The Deterioration of Peace in Jos - the Home of Peace and Tourism.
This is the second time my annual summer vacation has been interrupted due to the crises in Jos. The first was in 2008, where I was incarcerated for almost a week at home. I was in Nigeria in 2008 in preparation to take a major decision in my life. The
crises put me in a serious dilemma. I ventilated my internal crisis in my article titled: Recent Jos Crises: Is my dream Shattered ( http://www.gamji.com/article8000/NEWS8370.htm http://www.gamji.com/article8000/NEWS8370.htm ). I concluded the article with my fear for the crises. I said:
My fear is for the State and Federal government to address the recent crises in the manner they seem to have done with the previous ones. That is to form various committees that will do the academic exercises: collect data, analyze, write report and submit. By the time the report is submitted to the appropriate government, the people have gone back to their normal businesses, and therefore, the implementation of the recommendations is suspended. If the same things happen this time around, then we might not have seen the end of this bad incidence. The consequence of that is not going to be easy for the country. In this case, I can see the situation where the youth of both sides, with all their exuberance will hijack the mantle of leadership of their various communities, and the elders will not be able to restrain them. That might be the beginning of self determination. God forbid!!! (2008)
Unfortunately it appears to be the situation now. The miscreants and thugs from both sides have hijacked the crises. They are the only people that are 'benefiting' from the crises and are utilizing the crises as a means of ventilating their anger and state of hopelessness. They have no respect for the government or even their parents because neither the government nor the parents have any vision or mission for them. Prior to the last August/September Eid crisis, most of the crises were 'minor' in the last one year or so. Mostly they are as a result of either an Okada (Achaba) guy being hired by these thugs to remote areas in Jos and killed and the motorcycle stolen, or some cattle stolen by these miscreants and a Fulani killed in the process. The former is the common occurrence in Jos and its environs, while the latter is the case in the villages. Looking at the two cases critically, it is not difficult to see that these thugs are after either the motorcycles or the cows. It is in the process of the theft that if resistance is faced or when anticipating disclosure of their identities that killing is resorted.
On the other hand, whenever a dead body is discovered, the next unfortunate thing to happen is for the thugs on the other side to start preparing for reprisal. In the case of the Fulanis in the villages, they seem to be well coordinated. They know the direction where their cows follow and their possible final destination. So, they usually attack specific areas for revenge. For instance, I was wondering why some weeks back, the family of Nnaji, an Igbo man residing in the midst of Berom was exterminated by alleged Fulanis. The Punch newspaper of Tuesday, 16 Aug 2011 reported that the attack took place overnight at Heipang village, in Barakin Ladi Local Government areas of Plateau State. According to the Punch, the attack might have been in connection with an attack a week earlier in a Fulani settlement at Bisichi in Jos South Local Government council of the state. Two Fulanis were reportedly killed and 400 cattle stolen in that attack. The natural questions are: Why should an Igbo man targeted in this crises, what does an Igbo man have to do with stealing of cows and killing of Fulanis, and why were many Beroms neighboring Nnaji were not torched in that attack? These are the questions that you will hardly get in the page of the Nigerian news papers due to biased reporting of the crises. The most plausible answers I got for this incidence is that the late Nnaji, unfortunately, was serving as an intermediary between the cow thieves and meat sellers. This cow thieving is a double tragedy to Fulanis. On the one hand, the thieves sell the cows at a giveaway price, and cause the price of the meat to come down in the market, while those coming with legitimate cows are at lost as they could not compete in the markets. This is the situation in villages.
