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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Discourse 283 The Plateau Crucible (3)

Discourse 283 By Aliyu U. Tilde The Plateau Crucible (3)

In the concluding part of this series, I intend to discuss ethnicity as it manifested its ugly face in the recent conflict in Plateau State. I will not hesitate to say that I am not a supporter of ethnic identity as a basis for determining the rights of citizens because subscribe to the universality of mankind, believing that no one is superior to another except by conduct. Employment of ethnicity in the construction and determination of public matters has always resulted in heinous consequences. Ethnicity is the animal vestige that man carries from the animal kingdom to the realm of humanity. Though like other vestiges it cannot be suppressed completely, we as mankind owe one another the duty not to allow it play any significant role in shaping our relationship. That is why this country should graduate from the concept of 'indigene' as quick as possible into the more universal concept of 'citizen'. Despite our advancement in civilisation, ethnicity still dominates the psyche of many of us. It has become the cheapest tool in any struggle for over resources especially land, and, of course, power, leading to catastrophic experiences mostly in form of massacres and genocides. The Concept Ethnicity, unfortunately, has come to dominate the political landscape of Plateau State, covering more space by the day. There, the classification of people into tribes for purpose of political segregation has become a praiseworthy practice. A section of the community are perceived as the problem, which once dealt with through application of systematic terror, the state will cease to have problems. The prevalence of this false consciousness is so pervasive that one can touch it in the surrounding atmosphere. The most saddening thing about the phenomenon is that it is promoted even by people at the topmost hierarchy of the society. It is not uncommon to hear a former or serving high ranking military or police officer openly articulating his thoughts in a club or beer parlour along these lines, after all the years he spent in a career that is supposed to detribalise him and make him a true, civilised Nigerian. I have come across many. To be fair to Jang, he is only one of the thousands out there. Given the recruitment of thousands of youths in the execution of what can rightly be described as crimes against humanity over the past nine years on the Plateau, one can hardly estimate when the state will be able to purge itself of the ethnic contagion or relieve it of its consequences. The Events The Hausa/Fulani - a conglomeration of people from several tribes inhabiting the North - remain the easy targets and victims of these crimes. The argument over the political status of these people can be settled peacefully if we will attempt to bare the facts before each side as I attempted doing in the second part of this series. However, recent events have graphically illustrated that the elite of the dominant natives are not interested in peaceful settlements of what is essentially a political matter. Like the Albashirs of Sudan, the Milosovics of former Yugoslavia and the Hutu leaders and intelligentsia of Rwanda, these misguided think that cleansing the Plateau of Hausa/Fulani, or reducing them to a politically insignificant quantity, is the only solution to the myriad of problems they face as Nigerians. Otherwise, what would explain the spread of the conflict to other local government areas, in all of which Hausa/Fulani populations are a numerical minority and not interested in sharing any political office with the natives? In those areas, all what these Nigerians in those areas are after is to sell their colanuts, grow vegetables and cereals or rear their cattle in the fields, which they have been doing peacefully for over 100 years. What crime have they committed so much to warrant their victimisation any time there is a conflict in Jos town? In fact, during the latest conflict, as in the first, they are attacked by the natives well after security agents have arrested the fight in Jos and a statewide curfew was imposed. Certainly, this cannot be explained by the political argument of their 'non-indigene' status. Does being a non-indigene qualify a Nigerian to be killed? These defenceless rural families are simply targeted because of their ethnic and religious identities. Initially, one would think this is done in retaliation to the happenings in Jos town: the natives who fail to defeat the Hausa/Fulani inhabitants in Jos return to their home villages licking their wounds and breaking the sad news of their losses. Their kinsmen would abandon reason and submit their minds to vengeance which commands them to attack their innocent neighbours often using the most gruesome methods. This is the explanation we gave for the spread of the conflict to other areas when it first broke out in 2001. However, this theory of retaliation fails to explain the manner in which some atrocities were committed by the natives in many of the recent conflict when they spread to rural areas. Retaliation would hardly explain the killing of children, women and old people who are living solitarily in the bush or remote areas and completely detached from the happenings in the city. Certainly, it does not include the carting away of Muslim women to towns where they are divided into different homes and gang-raped by members of the same family as was reported by the international media during the Yelwan Shendam crisis of 2004 (I listened to the VOA report). According to the woman interviewed by VOA, they were released form such homes in Langtang only after an announcement to that effect was made by the Chief. This is happening in 21st Century Nigeria! Also, it is not retaliation to import truckloads of Berom youths, mostly students, to different villages where they will kill any Hausa/Fulani they come across - burning children alive before their mothers, then killing the parents and throwing them into wells, pits and so on. The international media (BBC, Aljazeerah, AFP, RFI) have covered the case of Kuru Jenta, which was only one among many spots where such atrocities were committed during