Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
The Plateau Crucible (1)
My readers have not heard from me for two weeks now. I was deeply disturbed by the latest Jos crisis that I could not pull myself together fast enough to write about it for the fear of disappointing my readers who come from various political, ethnic and religious persuasions, just in case my emotions dictate my thinking. I think it is now time to scribble something after some quiet has returned and many Nigerians, including victims of the crisis, have said enough for me to draw some conclusions.
When the crisis first broke out in 2001 I wrote two articles – Fire on the Plateau and Peace on the Plateau – in which I expressed my perception of the problems that led to the crisis and proffered some solutions. My readers who have registered their email addresses with me – firstname.lastname@example.org – can find the two articles attached to the present discourse because I do not intend to revisit all the issues I raised then. Others can download same from my page on www.gamji.com. Our discussion today will focus on a roadmap to the future that will be free of these terrible events, when Nigerians on the Plateau will live in peace and prosperity free of mutual suspicion and hatred as their counterparts in other states of the federation.
The first point to make on the roadmap is the fact that we are all citizens of the same country, bound by the same laws and seen as one people by the outside world. Decision against Nigeria is against all of us. It is our land: From it we are born, on it we live and in it we are buried. The most often wisdom expressed by the Plateau State Commissioner of Information that we must learn to live together must be said and read with sincerity. Unlike former Yugoslavia, Nigeria is not disintegrating as a nation. So there is no project here for the creation of greater Serbia out of Croatian and Bosnian lands. Plateau is a state among thirty six others. Agreed that there are many ethnic groups residing in it, but it does not need to be a Rwanda before it can achieve prosperity.
We can draw from the experience of our Hutu and Tutsi brothers that where destiny has brought us together, we must stand up to its challenge and live in peace which will come only by adopting the etiquettes of civilization: mutual respect for our the life, dignity and property of one another. The lack of any of the three precipitates crisis that always end in lose-lose situation, where the Devil strips us of our garment of humanity and persuades us to go about naked as animals, killing one another, destroying what we have laboriously built and committing shameful acts that makes us the laughing stock of the world. We must rise above this, regain our senses, employ our brains and make the best use of our situations.
No city expresses the need to embody this resolve better than Jos. To appreciate this, we need to establish its relevance. It is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the country with unique positions in history and geography. It started as the centre of Tin mining activities on the Plateau. People from various parts of the country trooped in to partake in mining activities, largely as labourers and few middle men for tin mining companies. A number of tin mining camps sprang on the Plateau and the neighboring parts of now Bauchi State. Jos also assumed the political role of, first, a provincial capital and, later, a capital of Benue-Plateau State that now includes the States of Benue, Plateau and Nasarawa. With the decline in mining, many of the camps disappeared and its inhabitants have either died or moved to the Tin City proper. The remaining ones like Sabongida, Kuru, Maiadiko, Barikin Ladi, etc still exist, with very little commercial activity taking place there.
But decline in mining activities has not diminished the population of Jos. Its growth continued due to its political status and its geographical location as the economic gateway of the Northeast, Central and Eastern Nigeria. Cities like Bauchi and Gombe rely on it for supply of industrial products which are largely brought from Eastern part of the country. Its position at the top of the political map of Plateau state, just 10km to the border with Bauchi State makes it the de facto commercial capital of everyone living in Toro Local Government of Bauchi State, for example. So demographically, Jos also attracts people from its neighboring states of Bauchi and Kaduna. Politically, it belongs to Plateau state, but economically it is critical to other states as well.
Then Jos carries another importance in the area of religion. On the one hand, it is the centre of Christian missionary activities since the early 20th Century. Where the Muslims failed in the past, the Christian missionaries succeeded. They converted most of the pagan tribes of the Plateau to Christianity. This is not a small leap in the area of identity. As the political relevance of the city grew over the years, the populations of these tribes continued to increase in the city by the day to the extent that today they form the majority in most parts of the city that were built after independence.
