Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
It appears that we have not heard the last about the ethnic conflict in Jos and its environs. Last Sunday morning the world woke up to the consternation of an attack in some villages which were engulfed by the conflict when it recently broke out again last February. The scene that captured the attention of the world most is Dogo Nahauwa. Since the first broadcast of the deadly attack in that village by Aljazeerah, the international media has not ceased from sending its reporters to the village to update us on every development there. Through them, we learnt how and why the attack was carried out; we witnessed how the dead bodies of victims were displayed in rows and piles at the village centre; we saw and heard the injured speak from their hospital beds; we listened to the allegations and counter allegations regarding the identity of the culprit; we watched the burial of the victims in mass graves; we heard Jang for the first time since the crisis broke out addressing citizens of the state and appealing for forgiveness; we heard the Acting President issue orders to security agents to hunt down the perpetrators; we heard the international community and the vatican urging the federal government to bring the killers to justice; we watched the burial of the victims in mass graves; and, finally, we heard the debates first between the state commissioner of information and the police over the number of people killed and yesterday between the governor and the military authorities over whether he has that Saturday notified the military about the attack on the villages.
It is a pity that a settlement once founded by a romantic settler who can only be remembered by his tall handsome figure and his attachment to his love - Hauwa - would be visited by a disaster of this magnitude or would hold the world media a captive of its misfortune for a whole week. Dogo must be sad in his grave, just as his Hauwa would weep over the news of how those innocent women and children were hacked to death. But Dogo is not alone in his tribulation. Before him, others like Kuru, Ladi, Kanar and Gero have wept over similar massacres in the settlements they founded before the first half of the Twentieth Century. In fact they have not finished wiping their tears when Dogo started his, or in the words of a famous ancient poet, his tears were instigated by theirs, and the credit of mourning was adjudged by Dogo according to the rule of precedence. The late Thomas Chenery gave us a literal rendition of that episodes from the Assemblies of Alhariri:
[If before it mourned, I had mourned my love for Su'da, then should I have healed my soul, nor had afterwards to repent.
But it mourned before me, and its mourning excited mine, and I said, "The superiority is to the one that is first"]
There is little doubt that this poem captures the dilemma of Dogo Nahauwa in the most eloquent way. His tears would have been saved had he mourned along with founders of other villages where worse massacres took place. He must have witnessed the mourning of Kuru, whose settlers were less fortunate than him because the victims there could not even survive to tell their own stories to the world; they were attacked in broad daylight and each of the hundreds of its victims had before his death witnessed how his child, wife, mother, father, grandmother or grandfather was matcheted or gunned down to death and dumped into latrine pits or wells. Had the nation, the authorities and Dogo Nahauwa himself firmly wept along the deceased of such earlier massacres, his tears of Dogo Nahauwa would have been saved. Alas, Dogo himself might have committed a greater sin of active connivance and participation in serving others the cup of death. He jubilated at their tribulations. He defied the call for justice from their survivors. Instead, he praised the killers and blamed the victims for the evil that visited them. Though their dead could not be returned, a word of consolation in form of condolence would have bridled their anger and mellowed their rage. But Dogo Nahauwa did not mourn with them. He kept his tears until he was equally struck by the calamity and, behold, he mourned in different ways through different media - human, electronic and print. What is worth celebrating in his mourning is, first, his admission that his tears was instigated by theirs - that his was a reprisal and, secondly, "the superiority is to the one that is first."
Yes. Had the right steps been taken after the first attacks last february, apprehending the culprits and consoling and compensating the survivors, the massacre at Dogo Nahauwa would have been avoided. But for reasons discussed in our last article, chief among which was official connivance in the plotting and execution of those massacres, nothing was done. And the human mind will always render itself to revenge wherever the law is abandoned. This is evident even in the several announcements by Plateau state officials that security reports indicate that Fulani are planning to carry out reprisal attacks. Everybody was simply waiting and since they did not specify the actual settlements they will launch the attacks, security agents could only work on hints and keep their personnel on a general alert. The Governor, Jang, clearly in a move to shift blame to the federal authorities, blamed the military for not promptly arresting the reprisal despite the information he passed to them. (Remember he did not blame the police for failing to stop any of the February massacres.)
