Column Opinion

Jos, Plateau And A Catch 22 Situation

By Prince Charles Dickson PhD

“To get a certain job, you need work experience. But to get that work experience, you need to have had a job.” Catch-22

From September 7 to 13, 2001, almost 20 years ago, Jos, the capital of Plateau State in central Nigeria, was the scene of mass killing and destruction, the meanest in her recent history. Hundreds of people were killed and tens of thousands displaced in less than one week. Violence suddenly erupted between Christians and Muslims in a city where diverse communities had coexisted peacefully for years and which had prided herself on avoiding the inter-communal violence that had plagued neighboring states before then.

Till date, the exact figures would never be known, some say more than 1,000 people were killed in just six days, no one would ever know the exact figures.

The specific incident that sparked off the violence occurred outside a mosque in the area of Jos known as Congo Russia. On Friday, September 7, a young Christian woman tried to cross the road through a congregation of Muslims outside the mosque. She was asked to wait until prayers had finished or to choose another route, but she refused and an argument developed between her and some members of the congregation. Within minutes, the argument had unleashed a violent battle between groups of Christians who appeared at the scene and Muslims who had been praying at the mosque or who happened to be in the neighborhood.

The real stories have root causes, and more, but like they say in most stories, it depends on who’s side, which version, and the truth and who’s truth, what interests and more. The stories of Jos, have never been straight forward, and never cease to be complex.

Opinions about who was primarily to blame for the outbreak of violence varied and have remained highly polarized. Fact though is also that the violence could have been foreseen but government authorities failed to take action to prevent it. The state government adopted a passive attitude and appeared not to take seriously the numerous, explicit threats issued by both “indigenous” and “non-indigenous” groups in Jos in the weeks leading up to the crisis.

A year ago Dr. Chris Kwaja my brother and friend puts it like this, “we are still battling the “single factor narrative” about the Jos crisis, which has its origin deeply embedded in ethnicity rather than religion…Today, we are all guilty of embracing a religion causality, which creates these divisions along religious lines, which in fact, is made possible because of the way it was amplified and sustained.”

So again from Miango Bassa to Rukuba, to Yelwa Zanga, I have watched, read and listened; it’s been one news report after the other, commentary by commentary, grief, pain, sorrow, and trading of blames. The casualties have been on the increase, it’s close to averaging two dead per day, depending on whose figures we are relying on. However the issues still remain virtually the same, very little is known about the true causes of the Jos/Bassa killings. But as it is with the case of the entire nation, the fact remains that we are on our way to Mogadishu…one brutal step at a time.

In Jos, Plateau state, it has gone all so sour, we all talk about peace, without realizing the amount of hate in the open market all free for grasp. Everybody has his/her version based on religion, ethnic cleavages, and economic leverage. In Jos, Plateau today, no one has opened up to say how we got to this point…Where children and women are butchered with savagery irrespective of faith and creed, where family breadwinners and bakeries are hacked down in their prime.

We have closed our eyes, ears and noses, lost our consciences as we have become victims of our own self-inflicted docility.

It all depends on which parts you belong to…Beroms Vs Fulanis, Hausas vs natives, Hausas vs Igbos,  vs students. Landowners vs settlers, the dominant vs the domineering, the rich vs the poor, the state government vs the special task force, vs the state house of assembly, women vs army, it is just endless. How could I forget, only recently it was some people vs Jang, now it is vs Lalong, there are also those who believe that the only solution is a state of emergency. It all depends on where you stand, how it affects you and how much you care.

Why do we like an encore of a bade movie, so much so that again, we have to be careful of the kinds of clothes we wear, you dare not wear a kaftan if you are not Muslim, and trust me it’s no use wearing a jeans and shirt looking like James Chuwang in an environ where you should ordinarily be Aminu Mohammed.

How is it that despite the best of efforts, we are still stuck at neutral points where business persons meet. If I owe you and I reside in Angwar Rogo and you in Tudun Wada, we arrange for a neutral place to meet. Tricycles have their operational zones, that you do not dare enter a vehicle without making sure the composition of the passengers?

Some say Lalong is the problem, others say it’s his enemies, locals are killed by the dozens almost weekly in their local villages, settlers, indigenes, Christians, Muslims and pagans are slaughtered, hacked down and accidentally discharged by fellow Nigerians in uniform and without uniforms in the city and environs.

No one is being held responsible. There is a threateningly alarming increasing level and dose of distrust. The governor has completely failed, not as a multiple result of his but a function of a complete failure of the entire security network and leadership apparatus, from Mr. Buhari to the state level. In Plateau, The Operation Safe Haven, a Special Task Force reports to the Defence Headquarters but is oversewed in recent times by the GoC Rukuba Barracks supervising some a handful of states, the Commissioner of Police reports to Abuja, and Lalong sits in Jos or Abuja depending on who’s narrative you are listening to, he battles saboteurs from his own backyard and contends with his self-denial that he is in charge.

It’s not just Lalong’s problem as it is the collective problem of the people. I once said when this year’s killings commenced that the Jos massacres represent a failure in all ramifications on the part of those that have been vested with authority whether by votes or rigging, from Mr. Buhari as C-in-C to Lalong, religious, civil, opinion, and traditional leaders. So we have failed, we just have failed to live as brothers and sisters because maybe we are not?

Civil wars or uprisings only need a conflagration point to explode. People live their lives in fear; neighbourhoods are raising militia groups in the guise of neighbourhood watch. We are breeding a disaster…I could go on and on. But what is there to say, to families that have suffered losses in these senseless killings, how do we explain to the orphans, are we sure we discern the magnitude of socio-psycho economic damage we are planting?

To the families that have lost one person or the other in the Plateau State socio-ethno-religious cum political crisis. I say take heart, as painful and naive as I sound, I still will preach peace. God save Nigeria, but Nigerians need to save themselves. Do we really desire peace, or do we continue till the last man standing.

The crocodile and alligator may look alike but they are not friends either, so also the man who planted banana and expected plantain on the premise they look alike would be disappointed, for how long, how long, is there peace in the horizon, is there anything to hold on to, are we going to be knowledgeable at least this once to change the course of our destiny? The politics of Nigeria, the politics of deprivation, a bitter politics of hate, for how long—Only time will tell.

Contact the writer: pcdbooks@gmail.com

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