Sunday Abdu is the National President of Irigwe Development Association. In this interview by ISAAC SHOBAYO, he speaks on the hostilities between the Irigwe and Fulani in Irigwe Chiefdom in Bassa Local Government Area of Plateau State.
What is the genesis of the crisis between your people, the Irigwe and the Fulani?
It is very clear and simple. According to the Fulanis, they said they don’t forgive and they don’t forget; if you do anything that hurt them, they don’t forgive. It is common knowledge that a Fulani young man was killed by some people in Miango in this local government area. We totally condemned that act and to buttress our fact of regret, we handed over some suspects to the police immediately we heard about what happened. The police waded into the matter, but discovered that some of the suspects were not involved in the act. So, they granted them bail, but the rest of them are still with the police.
We went to the extent of begging the Fulani community in Irigwe and asking for their forgiveness. Our traditional ruler went on his knees before the Fulanis, just to beg them, so that they will know that what happened was not our making. There is nowhere in the world that you don’t have bad elements in the society, but to show how remorseful we were, we produced those suspected to be behind the unfortunate killing.
The very day that our traditional ruler begged them, they told us that what we were begging for might not be possible because they also have bad eggs among them; meaning that our plea might not be accepted. But when you are remorseful over something that was wrong, you are clean before God.
The next day, there was an attack and 24 people were killed in Ancha Village. What do you expect us to say? I am not saying that the killing of the first person by one of our own was justified; till eternity it stands condemned. But they killed 24 in retaliation. We were at peace, but the very day we were burying the 24 people, another 19 were killed when the Fulanis attacked the next village. The evening after we finished the burial, the Fulani attacked another adjourning village where they killed one soldier and injured one other person. From that day till today, we have been sleeping with our two eyes opened. We have not known peace and rest since; it has been killings and assassinations on a daily basis.
They are claiming that they have people at the top and therefore can do whatever they like. They may be painting Irigwe in a bad light, saying that we are trouble makers, but everybody knows that we don’t look for trouble unless you look for our trouble. Even in the midst of provocation, we have been begging our people to remain calm. Since I took over the leadership of this tribe, I have been consistently saying ‘remain calm’; we have not change and we have not shifted ground. The worse was the one of last Monday; do you know that we lost six people the previous day? Before that Sunday when they killed six people, we had lost five people. The following day, which was last Monday, they killed another 29 people.
Where does the military comes into the picture in respect of the Monday killings?
Only God knows, but there is an eye witness to what happened. On that fateful day (Monday), it was the military men that called the Mai Angwan; the village head and told him to gather all the people because there was a warning gunshot by the Fulani. So, the people began to run helter shelter. The soldier gathered everybody to where they were, that is, the primary school. So, when everybody gathered, some young men said they would not enter, allowing only the women and children to enter. One young man stood outside and suddenly saw some Fulani men emerging and alerted the soldiers and the military personnel on ground told him to enter the classroom, only for the soldiers to usher the Fulanis into where the people were taking refuge.
Are you saying there was complicity in the whole incident?
Are you following me at all? When the military men signaled the Fulanis, what role were they playing, especially when they rushed to the school and began to open fire? We are in a country of many tribes, but this is what we are seeing. Two young men who entered the classroom with the women and children escaped through the window when the firing power became heavy; they are alive to tell the story. When they assassinated those people, the soldiers ran away. In the morning, I ordered that nobody should touch the dead bodies until the media cover the scene. The military officer in charge stopped the media from covering the gory incident, but when the crew from the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) arrived, the military officer came and asked if they were from NTA. He called them aside and he said, ‘you know we are Nigerian Army and you are the Nigerian Television Authority, meaning we are doing the same work.” The NTA reporters said, ‘you mean social responsibility’ and he said, ‘yes, very well’. He continued by saying ‘these people came’ we fought gallantly but they overpowered us’ and the reporters asked, ‘you mean you were here when this thing happened?’ This thing is the bane of the Nigerian unity. Something is wrong with this country and I want the International Community to listen to me. Unless and until justice is done, some people will continue to unleash evil on this country.
Prior to the last incident, a curfew was imposed on the local government area by the state government in conjunction with the security agencies. How did the attackers gain access the villages without being noticed?
When the curfew was introduced that fateful day, we thought they would do the needful by bringing in security agents to all the nooks and crannies of the villages in the local government area, especially in Irigwe land where the attack was more pronounced. We advised that the security men should move in properly where these attacks were taking place, but they will always insist to be on the main roads. When one of the villages was attacked, the soldiers were notified, but they did not move an inch.
Since this attack started about a month ago, how many villages were attacked and what is the number of people killed?
I have lost count of the casualties because it is being done almost every day. The villages that were attacked were up to five and houses burnt were over 200. The deaths were also many but, as I told you earlier, I have lost count of the dead bodies.
What do you think is the way out of this crisis?
They are the ones running; we have never sent Fulani out of our place. They are the ones insulting and assaulting us right now, but we don’t know what they want or maybe they want to take the land. It is impossible; they can never achieve that. No matter their fire power, they cannot achieve that. I am saying this very clearly because it seems they are on a mission of ethnic cleansing, but nobody can wipe Irigwe out of the map of Nigeria. God is supreme over everybody and above every other human being. No matter how influential they think they are, no matter how rich they think they are, God created us and is ready to protect us. The Bible says unless the two agreed they cannot work together. Since they did not agree with us, I don’t see how we can work together.
Can one link the crisis to the issue of cattle encroachment into farmland and cattle rustling?
Do you know that the Fulanis arrogantly send in their cows into our farms? That is what is happening right now and the security agencies don’t seem to care about what we are saying. This is because the soldiers are complacent; in fact, they are compromised. Do you know why we have been sleeping in peace since Monday? It is because most of the soldiers were removed and replaced with MOPOL.
What is your take on the issue of reprisal attacks which seem to be fueling the crisis?
When you enjoy firing gun, you don’t think about any meeting point. What is in their mind is ethnic cleansing and this is an agenda that has been programmed for long. When somebody feels happy attacking other person, such is his lifestyle.