the latest crisis in January. Lastly, retaliation does not include the carting away of many children of such victims in trucks to other towns and selling them into slavery for a price as low as N4,000.00 as reported by the international media about the case of many children discovered in the hands of a Church leader in Gwantu, Kaduna State. The police confirmed the incidence even though they cannot confirmed discovering eight of such slave children. No one can tell the fate of the remaining majority of the children. Will they ever see their parents? (I listened to the report broadcast by Radio France International.) What would explain this banality other than the animal trait of ethnocentrism? Politics? No. The eleven year old Fulani boy rearing cattle in the bush is not claiming any indigene status. He is not going to compete with the native in future in becoming a local government chairman of Jos North. Religion? No. To date I cannot find any bishop that would justify these beastly actions. It is a sheer mental sickness that has eaten into the fabric of a leadership stripped of all that is human, universal or national, in a country where the rule of law is abandoned and people are allowed to celebrate their descent to the levels of beasts. My readers know me well for apportioning blame where it appropriately lies. If Muslims had committed these crimes, they would have equally attracted my condemnation. Besides, we are only stating facts as reported by independent observers - the media of countries that are custodians of Christianity - who cannot by any stretch of imagination be accused to be siding with Muslims. I heard the Christian Elders of Plateau State condemn Aljazeera as a jihadist channel because it reported the massacre at Kuru Jenta. What they failed to do is to condemn BBC, VOA, RFI and AFP as jihadist too. This brings home my earlier argument that Jang is not the only culprit, that ethnic bigotry is pervasive among the elite in Plateau. It is disheartening to hear how 'elders' who qualify themselves as 'Christians' can muster the voice to justify, conceal and celebrate these heinous crimes. There is nothing Christian in their behaviour as Christ (peace be upon him) will never support the burning of children, the slaughter of women and the elderly, for no crime other than their ethnicity. People should stop recruiting religion to justify their atrocities. As expected, this bestiality would attract the condemnation of every right thinking Nigerian, and indeed citizens of other countries. Those who took the case of Kuru Jenta to the International Criminal Court are not even Northerners or Muslims. It appears to be the last resort since the country's leadership has proved grossly incompetent in solving any national problem. It could order the massacre of Boko Haram and many innocent Muslims in Bauchi, Yobe and Maiduguri without a blink but the atrocities on the Plateau are allowed to continue for a decade unchecked. Why their perpetrators go Scot-free is the worst kept secret in the country: unlike Boko Haram, the atrocities on the Plateau enjoy the support of the leadership of the state - government and elite. Simple. What is really amazing is how some Nigerians not even remotely connected with the crisis are quick and ready to blame the victims simply because they are Hausa/Fulani. They do so, of course, for their various ethnic and political agenda too. Such individuals too are ready to strip themselves of the garment of humanity and, by implication, would be more than ready to execute similar crimes against Hausa/Fulani children and their families any day, any where. They often justify the killings by asking whether a Christian could become a governor of Kano State, as if there is any Muslim wanting to become the governor of Plateau State. This level of inhuman insensitivity is really appalling. The State government in Plateau is denying involvement in the perpetration of these crimes but its hands are all over the place: in the confession of the attackers as they carried out their crimes; in the stories of the surviving victims which I believe should be meticulously documented, preserved and presented to the ICC; in the inciting programs of Plateau Radio and Television Authority for which its General Manager was recently invited to Abuja for 'explanation'; in the connivance of the police who escorted the attackers to various villages and the utterances of the Police Commissioner who had to be instantly redeployed for exhibiting brazen partiality; in the defence the government is putting forward to justify the massacres; in governments effort to deny the killings themselves; in government's deliberate suppression of the truth through propaganda and attempts to frustrate impartial investigation of the conflicts by the Federal government; in so things just too many to list. The allegation of genocide by human rights organisations cannot be disputed. This is a crime that can only be carried out with state sponsorship. It requires state resources to plan, to mobilise sufficient hate against the target group using state-owned media, to provide the necessary cover as the police did during hours of curfew, to pay the butchers handsomely, to give them the assurance that they will go free, and finally, to carry out a propaganda to prevent the public from reaching the truth. There cannot be any competent authority that can meet these requirements on the Plateau other than the State Governor, His Excellency, Da Jonah David Jang and his officials. The Heroes Unfortunate as the events were, the conflict was not without its heroes. I must pause to praise for the courage of some people. They might not have saved lives, but they have mustered the courage to speak the truth and assist in the hour of need. The first is the Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Plateau State Branch, Arch-Bishop Kaigama. He did something of extra-ordinary courage. Before even the final fires of the conflict were extinguished, the Commissioner of Police toed the line of the State government. He publicly blamed Muslims for starting the conflict by attacking worshippers at at church at Nasarawa area of Jos. This lie was fabricated to hide the truth that the conflict started when some natives prevented one Alhaji Kabiru Muhammad from