The GOC held a press conference and refuted receiving any information that Saturday from the Governor or any state governments' agent that Dogo Nahauwa or other nearby villages will be attacked. Instead, earlier information was on Du, the Governor's village, and adjoining villages. The GOC alluded that this was perhaps done to divert their attention from Dogo Nahauwa and other villages that were attacked. The military discovered the happening at Dogo Nahauwa on its own, by its personnel stationed at Rayfield and Bukuru area, said the GOC. We can hardly blame the governor for saving his village, to where he shifted his office until he was scared by the revengers last weekend. There could be another motive beyond this primordial one, though: the need to make the blame assume a distributive pattern. Allowing the attack to happen will shift the blame amounting from previous attacks by his tribesmen, albeit temporarily, from his doorstep. Now, in the aftermath of Dogo Nahauwa, another tribe, the Fulani, is also guilty of massacre. The Dr. Tildes will no longer reserve the qualification to kill innocent women and children to misguided youth among the Berom; their tribesmen, the Fulani, are now equally culpable.
Though I am Fulani, I cannot completely exonerate my tribesmen from the atrocities committed at Dogo Nahauwa. Saying that they carried out the attacks cannot be denied completely. Raids are anthropologically traditions of nomads. Because of their solitary life, they have to entrust their safety to the transnational confraternity where an assault to any of them is an assault to all. They will relentlessly pursue revenge until they are sufficiently assured that the blood of their kinsmen are safe in any territory. We have seen it happen in many places earlier. In 2002 I had the opportunity to be at the house of Yohanna Dalyop near Bukuru when the news of a Fulani reprisal attack was reported to him in the Riyom area. As a result, families were deserting their homes at night and taking refuge in the bush. They were so tired after some months as was evident from the comments of Dalyop and his guests that night. The following year, when I went for my senatorial campaign among the Sayawa of Bogoro Local Government area of Bauchi State, they were complaining of similar fatigue. Mun gaji da gudu (We're tired of running) they repeated shouted everywhere, despite their acknowledged resilience. Like the Berom in Riyom area, they too have been hiding in the bush at night for over a year. The Fulani were relentless, unpredictable and invincible. The irony now is how the Berom in other areas failed to learn their lesson from their kinsmen in Riyom and attacked the innocent herdsmen, killing their children, women and carting away with their only property, source of livelihood and dignity - the cattle.
The arrests made the following day contained a significant number of Fulani. Their appeal for government to bring to justice those who perpetrated the killings of their families and the looting of about 25,000 of their cattle fell on deaf ears. Certainly, nothing along that line was done by the state government. The Federal government then was not also interested in pursuing the attackers of the February genocidal killings. The Acting President simply constituted a committee to find a "lasting peace" on the Plateau, not to investigate anything. This is not the time to tread blames, he said. So survivors of the February attacks can forget getting any compensation or having the joy of seeing their attackers paraded in court.
The tone, however, immediately changed for the better with the reprisal attack last Saturday night. The Acting President gave immediate directives for the culprits to be "hunted down", an order the Police for the first time in the recent history carried out with the speed of light. Before the following evening, over seventy suspects have been arrested in Anguware, Barikin Ladi and Mangu. We owe this efficiency to the new commissioner of police who appears impartial and it reassures the nation that the police, when it decides, has the capacity to do the right thing. What remains is the proof that those arrested were not simply internally displaced people picked up for the colour of their skin, the style of their cloth or the shape of their nose. We hope this is not another 'Apo Six' or 'Boko haram' where in the innocent were victimised by the force.
