Group raises the alarm over influx of herdsmen in Plateau Game Reserved

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A non governmental organisation, Journalists Coalition for Citizens’ Rights Initiative (JCCRI), has raised the alarm over the influx of fulani herdsmen and other shadowy elements into the famous Pandam Game Reserve in Qua’an Pan Local Government Area of Plateau.
The group in a statement on Sunday, expressed fears that unless urgent steps are taken to check the trend, the area may become a den for bandits, insurgents and other criminal elements.
The statement signed by Chris Gyang, chairman of JCCRI, noted the indigenous people and citizens of Plateau state fear that unless the situation is nipped in the bud, it may compound the security challenges, occasioned by maiming, killings, abductions and rape.
Plateau state has had its share of attacks by fulani herdsmen, with many people killed while property worth millions of naira were destroyed.
Several communities, especially, in Riyom and Barakin Ladi were sacked by invading herdmen.
Gyang said, Pandam Game Reserved is a critical to the economy of Plateau state, regretting that the current situation has had a negative impact on agricultural activities as farmers in communities bordering the reserve were afraid of going to their farms for fear of being killed or kidnapped, or their wives and daughters being raped.
The group called on Plateau state governor, Mr. Simon Lalong who is also the Chairman, Northern States Governors Forum (NSGF), to find ways of stemming this illegal flux of herdsmen into the state, by dialoguing with his colleagues in the north.
The statement titled, “Saving Pandam Game Reserved from turning into hotbed of banditry insurgency and criminality”, reads in full:
“Since December last year, there have been reports of the steady influx of Fulani herdsmen and other shadowy elements from Nigeria’s northern, and some central, states into the Pandam Game Reserve.
“This pristine tourist attraction is located in Qua’an Pan Local Government Area of Plateau State, about 45 KM North West of Shendam, headquarters of Shendam LGA.
“Sadly, this expansive game reserve, which is a natural habitat for unique flora and fauna and boasts of a variety of water formations with their own ecosystems, is being gradually overrun by illegal Fulani and other settlers who arrive mainly at night.
“The environmental impact of the encroachment on this well conserved ecological system is devastating and slowly turning the reserve and surrounding communities into notorious dens of violence and criminality.
“The indigenous peoples and Plateau State citizens fear that if this trend is not nipped in the bud, it may snowball into the kind of lawlessness that has made life a living hell for people in parts of North Western Nigeria.
“In a March 27 interview on Highland FM, Jos, the President of the Pan Youth Development Association, Comrade Yonmi Dama, disclosed that they had officially reported this matter to the local and state governments as well as the lawmakers representing the area in the state and federal legislatures but nothing had been done to wipe their tears. “The youth leader added that the response from the appropriate security agencies was equally lukewarm.
“As a result, according to him, the game reserve has become a safe haven for holding kidnap and abduction victims from surrounding communities until ransoms are paid. Cases of alleged killings and rape have also been reported.
“The JCCRI is alarmed by these unfolding events as the ripple effects can exacerbate the already teneous security situation in Plateau State and the region as a whole. There is also the strong possibility of this illegal land occupation being misconstrued as having ethnic and, or, jihadist undercurrents, as has happened in other parts of the country.
“This area of the state is a critical food basket which supplies many parts of Nigeria. But the current situation has had a negative impact on agriculture as farmers in communities bordering the reserve now fear venturing to their farms for the risk of being kidnapped, murdered or having their wives and daughters raped. In a depressed economy such as Nigeria’s, the overall consequences of this on the general well-being of an already traumatised population is most devastating.
“Recall that, only recently, the Nasarawa State governor raised an alarm that terrorists were regrouping in his state and called on the federal government to take proactive action to stop them from securing a firm foothold therein. Incidentally, the Fulani herdsmen and the other faceless characters lording it over the the Pandam Game Reserve are said to have also arrived from the same neighbouring Nasarawa State.
“Security analysts say that this raises the possibility that these illegal Pandam settlers could be part of the same terrorists the Nasarawa State governor had alluded to. Boko Haram, ISWAP and their affiliates are known to have infiltrated and are using different groups all over the country to achieve their bloody agenda.
“This has further fueled speculations and raised concerns that the 332 Artillery Regiment of the Nigerian Army, Shendam, could be at risk as it’s located less than 40 KM west of the occupied game reserve.
“By their actions so far, the true motives of these settlers will likely have dire consequences that may reverberate beyond Plateau State – if they are allowed to continue unchecked.
“Nevertheless, hope is not lost.
Governor Simon Bako Lalong of Plateau State, who is also the Chairman, Northern States Governors Forum (NSGF), is in a good position to dialogue with his northern counterparts to find ways of stemming this illegal flow into the state.
Both Governor Lalong and his northern colleagues must impress it on these and other herdsmen that their support for the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) does not give them (herdsmen) the express permission to illegally encroach on government or any other land for that matter.
Second, the state and local governments, both state and national parliamentarians from Plateau and men and women of goodwill must stand up, add their voices to the clarion call on the Federal Government and security agencies to give this national security threat all the necessary attention it deserves. They must speak out with one voice to avert this disaster that is just waiting to happen.
“Third, while the authorities concerned should vigorously investigate the origins and true intentions of these Fulani herdsmen and their co-travellers, they must be made to understand that there are laws guiding the conduct of all citizens – Fulani inclusive. They should also know that illegally occupying and grazing on government land and committing crimes against local communities must be punished under the law. Thus, the security agencies have the added responsibility of investigating the crimes allegedly committed by some of these illegal squatters against the indigenous population with a view to bringing them to book.
“Furthermore, the possibility of invoking the letters and spirit of the anti-land grabbing and kidnapping legislation recently signed into law by Governor Lalong should be broadly explored. Those of them found to have contravened this law in any way must be expeditiously charged and prosecuted accordingly.
“This will not only give credence to the state government’s avowed commitment to curbing such crimes and impunity in the state but serve as a deterrent to others who may contemplate embarking on such misadventure in future.
“In the interim, we appeal to the Pan people and other citizens in this area to continue being law abiding and should not take the laws into their hands.
“JCCRI has no doubt that the authorities concerned will do their utmost best to ensure that the situation is permanently brought under control. We firmly believe that all governments and their agencies are fully aware that their foremost constitutional obligation and responsibility is to protect the lives and property of Nigerian citizens – irrespective of tribe and, or, religion.”

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