I was invited on News at 10 to discuss the Plateau state killings from my professional security perspective. I started off by explaining what reports were saying about the situation which is that: the conflict began after a group of Berom Youths rustled 300 cows from the Fulanis in the area and then in a closely related event, slaughtered 4 Fulani youths while they were in transit from the market. In response to these events, a group of Fulani Youths conducted a broad daylight reprisal attack, slaughtering 200 human beings. This was not my opinion, this was what was reported in the news.

But it appears starting my response by introducing the background as reported in the media, was misinterpreted as me condoning the Plateau killings. I want to state clearly that I have never, I don’t, and I will never condone the killing of a human being. My sincere condolences to all those who lost loved ones in this conflict.

Two Sides

I received a phone call from an elderly Berom woman the morning after my interview. She decided to “school me” on the conflict. “This crisis is real” she said. She explained to me how she had lost many family members as a result of this conflict. She explained that the Fulanis tend to conduct these attacks after their “excuse” of their cattle being rustled. She even stated that there was prior information that the group intended to commence attacks within the communities, after the Ramadan. The lady said she believes the conflict is about ethnic cleansing; Indigenes of villages are being wiped out by a Fulani militia and the marauders have settled-in comfortably with no active response from the government or state security forces.

On the other hand, I heard from an elderly Fulani man who gave another point of view on the matter. He explained that the Fulani man who rears cattle is nomadic by nature. That nomadic group has been facing several threats to their lifestyle including their cattle being stolen from them by Berom Youth and other bandits, and the grazing path carved out for them by the ECOWAS years ago being converted to farmlands with no alternative routes for them.

He explained that other cultures/countries that have nomadic ethnic groups get helped by the governments of the regions who acknowledge the unique lifestyle and accommodate them by creating migratory paths for the nomads. But in Nigeria, no “nomadic options” have been given to them and they are feeling marginalized. Rearing their cattle is their purpose in life and criminal Militias steal their cattle and attack their people, threatening their way of life, he said, with no active response from the government or state security forces

Who’s To Blame

It seems what we now have on our hand, is a new generation that has grown up in the era of free-flowing Libyan weapons, and spreading desert land due to climate change. They migrate into a country with lush green land favorable for their cattle and no formidable internal security force to stop them from having their way.

Like many Nigerians, I am livid at the Plateau massacre and pray that those who were involved in the taking of innocent lives on all sides of the spectrum, are identified, apprehended and brought to justice. But what frustrates me, which I’m sure frustrates other Nigerians, is that despite our hopes, prayers, criticisms, and efforts…. The killers are likely to never be found and justice on this attack will not be served. And why is that?

Well in my opinion, there is one place to direct the blame, and that is the failure of our internal security structure!

The Nigerian Police Force, Nigerian Customs Service, Nigeria Immigration Service, Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Force (NSCDC) make up the internal civil law enforcement agencies. All these agencies are supposed to work together to bring about strong internal security in Nigeria and emergency response management/coordination.

Their inability to make this happen has drafted the military into internal security and civil policing, a role they are not supposed to occupy because they are trained for war. Involving military in civil law enforcement inevitably leads to more fatalities.

The internal security in Nigeria is in shambles and when it comes to conflict in the Middle Belt and in this particular case of the Plateau Killings, we can trace where the ball has been woefully dropped by multiple agencies in Nigeria.

Understand The Conflict Driver

The current crisis in Plateau and most conflicts in the Middle Belt have ethnic fault-lines. Nigeria is a heterogeneous country with over 250 ethnic groups and 500 dialects spoken. The middle belt and North-Eastern states dealing with the farmer/herder or indigene/settler conflicts happen to be the most heterogeneous.

Adamawa has 80 ethnic groups, Taraba has 77, and Plateau has 40. These three states alone account for 197 (78%) of the 250 ethnic groups that make up Nigeria.

States such as Benue, Taraba, Adamawa, Plateau have been dealing with low-level warfare for some time and much of this conflict is as a result of emphasis being made on their ethnic differences and the feelings of neglect and marginalization by state authorities.

The worst part is when ethnic groups in these regions feel marginalized and report security/criminal incidents to the government and security agencies, the response is inadequate. This has happened numerous times and in the last 18 years, the ethnic groups that feel marginalized, have gradually resorted to taking matters into their own hands by arming up to defend themselves and to administer justice.

This is what has led to some of the ethnic groups in the region having their own Militias (Tarok, Berom, and Fulanis have been accused by security agencies of having active armed militia groups in Plateau State). Inadequate responses have led to little or no trust in the security and justice institutions in the country.

Vigilante – Militia – State Police

Interestingly, there are arguments for and against the existence of armed non-state actor groups in the region.

Those against armed non-state actor groups (armed militia/vigilante groups) cite the obvious reasons including deadly massacres that can occur as a result of clashes.

But those in favor of armed non-state actor groups say that if the Government Security Forces cannot adequately perform their job of protecting the lives, properties, and interests of the people, then their young men need to step up to the plate.

