JOS: STORY OF BOMBS, GUNS…. SORROWS, TEARS AND FEARS
Jos crises: The chasm bows, arrows, guns or bombs won't heal
JOS, the Plateau State capital is now like the cold war period Berlin: A divided city. Except that unlike Berlin divided by post-World War 2 powers, Jos City's chasm is by choice of residents who want to stay alive. The Christians and Moslems now live in enclaves where their kith and kin live. There is little or no conscious interaction. The two main religious group adherents stalk each other and there is no love lost between them.
The city came to this sorrowful past since Christmas Day Eve when series of bomb explosions rocked the city simultaneously. Since then, there have been other explosions and daily shootings with guns, resulting in a conservative estimate of over 100 dead and hundreds injured. The December 24 crisis, now worse than previous crises which had rocked the city since 1994 because of the resort to the use of bombs, has turned the once picturesque city favoured by white people for its Mediterranean weather, into a ghost town. The exodus of people from the city is unequalled in the 16-year crises history of the town.
For the first time, all parties to the crisis say it is rooted in politics but the execution of the fighting is targeted at religious property and people of different faith.
The modern-day crisis has its genesis in 1994 following the local council election dispute between Christopher Sarki Jang and Teacher Usman. That was during the administration of Col. Mohammed Mana, the state military Administrator. The two were laying claim to the ownership of Jos.
The dispute immediately took religious and ethnic dimension. While Christopher Jang is a Christian of Plateau State, Teacher Usman is a Moslem, locally looked down upon as a settler as opposed to an indigene. The dispute was so severe and serious that it snowballed into a full-scale crisis between the Moslems and Christians. While the Moslems were claiming ethnic marginalization, the indigenes saw the whole exercise as a usurpation of their right and possessions by an outsider.
That was when decision-taking and government policies took ethno-religious dimension since then. The seed, like a mustard seed, has grown into an oak with taproots.
Although the crisis abated with time, but the tread of ethnicity and religiosity could not be exercised completely.
Governor Jonah David Jang testified to this fact that the crises in Jos dated back to 1994. That was what he told the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Chief Marshal Oluseyi Petinirin when he came on a sympathy visit over the unfortunate multiple bomb blasts on Christmas Eve.
And that was the first time that he admitted publicly that the issue was not religious but political judging from the fact that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ward congresses are about to be held in the state and apparently the crisis resurrected with the aim to scuttle the exercise.
But the 2001 crisis was a full-blown ethno-religious which no one foresaw. A woman, a Berom native, on Friday, September 7, 2001, at Congo Russia of Jos North Local Council, was meandering between the artificial lines that Moslem worshippers had formed for their Jumat prayers. All entreaties for the woman not to venture into the area fell on deaf ears and the Moslems saw this as taboo and blasphemy. The crisis following the incidence engulfed all parts of the state simultaneously as if it were pre-meditated. It took several months for frayed nerves to calm down.
Along the line, there was an exodus of people from the state. Those who opted to stay moved to areas where fellow adherents of their religion were in dominance. A few of those who moved out returned when calm was restored.
In 2004, there was another crisis when the state government wanted to conduct local council elections especially in Jos North. A particular ethnic group felt they were being cheated. The crisis dragged on for a long time, later culminating in a state of emergency imposed on the state for six months. This was during the regime of Chief Joshua Chibi Dariye. The interregnum that would have been created by Dariye's ouster was filled by the appointment of the Maj.-Gen. Chris Ali (rtd) as Sole Administrator by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo. Many thought then that at the lapse of the six-month emergency rule, it would be extended thereby locking out permanently Dariye from the corridors of power. But alas, the state of emergency was not extended and Dariye resurfaced, beating the security network put in place to prevent him from assuming his office as governor.
There were no more serious ethno-religious crises because Dariye had learnt his lessons not to conduct any elections into Jos North Local Council again. While all other councils had elected chairmen, Jos North was inundated with caretaker committee chairmen throughout the remaining years of Dariye.
