Gassol: Story of Taraba’s socio-political neglect

The political uncertainty in Taraba state  has escalated with the recent outbreak of Fulani/farmers  clash.  STEPHEN OSU writes on the neglect the areas had suffered before and how the incident might affect the political, social and economic well-being of the displaced persons

The back ground
The crises between the Benue farmers and the Fulani herdsmen started it all. Both the conventional and social media feasted on them with weird display of gory pictures of victims of human brutality.  Rather than abating, the casualty figure kept increasing to an alarming level with various interest groups trading blames. And soon to follow was Nasarawa, another north central state afflicted with the same virus of human brutality before it gradually crawled into Taraba, a north eastern state, thus disrupting the relative peace.

The first part of the state that was afflicted with the attack was Ibi local government area, as all the Tiv communities were displaced and properties worth millions of Naira destroyed. It was just similar to the 2001 Taraba crisis which led to mass  exodus from all the nearby communities in Ibi and some other local government areas.
Early caution

Upon the breakout of the Benue crisis, the  paramount ruler of  Wukari area and the chairman Taraba state traditional council, Aku Uka Wukari, Dr. Shakarau Angyu Massah Ibi, had cautioned  that allowing the fleeing Fulanis into the land  was capable of causing restiveness.

This, he reasoned, is because the herdsmen will come with their flocks to settle on the Wukari land already engaged in farming activities by the natives.  And just before the first meeting to this effect could be completed, the Fulanis had arrived and the worst foretold by the monarch happened, as the Tiv and Jukun villages in Wukari and later in Takum, as well as Gassol and Donga local governments came under attack.  Reprisals were to later follow from the villagers with a huge death toll as its consequence.

Life in Gassol community
The communities are 20 in number with an estimated population of about 30,000.  They  live in an area of about one hundred and fifty kilometers radius and disenfranchised  because they  were  not registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC). The communities can’t boast of any social infrastructure, not even with the generous Millennium Development Goals(MDGs).

The women deliver in their living rooms and their children not vaccinated against any killer disease. Motorable roads and schools are not meant for these communities. For them, electricity is a luxury while they drink from the same pond with their live stocks. Yet they pay their tithes to the village head of Sendirdre at the end of every harvesting season and endless taxes to Gassol local government, including motor cycle ownership permit of N1500 per annum.

Until the recent outbreak of polio in the two communities of Ishom and Vaayough where two children were paralyzed, no child had the privilege of being administered with any vaccine. But the newly trained polio supervisor in the area,  Michael Kunavzua told Blueprint that when they went for the training in Mutum Biyu, they discovered that all their villages were covered in the immunization chat but had  over the years been  excluded in the exercise.

Charged atmosphere
With the increasing threat posed by the fleeing Fulanis, the Gassol atmosphere became shrouded in uncertainty, thus forcing the Gassol and Tiv natives from Taraba to vacate their homes in thousands.  Their yam seedlings soon became feeds for the hungry cows. The likely resultant of this is famine in 2015 as the displaced farmers cannot prepare their farmland for the next farming season.

Our correspondent who visited Gassol , saw the fleeing farmers leaving their communities  in trucks, and all headed for both the official and unorganized refugee camps in Sabongida and Danacha  with a few of their personal belongings. From mosquito bites to hunger, the refugees are wont to tell a story of neglect and deprivation. The poor medical facilities coupled with overstretched water sources in the host communities and terrible weather condition are ominous signs of possible breakout of epidemics.

Though  the price of farm produce suddenly went down in all the markets, the cost of transportation however  remains high as drivers charge  a minimum of N25,000  as cost to move a fleeing family  and their belongings for just one trip, no matter how short the destination. Worst still, the police had their check points on both roads in Sabongida when our reporter visited, and each vehicle charged N2,500  minimum depending on the vehicle size.

One of the drivers who identified himself as Abubakar, said he had to charge N40,000  for a trip to Katsina Ala because he would encounter about 20 police checkpoints before getting to his destination, and parting with N200 per check point. Restoring hope

Despite the seeming hopelessness, the government has continued to give hope to the people, assuring that the situation would soon be brought under control. A statement by the acting governor’s special assistant on media, Aaron Artimas, said government was capable of protecting the lives and property of the citizens.  Artimas who described the violent Fulansi as non indigenes, also directed local government councils from the fleeing areas to ensure safety of farm lands to avoid trespass.

In the preceding week, the acting governor,  Garba Umar, constituted security committees in all the crises prone local governments with representatives of all the interest groups.

The committees were charged with the responsibilities of ensuring the return of the fleeing farmers, but that on Gassol was greeted with violent attacks on two Tiv villages of Vaayough and Amove in Sendirdre ward. Upon the committee’s departure ,  Ishom, Saawuan, Kwaza and other surrounding villages were razed in the same ward of Sendirdre, thus forcing the  committee on Wukari to quickly make a u-turn for the safety of their lives.

A member of the  state House of Assembly, Hon. Ishaya Gani representing Wukari 11 state constituency accused the acting governor of  negligence, because according to him, Umar failed to act on the security report indicating a likely attack on the areas.

On the contrary, the Tiv community leaders in Gassol local government, commended the proactive measures by the Lamdo Gassol, Alhaji Idi Chiroma and  appealed to the acting governor to act fast and deploy security apparatus  in sufficient numbers to patrol the affected areas. They also called on him to supply relief materials to the various refugee camps at Sabongida and Danacha yam markets.

The way out
Since the proactive measures to forestall  the spread of the crises to the state were not put in place, the best way out of the present situation is the deployment of enough security personnel  to patrol the hinterlands. Beside, the displaced persons must not only be returned to their base amidst strong assurance of safety, but government should as a matter of necessity provide them with some support to enable the natives  carry out their farming activities to avert the impending famine in the land.  There is need to act fast in order not to further worsen the already bad political, social and economic well-being of the displaced persons. The time to act is now.

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