Proponents of non-state actor groups go further to argue that it is after all, an acceptable practice in other conflicts such as in the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East where security forces partner with local armed non-state actors re-named Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF). Therefore, they say if the state actors (Government Security Forces) are stretched thin and unable to protect their communities, they should partner with the non-state actors to solve insecurity issue.

This to me is another case for State Police. There is need to retool the Nigerian Police Force and decentralize civil law enforcement into a state policing. Policing mono-ethnic states as found in the Southwest region of the country, for instance, is completely different from policing heterogenous states as found in the middle belt. Taking an Igbo man to oversee a heated Berom-Fulani border community without understanding the many dialects, history, conflict triggers, and other cultural intricacies and nuances is a recipe for disaster, as we keep witnessing.

State policing will allow states to re-organize their security structure and operations to suit the need, peculiarities, and intricacies of the communities within that state, with the governor taking his rightful place as the Chief Security Officer of his state, under the watchful eye of the federal “oversight” police institution.

Dropping The Ball

In the case of this recent Plateau attack, reports stated that the attacks took place in broad daylight from 1pm-7pm. So that means for 6 hours there were no adequate security force intervention. This is where the people start believing that the military and other security agencies are complicit on this matter.

A 6-hour response time to a massacre doesn’t make sense at all and this is where the security agencies and the emergency response agencies have dropped the ball.

There are no adequate means by which citizens can quickly report an ongoing attack. Instead, you’re left trying to dial a 11-digit number as opposed to a quick 3-digit emergency number that can be easily recalled and dialed to report an ongoing carnage.

The security forces should have known that an attack was on the horizon. There should have been ears and eyes on the ground. Human Intelligence assets feeding information back about possible reprisal attacks. The security forces should have been on standby especially after the first criminal incident where cattle were supposedly rustled and Fulanis killed.

Some argued that the police were in the middle of investigations and the reprisal group didn’t wait for them to finish conducting their investigations before they retaliated. Then if that’s the case, the retaliatory group should be apprehended for obvious reasons.

In other words, those who lost their cattle should be questioned until Security Forces get information from them on who conducted the reprisal attack on their behalf. When this doesn’t happen, the security forces are further accused of complicity in this conflict.


Getting Serious About Implementing Solutions

The government needs to stop ignoring the reality of this crisis which is: multiple states across the federation complaining about the same demographic of people who are armed, going across the country, attacking Nigerians at will.

There is an adversarial profile of the ones with cattle who destroy farms and attack farmers. And when the farmers attack back, they respond with disproportionately gory and destructive reprisal attacks.

Then there is an adversarial profile of the ones without cattle who are armed and conduct several criminal activities across the country including abductions, kidnap for ransom, murder, village raids and reprisal killings for seemingly economic, ethnic cleansing and land grabbing motives.

The inability to adequately identify who the perpetrators of these acts are is a major indictment on the government, security and intelligence agencies. These agencies must stop relying on primitive and/or reactive methods of dealing with this issue. They must begin to utilize technology to proactively respond to this crisis.

Customs drops the ball with their inability to check the flow of illicit weapons and the flow of people and cattle in and out of the country.

For instance, any traveler that arrives in Nigeria at the airport will have the Passport scanned and logged into the system, thereby the agencies know how many foreigners have arrived in the country via air, if they have any prohibitive substances on them, how long they are in the country for and whether their travel documents have expired or not. The same cannot be said at the land borders. We do not know who has come into Nigeria and who has left, what they came in with, for how long they stay etc. Yet the Government is always so quick to point to Foreigners, Libyans etc. as being responsible yet do nothing about it especially when technology exists today to remedy this situation.

Trackers must be put on all the cattle that roam/graze across the country. Every Nigerian citizen must be in the “system” – biometrically enrolled. That way when you apprehend a group or come across a group who are not “in the system” we can put to bed the argument on whether the acts are being perpetrated by Nigerians or non-Nigerians.

Intelligence agencies are dropping the ball by not conducting constant intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) in the areas that have been identified as hotspots. They must utilize ISR assets to maintain 24/7 surveillance and technical intelligence gathering within the area to understand “pattern of life” – Who moves where? When? To do what?!

Solutions to this crisis abound. The reluctance of the Nigerian government to act swiftly and proactively on this is exacerbating matters, perceptions, fatalities and giving rise to all manners of conspiracy theories.

I must add, that this is where the National Orientation Agency drops the ball- their efforts in tackling and drafting the narratives are not effective.

So, to those who misinterpreted my viewpoint, a 5-minute interview is not enough to speak on the issue, neither is 5-page document enough to write on the situation.

But what matters the most is that we all make our voices heard at the 2019 elections and vote in credible leaders with vision who will put country ahead of self, by prioritizing safety and security of citizens while promoting favorable socio-economic policies to lift this country out of poverty, educate our populace and engage our restive youth.

It is well with Nigeria.