The Federal Government has ordered the military to deploy maximum force to flush out insurgents who have been launching sporadic attacks on villages in Plateau state, killing scores each time they strike.
In compliance with the order, the defence headquarters has today served signal that soldiers would in the days ahead raid locations believed to be hideouts of the suspected criminals launching the attacks and destabilizing the state.
But with the Fulani inhabitants of the four villages that would be the target of the operation threatening not to vacate their communities, a clash is imminent between the cattle breeders and the military.
A statement by the Director of Defence Information, Colonel Mohammed Yerima, made available to PREMIUM TIMES, said it would be a full-scale military action, and that there might be collateral damage.
He said to avoid “collateral damage”, inhabitants of villages “where these criminal elements use as hideouts should vacate to a safer place where an arrangement is being made for them by the State Government.”
“This temporary relocation is for a while and the villagers will relocate when the operation is completed,” the statement said.
Colonel Yerima listed the affected villages to include Mahanga, Kakuruk, Kuzen, Maseh and Shong 2, saying they now serve as hideouts for murderers and other criminals.
The residents of a few other villages – Kura-falls, Kuzukand Sharuk, Rim of Gashish and Bachit – he said, should not panic but should be “careful of their movement within the area and avoid places of Military Operations until further notice.
“People are also advised to report any suspicious movement/activities in their areas to security agencies.”
The statement explained that the measure is a “temporary” one being “put in place by the Defence Headquarters for the safety of the inhabitants of the affected areas”.
“The residents should be rest assured that as soon as the operations are over, they will be called back to their residences. Inconveniences caused are highly regretted,” Colonel Yerima said.
He further explained that the operation is necessary to rid the state of murderers, who he said are hiding in the affected villages.
The statement said, “Having failed in their attempts to continue to instigate communal strife in Plateau State, criminal elements who are enemies of the people decided to wear military type uniforms and attack directly innocent citizens of some part of the state.
“This direct attack was obviously decided upon when these criminals realized that their previous tactics of inciting one section of the populace against another is no longer working because the people of Plateau State have seen through the divisive technique of these ungodly people.
“The Special Task Force in Jos has found out that some of the criminals who carried out last week’s attack on innocent people are still hiding around some villages in order to continue to perpetrate crimes against the good people of Plateau State. The Task Force is determined to rid the state of these murderers.”
The Special Task Force, the inter-agency outfit in charge of security in Plateau State, had issued a similar statement on Saturday ordering the inhabitants of the identified villages to vacate their communities within 48 hours.
But in a statement earlier today, the umbrella body of the Fulani, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, said its member would not move an inch from the villages.
In a statement by its secretary, Mohammed Abdullahi, the group called on the Federal Government, the United Nations and all human rights organisations to call the Special Task Force, STF, in Jos to order over the quit notice issued to the four villages, which it said had predominantly Fulani inhabitants.
“We are calling on the Federal government, United Nations and other Human Rights bodies to put eyes on the possible genocide being planned by the soldiers,” the group said.
The Fulani body also warned of the consequences of allowing the STF to carry out its quit order saying “if this is allowed to happen, nobody should blame the Fulani man for taking every measure necessary to defend himself”.
It accused the STF of siding with the Berom people as if the Fulani are not also Nigerians who deserved equal treatment.
“We watch with dismay the conduct of STF, over aligning to the Berom Agenda of massively killing and destroying Fulani and their community, whereby they are planning genocide attack against the Fulani,” the statement said.
The group said no Fulani would evacuate from their place of abode and also called on the STF ” to be cautious and exercise restraint while conducting their military operation, as our people are not evacuating their place of abode whatsoever to anywhere” they said adding that its members will not fold their arms and watch “some disgruntled elements to continue their act of terrorism over 2000 families with a population of over 150,000 inhabitants”.
The Fulani said it is practically impossible for them to move such a large population of persons with several herds of cattle within 48 hours.
“We are hapless law abiding citizens of this country, we therefore demand equal treatment from the government, we urge the government to as a matter of urgency to intervene and halt this nasty and provocative act by the STF commander to avert further escalation of the crisis and breakdown of law and order,” the statement said.
The group also recalled that the Boko Haram crisis started like a joke but is today threatening the peaceful co-existence of the people of the country.
“There is therefore no need for the STF to instigate another crisis that has the potential of being worst than Boko Haram,” it said.
The group however said they are ready and willing to ” enter into any meaningful dialogue to resolve all the contending issues at stake”.