repairing his house in the area which was burnt during the conflict of November 2008. (I listened to the interview which Kabiru gave Radio France International just a day after the conflict.) That is how Nigerians in authority collaborate to hide the truth. Archbishop Kaigama, went to the said church in Nasarawa area and asked them whether they were actually attacked by Muslims during their worship that Sunday. They said no Muslim attacked them. The Archbishop did not hide his finding. He told the public. Throughout his comments on the matter, he maintained that the conflict is ethnic and not religious. I cannot agree more and I salute him for the courage. The same courage was shown by the CAN chairman in Kano State who literally said the conflicts in Plateau will continue so long as the State government is interested in them. There are many Nigerian writers from the Christian faith that condemned the massacres, including members of NGOs that brought them to the attention of the world. I am equally delighted with the foreign media, the BBC, Aljazeera, AFP, VOA and RFI. The call by the American government for full investigation into such atrocities was prompt and commendable. Finally, I commend those Christians who portrayed the true spirit of Jesus. Some of them were neighbours of the Muslims massacred at Kuru Jenta. They carried provisions to some of the internally displaced persons who camped in Toro, Bauchi State. One of them, a Nigerian wife to a formerly very influential person, wept as she narrated the story of Kuru. She said, initially she could here the wailings of the victims from her house in the outskirt of the village. With time, their sound dwindled until silence overtook the whole village. Everybody was killed. What bothered her most, she said, was how these youths got access to these villages in trucks during curfew hours. Well, she was not close enough. She would have seen that they were escorted by the Police. The Future It is difficult to envisage peace on the Plateau with its succession of governors who are more given to their ethnic agenda than to the rule of law. Jang is now a sort of hero among such jingoists. When people in authority who are custodians of the law actively partake in its violation in such a brazen manner as witnessed during the last crisis, peace would come only as a matter of luck. If citizens rights are trampled upon, they are bound to fight back regardless of their stigmatisation or minority status in the state. On the other hand, once they could be accorded their constitutional rights, there will be no basis for conflict of this scale. Those rights - the freedom of movement, living, earning, voting, standing in elections, etc, as Nigerians - have been the bone of contention with the Governor leading the gang of ethnocrats who insist they must be denied. Conflict constantly pose a challenge to human societies which by their very nature harbour elements who are selfish and ever-willing to usurp the properties of others. However, over the centuries, through law and its instruments of equity, reconciliation and punishment, societies have remarkably subdued such retrogressive elements for the benefit of all citizens. When however some of such elements sneak into the corridors of power, however, humanity is not spared the callous nature of their motives and the horror of their actions. As the Chairman of Kano State Chapter of CAN said, the conflict in Plateau will persist so long as the authorities there will not actively pursue peace. Jang apologists have always maintained that state coercive instruments - the police and military - are under the control of the federal government. But these instruments can only deal with crimes, which themselves are symptoms of the problem. Moreover, as we have seen in 2008, the Jang administration itself notoriously maintained that it alone has the authority to investigate the crisis. Does this not contradict its claim to lack of control over the coercive instruments of law? What will a compromised police do in an environment filled with genocidal propaganda, where a section of its force is actively involved in sabotaging the peace? This point did not escape the notice of the military, who imposed on the police the same restrictions as civilians during curfew hours. Well the former have not proved to be any better than the latter. I envisage progress being made only from two angles. The civilised, wise and patriotic citizens of Plateau, who I believe there are many among the natives, must wake up to their responsibility and cry out against the institutionalisation violence in the administration of the state. They must rise to condemn the killing of innocent citizens regardless of their religion or ethnic group. They must educate their people that Plateau is part of Nigeria, and the interest of its people goes beyond the boundaries of their home state. If they expect the lives of their own to be protected in other states where they reside as students, traders, civil servants, police, custom, immigration and military officers, clerics, etc, they must reciprocate it by protecting the lives of others who live in their state. I am not sure if the presidential committee set up to find lasting peace in the State will be able to achieve this. The virus of hate which has affected a large section of the community can only be cured by an immunity that is self-generated, not at the instance of the federal government. The State government is not investigating anything, the governor has refused to prevail on the youths he recruited to carry out the atrocities, and elders are busy twisting facts in their effort to conceal the crimes committed. You have the feeling that they have approved whatever atrocities were committed. Contrarily, when there was an overnight religious conflict in Kazaure two weeks ago because some policemen killed a Muslim driver and some churches got burnt, the Emir quickly left his palace that night, walked through the city on foot, calming people and visited the head of the christian community, apologised on behalf of his emirate and government, assured Christians of their safety and promised restitution. The tense atmosphere was soon calmed as one could hear the laughter by the gathering in reaction to a joke cracked by the chief priest. The Jigawa State