Mambilla crisis and implications for 2019 poll in Taraba

Governor Ishaku

A major factor that could determine the outcome of the 2019 gubernatorial election in Taraba State has emerged in the recent crisis that occurred among the Fulani and Mambilla ethnic groups during which scores of lives were lost and millions of naira worth of property were destroyed.

In what many analysts said could have far reaching effects on the chances of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its governor, Darius Dickson Ishaku, the two ethnic groups engaged each other in the Mambilla Plateau of Sardauna local council area, over issues connected to land ownership and control which have always pitched itinerant Fulani herdsmen against other groups across Nigeria.

In the mayhem and wanton destruction of lives and properties, the Fulani who said they were on the receiving end of the attack, alleged that the local Mambilla population massacred many of them and accused the governor of shielding the attackers.

While calling on the Federal Government to declare a state-of-emergency in Taraba to ensure peace and bring perpetrators to justice, the Fulani and their supporters, said they would wait for the governor and the PDP in 2019 to use their power of voting to make a statement against the status quo.

The development has again brought to the fore, the twin issues of ethnicity and religion in the determination of the direction of the ballot in the state’s political terrain.

Although many prominent citizens and political figures in the state claim that the crisis has no ethnic or religious colouration, the heat that the ensuing controversies have generated across the country and even beyond, has shown that the governor would have to walk the extra mile to get the support of voters of Fulani extraction in the coming poll.

Confirming this to The Guardian, former Chairman of the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) in the state, a platform that is believed to be planning to reap maximum benefit from the crisis, Alhaji Hassan Jika Ardo said, “The Fulani in Taraba State no longer have confidence in the governor because of the negative roles he played in the crisis that led to the killings of the Fulani in Mambilla Plateau.”

The APC chieftain who has been at the forefront of those calling on members of the House of Assembly to, “as a matter of urgency, commence impeachment process against the governor,” said “the deliberate refusal of the governor to be pro-active when he was intimated of an ongoing plan to attack the Fulani, also make us to lose hope in him.”

He accused the governor of “ill-attitudes towards the Fulani in Taraba” which he claimed was responsible for his “inability or refusal to bring the perpetrators of the crisis to book.”

Ardo further claimed, “up till now those people behind the crisis are still going about their business and are walking freely on the streets. This is very sad.”

Because of the disaffection, which is already reverberating across the political terrain, the Fulani, especially the body of cattle owners, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, boycotted the recent public hearing on the Anti Open Grazing Bill, which the government hoped to put in place to reduce friction between the Fulani and the local population.

The aggrieved group has also stayed away from reconciliation meetings organised by the government for the warring groups to institute lasting peace.

Chairman of the cattle breeders in Sardauna local council, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello who queried why the governor “should fold his hands watching the Mambilla people kill our people and cows,” recently walked out of a peace parley organized by the state chapters of both the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Moslem Council of Nigeria (MCN) with his members.

At the state level, the breeders’ chairman, Alhaji Shabbi Mahmud, said the action of the governor “especially his refusal to order for the arrest of those who killed our people and our cows, has no doubt compelled us to turn our back on him.”

He said the Fulani would “continue to avoid “anything that has to do with the state government pending when the governor and the security operatives would deem it fit to bring all the suspects to book.”

But while the Fulani are sticking to their guns and avoiding all avenues of peace, many prominent groups are calling on Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, to discountenance the call for emergency rule and beef up security in the state.

The argument is that Fulani herdsmen who are notorious for violent engagements with almost all the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, may be planning a reprisal attack on the local population, a position which they said was strengthened by their refusal to embrace peace.

One of such groups, which believed that the unity of the state is paramount to its growth, is the Taraba Youth Group (TYG). In the group’s open letter to Osibanjo, it pleaded for joint efforts between the Federal and state governments to halt a reprisal attack.

The group led by Nelso C. Len, said the PDP government of Ishaku “could still achieve its dreams of developing the state, hence the need for all and sundry irrespective of tribes, politics and religion, to support the governor.”

The group also said apart from beefing up the security of the state by the deployment of more security personnel, “The Acting President should also avail the state of technical security supports to enable the government foil ongoing plans to thwart the peace efforts of the governor.”

Expressing optimism that the 2019 elections would be devoid of violence and rancour if adequate security measures are put in place, the group admonished those calling for emergency rule to desist as that would further pave way for anarchy.

According to them, “we condemned the recent call by some people for the declaration of state of emergency. Those behind this call are enemies of peace and development and we believe their motive has political undertone.

“The opposition should discard any call for state of emergency and join hands with the state government in bringing about sustainable peace in the state. Security in the state has taken a serious dimension and should not be left only in the hands of the state government alone. A stitch in time saves nine.”

However the state governor did not see the crisis as capable of soiling his relationship with any ethnic group in the state talk less of hampering his re-election if he decides to run in 2019.

He said the crisis was “an unfortunate clash of people who have lived together for decades as neighbours. The crisis was unfortunate and has been condemned as wrong by respectable voices from around the country.”

Speaking through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Bala Dan Abu, Ishaku said, “what the government expect is support for this reconciliation effort and not the evil act of promoting sentiments that can worsen the peace process being pursued by the government.”

Debunking the rumour that the unrest would have negative effects on his party and the governor in 2019 general elections, state chairman of the PDP, Victor Bala Kona, said “the governor did not in anyway ignite or has hands in the crisis.”

According to him, “I disagree with the school of thought that said governor Ishaku’s chances of wining next governorship election is slim because he did not take side and will never take side. He has great love for the Fulani and all the ethnic groups in this state.”

Political analysts who spoke to The Guardian on the matter however urged Ishaku to, as a matter of urgency, engage the aggrieved Fulani ethnic group in a round table dialogue and stressed the need for the governor to ensure that the report of the judicial panel of inquiry, set up to investigate the crisis, see the light of the day.

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