Friday Discourse (101)
Fire on the Plateau
It is two weeks since the fighting broke out on the Jos, the Plateau State capital, between Muslims and Christians. Last Saturday I was able to drive through the town up to Bukuru and see for myself the signs of carnage that took place in the erstwhile peaceful city. I have earlier heard a lot from survivors who narrowly escaped the sharp edge of a wounding knife, a piecing arrow or a devastating bullet. It was horror, all through, similar to that experienced in Kaduna last year. Lives have been lost, which our primitive state of statistics will not permit an exact account of, and also, of course, property worth millions of naira.
For the lives lost, there is little we can do. They have returned to God. As for property, those that are destined to own them could regenerate it, with great toil and persistence though. What is really difficult to restore is the trust that took over a hundred years to rebuild among the peoples who inhabited the tin city and its surrounding villages. Many are living today as refugees, after their husbands and breadwinners have been mercilessly killed before their eyes, especially those who once lived in villages surrounding Jos. Do not blame them if they vow never return to Plateau State; the government there should also not be stunned if it fails in its effort to change their conviction. The truth is that there is a biting economic consequence that the state has to pay.
In our discussion today, we shall briefly examine the roots of the crisis, as seen through my eyes – someone to whom Jos has been his commercial center – and the consequences we believed will follow, painful and demanding as they would be.
Unlike others before it, the last crisis in Jos had a clear and undisputed start. It is easy to narrate that it started with a transgression by a woman who wanted to pass through a Friday congregation. After being denied, she ‘miraculously’ returned, within some few minutes, with an army of youths carrying machetes, bows and arrows. Now, hardly would anyone dispute the fact that this was premeditated to yield a major crisis. Such planners must now be resting in delight, seeing that they have hit their target and knowing, from the result of previous investigations into several similar crisis that took place in the last fourteen years, they will not be punished.
What is, however, difficult to see and accept is the fact that for any resident of the town, including its governor, the crisis did not come as a surprise, for many reasons. Amidst the Kaduna crisis last year, I attended a conference in Abuja where on a dinner table an Igbo lawyer living in Kaduna but raised in Jos, a human right activist for that matter, was confidently saying that the Muslims in Jos will not dare start any crisis there because they are few, they will be finished completely.
Such was the feeling of misguided Christians around. The Muslims in Plateau, since the creation of Nassarawa State, know very well that they are a minority. They were taught that not only by their few numbers but also by the behavior of their partners who never missed any chance, either as private individuals or government functionaries, to remind them that the land does not belong to them. Indigeneship is more contentious in Plateau State than in any other state in the federation. Many are denied scholarship award and appointment; though Jos may be the only home they and their fathers know. Federal appointments have particularly become very contentious. We recall with sadness the raid by some ‘indigenes’ on the office and house of Dr. Lamorde, the former director of National Veterinary Research Institute, in Vom. Well, a Yoruba has since replaced him, to the pleasure of the aggrieved indigenes. Part of the immediate reasons behind the last week’s fight was an appointment of a Mukhtar Mohammed as coordinator of poverty alleviation program in the Jos North Local Government area.
All these are manifestations of laziness that has ravaged the psyche of our elite, not in Plateau alone but all over the country. To satisfy their greed, they need a position in government that will earn them loot. To win that position, they are ready to employ every evil the devil would suggest against their competitors. Unfortunately, the tools which the devil finds most successful are religion and ethnicity.
Nobody is claiming that everybody living in Plateau State should be considered an indigene and thus entitled to hold or run for a public office, regardless of what the constitution would provide, for we hardly find Hausas regarded as indigenes in Enugu or Ondo State. What we mean is that people with long stay, perhaps for 70 to 100 years and above deserve to be considered indigenes by any yardstick of civilization, particularly in the North that has so far been exemplary in accommodating others. We have a case of a person with Yoruba origin who became a governor of Sokoto state. A renowned economist from Kano who is also a Yoruba and currently serving this administration was never reminded that he is a non-indigene. At the different times the federal government appoints him and others like him into influential position, no one ever cried out that he is Yoruba by origin. One of the foremost political figures in Kano politics and many influential people in the city are Jukun but no one bothers.
