Background to the Touching Lives for Peace Initiative, 2023
Attacks by armed Fulani Herdsmen have been ravaging the Middle-belt region of Nigeria for years now. Plateau is one of the states that has witnessed a lot of attacks with Bassa, Riyom and Barkin Ladi being the most often attacked areas. These areas, especially Riyom still witness sporadic attacks.
In mid-May, 2023, the once peaceful Mangu Local Government Area fell under the heavy attacks of armed Fulani Herdsmen for the first time. Over 50 communities were attacked through June and into July leading to over 200 deaths, as have been recorded so far. Many are still missing. Another unfortunate consequence of the devastating violent attacks is the fact that about 18,000 people have become Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and are now forced to live in IDP camps across Mangu and neighbouring Local Government Area. These displaced persons living in camps are people who have lost everything to the attacks and have no family to offer them accommodation. Their condition places them in a dire need of help to cope with the harsh reality they face. Basic needs such as clothing, food, mattresses, medical supplies, etc. from individuals and organisations often go a long way in alleviating the sufferings of these victims and the government alone cannot cater adequately for every one of them.
The Need for Humanitarian Intervention
To respond to the needs arising from the violent attacks, the Gideon & Funmi Para-Mallam Peace Foundation planned a humanitarian intervention for Mangu and Riyom Local Government Areas with Mangu being the main point of concern. This intervention was carried out under an initiative of the Foundation called: Touching Lives for Peace Initiative. The goal of this initiative is to encourage victims of attacks. As Shannon L. Alder pointed out, we recognise that: “One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone.”. Our Foundation’s mission is to promote justice and peaceful co-existence. What better way to do this than be on ground to encourage and support victims of attack? Caring for victims of attacks goes a long way in preventing bitterness and hate from taking root in their hearts. When victims are abandoned after attacks, they may develop resentment towards the perpetrators and this may heighten the desire for revenge which in turn can lead to reprisal attacks. Left unaddressed, a cycle of violence that is hard to break is created. We wanted these victims to have a sense of belonging and feel cared for by the visit and donation.
- Provide encouragement to victims and make them feel cared for
- Donate relief material to the people
- Shed light on the incessant attacks that have continued to plague the middle-belt region and call on the Federal Government and the international community to act.
Summary of the visit to Mangu
On the cold morning of 22nd July, 2023, over 20 persons consisting of staff and associates of the Gideon & Funmi Para-Mallam Peace Foundation as well as some staff of the Christian Women for Excellence and Empowerment in Nigerian Societies (CWEENS) set off for the visit to Mangu.
The group went with 3 Hilux trucks, 2 Buses and 2 Jeeps filled with relief materials which included; 10 bags of garri, 10 bags of beans, 5 bags of maize, 5 25 litres of palm oil, 100 mattresses, 100 mosquito nets and bags of clothes for kids, women and men.
Led by the Revd Gideon Para-Mallam, the President & CEO of the Para-Mallam Peace Foundation in the company of Dr Abel Ochigbo, former Deputy Clerk of the House of Representatives (Administration); the group visited the IDP Camp and subsequently the palace of the Mishkagham of Mwaghavul land, the king of Mangu. We were welcomed warmly in both places.
1.1. Visit to the IDP Camp
The first point of call was the IDP Camp located in a Pilot Primary School, Mangu where thousands of people eagerly awaited the visit. During the visit, the people were encouraged through remarks by different persons and prayers were offered to God.
Dr Abel Ochigbo, former Deputy Clerk of the House of Representatives (Administration), a friend and partner of the Para-Mallam Peace Foundation gave brief remarks. He encouraged the people to hold steadfast to God and pleaded with them not to let what happened to them make them resentful or give room to hate into their hearts. He assured them that people around the world are praying for and with them.
Rev. Timothy Daluk, the Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Mangu Branch who was part of the delegation that welcomed the Foundation expressed gratitude to the Para-Mallam Peace Foundation for working tirelessly to bring succour to the people. He pleaded with the government to secure the roads to Murish, Kombili, Changal and other roads which attackers often use. The CAN Chairman also made a call to spirited individuals and the government to look into rebuilding the houses of the victims because they have lost everything and many of them could not go to the farm due to fear of being attacked; some who planted crops have had their crops destroyed by Fulani cows. In addition, he pleaded with the government to fix the bridges at Washna, Kombili and the road to Bwai which are so bad that they provide avenues for attackers to kill people.
Dr Solomon Mangvwat, the National Secretary of the Mwaghavul Development Association (MDA), who has liaised with the Para-Mallam Peace Foundation for the visit, welcomed the Foundation and expressed gratitude for all the Foundation does. He commended the Revd Dr Gideon Para-Mallam for his passion for peace and justice.
