THE MARTIN ELECHI EXAMPLE
Each time I travel along windy ascent of the accident-prone Hawan Kibo hills that introduces the traveler to the scenic table land of the Plateau State from the southern approach on the Jos Road, I always looked forward to the usual sea of yellow flowers that usually spread out for as far as the eyes could see on the table land that enthralls the traveler at this time of the year. On last April 21st, 2010, I noticed that the landscape wore no such familiar luxuriant yellow garb; instead, the atmosphere wore a drab, dry and dreadful mood - perhaps, the atmosphere was mourning the spillage of mostly innocent blood that had taken place on that once peaceful and hallowed land.
Francis Ede, my travel companion and colleague, approached Tahoss village near Riyom, an erstwhile and sleepy stop on the road, where excited young children would besiege you at a railway crossing with all manners of agricultural produces expected to be confronted by the noisy urchins. That expectation also turned barren and the erstwhile bustling place was as eerie as it was silent. Instead we were confronted by fierce looking soldiers and policemen with halting breath wondering why we were so carelessly treading that new path of death. They informed us that some villagers had stopped many vehicles on the road, just on the previous day, at that very crossing, and had indiscriminately massacred their occupants - all innocent bystanders and strangers to the recent and remote causes of the carnage that had become the new feature of the Plateau.
I was petrified both by fear and anger. I was travelling to Bauchi, where, the following day, I would be delivering a paper on 'Religious Crises and the Nigerian Nation' at the quarterly meeting of Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), the august body of eminent Christian and Muslim leaders who are working round the clock to promote religious tolerance and dialogue in the country. NIREC leaders share my fervent understanding that the so-called religious crises in the country have nothing religious about them, but are rather wicked manipulations of religious sentiments by evil sponsors on both sides of the religious divide that have turned Nigerians against fellow Nigerians; that made them to invite me to rub minds.
One day, Nigerians would come to appreciate and show deserving gratitude to these 50 Muslim and Christian men and women, co-chaired by His Eminence Alhaji Muhammed Sa'ad Abubakar III, the Sultan of Sokoto and His Grace Most Rev. Dr. John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, who are silently doing a yeoman's job to make Nigeria a better and safer place for Nigerians of all creeds who really deserve and demand to live in happiness and harmony. But that would be our story for another day - soon.
The next thing that crossed my mind that day as I looked at the armed law keepers who had covered the name tags on their uniforms, lest their religious persuasions be identified, is the murderous situation that was unraveling in my own South East. A few weeks earlier, some hired and armed hoodlums had also stopped vehicles on the Abakaliki-Enugu highway and had massacred innocent travelers in a most brutal manner that had defied rhyme or reason. My findings from in-depth investigations especially around the investigating police formations had again revealed very chilling details of how manipulations by highly placed and self-serving political persons and interests can endanger the life and health of the larger society. Fortunately for all, the state government with the police at its highest levels have staunched the senseless attempts, made several arrests and seized large caches of sophisticated arms and ammunitions.
The Ezza-Ezillo debacle happens to represent another variant in the settler-indigene issue, and interestingly, that which reveals that the problem is not limited to the Northern Nigeria, nor does it have to have a religious content. The Ebonyi mayhem which also spread out to people who had nothing to do with it, interstingly involves the same Christian Igbo people from the same state. For about five years, I have been conducting studies on this 'settler-indigene' issue and becoming more convinced by the day that wicked and evil men and women have, in every instance, manipulated the socio-economic weaknesses of the people who they lead to unleash unnecessary violence on their own kind in incestuous murderous escapades. The Ebonyi scenario is even more interesting.
Even though it has now largely ebbed due to the mature and level-headed handling by Governor Martin Elechi, it has a familiar ring to it. Even though certain aspects of the violence are still a subject of legal contention in courts of law, there is no doubt, as high level police sources have revealed to me, the local criminal elements as well as hired mercenaries that committed the indiscriminate killing of innocent wayfarers were believed to have been recruited and armed by Ezza elite elements, most probably to achieve other political objectives, while the ordinary people were believing that the mayhem against their Ezillo neighbours as well as on the innocent travelers was a way of getting redress and drawing attention to what they believe is some alleged injustice done to them. Of ourse, like in the cases in the North, the people being fingered are clearly sacred cows.
But, unlike in the situation in the several locations in the North and elsewhere, the causative roots of the Ebonyi debacle are recent and most people, including the current governor were already adults when the seeds of those conflicts were sowed. The solution had even been identified but lack of political will had created the cold feet that has lasted for over 50 years until the mould was broken by Elechi. However, what to me is most important is that the governor has moved decisively and courageously to find which will be a lasting solution to a situation that has the potential of spreading to more hydra-headed dimensions, in spite of the needless stubbornness of the self-serving Ezza elite members, mostly at Abuja who are fanning the embers of discord.
Most importantly, Governor Martins Elechi seems to be the first leader in the country to aptly appreciate that most communal crises have poverty and deprivation as their root causes and that when developmental solutions are applied, the crises eventually disappear and make the machinations of political ambulance chasers irrelevant. That is what he has achieved by allocating a large parcel of virgin land to which he has and is deploying life sustaining infrastructures and amenities to resettle the restive Ezza indiegenes, who are always on the move in small groups in search of opportunities to assuage their hard-working and adventurous nature.
A handful of Ezza farmers, from their ancestral faraway home in Ebonyi State, where they currently occupy two local government areas, had migrated to Ezillo as recently as in 1958, and from my research, they had almost immediately started to incur the wrath of the Ezillo community, leading to litigations which in 1959, as well as injunctions by the then powerful colonial district officer, Mr. Gunning, had recommended the type of solution which had been abandoned by different political leaders until Governor Martin Elechi had the courage to implement an act which initially looked like closing the pen when the fox had entered and devoured the fowls, but which is working. Whatever is the case, that Elechi has been able to show courage, in spite of what is believed to be the determined efforts of his political opponents to stoke the fires of violence in order to create an emergency situation in the state.
Leaders of the other states where this 'settler-indigene' issue is becoming intractable should learn two lessons from the development-minded Governor Elechi. The first is that all groups in the state have a stake and should, therefore, have their interests protected. It would have been a great folly if the Ezza people were driven back to their distant ancestral homes which does not even share common boundaries with Ezillo…they had to be settled nearby. In that way, the leaders of Plateau and other states have no right or justification to push away their own so-called settlers to strange lands to live like refugees in their own country.
The next is that leaders should understand the nature and genesis of most human conflicts which are socio-economic. Governor Martin Elechi has resettled the embattled Ezza people at a place that affords them the lee-way, opportunity and humanity to practice their first love - agriculture – without let or hindrance.
This story is a running one; we shall continue to tell it…