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Plateau State
Operation Safe Haven

Operation Safe Haven is the military task force set up to maintain peace in Plateau State. The force has its operational command in Jos. The multi task force is in charge of security of lives and properties in Plateau, Bauchi and parts of southern Kaduna. In Plateau State, which has been a theatre for ethnic and sectarian violence of different degrees since the end of military rule in 1999, a security Task Force code named Operation Safe Haven was established in 2010. Comprise of the Nigerian Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) and Department of State Security (DSS), the Police component consists of the Mobile Police and the Special Investigation Bureau (SIB).

In 2008 shortly before results for Jos Local Government elections were announced in Plateau State, some people took to the streets on a rampage burning down churches and houses which ultimately led to the deaths of almost 1000 people. The highland city of Jos has been bedeviled by a spate of very violent attacks pitting the indigenous christian Birom ethnic community and the muslim Hausa settlers whose ancestors came up to the Central Plateau about a century ago. The Jos crisis is the result of failure to amend the constitution to privilege broad-based citizenship over exclusive indigene status and ensure that residency rather than indigeneity determines citizens’ rights.

The wave of violent inter-ethnic attacks has featured the indiscriminate use of firearms, improvised explosive devices and grenades and has seen the participation of mercenaries recruited from neighbouring countries. Plateau and Jos suffered horrific violence in 2001, 2008, 2010, 12, 14 and 2018. The cycle of violence and attacks and reprisals and counter reprisals take horrific tolls on people in this state and both Christians and Muslims have been killed. The violence claimed the lives of over 1,000 persons in actions which fringed on the genocidal and captured the imagination of horrified television audiences worldwide since December 2009.

Fighting erupted again in Nigeria’s Plateau State, where more than 100 people are believed to have died in July 2012 in clashes among rival ethnic groups and government security forces. For more than a decade, the area has been a flashpoint for conflicting claims between local peoples and migrant herders from other areas. Hundreds of people have been killed in ethnic clashes in recent years around Plateau’s administrative capital, Jos, adding to the tensions and instability caused by an ongoing campaign of violence waged by the Boko Haram militant group.

The recent troubles began 06 July 2012. The exact chain of events is unclear, but at some point fighting broke out between a group of the Fulani people, herdsmen who migrate through the area to graze their cattle, and Berom farmers who contest their use of the land. Homes were destroyed, between 100 and 150 people killed and hundreds more displaced. Security forces responded, but the next day 20 more people were killed, including a federal senator and a member of the Plateau State Assembly, when a funeral party was attacked.

The violence appears to have cooled down remarkably, owing largely to the efforts of the Special Task Force -OP SAFE HAVEN. Major-General Anthony Atolagbe who assumed office as the Commander of Operations Safe Haven (OPSH) in Jos, Plateau state on August 11, 2017, was said to be making appreciable progress with the onslaught against gunmen killing and burning villages on the Plateau. Atolagbe who was transferred from Defence Headquaters as Director, Peace Keeping and Operations took over from Major General Rogers Ibe Nicholas who was transferred to the Army Headquarters as Chief of Logistics Department.

In order to have an efficient and effective civil - military relations and public supports for its operations, a one day sensitization seminar on Human Rights Abuses was held 17 August 2017 for troops of Headquarters 3 Division and Operation Safe Haven by Army Headquarters Department of Civil - MilItary Affairs at Maxwell Khobe Cantomoment.

In May 2018, Major General Atokagbe was recognised by a reputable global organization, the International Federation of Civil Rights and Liberty Organizations, conferring an award of excellence on him, for restoring relative peace between farmers/herdsmen in plateau state, after years of ethno-religious conflicts that saw hundreds dead. The awards, “Outstanding Commander of Military Operation in Nigeria and Icon of Human Rights and Conflict Prevention”, which was presented to the security Chief, in Jos, according to the organization, followed his unique roles in handling the Plateau crises which yielded desired results.

On Jul 1, 2018 Operation Safe Haven (OPSH) assured Plateau State residents of safety. This came following killing of over 100 people in parts of the state. The village of Inyar was invaded by armed men. They came early in the morning on motor bikes armed with AK47s, machetes and with those machetes they killed people. They burned down houses. Of a village of one thousand people eighty four lost their lives. Women and men and children who perished because of the hatred and the evilness of young men who were misguided in their views of the world. When people started shooting and hacking, people went running by the hundreds to save their lives and two hundred and sixty two people ran to the mosque of the town; they went inside. They were mostly Christians, mostly Berom, and the Imam and his assistant Imam brought them into the mosque and shut the door.

The OPSH Public Relations Officer, Major Adam Umar, said the show of force has boosted the people’s confidence and enhanced their feeling of safety. “We recently received material and personnel support from the defence headquarters in Abuja. We received some special operation force unit, which has broad and good training on security management and challenges, and we have already deployed them to the field. In the same vein, the Nigerian Air force has deployed some helicopters to assist us in carrying out air surveillance. It is also good to know that the Inspector General of Police has deployed special operation personnel to augment our forces. So with all these, I believe that the peace we desire and have been enjoying will surely return to the state,” he said.

The Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, approved the appointment of Major General Augustine Chris Chukwudi Agundu as the Commander, Operation Safe Haven. The announcement was contained in a statement on 23 July 2018 by Brigadier General John Agim, Acting Director Defence Information. The development may not be unconnected to increased attacks in Plateau State that led to death of scores of Nigerians, left many others injured with properties destroyed. Agundu is to take over from Major General Anthony Atolagbe, who has been redeployed to Defence Headquarters and appointed Director of Campaign Planning. “The posting which takes immediate effect is in order to reinvigorate Operation Safe Haven to meet contemporary challenges”, the statement added.

When the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin announced the appointment of Major General Augustine Chris Chukwudi Agundu as the Commander, Operation Safe Haven, Plateau State, most natives and other stakeholders expressed reservation.

In plateau statewhich has been a theatre for ethnic and sectarian violence of different degrees since the end ofmilitary rule in 1999, a security Task Force code named Operation Safe Haven was establishedin 2010. Comprise of the Nigerian Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, Nigerian Security and CivilDefense Corps (NSCDC) and Department of State Security (DSS), the Police componentconsists of the Mobile Police and the Special Investigation Bureau (SIB); the Operation SafeHaven was charged with the responsibility to curtail the spate of killings by ethnic militiamenand restore order on the Jos Plateau and its environs (Itiri, 2015). Findings from a study thatcritically investigates the role of Operation Safe Haven in the Jos Conflict suggest thus,people?s views and experiences of the roles of and impacts of Special Task Force OperationSafe Haven vary widely according to leadership of the Task Force and residential area. In someinstance, religion was found to be a factor in people?s evaluation of the performance of thesecurity agents as respondents displayed high degree of sensitivity to the religious affiliation ofthe Task Force commander and the religious composition of the Task Force Platoons.

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