The Revd Dr Gideon Para-Mallam, speaking to the IDPs assured them that they are not alone. He stated that what happened to Mangu people happened to all of us. He empathised with them over the unfortunate situation they have found themselves in and emphasised the need for patience, stating that patience is not foolishness. He pleaded with the people not to think of vengeance because God has heard their cries and by His grace the killings will stop like it stopped in Bassa. While assuring the people that the Para-Mallam Peace Foundation would do all it could to fight for them, he stated that the Foundation plans to organise a peace meeting between them and the Fulani people.
After his remarks, he was presented with some children who have lost both parents in the attacks- one of them, Precious is less than 2 years old. Her parents and 13 others were killed during an attack in their village, a place called Sunzai, Mangu LGA, Plateau State on May 15th 2023. Precious survived bullet wounds which she sustained after a bullet hit her fleeing mother and got to her. Precious is one of many children who will grow up without adequate parental care. Without the needed assistance, she, her siblings and many other orphans may never be able to attend school. Such is the devasting effect of violent attacks in Nigeria. It is a sad tale of death, displacement, widows and widowers; and orphaned children. This was such a moving moment that left many in tears.
1.2.Visit to the Mishkagham of Mwaghavul Land
The group made a call to the king of the Mwaghavul people, the Mishkagham of Mwaghavul Land, HRH Da John Putmang Hirse. This was after the visit to the IDP camp.
The Revd Dr Gideon Para-Mallam while speaking at the Mishkagham’s palace, appreciated the king for the privilege to be in his presence and appreciated the Secretary General of the Mwaghavul Development Association, the CAN Chairman, Mangu Chapter and the members of the press for their efforts.
Here also, the Revd Dr Para-Mallam made a strong case for peace and appealed to the Miskagham to speak to his people against embarking on revenge mission as it is counterproductive. Stating that the Para-Mallam Peace Foundation will fight until justice prevails, he informed the king that as a first step, he has written a report titled: “Mangu Killings: It’s Time for Peace”. He pointed out that the report has already generated international discussions to expose what is going on in Mangu and champion the cause for justice. The king was assured that the problem in Mangu is not just the problem of Mangu people but a collective problem and that the Para-Mallam Foundation will organise a peace meeting between the Mwaghavul and Fulani people. The Revd Dr Para-Mallam revealed that he had tried to reach out to the Fulanis and will continue to do everything he can to ensure that peace returns and the people who have been displaced return to their lands.
The Mishkagham was filled with gratitude to the Para-Mallam Peace Foundation stating that he was honoured to receive the delegation. He said the attacks came as a surprise because the Mwaghavul people had been living peacefully with the Fulanis for years and they even intermarried with them. He added that his people have engaged in peace talks with the Fulani people led by the GOC but after 2 or 3 days, they’ll break whatever agreement was reached. The king lamented over the destructions of lives, farms and houses stating that churches that have been destroyed are now converted to houses by the Fulani people even though no mosque has been destroyed. He said there’s something fundamentally wrong which he is yet to find out and he is open to hear what the attackers want. He said Mwaghavul people are not ready to retaliate but they’re asking for justice and calling on the government to ensure that people whose farms and properties have been destroyed are compensated. He said the people of Mangu are wondering why the attacks are coming now that they have their son as governor. He also said, it appears the attacks have been planned over a long time for it to have engulfed the entirety of Mwaghavul land as it has. In addition, he stated that the world needs to know what is happening and he is glad that the Foundation is helping in that regard. The king expressed willingness to engage in a dialogue with the Fulani people so that they can tell the Mangu people what their problem is. At the end of his remark, the Royal Father thanked the Foundation for the relief materials they brought and encouraged them to continue with the good works so that peace can return to Plateau State. He said we need to work together as Nigerians for the progress of everyone.
The Revd Dr Gideon Para-Mallam engaged the media during the visit to the IDP camp. In his media chat, he mentioned the purpose of the visit was to address the urgent needs of the displaced families in the IDP camp, stating that the intervention is part of the Early Presence model for peacebuilding. He called on the government to carry out some infrastructural development for the people of Mangu such as fixing the bad bridges that are at some strategic areas through which the attackers come into the land. He made a passionate call on the government to sit up to put an end to the impunity of people killing and going scot-free while pointing out that the narrative that it is a farmer-herder clash is simplistic and abates the killings.
The look of hope and smiles on the faces of the IDPs, some of whom have lost everything bears testament to the fact that the initiative is an important one. We were able to do so much with the little we received. Though the most important need of the people is for the government to provide the security needed for them to return home, they will continue to need help with their basic daily needs before that day comes. As Luke 3:11 encourages, let us share whatever little we have with those who have none.
Appendix: More Photos