On the other, there has also been a very active branch of the mainstream pan Nigerian Muslim organization, Jama'atu Nasril Islam, since the pre-Independence period. The organization has recorded modest achievements in evangelical activities on the Plateau. However, its importance among a section of Muslims has been overtaken by the puritanical Jama'atu Izalatul Bid'a Wa Iqamatus Sunnah which was formed in 1977 in Jos. It is now a nationwide movement with Jos as the headquarters of its 'orthodox' branch. Its leader, Sani Yahaya Jingir, has been a vociferous critic of the present Plateau State Governor, Da Jonah David Jang.
One would wish that fate had a different verdict for the Plateau. It would not have conjoined the identities of religion and ethnicity with such degree of harmony that makes it difficult to distinguish one from the other whenever the need arises. The divisive role of religion has come to play a dominant factor in the struggle for recognition between the natives who are predominantly Christian and the long time settlers who are predominantly Muslim. The native becomes equated with Christianity and the Hausa/Fulani with Islam. And throughout history, when the line of distinction between religions and their followers becomes so blurred by the strong factor of ethnicity, conflict becomes inevitable. The business of man becomes that of God. And the business of God to most believers on both sides is the most serious!
Lastly, another factor contributing to the relevance of Jos and which contributes in determining its demography is the conspiracy between the aggression of the Sahara desert in the far North and the alluring environment of the Plateau. As the desert encroaches at an alarming rate, displacing people on its way, and pressing survivors to migrate southward to areas that can sustain farming and livestock, states in middle and southern Nigeria must naturally be prepared to receive more Nigerians from the far northern parts of the country as well as from Niger and Chad republics, two neighbours which the desert has already consumed. This movement is inevitable as the desert appears relentless in its invasion and governments in those states have been unable to stop it, mitigate its effect or device alternative systems that will retain their citizens.
Two groups of people are particularly involved in this flight from the far North and both have been among the biggest victims of the recent crisis. The pastoralists, largely cattle Fulani, and dry season vegetable farmers commonly called yan ci rani who are Hausa Muslims largely from Kano and Jigawa States. The Jos Plateau, unfortunate to say, is a favorite area for both groups. The rich vegetation of the Plateau has remained irresistible to the Fulani pastoralist for over 100 years. After the first conflict in 2001 they migrated with their cattle to the neighboring fields of southern Bauchi. Unfortunately, the cattle could not survive the poor grassland and scarce water. Many of the herds perished within few months. Thus, the Fulani were commanded by the remainder to undertake the risk of returning to the healthy and rich planes of the Plateau. Without hesitation, the pastoralists obeyed their cattle, only to suffer the same killings repeatedly whenever sedentary dwellers of the Tin City register for another semester of bloodletting. Yet, the cattle Fulani, I must conclude, cannot abandon the Plateau because the Plateau will not fail to seduce his cattle.
In the same manner, the perennial rivers of the Plateau combined with its longer rainy season and the comparatively generous vegetable market of Jos, will continue to invite the industry of the 'yan ci rani. The returns on vegetables, they told me, is almost three times what their home markets offer them. Therefore, the Adam Smith in them has over the years encouraged them to defy the lure of the rich Hadejia-Jama'are River basin which has inarguably the largest wet lands (fadama) in the country despite the assistance of their home state governments.
That is Jos, a mining city that has attracted Nigerians during the colonial times, the centre of both Christian and Muslim missionary activities, the capital of Plateau Province, Benue-Plateau State, Plateau State and Central Zone of Nigeria, the gate to the Northeast, the Middle Belt, and finally the city that attracts both pastoralist and farmers from other parts of the country as it gives them asylum from an encroaching desert or give them prosperity through its rich market. It is not surprising that it has becomes the crucible of intense political contention, bitter religious rivalry, and recurrent social conflict.
(To be continued)
6 February 2010