Eleven persons were on Tuesday night shot dead by gunmen in Rim, Riyom Local Government Area in Plateau State in an attack suspected to have been carried out by armed herdsmen.
Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) of the state Police Command, Mr Terna Tyopev, confirmed the incident on the phone Wednesday morning, saying the traders were returning from the market when they were gunned down.
According to him, “Some people were returning from the weekly village market of Makera when unknown gunmen attacked and shot them at about 7.30 p.m.”
Tyopev said 11 persons were killed during the attack, but the police were on the trail of the attackers.
Plateau has in recent weeks witnessed renewed violence between herdsmen and locals, resulting in the deaths of scores of people.
A villager, Mr. Sunday Pam, said the number of those shot dead was initially seven, but later rose to nine when two out of the five injured persons died at the hospital where they were rushed to for medical attention.
He said emotions were running high at Diyan, Gako and other neighbouring communities.
Also, a survivor identified as Maria alleged that the attackers were made up of “Fulani invaders and soldiers”.
But media officer of the military Special Task Force (STF), Mr Umar Adam, who also confirmed the attack, denied the allegation that soldiers connived with the Fulani herdsmen to carry out the attack, saying the allegation was unthinkable and could only have come from mischief-makers.
He said STF had launched an investigation into the attack and would make public their findings as soon as possible.
He said commander of STF had led his troops immediately to the scene and spent the night there trailing the attackers, adding that the task force deployed a helicopter in the community for aerial surveillance.
He said about eight people were confirmed dead while four were critically injured in the attack, adding that troops of the STF were immediately deployed to the scene, but before the troops could get there, the hoodlums had swiftly vacated the scene without any trace.
He added that troops were still combing the thick forest, hills and mountains with a view to arresting and bringing the perpetrators to justice.
“Commander of STF, Mr Anthony Atolagbe, Chief of Staff of the Operation, Mr A.M. Bello, other principal staff of the operation were there to assess the situation for themselves.
“The wounded victims have been moved to the nearest hospital by our troops for medical attention. As I said earlier, when we got inkling of the attack, we ordered our troops to immediately swing into action and they went there in droves but unfortunately before they could get there, the perpetrators of the heinous attacks had disappeared.
“Even combing the hills, mountains and the thick forest in order to track down the invaders did not yield any result, as they could not be found. And there is no clue yet as to how they can be tracked down. But our troops are doing all they can to flush them out,” he said.
Reacting to the latest attack, Plateau State Governor, Mr Simon Lalong condemned the killings.
Lalong, who spoke through his media aide, Mr Dan Manjang, at the scene of the incident, also pleaded with the federal government to empower state governors to deploy security personnel in troubled areas.
He said: “The governor is the chief security of the state, but he does not have the power to deploy any security officer.
“A DPO (divisional police officer) is more powerful than the governor of the state. The power that is given to the Inspector General of Police and Chief of Defence Staff should be given to the governors in the interest of the unity of Nigeria.”
He also called on residents of Riyom and Plateau State to remain calm and not to take the law into their hands, as government was working round the clock with the security agencies in the state to protect them.
Also speaking, member representing Riyom constituency in the Plateau State House of Assembly and Chairman, House Committee on Labour and Security, Mr Daniel Dem, decried the fact that the entire local government area has been under siege.
“We have been under siege for some weeks. Fulani herdsmen complained that one of them was killed which we don’t know about and they said they were going to attack this community and they have taken the law into their hands and attacked.
“If somebody came out clearly before STF and said he was going to attack a community and nine youths were ambushed a week after the threat was made and killed them, that persons should be arrested and interrogated.
“Leaders of the Fulani in Riyom should be arrested and interrogated by the Defence Headquarters. Enough of this mass killings,” he said.
Similarly, Chairman of Riyom Local Government Area, Mr. Emmanuel Jugul, said most of the locals of the area had been sacked from their ancestral lands by residents of Fulani origin who have forcibly taken over.
He said the indigenes were sacked from Mahanga and Gweva communities and their land and houses were taken over by the Fulani forcibly.
Jugul called on the federal government to intervene in the killings and forceful possession of land belonging to the locals by Fulani in Riyom to avert a national crisis.
He said: “You can imagine that there are villages that indigenes cannot go to. Today, a native of Riyom cannot go Mahanga because they will be killed by the Fulani people. Fulanis are saying that they have captured the place.”
Jugul further explained that one of the men who would have fallen prey to the attackers, pretended to be dead, adding that, that was how he escaped.
Speaking on the encounter, the lucky man, who was not named, said that while he was lying down pretending to be dead, he heard the attackers speaking in English and Fulfulde (the Fulani language).
“They were all clad in unkempt, tattered clothes and looked haggard in appearance,” he said.