When Jang came on board as governor on May 29, 2007, he wanted to break the jinx by conducting fresh local council elections for the chairmen and councilors. For the first time in the history of Nigerian elections, a strategist, Air Commodore Jonah David Jang (rtd) as governor, directed the Plateau State Independent Electoral Commission (PLASIEC) to hold the election on Thursday, November 27, 2008.
After the elections which were peacefully conducted, PLASIEC moved away from the earlier agreed collation centre without informing the party agents, a development which other political parties interpreted to mean that PLASIEC wanted to manipulate the results. The resultant crisis was of unimaginable proportions. Many lives and property were destroyed.
Since then, Plateau has known no peace. Daytime and nighttime killings were commonplace. Reprisal attacks were done with precision. After that November 28 mayhem unleashed on innocent people, there was another one in January 2009 where scores were brutally hacked to death. That of Dogo Nahauwa readily comes to mind where women and under-aged children were hacked to death. Recall the Mazah crisis, Riyom killings, Barkin Ladi killings, the Gero killings, the Kuru Jenta killings and so on.
Then, the mother of all forms of crises took place on the eve of Christmas this year. The perpetrators of these evil machinations had devised more sophisticated and deadly means of annihilating their opponents. The deployment of bombs. On Friday, December 24, 2010, the eve of Christmas when Christians were at the peak of preparations for the next day's festivity, at night, there were loud explosions at both Kabong in Gada Biu and Angwan Rukuba simultaneously. Some of the victims were immediately killed by the blasts while others who were critically injured, had their limbs chopped off or blinded or sustained some other injury.
According to the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Abdulrahman Akano, 33 people died in the explosions while 74 people were hospitalised.
The state has now been polarized along ethnic and religious divides. For example, the indigenes who are predominantly Christian stay in some settlements with other Christian settlers while the Hausa/Fulani extraction who are predominantly Moslems stay in some areas with other Moslem settlers. Some Christians have refused to visit their Hausa Moslem associates and vice versa for fear of elimination should a crisis occur, as the state is volatile. That fear is always there. Even before the last bomb blasts, residents have harboured the fear of something scary happening. But when, they could not imagine. There are instances of people missing in suspicious circumstances and of others who are foolhardy enough to wander into 'enemy territory' that never returned home alive.
That was how three innocent but unsuspecting journalists were brutally killed this year while going for an assignment. They were reportedly stopped, questioned and slaughtered without committing any known offence besides belonging to a different religion.
Plateau State is now structured in a way that when you see a Christian community here, it is followed by a Moslem community, and so on and so forth. It is not as if Christians stay on this side and Moslems on the other side. It is not like that. That is why Moslem journalists will think twice before venturing to attend assignments in a Christian-dominated area and the same thing goes with the Christian journalists.
That was why a Moslem journalist covering the Dogo Nahauwa massacre was almost buried alive along with the deceased but for the quick intervention of the state government officials who came to his rescue.
There is an unpronounced battle line. If you belong to one faith, you know your limit. This situation is very unhealthy for growth and development. If the Special Task Force (STF) were to undertake a house-to-house search for arms, the better as residents have been advised by the security operatives times without number that residents who possess illegal arms should voluntarily surrender them.
With the new introduction of dynamites and explosives into the fray, residents do not feel safe including the security agents because no one knows where a bomb had been planted. Residents may know when someone is fumbling with an object on the ground or the person's action or movement is suspicious and questionable. Besides all these, the residents of Jos and environs have imposed self-curfew. As soon as it is 7.00 p.m., the streets are almost deserted. That was why the governor had to issue a statement that he had neither imposed a curfew nor was he contemplating doing so. Yet, the nightlife in Jos is nothing to write home about. People are now scared more than before because in one of the recently affected areas in Angwan Rukuba, was a social joint where people were drinking to usher in Christmas celebration.
