Irigweland in Bassa LGA is presently facing persistent attack from Fulani ethnic militia, in a conflict that has spanned years. Hundreds of lives and property have been lost as a result. In this interview with The News Chronicle’s VICTOR GAI, the President, Irigwe Development Association (IDA), revealed a lot about this intractable crisis.
TNC: Irigwe community has suffered from continuous attacks from Fulani militia, with loss of several lives and property. This is despite the peace meetings and dialogues. Observers are wondering what might be the reason why these attacks have not stopped; what is your take on that?
SA: Well, there are so many schools of thought. What is happening is a calculated attempt by the Fulanis to drive us away from our ancestral lands and to occupy. There are no two ways about it, otherwise, you can’t have people coming to your place, killing you, burning your houses, barns and farms consistently since 2017 till date and it is going unabated and nothing is done to put it to a halt. This is one too many. Their place is becoming more of a desert and so they are looking for a place that they can graze their cattle. We will not stop praying. They have the wickedness in their hands but we have God that is more powerful than their wickedness. There is a day for the wicked and it will surely come and so we are not bothered.
TNC: Definitely, the Fulanis that lived with the Irigwe people in the past were peaceful and Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria have worked towards ensuring peace between the two groups, would you say criminals or warmongers among these two groups have hijacked the crisis to satisfy their selfish agenda?
SA: I can’t say warmongers between the two tribes. To answer your question straight, we have been working supposedly towards peace. These ‘warmongers’ don’t understand the word ‘dialogue’. They understand the word ‘force’. Let me tell you something shocking; anytime we sit down with the Fulanis to discuss peace, that very day they will attack us, it has been on record for the umpteenth time. We cannot say all Fulanis are bad and you cannot also say all Irigwe people are good. But that is not what we are talking about here. What we are saying is that why should the Fulanis always come pursuing our people and killing them without mercy? Do you know that at one point that we discussed with the Fulanis, I raised my two hands and said to them that we are not capable of fighting you. We cannot engage you in any warfare because the Fulanis are bragging that they are all over West Africa. We Irigwes are not even anything in Bassa Local Government Area, talk more of Plateau, talk more of Nigeria, kindly leave us alone, whatever we have done that is enraging you, forgive us! We were told that Fulanis don’t forgive. If they don’t forgive, they will meet God because God is a God of mercy and God of justice and He is on the side of the oppressed. We didn’t dispose of anybody of his land. We are here because God planted us here like he planted the Fulanis elsewhere. If they want to leave their place, let them come and beg us, we would always give them land. But if they can’t come peacefully, but want to come forcefully, they will jam Force! We have been burying human beings every day, they are not woods. This God is watching.
TNC: Sometime last year, you had a meeting with the Fulanis and went a step further to sign what we call ‘expression of commitment to peace’; that was a document facilitated by the Plateau Peace Building Agency. Barely months after this meeting, we are seeing a resurgence of violence, what is happening?
SA: That is what is happening! The Irigwe is looking for peace. The Irigwe man is looking forward to meeting his creator, to spend eternity with God, not in hellfire. So we are looking for peace and pursuing it. That time that we signed the expression of interest, it was in Miango. Amidst all the confusion, our people did not understand that. The documents were signed but you can see today. We can’t sleep, we don’t know what to do…We have been meeting with the Fulanis begging them for mercy, for forgiveness. We do not have the power to look for them. As they keep coming, that is how we will keep resisting them. The day that the creator of humanity says it is enough, whoever will give way, will give way. All this while, it is the government that is trying to bring this truce, they too (the government) I am sure they are tired.
TNC: That brings me to this question. In your press statement recently, you alleged that the Plateau state government was not concerned about the attacks on Irigweland by Fulani gunmen. Why did you make that statement and how do you think the government can intervene considering that governors, despite being Chief Security Officers of their states, don’t have absolute control over the army and Police?
SA: The issue of government, I have made it very clear at different fora that the governor of Plateau state is doing his best. When I say government, I mean the Federal government, because they are the ones in charge of the security operatives. Yesterday, he sent a delegation to come and commiserate with us. That is how much they can go, what else? But the Federal government is not doing anything, instead, I am sure these marauders are getting their strength from the Federal government. However they want to get it, I don’t know. How can they come and be killing people over and over again and you tell me you don’t know who they are. How many kilometres is Irigweland? Are we like Sambisa forest?
TNC: What in your opinion can be done to ensure lasting peace between the Irigwe and Fulani herdsmen?
SA: What will bring peace; not only in Irigweland but in Plateau and Nigeria, are justice and fair play. Live and let’s live! We need each other. You cannot overrun me because you want power. We desire justice, we desire righteousness. The Bible says, ‘when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rules, the people mourn’. If we mourn, then I leave the conclusion to you.