My attention was once brought to a Yoruba girl that enrolled in our girl’s school at Kafin Madaki. I interviewed her and found out that her father was among the early Yoruba settlers in our village. I stopped her ejection and allowed her to continue with her studies. We have many of them who have schooled with us and have been serving in the state, to our utmost delight. If we want sanity to prevail, there is a need for such type of people in Plateau State to be treated equally as anyone who might claim to have settled on its mountain since the Big Bang. To say that all Hausa-Fulani are citizens of Plateau state but not its indigenes is repugnant to the ethics of civilization.
The equation is not balanced especially for us. Consider the cattle Fulani that were expelled from the mountains and villages surrounding Jos and those from distant villages like Barikin Ladi, Kura, Makaho, Riyom and the rest. Many of them left Toro Local Government about a hundred years ago. These are people who are not interested in any scholarship or federal appointment but fields for grazing. They do not give a hoot as to whoever is made a coordinator of poverty alleviation program. They are not even abreast of the changing political atmosphere that will finally dictate where their graves would finally be located. They live comfortably at peace with their neighbours.
However, recently, there have been signs of increasing hostility against them. Thus, when this crisis came up, they were the worst hit. The very people with whom they were born together, played together, spoke the language of one another and became friends for decades were the very ones who led the rampage that would burn their houses and expel them at the middle of the night. Many cannot be traced now. Though we must quickly add that not all the natives showed this degree of callousness, for some were reasonable enough to allow such Fulani a safe exit.
On the other hand, we have the Jarawa tribesmen who enjoy a dual citizenship since their transfer to Plateau State in mid-seventies. Many attend our schools in Bauchi state and work in our offices only to cross over to Jos, whenever it serves their interest, to be appointed into public offices, including cabinet appointments. Later they will return to Bauchi and enjoy whatever right is due to its indigene. Nobody here is raising any eyebrow. Our only grudge is when our people on the other side of the border are not treated with equal degree of hospitality.
Plateau State has a lot to learn therefore from other states. Its influential people should know that integration of its human resources is essential to the sustenance of its development. The tin city is unique among all other cities in the North. It is the only city built solely on commerce in the twentieth century when tin mining attracted people from all over the country, but particularly from North eastern zone. The dream of cultural homogeneity is inconsistent with economic development. Its decade of tolerance has paid of, as no other northern town, apart from Kano and Kaduna, is as developed as Jos, and I doubt if any other enjoys a better cultural heterogeneity.
Having said this, I would like to turn to other causes of the crisis. Life is bitter on the plateau as bad as it could be in any part of Nigeria. The common man is far from being satisfied with anything around him. The civilian government there, like many others like it, has not been able to turnover the fortunes of its citizens for the better. Under economic difficulties, political escapism becomes a handy tool in the hand the lazy minded who cannot think deeply.
There are lots of youth talking about occupation of their lands. They have grown up and, like many other youth throughout the North, have very little education and skill. Unemployment, more than any other thing, has become their companion. To worsen the situation, many of them are paying for the wrong decision taken by their parents and grandparents who sold their lands to settlers, sometimes, as in Lamingo and its environs, as a condition for the continuous habitation of the settlers. Since rural economy has never been good in Nigeria, such grandparents could not make a better investment than consumption.
Add to this frustration of the youth is the down turn in tin mining and the attendant ecological hazards of dams and pits that have rendered the soil non-arable. Their parents, like many of the Hausa settlers, also lost their jobs at early age since the discovery of oil. For the indigenes in particular, the most biting catastrophe is the loss of farmlands either as a result of mining or the unwise, or do we say necessary, decision to sell them to others. To crown the dissatisfaction, the federal government is deaf and dumb to their request for their own ‘ompaedec’ to redress the loss of land to tin mining or give mining a priority position in the nation’s economy. I have little doubt if the crisis last week would have erupted had mining of tin and other minerals continued to sufficiently provide jobs for inhabitants of the plateau as in the 1950s.
So provision of jobs through resuscitation of mining on the plateau will go a long way to reduce the ongoing insurgence of intolerance among its population. Tackling the falling standard of education is another thing for education is indisputably befriended by wisdom, occupation and tolerance.