It is very difficult to pin down the perpetrators of all these happenings possibly because of the nation's legal system. Such people can only be suspects at the worst when arrested. While sentencing the Dogo Nahauwa 15 accused persons to 10 years imprisonment each for the role they played, Hon. Justice Ambrose Alagoa of the Federal High Court, Jos, had these immortal words for the accused: 'The issue of Jos crises where several people were killed, maimed and property destroyed is a serious concern. It has caused the entire country grief and embarrassment even in the international community. It takes the criminally-minded people to perpetrate the act. The long arm of the law will catch up with the perpetrators. Therefore, there is need for deterrent.'
However, the STF Commander, Brig.-Gen. Hassan Umaru, told The Guardian that the task force has been trying its best to ensure that they rid the state of criminals. He also said that there was no security lapse at all during the recent eruption of crisis, adding that the explosions were planted secretly especially during the intense activities presaging the Yuletide period.
He identified Angwan Rukuba, Rikkos, Nasarawa Gwong, Kabong as flash points where there is always tension. He assured that they are not sleeping to ensure that the hoodlums in the state are kept at bay. He said that now that a body has come out to claim responsibility for the bomb blasts, what he expected the restive youths on both sides to do is to come together and fight the common enemy, adding that those who are claiming responsibility are not from the state.
Meanwhile, following the Christmas Eve bomb explosions that shook Jos city to its foundation, the city is now wearing a new and clean look as women street cleaners clear the debris where the explosions littered the grounds with expended explosives and burnt carcasses.
At Gada Biu District of Jos North where explosions erupted following which the irate youths burnt human beings and vehicles to ashes, the debris had been swept clean by women scavengers.
In the meantime, reactions have been trailing the call to impose a state of emergency canvassed by a member of the House of Representatives representing Jos North/Bassa Federal Constituency, Samaila Mohammed. He made the call in an interview with Radio France International.
Reacting to the call, Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Istifanus Mwansat, berated his fellow lawmaker, accusing him of insensitivity to the human carnage the state witnessed during the incidence. He said that Mohammed ought to sympathize with the people and government of the state, instead of calling for a state of emergency to be declared in the state.
In a statement by his Press Secretary, John Bukus Gukwat, the Speaker alleged that such declaration had been 'Samaila Mohammod's long-term dream.'
Mwansat said it would not be out of place to suspect such persons as the masterminds of the recent acts in some parts of Jos.
The chief lawmaker pointed out that the call for the declaration of the state of emergency in the state by such persons would not materialize.
In the meantime, the General Officer Commanding (GOC), 3 Armoured Division, Jos, Maj.-Gen. Sunday Idoko, has donated drugs to victims of the recent bomb blasts who are currently receiving medical attention at the Nigerian Air Force Military Hospital, Jos.
A statement signed by Lt. Nureni Alimi of the Directorate of the Army Public Relations, said that the Chief of Staff of the Division, Brig.-Gen. Saidu Bello, presented the drugs on behalf of the GOC. The GOC said the gesture is part of the Division's humanitarian services aimed at expressing the concern of officers and men of the Division for the victims of the unfortunate incident.
While wishing them quick recovery, Idoko prayed that such incidences should not occur again, telling the victims not to worry about their state of health that they would get better.
After the presentation, the state Commissioner for Health, Prof. Barnabas Mandon, expressed satisfaction over the kind gesture of the GOC, noting that such a gesture would go a long way to relieving the burden on the state.
Mandon used the opportunity to call on good-spirited individuals to donate generously to the victims especially in the areas of blood as the blood banks were running out of blood as most of the victims required blood transfusion.
Former civilian governor of Plateau State, Chief Solomon Lar, has joined others to condemn the bomb blasts. In a statement he personally signed, Lar said it is a great pity that the most important festival proclaiming peace on earth was disrupted by retrogressive elements who do not cherish peace or value human lives.
