Insight

Plateau Communities: How Fulani militia’s attacks left over 100 people blind

The level of insecurity in parts of Northern Nigeria, especially in parts of Plateau State, has left many communities devastated in several ways. MUSA PAM, in this investigative report, takes a look at how the attacks have left many blind and some visually impaired

Plateau State in North Central Nigeria is one state that has endured varied kinds of attacks in Northern Nigeria, from communal crisis, to herder’s farmer’s clashes, to banditry and all forms of criminalities. These attacks have left its marks in the various communities were they happen, with many people being thrown into Internally Displaced Persons Camps (IDP) and many others having life threatening injuries and others permanent disability. A New Telegraph investigation has revealed that over 100 blind and visually impaired individuals are some of the worst affected persons as a result of the incessant attacks by suspected Fulani herdsmen and bandits in some communities of Bassa Local Government Area of the state. Apart from the difficult living conditions of blind persons which cut across all ages, there are also alarming indications that the number of affected persons keep increasing based on research by some Non-government organisations.

NGO wades in

A non-profit (NGO), based in Jos, Highflow Channels, which works in areas and communities affected by violent conflicts to provide relief and intervention services to victims, said the plight of blind persons requires a more strategic, multi-facet approach for appropriate intervention, considering that if the majority of them became blind due to illness then the entire population might be at risk of being hit by blindness over time. Executive Director, Highflow Channels, Rev. Gabriel Makan, while speaking to journalists stated that in the course of their work in the Irigwe Chiefdom (Miango Area), Bassa LGA of Plateau State, the plight of the visually impaired as part of the vulnerable population was brought to their attention. “These persons have equally been severely impacted by the attacks in the affected communities in psycho-social and physical ways. Much more disturbing is that when we set out to gather data about them, we were alarmed by the huge number of blind people across age brackets among the Irigwe community in Bassa LGA, over 100 persons, men, women and children. “We are working in collaboration with experts in the field of Community Medicine, Ophthalmology, Community development, and relevant government agencies, and other local or international organisations with similar objectives, to conduct more in-depth research, as well as proffer short, medium, or long-term solutions. “Previous intervention projects in collaboration with International Christian Concern and Creative Associates International in North Central (Middle Belt), North West and North East states of Nigeria include direct food/clothing to IDPs, agricultural (farming support – communal/family, emergency medical aid to victims, Resettlement (Homes Rebuild), vulnerable children education support, trauma healing services.” However, interview with some of the impaired victims in Miango, Bassa LGA, highlighted some of the challenges and ordeal they have had to endure.

Victims recount ordeals

Adamu Gara, who hails from Chinye Village of Miango District in Bassa Local Government Area of Plateau State, was oner of theose who spoke about the challenges he has had to face since his visual impairment, he said, “I am married to one wife and we’re blessed with three children. I haven’t always been blind. I experienced vision loss in 2017, that’s about six years ago. “On that fateful day, I was trying to fix up a door at a building project site where I worked as a mason. I suddenly felt dust enter one of my eyes. Naturally, I began to rub my eye to get the dust out. But after a week the eye began to itch quite seriously to the point that they hurt. By the second week, the second eye also started to itch and hurt. “Then the third week came by when I completely lost my eyesight. I went in search of intervention from different hospitals and consulted several doctors, but all efforts to regain the use of my sight yielded no result. “I live in constant fear of Fulani aggression which has troubled Irigwe Chiefdom over the last few years. Although my immediate community has not been attacked, we however can’t help to entertain fear that this is imminent, and if that happens, there’s no telling what the adverse impact would be on me and many others who are in the same condition as me. “I appreciate God for being the source of our sustenance. My family and I are beneficiaries of donations both from spirited individuals and organisations. Apart from that, I also trained as a craftsman where I learned how to make aesthetic furniture. That has helped me to make some income that I use to support my family. “I hope to someday set up a proper workshop where I can offer training to others who are interested to learn the craft. I will greatly appreciate any assistance that will help actualise this dream. I am optimistic and believe that there’s absolutely nothing difficult for God to do and that also includes restoring my vision.” Another victim also narrated her own story, “My name is Jummai Joseph from Hukke village in Miango. I was once married but my husband abandoned me and our four children when I became blind. “I’ve had this challenge for over eight years now, since it started in 2014. It happened that one day I felt something get into my eyes and I began to rub it off. It was very painful. I went to the clinic to get medication, but the drugs were of no use. By the fortnight, I felt the pain subside, but at this time, my vision had ceased. “That period was a trying moment for me. It cost me my marriage and means of livelihood. I then had to depend on my aged mother to take care of me. “Our village has been attacked by Fulani herdsmen. It was at night, and I was greatly distressed. I couldn’t see how much more flee. But thankfully my brother did all he could to hide me somewhere. Before long, we noticed that our house was set on fire. I keep thanking God for my brother who was brave to carry me to safety that day, else, I would have lost my life. “Because we lost our house to the fire, we now lack adequate shelter. I rented a very small room where I live with my kids. I went to school for the blind in Zawan where I was taught some skills like braille, bead making and making liquid soap and disinfectants. “My need for help will be around providing adequate shelter for me and my children and a startup capital to launch a business with the skills I acquired in Zawan. This will help me to be self-reliant and be able to provide for my children.”