However, in Jos, the case is different. Whenever a dead body of an Okada man is found, the next thing you will see is the solidarity rally of the Okadas. For the jobless thugs in Jos, this presents an opportunity for them to unleash terror on the next available Christians. In my humble opinion, the cause of all this jungle justice is the fact that the government has failed to take any decisive action needed to bring the wrong doers to justice. Therefore, you will find any side of the conflict trying to exert maximum damage to the other side before the military take control of the affected areas. That is why an incidence of few hours usually results in enormous damage of lives and properties. The most unfortunate thing is that most of the victims do not have any knowledge of the actual causes of the crises and they might have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
While incessant escalation of crises in Jos might be attributed to gross failure of not punishing the perpetrators, and thus leading to the standby thugs always having their field day, the September 2011 Eid crisis might not be unconnected with security lapses. Prior to that, it was open secret that rumors were going round to the effect that since the 'Muslims' did not allowed the Christians to enjoy their last year's Christmas, they (Christians) will also not allowed Muslim to enjoy their Sallah in peace this time around. It was at the face of such rumors that the Council of Ulama in Jos met and deliberated seriously on the issue for the best way to avoid any provocation. Whatever might be the case, the security apparatus should have taken the threat seriously and appropriately advise on the best way to avoid the crises. Account of what ignited the crises is not yet clear, but it was clear that most of the people who got into the praying ground on time arrived there peacefully without any problem despite the difficulty of the terrain. It was those that came to the mosque late that might shed light on what actually happened. I witnessed the case of a man who appeared on a motorcycle, drenched in his blood, and narrated how he narrowly escaped from the Rukuba mosque. Later on, we learnt that the mosque was surrounded by Christians. What caused the Christians to come and surround the Muslims is not yet clear to me. But from what I can gather, I do not think it is a well planned thing as claimed. Otherwise, we should have expected the repetition of Yelwan Shendam or Kuru Karama episode. Nay, there is no single Muslim that reported that a gun was used against them. All that was reported was stones were used. Again, if it was well organized, one person with a bomb or ten people with guns could cause more damage to the Muslims in that congested gathering. What seems to make sense to me is that some quarrel might have started on the road possibly between two people due to the number of people, and given the spate of the rumor, the news spread quickly to others. As a result, the Christians in the neighborhood came out perhaps to protect their neighborhood as it is now the usual practice. And at the end of the prayer, the Muslims realized that they were surrounded. This is what happened in the 2001 crisis. For whatever reason, it is the work of security to disperse the people and restore confidence that there was nothing of concern. If the hoodlums, as always insist on creating a communal strife, the security situation should have handled the case with a greater reinforcement. I am not sure if either of this is done, even if it is done, it is not done effectively. After besieged for a long time with seemingly no serious effort from the side of the security to rescue them, the decision on the part of the Muslims was to come out in groups with the assistance of the small soldiers available. Certainly, with over ten thousand people coming out from one place and under the impression that they could be attacked, anything can happen. Many of the people that died could be as a result of stampede that ensued during their attempts to get out of the area. As no one could have time to think of his vehicles, an opportunity was seized by the miscreants who set almost all the cars and motorcycles ablaze and deliberately doing so after looting as much as they could.
While this was taking place in Rukuba, the news spread in Jos that the Muslims are surrounded in Rukuba. As the youth in the city were set to mobilize themselves to go and rescue the besieged Muslims, the army was poised to stop the youth. As usual, the criminals among the barricaded youth used the occasion to instead break into the shops of Igbos. Shops were looted and then set in flames. If you happened to be in Jos city center at that time, and your appearance look like a Christian, you might be a victim. Most of the people that were killed in Jos were by these looters, and by the military in trying to control these thugs. I must say that the level of restrain shown by the military is easily stretched by certainty of been killed by the thugs in such a violent circumstances.
When I visited my in-laws the following day, I found women in the whole neighborhood mourning the brutal killing of their only hair-dresser, an Igbo lady by name Felicia. They described her as a nice Igbo lady that has become part of the community. The unfortunate thing that happened was that thugs from the other areas came and beheaded her. You can count several similar pitiful cases from both sides of the conflict. How I wish people can understand how painful Muslims Hausa women felt on the death of Felicia, a Christian Igbo lady. A sister to my wife said she could not sleep that night as she just kept remembering the last time she visited her. Had the murdered lady entered or stayed in anyone of the houses in the neighborhood, she would certainly be safe to have survived. However, fate has decided her among the victims when she became determined to use Okada to run away.