government too was prompt in its action. But in Plateau, nothing like this was ever contemplated. Instead, justifications are sought, and youths who committed these crimes are allowed to go scot-free. The federal government is my second hope. When the crisis became so recurrent, Obasanjo imposed a state of emergency during the tenure of Joshua Dariye. That was the last coercive power the federal government could exercise. It should have served as as a lesson. However, Jang was willing to return the state to problems of bigger proportions. I think there is the need for the federal government to seriously reconsider its law enforcement strategy in Plateau State. It must especially reconsider how it redeploys police to the state. Whatever basis it is using now seems to be ineffective. It must also carry out full investigation into the killings and really prosecute people responsible especially of heinous crimes that the world has condemned in unison. And if the hands of Jang are found behind any of the scenes, he must be indicted, his immunity notwithstanding. The world is waiting to learn what the Federal government does with the commissioner of police beyond redeploying him. A person with such a sick mind does not deserve to be a law enforcement officer. Plateau needs to be saved from its self-destructive path, a task that only application of the law can achieve. People whose heart is suffocating with ethnicity should learn from the Hutus in Rwanda. The Hutus have not achieved their aim even by killing a million Tutsis. They have not made the Tutsis any more dark-skinned or their women uglier. They have not made them poorer either. They have only helped them to consolidate their grip on power, while the perpetrators continue to hide for over a decade and a half in neighbouring Congo. In the past ten years, we have seen a sustained campaign to impoverish non-native Hausa/Fulani on the Plateau. The modern market was destroyed to precisely achieve this, likewise the repeated burning of Laranto Market and the burning of other important assets belonging to this class of Nigerians. But like in Rwanda, these acts of hate have not made the natives richer by a dime. As a fallout from the fight against the Hausa/Fulani, the state must brace up for an impending fight between the natives themselves for the heart of Jos. The Berom of Jos South are bent on denying other two tribes - the Afezere and Anaguta - control over Jos North. Jang imported his junior brother from Du in Jos South, gave him the PDP ticket and declared him the Chairman of Jos North Local Government during the last local government 'elections'. Other natives in the state residing in Jos should expect better. Just before the recent conflict, a Berom lawyer representing his kinsmen who are laying false claim to the ownership of a plot at Tudun Wada that was registered in the name of a senior lady from Langtang put forward this defence: "how can a Tarok woman lay claim to a plot of land in Jos"? He was saying this after he was presented with a C-of-O issued in her name way back in 1981? If the law does not apply its weight against the avarice of some elements, a self-destructive future is awaiting the Tin city. And the law needs to be quick and decisive. The hundreds of youth conscripted into the army of hate who carried out the latest atrocities have been infected by the same hate virus that attacked the elders who commanded them. Their treatment will be a long and tedious process. I have witnessed how such youths celebrate their actions when they converse publicly with their friends right from the first conflict. They narrate their dastardly acts with pride. A society whose youths are becoming so mentally damaged should better wake up to their correction before it becomes too late. It is sad to note how Jang got derailed into this pit. Many of us were commending him when at the debut of his administration he came up with policies aimed at reducing the subscription of the natives to burkutu and curbing the promiscuity of their girls. He restricted the time for selling the toxic substance and attempted to force the girls to wear decent dresses. One expects a lean person like him to rely on his brain instead of his muscles in promoting the interest of his people. Unfortunately he did the contrary and I am afraid, one day, the bill he will settle before the ICC for his role in the conflict will be a very expensive one, just as did Charles Taylor and other leaders who treaded the same path. Though he I heard him publicly confessing that his education was sponsored by a Hausa Muslim, there is nothing in his actions as the Governor that indicates he has an iota of gratitude. Too bad. Finally, this is the abyss of shame into which Jos has fallen from its lofty position as the beautiful city that attracted Nigerians from various backgrounds and promised them peace and prosperity. If Jos was known for its good weather and other attributes that we listed in the first part of our discourse, many of its inhabitants are gaining the notoriety as the most intolerant people in the country. It is not the only city that has witnessed ethnic/religious conflicts before. But its inhabitants have proved too weak-minded to reconcile and accommodate one another. In reality, though, they have little choice other than to live in peace, sooner or later. As for the perpetrators, they must know that the world is watching them. It is easier today to prove these high profile crimes than ever before. Jang and others must know that the celebrity status they are presently enjoying among the people they indoctrinated with hate will be brief. They can deny their culpability as did every leader who perpetrated genocide before. However, surely, justice will chase them as it chased Milosovic and Radovan Karadicz and other leaders who were reckless with the powers entrusted them. Just early this last week, the wife of the former Hutu President of Rwanda was arrested in France where she has been living as a fugitive. From this, Jang and his gang should know that no matter the time it takes, justice will surely overtake them. There cannot be a better sentence to conclude this series other than praying that may God save Plateau and its people.
Bauchi 4 March 2010
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