Jos crisis: Time to end artificial wall of hatred

The eve of a democratic Nigeria witnessed high incidence of ethnic-related rivalry and violence in the North Central zone, to which Plateau state belongs.

These ethnic rivalries posed serious socio-economic threats to the state and the fortunes of the people are being jeopardised. 

Ethnic rivalries are as old as the world itself.
The Plateau ethnic rivalry has received both local and international attention, even though the solution to the recurrent conflicts has not been attended by successive governments.

The ethnic rivalry seems to have been heated up overtime by the high visibility of mobilised, politicised and ethnicided armed ethnic groups found in most multi-ethnic states, as found in Jos, Plateau state. This political undertone given to this conflict has made it highly impossible for both the federal and Plateau state governments to find a lasting solution to the crisis.

The recent unrest in Bassa, Riyom local government area of Plateau state and subsequent attack on innocent passers-by in Gada Biyu has proven that the bad elements are still wearing the cloths of ethnicity and religion on the Plateau.

They are likely to be the conspirators in the Jos unending conflict that started 20 years ago. It is because of ignorance and mindless hate that these conflicts have continued to advance beyond a manageable stage. It was on a beautiful Friday in September 2001 around 4pm while listening to Voice of America (Hausa Service) that the sad development broke in the air and Jos was in flames.

This sad development will remain in history as one of heartbroken news that ever passed through my ears and 20 years down memory lane, the state is still searching for peace.

One would have thought that the horrors, the bloodshed and the losses Plateau has witnessed in the last few decades are enough lessons to serve as a warning signal to avert further distruction of lives and properties. The renewed ethnic conflicts in Bassa, Riyom and Jos North (Gada biyu) have proven that the conflict entrepreneurs are still alive and are working to sink Plateau into another unrest.

Since then, Plateau state has been experiencing wave after wave of violence, killings and reprisals, more wanton and brutal with each occurrence. We have seen repeated attacks on cattle, and the persistent destruction of farmlands in recent times in some parts of Jos and its environs.

Bassa, Bokkos, Riyom and Barkin Ladi local government areas are now the centre of the repeated attacks attributed to kidnappers and gunmen. What makes my heart bleed is the seeming movement of this conflict to no end in sight. This conflict has brought us to the brink of food insecurity. Education has been halted and economic activities have been drastically weakened

The rural economy is on the verge of total collapse. Health services cannot be accessed. Development has been reversed. Thousands of Plateau citizens are displaced. Every time we are convinced it cannot get any worse, we are plunged deeper into the mess. It is unarguable that what emerges clearly from the situation in Plateau state is that all sides are complicit in the killings and violence. 

What is making the conflict more complex to manage is due to ethnic and religious dimension it has taken. People have chosen to align with their own (tribe) even when they are the architects of the recurrent incidents that have caused the lives of countless people and rendered millions homeless. 

Plateau state was an important mining area in Nigeria and is a major exporter of tin and columbite. The tin is melted just outside Jos, the state capital and its largest town.The metals are shipped by rail to Port Harcourt for export.

Other minerals, notably, tantalite, kaolin, tungsten (wolfram), zircon, and thorium compounds, are also exploited on the Plateau. Lead, zinc, and silver are mined on a small scale in the eastern part of the state around Wase, Zurak, and Kigom. We have to deconstruct that in humane artificial wall in Jos and environs.

A christian should be able to move freely with a relaxed mind at Unguwan Rogo, Zololo etc anytime. Likewise, a muslim should not be afraid to be at Unguwan Rukuba, Rukuba road etc at any moment.

Since the outbreak of this ugly terrain in Plateau state, security agencies have detailed an accurate report of attacks carried out by deviants from every side.

The failure of successive governments in Plateau to implement different reports of committee of enquiries is gradually making this conflict to become a norm. Lack of political will to address and go after the conflict entrepreneurs has given room for more recurrent incidents as many has it that nothing will happen to them as criminals with same crime history.

In 1976, Plateau state was carved out of the former Benue-Plateau. It is bounded by the states of Kaduna and Bauchi on the north, Taraba on the east, and Nasarawa on the south and west.

The Jos Plateau rises to about 5,250 feet (1,600 m) above sea level in the state’s north-central part, and the Benue river valley stretches along the southwestern border. Although there are wooded valleys in the southeast, the vegetation is mostly open grassland.