‘How I became blind’

Abirina Abinkenene from Gabia village in Kwall District in Irigwe Chiefdom, Bassa Local Government Area also spoke about his experiences and challenge due to sudden blindness; “I am married with three children, and I’ve suffered from this visual impairment since 2011, making it a total of 12 years since I lost my sight. “The way it happened was that I began to see something that seemed like a cloud formed in my eyes. This was quite strange because it was around early February which meant that the rainy season was yet to begin. I kept having that experience until when my vision began fading out gradually. “When it became so serious that I needed to see an Ophthalmologist, the Doctors commenced a nationwide strike that would last several months. In between the strike action, the crisis hit Jos which further worsened the situation. By the time I was finally able to visit the hospital, it was too late. That was when I was diagnosed with Glaucoma. “My community has not come under direct assault by the Fulani marauders, but we live in constant fear, because we have friends and relatives who live in neighboring communities that were attacked and we see how much impact these attacks have on them, and we share in their grief and trauma. “We all are victims. This condition has affected my daily life in a very negative way. First, it took away my means of livelihood. I used to work as a tractor operator at the National Veterinary Research Institute, Jos. And then I lost many friends too.

‘The help we need’

“The stigmatisation that persons with disability experience is tremendous. I lost every system of support that I had because my wife also has a visual impairment. We were rendered helpless with not much capacity to look after ourselves and our children. “As a person living with a disability, I would like social advocacy to be raised against discrimination against PLWD. Our society needs to recognise that we are first, human beings. We equally desire to be treated with love and respect as individuals who have dreams, hopes, and aspirations.

“When I walk into a room, I want people to first see me as a citizen of Nigeria, an indigene of Plateau State and a native of Irigwe land. Secondly, there’s a need for increased opportunities for PLWD in society. Through acquisition training, persons living with disability have an increased chance to earn a living for themselves, thereby making them selfreliant.

“Finally, we need our traditional and social institutions to carry us along in society. There’s a need for us to be involved in decision-making. This will enhance our sense of belonging and inspire creativity in us. Again Victoria Thomas tells her story, “My name is Victoria Thomas, a native of the Irigwe tribe and I live in Kwall in Bassa Local Government Area.

I am married with 3 children, but my Husband is away in Zaria where he works. “The loss of my vision occurred about 19 years ago. It happened one fateful day when we were returning home from the farm and came to a point where we had to cross a river to get to the other side. So, I got into the river and swam my way across. I reached home quite okay and slept normally.

By morning when I woke up, I opened my eyes but realized that I couldn’t see anything. “My parents took me to various hospitals in search of solutions. We even visited the National Eye Hospital in Kaduna where I was booked for a surgical procedure, but the doctors soon discovered that many of the veins in my eyes were badly damaged and the surgery wasn’t going to be possible, and I have been blind since then. “Last year when I lived with my aunt in Jebbu Miango, I experienced the brutality that was meted on our people by armed Fulani herdsmen militia. They struck at night, and everyone was running helter-skelter.

My aunt held me by the hand, and we began running in no direction. We continued running until we tripped over and fell into a ditch. We couldn’t go anymore. “The attackers came running after us, but we remained still inside the ditch until the gunfire ceased and they eventually left, disappointed that they couldn’t find us. It was an experience that I relive to this day. I have never been scared for my life like that day. Many people were killed, and others injured, but somehow, God spared my life.

‘I have suffered set-backs’

“Visual impairment has caused me a lot of delays in life. Imagine that at my age, I am only just starting my diploma program. This contrasts with many of my mates and even juniors who have advanced in life. Some of them are gainfully employed in big organisations. As a person living with a disability, it is difficult to compete with others who have no disability.

“I don’t have equal access to opportunities. For example, at the University of Jos, where I am enrolled for my diploma program in Special Education, not much consideration is given to visually impaired students. We are forced to cope with the same learning conditions as the other students who don’t have any physical challenges.

“I have some personal needs that are important to me and would be glad if these needs would be met. I struggle to pay for my tuition at the university. Having a scholarship would go a long way in ensuring that I get a decent education. “Alternatively, if a milling machine is provided, I can use it to start up a business that will rake in some income that can support my education and cater to my other needs.”

 

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