According to him: 'This is least expected in the city of Jos. After all, that has been done to restore peace to the state. I sympathize with relations of those that lost their lives, and I pray that God will comfort them and grant them the grace to bear the irreparable loss. For those that sustained injuries, I pray earnestly that they will recover fully to normal life in due course.'
Lar called on the people to be calm and vigilant saying the condemnable act will not continue and urged government to investigate the incident and bring to book those found to be behind the murderous acts.
'The government should also be on its toes to restore security and confidence in the people. Jos is known as Home of Peace and Tourism. We should all work together to regain our status of peace. Let us be law-abiding and report any suspicious movement or activity without delay,' he stressed.
Plateau State Council of Juma'atu Naril Islam (JNI) has condemned in strong terms the multiple bomb blasts that occurred in Gada Biu, Angwan Rukuba and Amingo Junction, therefore calling for full investigation with a view to fishing out the culprits for appropriate sanctions.
Addressing journalists yesterday, the state Administrative Secretary of JNI, Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Yusuf said it is unfortunate that the dastardly act happened at the time the state was beginning to witness an atmosphere of peace and harmony.
Yusuf said the most disturbing aspect of it was the timing, which was at the eve of Christmas when Christian brothers and sisters were putting finishing touches for the occasion.
'It was because of this and in the spirit of reconciliation and understanding that the JNI and CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria) jointly resolved to spearhead the raising of funds under the banner of Jos Crisis Appeal Fund (JCAF) to assist the victims of the Jos crises of 2008 and 2010. Several meetings with the banks, media, civil society and the state government in this regard were held but the move had to be suspended for some reasons', he stated.
'What is most worrisome are the incessant violent disturbances since 2001 with the recent one being the fifth. The disturbances no doubt have political and ethnic undertones but because of its sensitivity, religion is always used to aggravate the crisis thereby causing the death of innocent citizens.
'It is disturbing to observe that a mere quarrel between a Christian and a Muslim can easily degenerate into a sectarian crisis. It is even more disturbing where Muslims and Christians exchanged houses so as to facilitate movement of people to areas where persons of the same religious belief reside. This is not only dangerous but is a step towards encouraging social disintegration. We cannot continue like that. The state government should put more effort to stop this trend. Religious organisation must also complement in that regard', Yusuf stated.
The group added: 'The JNI wishes to inform all and sundry that Muslims have no grudges against Christian because they have lived together for more than 100 years, neither Christian nor Muslim can annihilate one another. Instilling deep hatred within the followers of the two religious on issues which are purely political run contrary to the doctrines of these religions and will do nobody any good.'
Also, the spokesman of the Council of Ulamah in Plateau State, Alhayi Muhammad Sani Mudi, has condemned the group that claimed responsibility for the bomb explosions in Jos, describing them as irresponsible. He called on government to get to the root of the matter and get all those responsible to pay for their misdeed.
'I don't think that it is a credible group that has any link with any established Islamic organisation either in Jos or anywhere. I cannot say it is Boko haram (haters of western civilization) because I am not conversant with their mode of operation or name.
'The opening sentence does not reflect something that is truly Islamic. The way they describe Allah is not the way Muslims describe Him in Islam. They say 'in the name of God, the Mighty' but it is supposed to be 'in the name of Allah, the Beneficent'. We don't say 'God the Mighty' but we say 'God the Almighty'. This is a fundamental flaw that is clear to everybody. I condemn it in totality. We don't resort to violence,' Mudi stated.
The governments on their part had set up many commissions of inquiry to unravel those behind previous disturbances but the recommendations of such inquiries were never implemented. There was the Justice Rekiya Momoh Commission, the Justice Aribition Fiberesima commission, the Judge Bola Ajibola Commission alongside another commission set up by the Federal Government headed by Gen. Emmanuel Abisoye, which did not see the light of the day as another crisis erupted just before the panelists could settle down to do their work. It quickly wound up.