Friday, June 23, 2017

USA Africa Dialogue Series - Violence on the Mambilla Plateau, Taraba State


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1.1 The first major incidence of conflicts between Mambilla tribesmen and Fulani cattle rearers was recorded in 1980 which was widely reported as the Mambilla riots. The cause of the conflicts was traced to agitations over land ownership. Substantial efforts were put in place to address the causes, and a clear land management system for the area was designed, allowing all valleys that were suitable for crop production to the farming communities and the upland areas for livestock production.


1.2 Another major violent conflict was again recorded in 2001 when hundreds of thousands of animals migrated from Nigeria to Republic of Cameroon. The conflict marked one of the greatest losses of Nigeria's livestock resources as it was estimated that nearly one hundred thousand cattle migrated from the Mambilla Plateau to the Republic of Cameroon. In the violent conflict, hundreds of people and thousands of cattle were killed. Drastic action was taken by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo through the massive deployment of military personnel to quell the crisis and enforce peace.


1.3 Unfortunately, there was no follow-up action to arrest the perpetrators of the violence by either the Taraba State or the Federal Government. Similarly, no further action was taken to investigate the losses suffered by the victims, initiate rehabilitation programs and engage the communities to ensure lasting peace, security and order in the area.



2.1 The ongoing violence started on Saturday, 17th June 2017 following the arrest by the Nigeria Police of the leader of a criminal gang leader who was instigating youths to forcefully take over lands and terrorise law abiding citizens on Thursday 15th June 2017.


2.2 On the 17th June, recalcitrant youths mobilized and went to the Nguroje Police Station to forcefully release the arrested gang leader, but who was by then already transferred to the Police Command headquarters at Jalingo. The youths then mounted road blocks, started barricading all roads and intimidating citizens at Nguroje. The Nigeria Police tried to prevent the rioting, but the crowd was adamant. This led to deployment of a detachment of Military personnel from the 20th Battalion of the Nigerian Army at Serti who arrived towards the afternoon of same day and dispersed the rioting youths and restore order in the town.


2.3 Immediately after the security personnel dispersed the rioting youths at Nguroje, the youths from different villages decided to launch coordinated attacks on cattle farms in the afternoon of Saturday 17th June 2017. This led to the killing of people, killing of cattle and burning of residential houses of the Fulani cattle rearers. By the morning of Sunday 18th and subsequently afterwards, the scale of destruction and carnage reached an alarming level.  Sadly, the level of deployment of the Military and Police personnel was inadequate to maintain surveillance and enforce peace in the vast rural areas characterized by rugged terrain and very poor road networks.


2.4 As a consequence, there was massive assault on cattle rearers in villages such as Titong, Kenor, Kila, Bundi, Yana, Nyongor, Pertade, Tunga-Luggure, Tunga-Bongo, Labbare and Njeke among others. Statistics based on communication with the cattle rearers affected by violence so far indicated that over 17,000 cows have been severely wounded and killed. Over 2,000 cows were unaccounted for and might have been rustled by the rioting mobs (see attached Table).


 2.5 The violent conflict is still ongoing in the early hours of Tuesday 20th June 2017. The level of enforcement of peace and order by security agencies is significantly constrained by inadequate deployment and the rugged terrain and poor road network. However, there was no reported violence in all the major settlements such as Gembu (the LGA headquarters), Dorofi, Mayo Ndaga, Nguroje and Kakara among others. This is creating a semblance of peace and security, which is totally not the situation in the rural landscape where attack and killing of people and livestock is ongoing.



3.1 Remote Cause

i) The remote cause of the conflicts is tied to agitations over land ownership. The Mambilla people have remained opposed to the ownership of ranches by cattle rearers since the 1980's, with many political leaders of the area instigating the people to fight and reclaim the ranches.


ii) The negative propaganda by a section of the political leadership who are promoting politics of ethnicity. This is fuelling political acrimony and social upheavals among the diverse ethnic groups on the Mambilla Plateau.


3.2 The immediate cause of the conflicts can be traced to three reasons:

i) First was the election of Honourable John Yep as Chairman of Sardauna Local Government through the political manipulation and rigging of election by the Governor of the State, Arc. Darius Ishaku. It was a known fact that the current Chairman is among the leading political leaders agitating for forceful confiscation of all ranches and farms owned by individuals they consider as "non-ethnic Mambilla". He was a major player as a Councillor in the 2002 Mambilla crisis. His popular nick-name is Mandela, implying that he is the leader for the emancipation of the Mambilla Plateau, as Nelson Mandela lead the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.


ii) The second immediate cause was with the election of the Chairman, it was widely alleged that he encouraged the Mambilla people to "invade" and forcefully take over farmlands owned by other Nigerians on the Plateau. In this process, hundreds of farms were invaded and are currently being illegally cultivated such as the farms of elder Statesman, Mallam Ahmed Joda, late Wazirin Mambilla and Alhaji Siddique Chabbal among others.


iii) The third immediate cause was the constitution of a Judicial Panel of Inquiry into Land Matters on the Mambilla Plateau. It is widely alleged that the composition of the Committee is lopsided and aimed at deliberately confiscating lands from cattle rearers.


iv) The fourth immediate cause was the arrest of the gang leader of a criminal group who were alleged to be supported by LGA Chairman to intimidate cattle rearers and other land owners on the Mambilla Plateau. The gang had branches in most of the towns and villages and their major objective is to violently take over lands and ranches.



4.1 The carnage is still ongoing and there are potentials for loss of more lives, property and livestock. The most needed intervention is increased deployment of military personnel to ensure effective surveillance and coverage of the entire Plateau.


4.2 The second appeal to call the Executive Governor of Taraba State and the Chairman of Sardauna Local Government to order, to hold them accountable for the violence and direct them to order the carnage to stop.


4.3 The third is to organize for immediate humanitarian assistance to the victims, including the deployment of veterinarians and other animal health workers to evacuate the killed animals and attend to those that have been wounded to avert environmental pollution.


4.4 The fourth appeal is to constitute an immediate fact-finding mission to the area to ascertain the current situation and advise government on the needed interventions to avert the escalation of the crisis.



Saleh B. Momale

Ag. Executive Director


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