate headlines and discussions across the nation, but the federal government appears too lethargic to confront the killers. Pope Francis on Sunday asked for prayers for the victims and survivors. ‘’May God free Nigeria from these horrors’’, the pontiff said. Stunned, the Senate has invited the security chiefs, including the Inspector General of Police and the Director General of the DSS for a briefing. The legislators would be interested in finding out how the DSS and the Police which have offices in every local government area in the country could not up pick up any intelligence on these killings. Senator Simon Lalong, the immediate past governor of Plateau who has just been sworn in as a senator, will help in providing background briefings to the lawmakers. I ask the senators to go beyond the security chiefs and government officials, and talk to the survivors of the attacks and other villagers in order to get to the bottom of this bloodbath. While the international community is apparently worried and senators are scrambling to unearth the truth, the federal government continues to pussyfoot around. President Tinubu has not directly spoken about the tragedy. His 15-minute New Year address did not mention a single word about the massacres. Admittedly, the address was recorded days before the attacks, but the severity and magnitude of the killings were enough to warrant a new recording or an insertion of new paragraphs into the old one. The omission gave very wrong impressions of the administration’s capacity to respond to unexpected events and questions its ability to rise to serious challenges and its sense of empathy.

It is also worrisome that, for some strange reasons, the Nigerian authorities have not identified and mentioned the perpetrators of this crime by name. Are they Fulani herdsmen, Islamic Jihadists, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram or ISIS? What are their main objectives? The Commander of Operation Safe Heaven who is also the GOC of 3 Division of the Nigerian Army, Major General A. E. Abubarkar, who visited one of the communities soon after the attacks, said it was the devil that carried out the act. That was the most unprofessional thing to say by a senior army officer. I question his leadership abilities. Both Gov. Caleb Mutfwang and Vice President Kashim Shettima have refused to tell us who the killers are. The inability or unwillingness of the government to properly identify and disclose the identity of these criminals (either individually or as a group) is a clear lack of capacity or determination to confront them. it’s a huge tragedy and a departure from the past. In 2010, the government identified Boko Haram as the major terrorist group ravaging the North East region, and in 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan publicly hinted that there are some persons in government who are in support of the terrorist group. A few years later, the government and the military fingered IPOB (indigenous peoples of Biafra) as the major menace in the Eastern region that was instigating violence and killings in the region.

Why is the government shying away from telling us who the Plateau killers are? In July 2021, the Nigerian government spirited IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu out of Kenya in a commando style, back to Nigeria to face justice. He has been in detention since then. At the same period, the Nigerian government secretly liaised with the government of Benin Republic and got Chief Sunday Adeniyi Adeyemo (alias Sunday Igboho), a campaigner for Yoruba ethnic self-determination, arrested in Cotonou as he was fleeing to Germany. Igboho was eventually tried and sentenced to jail Cotonou due to pressures from the Nigerian government. When the US was attacked in September, 2001, the government quickly identified Al Qaeda as the culprits and Osama Bin Ladin as its leader. Since then, the US has mounted a ferocious campaign to capture or kill the group’s members and leaders. Bin Ladin has been killed and Al Qaeda significantly decimated. The world is safer. In a matter of hours after the horrendous October 7 attacks on its homeland, Israeli government quickly identified Hamas, which is actually the acronym for the group’s official name, the Islamic Resistance Movement, as the perpetrators. Israel had since launched a brutal campaign against Hamas and pledged to destroy the organization. No nation treats mass murderers with kid gloves. If the Nigerian authorities could identify Boko Haram, IPOB, Kanu and Igboho as purveyors of violence and terrorism in this country, why is it so difficult to properly identify and tackle the murderers in Plateau, Benue, Taraba and the Southern parts of Kaduna States?

When Gov. Muftwang visited the survivors of the attacks in hospital, one of them told journalists that he was able to identify one of the killers who invaded his home. ‘’He was calling my name as he was macheting and attacking me; but I was just lying there on the floor and I refused to answer. When he noticed that I was no longer breathing, he left me alone. I know him; he lives among us in the village’’, the injured young man told reporters. The enemy within is the worst nightmare you can imagine. This account lends credence to the theory that the murderers are well-known to the authorities, but that the government is reluctant to confront them for various reasons. President Buhari was said to be disinclined because the enemies were of the same ethnicity with him, and now, the speculation is that the current President is warry of fighting the terrorists because he doesn’t want to incense his political base in the North and therefore hurt his reelection chances. Can a government place more premium on its political survival above the safety and security of the people?

Etim is a Journalist and a Political Analyst based in Abuja.

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