Dogo Nahauwa also awoke the Plateau State government and the Berom to their responsibility. It made the governor to deliver the long awaited speech on importance of peace and eschewing revenge. The Gbom Gwom Jos was also at the scene, appealing to his tribesmen to "be patient" and allow the law to take its course. The indefatigable State commissioner of information was all over the air, appealing to Plateau citizens to live in harmony with one another and, for the first time, informing the world of casualties. Everybody was suddenly doing the right thing. And it worked. No counter reprisal attacks were witnessed. The anger of the Berom was thus bridled by the appeal of their leaders. This was exactly what I was saying in my last article. The crisis in Kazaure was nipped in the bud precisely because the Emir and Jigawa State government instantly rose to the occasion and lent themselves to wisdom. In Plateau, until Dogo Nahauwa, the government there exhibited a brazenly indifferent attitude to the killings perpetrated by the tribesmen of the Governor and the Gbon Gwom.
Something that did not miss the attention of people is the gap that now exists between the Plateau State government and the security agents in the state, namely the police and the military. We never witnessed any row between the police commissioner and the State government previously. In fact, the last police commissioner was more catholic than the Pope, a role that called for his immediate removal. The State government must have found the new one less amenable to its advances, hence the public display of conflicting stands on security matters. The commissioner of information was raising the number of those killed last Saturday by the day from 50 until, in an interview he granted to a foreign radio station, he guessed that they could reach 500: Mutanen da aka kashe sun if dari uku, ina jin fa su su kai dari biyar. This suspected figure was parroted as "official estimates" by many stations including the CNN, BBC, RFI and AFP. The commissioner has now settled for a figure around 350 in his defence against the official figure which the Police Commissioner, Ikechukwu Aduba, said is ninety-four. This figure, emphasised the police commissioner is "authentic and indisputable." Why would the state government like to raise the figure? I cannot understand this. Is it likely to score a political goal by cashing on the suffering of its citizens or playing the ethnic card to prove that this massacre is more horrendous than the previous ones perpetrated by the Beroms? The Commissioner of Information, we must remember, never told us or even admitted that people were thrown into wells and pits at Kuru Karama, on the other hand.
Also, Dogo Nahauwa has brought home the vulnerability of even the natives and the powerful in their homeland. It illustrates that our ethnic identities and privileges are too narrow to accommodate our safety in a conglomerate Nigeria and a high tech 21st Century. Only the enormous domain of law can guarantee us such protection. The Governor has been on his heels since Dogo Nahauwa. Yes. It suddenly dawned on him that he is vulnerable too. So he quickly returned the headquarters of the state government to the Government House, Rayfield, after the raiders have proved that his village, Du, is within their reach. It is sad that a person that is now a governor for the third time and a previous military officer had to learn this lesson only after innocent lives have been lost. What a shame!
In the end, I would like to join other Nigerians in soliciting for peace. Let us seek redress through constitutional means of dialogue and rule of law. Nothing could be better. Respect and protection should be the primary duties we owe every citizen of this country. We must discourage violence even when it seems that we will escape unhurt because it could boomerang and render us victims of the same suffering we mete on others. We should particularly be conscious to spare the innocent and the weak our wrath when we apply ourselves to the devil. The common barometer that any civilisation is judged with is the way it treats its victims of its war and the weak among its citizens. Of particular importance are women, children, the old and the innocent. If there were an army of Beroms and another of Hausa/Fulani fighting at Kuru and Dogo Nahauwa no one would have bothered so much. But it is the horrendous brutality to which the innocent, particularly women and children, were subjected to that attracted the wrath of every concerned heart. Let us be human.
Finally, Dogo Nahauwa has proved me wrong that the Hausa/Fulani do not kill women and children. The natives thought so also, making the men abandon their homes and seek shelter in the bush that night. Both of us were wrong. They started that shameful act last Saturday and I hope it will be the last. The life of a Berom child cannot be equated with even a thousand cows, nor with another life that is already dead. The future will only side with the patient and the forgiving. May God save Plateau and its people as well as other citizens of our dear nation.
12 March 2010