Was Maj-Gen Atolagbe Removed as STF Commander Because He Arrested Fulani Herdsmen in Plateau?
Claim: A message trending on WhatsApp and Facebook claim that Commander of the Special Task Force in Plateau State, one Major-Gen. Atolagbe was removed from office because he arrested Fulani militia including their financier in Plateau and paraded them publicly. The message claimed that it was the first time that happened in Nigeria and that when he was ordered to transfer suspects to Abuja, he refused.
Verdict: Findings show that he was redeployed in 2018 to the Defence Headquarters and appointed Director of Campaign Planning by then Chief of Defence Staff, Gabriel Olanishakin, a Yoruba and replaced by an Igbo military General, Augustine Chris Chukwudi Agundu. He was not recently removed as claimed by the post. Additionally, there was no public record in any credible platform to show that Major-Gen. Atolagbe had arrested and paraded Fulani militia and their financier.
Full Text of the Claim:
“The Commander of the Special Task Force in Plateau State, Major-Gen. Atolagbe was recently removed. His problem started when he arrested some Fulani militia in Plateau and paraded them publicly, the first time this happened in Nigeria. He also arrested their financier.
“When ordered to transfer them to Abuja, he refused, suspecting they might be released. He insisted they should be tried where their crime was committed. He was ordered to stop the arrests and to release those arrested. When he refused, he was dismissed.”
– Dr. Femi Aribisala
Fake New on Gen Atolage
Sharing the same piece of information on a facebook group, a user, queried that, “they can go to lengths to make sure they release their people irrespective of whatever offence they might have committed,
They don’t mind implicating themselves just to make sure one Man of their own is released.
But our So-called Brothers, those who call themselves Governors and Senators, (Accept One)
They Use their Own people to Obtain favors in the Eyes of Fulani, who will never Love them for one day,
Later they will still gossip behind them saying, Igbos just promise them power and p and they will sell their own brother, and they are right about those our political brothers.
Yeah One Nigeria Indeed….(sic)”
Lately, the ongoing conflict between farmers and herdsmen has worsened a widely held opinion in some quarters that the current leadership of the country is a Fulani administration, rather than a Nigerian administration.
Consequently, there have been loud agitations for secession in the South-Eastern part of Nigeria for the Republic of Biafra and the South-West for Oduduwa Republic.
This has brought about a lot of uncertainty, insecurity and civil unrest which could be worsened by the spread of fake news.
An investigation by PRNigeria reveals that Major General Atolagbe was redeployed from Operation Safe Haven in Plateau State and replaced three years ago, specifically in July, 2018 and not recently as claimed by the post. He was then appointed as Director of Campaign Planning at the Defence Headquarters which signals an elevation from the Nigerian Army Headquarters to the Defence Headquarters.
Further findings show that Major General Atolagbe was replaced by an Igbo military General, Augustine Chris Chukwudi Agundu, and not a Hausa/Fulani officer which may have suggested something sinister.
The Nigerian Army Headquarters in a post on its official Facebook page said General Agundu’s posting which takes immediate effect is in order to reinvigorate Operation Safe Haven to meet contemporary challenges.
Google and other search engine keyword searches did not turn up any public record on any credible platform to show that Major General Atolagbe had arrested and paraded Fulani militia and their financiers.
In fact, major stakeholders including a Civil Society Group, Peace and Good Governance watch had welcomed the redeployment of Major General Anthony Atolagbe as the Commander of Operation Safe Haven by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin.
In a statement made available to newsmen and signed by National Coordinator of the group, Rev. Ezra Samuel, the group expressed optimism that General Agundu’s appointment would curtail criminality in the Plateau axis.
Speaking on the dangers of ethnic-related fake news on national unity, Ambassador Michael Nworisa, an author and peace campaigner who founded Stand for Peace Initiative stated that, “the outcome of ethnically biased fake news are often dangerous because they are a form of dehumanization and people who feel dehumanized may tend to defend their humanity and this may be violent. To counter this as it erodes peaceful coexistence we must engage in sharing evidence-based news.”
Also, Hannatu Sulaiman Abba, a journalist and young activist, notes that ethnically oriented fake news is a weapon that aids in assassinating peaceful coexistence.
“A Lot of fake news has led to religious and tribal violence in our various communities which have in turn claimed millions of lives especially in cities with high rates of population and followers of different religious faith particularly Lagos, Kano, Kaduna and Jos,” she said, pointing out that this has led to poverty, economic recession, poor infrastructural development and lack of social amenities.
On his part, Abdussamad Ahmad Yusuf, co-convener Tea4Peace, a periodic evening hangout of young peace advocates over cups of tea stated that since 1999 when Nigeria transitioned into full-blown democracy — which was in itself a rallying for national unity – the country remained threatened by fake news.
“News has been cooked to target persons, groups and sections. Thus, at every instance, it creates [dis]countenance of a ‘one against the other’. This is the basis of disunity.”
He explained further that by the time agitation for secession became tense from both major and minor ethnic groups in Nigeria, false and misleading information began to fly between various ethnic groups, “this created the impression that further fragments the unity of Nigerian state. For Instance, unverifiable and unsubstantiated news peddled between Igbo and the Hausa has lately degenerated into deep disunity among the two ethnic groups. Thus, it has now become weird when a Hausa man is seen befriending an Igbo man and vice-versa. This is how fake news fuels disunity,” he said, stating that if the trend continues, it may lead to an unwanted crisis.
There is no tangible record to show that General Atolagbe was in Operation Safe Haven this year against claims that he was removed recently due to his clampdown on Fulani militia and their financiers. He is not a victim as being portrayed and the entire claim seems geared towards misinformation to spark ethnic bias and fuel disunity.
The researcher produced this fact-check per the Dubawa 2021 Kwame KariKari Fellowship partnership with PRNigeria to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.