It is now occasion by hedges of cacti and scattered trees, which is used for grazing and farming. Although the state is best known for its mining production, agriculture is the major occupation of the people. Acha, millet, yams, sorghum, corn (maize), potatoes, cowpeas, rice, fruits, and vegetables are the cash crops and occupation of the people of the state. Fulani herdsmen graze their cattle on the tsetse-free Plateau and supply milk to the dairy at Vom.

The states of Borno, Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina, Niger and Yobe have witnessed more violent crisis attributed to bandits and kidnappers that are wearing the Boko Haram cap.

The conflicts in states of Plateau, Taraba, Kaduna and Benue have paid the supreme price of hypocritical violence related to ethnic and religious conflicts. 

The face off between Jukun and Tiv in some of parts of Taraba, Eggon and Alago in Nasarawa state, the current wage of violence in the Northwest have proven beyond any reasonable doubt that conflict entrepreneurs have no respect for our tribes or religion during the execution of their evils. It means that in most cases, these conflicts continue to occur because of hatred that is running through our blood stream.

We have failed to embrace recourse to law, the failure to accept responsibility and the failure to align with peace, is what has brought the state to its knees and it is about to be a norm as these criminals are not only entertained but are seen as hereos.

Since the return of the fourth Nigeria Republic in 1999, farmer-herder violence has killed quite a number of people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

It followed a trend in the increase of farmer-herder conflicts throughout much of the western Sahel, due to an expansion of agriculturist population and cultivated land, deteriorating environmental conditions, desertification and soil degradation, population growth, breakdown in traditional conflict resolution mechanisms of land and water disputes as well as proliferations of small arms and crime in rural areas. 

Insecurity and violence have led many populations to create self-defence forces and ethnic and tribal militias which have engaged in further violence. The majority of farmer-herder clashes have occurred between Muslim Fulani herdsmen and Christian farmers, exacerbating ethno religious hostilities.

 It means that disputes involving indigenes and those being referred to as settlers are common nation-wide particularly in the developing world.

The Ifes and the “Modakekes, the Ijebu of Lagos state and those of Ogun state, Ijaws and the Ilajes in Ondo and Delta states among few too many to mention ethnic conflicts in Nigeria and other parts of the world. It is only an enemy of Plateau that will wish the state to go back to the ugly days.

The emergence of Simon Bako Lalong administration in 2015 came with peace and good governance as one of the policy trust of his government. The establishment of peace and conflict resolution agency coupled with some of the measurers taken have shapen the thinking of many sons and daughters of Plateau that there is no alternative to peace. 

The story is the same in all parts of the state including the communities that were tagged no go areas. Plateau has had enough of this violence and crime against humanity that caused them the best market in West Africa – the popular Terminus (Main Market) and too many to mention of the state valuables that should give the Youths more jobs.

This must not be allowed to become our new normal. It is time for us as a nation to face the reality that we have an emergency on our hands. A catastrophe that must be decisively dealt with before it snowballs into an existential crisis. We must stop treating these acts of criminality with kid gloves and enough of this bloodshed that keep repeating itself. 

There must be the safety of lives and property in spheres of human endeavours and without peace and security, there would be a loss of confidence in the government.This is the more reason why I have maintained in the past that impunity must give way to punitive measures. When criminals profit from their criminality, crime will increase. 

Once these criminals have clarity on what awaits them should they toe such evils paths, then their audacity to commit evil will be weakened, and gradually, this ugly chapter in our national life will become a thing of the past. Let a state of emergency be declared in the security sector so as to deal decisively with the criminals currently testing the power of the nation state apparatus from north down to the south. 

To this end, I must commend Governor Lalong always for demonstrating high level of commitment to ensure that the gang of mischievous elements are not allowed to sink Plateau into another well of violence.

As citizens that have paid the supreme price of these violence in the last 20 years in Plateau state, working closely with Governor Lalong to broker peace is not a choice but an only option. It is an expensive venture. 

Let’s give peace a chance and build our lost bones together to return Plateau state as a destination for all like Dubai where everyone will go and do business lawfully. This is the template of Governor Lalong because peace and unity are the prerequisites of development. 

Mohammed, President, Arewa Youth Advocate for Peace and Unity Initiative, writes from Bauchi.