The essence of highlighting this particular case is to reiterate my belief that majority of the people who felt victims to the crisis from both sides of the conflict are not part of this senseless killing and wanton destruction, but its casualties. Not only that, majority are looking forward to anything that will bring back the peaceful coexistence which they enjoyed before. The irony of the crises situation is that after each crisis, people stay only for a day or two at home; the realities of life always bring them back to the same street and market together. The level of subsequent trading and shared dealings of life among them is as if nothing untoward happened yesterday or the other day. This goes to show how inextricable the symbiotic relationship of life is between the warring communities involved in the Jos ciris. My strong belief is that the peaceful people are the majority, and are not the one behind or responsible for the killings and destruction. It is hardly the case that the one kills and destroys would within no time come back to restore or manifest a normal life. Never!
I have argued in another place ( http://www.pointblanknews.com/artopn2315.html http://www.pointblanknews.com/artopn2315.html ) that the instigators and sponsors of these crises are the political elite whose children are far away from the crises zone. They are doing this not for the goodness of the ordinary people rather for their selfish interests. Now that the monster they have created has grown beyond control and appears to consume them, it is high time together we look for a lasting solution to the problem. The good news is that for the first time it appears to me that there is a change of policy signals from the Jang administration, especially after his re-election. Perhaps the government has lately realized that in this kind of communal conflict there would never be a desired winner if that has been the desire per se. You need not to be a student of history or a military tactician to understand that. The case of Southern Sudan should be fresh in our memory. The change in government policy can be attested from the kind of vocabularies they are using for official announcements marking the recent crisis. The hitherto hardliners stands of 'us versus them' have changed toward inclusion rather than exclusion. The Dan Manjang inflammatory language has been changed with more matured and experienced Prof. Best. Certainly, as a former director of center for conflict resolution at the University of Jos Prof. Best has knowledge if not the experience of what to say and how to say it across different people and time frames. For the number of times I listened to him, I could not fault his dialogue even for once as biased or taking a side on the crises. Many a times he brings to the fore the fact that Jos is for all of us, and one group cannot leave Jos for the other. Therefore, the best solution is for us to work together and develop the place for our mutual benefits as did our parents and grandparents - rather than coming together to destroy the place to no one benefits. Furthermore, the steps the state government has taken as of recent to minimize the level of criminality is a step in the right direction, and has started to build some level of positive confidence among the people. I was reliably told that the hooligans that hired a Hausa man Locksmith to fix their lock in Oto Baba, and finally got him killed as well as stole his motorcycle were arrested, detained and finally punished. Not only that, the government consoled the family of the victims. All these measures and many others seem to convince me that there is change of policy from the government of Plateau State as per these crises. Some are saying it is President Jonathan that made it categorically clear to Governor Jang that he has no interest in recurrence of the crises and must be stopped emphatically. Others are saying it is the fear of alleged pledge of reprisal from Boko Haram group, while some claimed that it is a war tactics from a former general. Whatever is the case, what every sensible man need right now is just the return of tranquility in Jos.
In essence this article is arguing that majority of people that are currently living in Plateau State and Jos in particular are tired of this crises, and are looking for any way possible to bring back the peaceful coexistence among communities. Furthermore, with current development it seems clear that the governments at both the State and Federal levels are also tired of the crises. If the State and Federal governments are sincere in this, then all that is required now is the isolation and rehabilitation of these largely unemployed and miscreant youths that are fast becoming perpetual killing machines and anti-social accessories to looting people's properties. The moment this is done, the crises in Jos will soon be history. For this, certainly, the cooperation of the majority peaceful people of Plateau, various community and religious leaders, and in fact NGOs is required. This has been done with the militants in the Niger Delta. Also, similar rehabilitation programs in Kano and Lagos has been relatively successful. We have a lot to learn from them
Long Live Jos!!!
Long Live Plateau State!!!
Long Live Nigeria!!!
In PEACE and Prosperity
Balarabe Yushau, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia