Commander of Special Military Taskforce codenamed Operation Safe Haven, Maj. Gen. Anthony Atolagbe
Friday Olokor and Adelani Adepegba
The burial of over 200 victims of the recent attacks in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State carried out by suspected Fulani herdsmen generated a serious controversy following allegations that security agencies want to carry out the exercise in secret.
Sources said that relatives of the deceased wanted to pick the corpses for burial because they have started decomposing, while tension continued to escalate despite the dusk to dawn curfew imposed by the government.
Already, some travellers coming in and out of Jos were said to have been killed.
The attack was said to have spread to a village called Kwi where an old woman who could not escape was reportedly killed while many houses were burnt.
The Chairman, Public Accounts and Petition Committee in Plateau State House of Assembly representing Barkin Ladi constituency, Peter Gyendeng, and the President of Middle Belt Youth Council, Emma Zopmal, in an interview with The PUNCH, believed that the planned secret burial was to cover up some facts and conspiracy of soldiers in the killings.
According to them, every effort they made to evacuate the corpses for burial met a stiff resistance from the military hierarchy.
But the Commander of Special Military Taskforce codenamed Operation Safe Haven, Maj. Gen. Anthony Atolagbe, explained that state of the corpses was so bad that if allowed to be taken away, it would stir up serious tensions and mayhem in the state.
Gyendeng said, “We tried to take all the corpses to give them mass burial. But the STF Commandant stopped every movement that we made concerning the dead bodies. In fact, he did not allow anybody to go there yesterday (Sunday). We organised our own security and mobile policemen to escort us there. But we were stopped on the road.
“Our people stayed there till 6:pm, we had to come back for security reasons too. The corpses are still there and they have started decomposing. I’m just entering my LG now to see what else could be done. We have taken pictures of the corpses.
“It is obvious that the government does not want the world to know the genocide that is happening in my place. They are trying to cover the number of dead people in that place. All we know is that there is genocide in our land. Today (Monday), they entered a village called Kwi, there was community resistance. In a village called Bed, they sent armed soldiers to come and disarm the local people who were defending themselves.
“Yesterday (Sunday), the Fulani militia wanted to enter the area. But now, soldiers have been sent to disarm the local people, leaving them helpless. We don’t know what is happening, it is something that cannot be explained. A curfew was imposed yesterday (Sunday). But the Fulani men and their cows were escorted by soldiers at night.”
The legislator promised to make the correct figure and gory pictures of the deceased available on Tuesday (today), during parliamentary sitting.
According to Zopmal, the affected communities should resist the planned secret burial because the corpses did not belong to the security agencies and the government.
He said, “The planned secret burial is a conspiracy, we know that there is collusion between the security agencies and the Fulani people. There is no way you can force people to bury their relations when they are not ready for it. The dead bodies belong to them, so they are not government’s corpses that they will now decide when to bury them.
“The affected communities should not allow that to happen. The security agencies did not protect them. Why should they decide the burial for them? It doesn’t make any sense, they are trying to cover up what they have done. It is all part of the same attitude that the Nigerian government has been exhibiting.”
While faulting the approach of the state government, the MBYC called on Governor Simon Lalong to “immediately lift the curfew and devise another means of protecting the people.”
But reacting to the allegation, Kwara State-born Atolagbe, told The PUNCH that he did not stop Berom ethnic nationality and relatives of the deceased from carrying the corpses.
According to him, the President of Berom Youth Moulders Association, Choji Dalyop Chuwang, and the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria, have agreed with him on what best should be done about the corpses to avoid another crisis.
Atolagbe also denied the allegation that trucks of cows were escorted by soldiers despite the curfew, while local vigilante natives were disarmed, saying, “nobody did that, it’s not true.”
When contacted, a male voice said the BYM President was with the governor over the crisis and would call back after the meeting.
During a brief chat with one of our correspondents, Choji Dalyop Chuwang said, “I am having a running stomach, if you give me a few minutes, I will attend to you.”
But several calls and SMS to him to confirm if really he approved the secret burial were not replied.
NAF, Police deploy helicopter, surveillance aircraft in Plateau
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Air Force has announced the deployment of an Mi-35P combat helicopter and an Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance aircraft in Plateau State in support of efforts aimed at stopping the escalation of crisis following the killing of over 200 persons by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
A statement issued on Monday by NAF’s Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Vice Marshal Olatokunbo Adesanya, said apart from restoring normalcy, “the deployment of the ISR aircraft is expected to enhance intelligence gathering.”
Also, the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, has deployed an intervention force in Barkin-Ladi, and Riyom in Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State and in other flashpoints across the state.
In addition to the operatives, the IG also dispatched two helicopters for aerial surveillance, five Armored Personnel Carriers, three Police Mobile Force Units, two Counter-Terrorism Squads and Police Intelligence Unit as well as conventional police personnel from other states.
The force spokesman, acting DCP Jimoh Moshood, in a statement on Monday, said the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Department of Operations, Joshiak Habila, had been directed to relocate to Jos to coordinate and supervise the operation.
The police claimed their arrival in the state had restored peace and prevent further attacks in the affected areas,.
It further explained that the IG had directed the Commissioner of Police in charge of the Monitoring Unit to lead the Special investigation Team to the affected areas and other flash points.
Moshood implored the people to support the police while cautioning them against reprisals, adding that anyone in distress or with information should call 07059473022, 08038907662, 08075391844, and 09053872296
Meanwhile, the Plateau State government on Monday frowned on the manner in which gory pictures of victims were being circulated on the social media.
A statement by the state Commissioner for Information and Communication, Yakubu Dati, advised citizens to respect the living and dead.