Let us now move to other factors in which Muslims also, I must be objective to confess, must swallow a portion of the blame. I feel it is time for believers of Islam and Christianity, the two religions that will remain dominant for most part of the twenty first century in Nigeria, to know that tolerance is really required for their successful practice. The train of hate will take us to nowhere but the graveyard, prematurely. The quick way in which religion is employed by politicians and the ignorant is devastating to the minds of any informed believer of both religions. Places of worship have enjoyed a prolonged safari of neglect by security agents. Words coming from preachers of both religions on many occasions make the good-natured heart to tremble for the violence they urge through the crude blend of sentiments and scripture. It is sad that this attitude is found in a country that is regarded as one of the most religious in the world.
I will therefore recommend that an eagle eye be kept on preachers, and government must not hesitate in apprehending anyone found using abusive words or advocating hostility. Most of our problems, as we have been mentioning before with lavish measure of sadness, springs from negligence of government.
The ordinary man has not helped matters either. In his vulgar lexicology he employs a derogatory diction to describe people of another sect. For example, I cannot find any justification of the continuous use of the words like arne. This word which was innocently used for non-Muslim Hausas who have taken tsafi (paganism) and alcoholism as their religion. The term cannot be legitimately used on Christians whom the Quran honorably call Nasara or “Helpers” (of Jesus). However, many Hausa-speaking people will prefer to apply the term only to Europeans. We should endeavor to abandon this term as the Fulani abandoned kado and the Kanuri kirdi or afuno. We should be ready to accord all mankind the dignity that God has created every man with, as the Quran indicated.
I doubt much if shariah has played any role in the recent crisis. No one has agitated for shariah in Plateau State, even in the Muslim dominated areas like Jos North and Wase local governments. It might have helped to fill some few holes in the background but not strong enough to qualify as a foreground factor.
While we ponder over the tragedy that has engulfed the tin city, it is wise to foresee its consequences. I am afraid that Jos and its environs, to the delight of the culprits but to the regret of patriotic and peace loving citizens will not be the same.
Jos is not the only city to witness the tragedy of religious and ethnic crisis of this magnitude. Take Kaduna for instance. The demographic and economic impact of the last crisis on the city has been great. Streets that used to be busy from Monday through Saturday now look like Sunday. For visitor like me who once lived there, the sight is pitiful. Jos is very likely to experience the down turn in activity. The enviable demographic equilibrium of its city and countryside is likely to give way to a sharp slant towards ethnic and religious singularity. The unquestionable implication is a retardation of its fast growth. I have heard people vow never to return, both among city dwellers and rural cattle Fulani and Hausa traders in the countryside. You need to stand by the highway at Akwanga, Saminaka or Babale to see how the flight of both people and capital makes this theory real.
On the other side, the crisis will make investors to contemplate twice in sinking any capital there. Even for residents that are bold enough to remain, many will most likely not build their next structure in the city, for they have seen how their investment could be reduced to rubble overnight.
People will lose their childhood friends and neighbours. Those who remain will for sometime undoubtedly live amidst apprehension and the cruel memory of the horror that they witnessed during the last crisis. The countryside will long for the cattle that whitened its hills and plains but few will be found grazing. The delight of those who wished this disaster to happen will certainly be momentary.
The government of Plateau State has an arduous task of tackling all the political, economic and religious factors that precipitated the last crisis. They need to reinvent the industry of mining on the plateau, to educate its youth and to inculcate the culture of mutual tolerance among its population, Muslims and Christians alike. It must be ready to dismiss the past with its content of rancor and hate over historical happenings and deprivations.
On our part, there is the need for adherents of both Islam and Christianity to realize that tolerance is relevant to our peaceful coexistence without which worship would be both difficult and impossible. People can contemplate of relocating to places they feel are safer for their families who were subjected to unnecessary revulsion. Constitutionally, they are free to live anywhere. Some will accept the assurances of government and remain.
Whatever would be their choice, and whatever would be the reaction of the indigenes of the state, the city of Jos and its surrounding hills and plains are crying with one voice. Their surface is being razed by the fire of hate and bigotry; the blood of the innocent has stained their soil; and the odor of revenge and recurrence has adulterated their air. Instead of flight, the beautiful landscape is pleading with us to return in order to put off that fire of hate and bigotry, to cleanse it of that stain of innocent blood and, finally, to refresh its air with the lavenders of mutual trust and enterprise. It is the joint responsibility of the peoples and government of Plateau State to this noble call of its landscape. I pray that God would bless them with the wisdom to respond favorably. Amen.