The recent crisis that engulfed Jos, the Plateau State capital is another sad reminder of the fact that our dear country still has a long way to go in its quest for a peaceful, idea-centric, egalitarian and progressive society devoid of bigotry and extremism that have continued to plague different communities across the country.
The wanton and senseless destruction of human lives and property supposedly as a result of an election is repulsive, condemnable, barbaric and totally unacceptable.
It is pertinent to note as widely reported that about 17 percent of such carnage in Nigeria since the beginning of the 4th Republic in 1999 has taken place in Plateau State. In September 2001, more than 1,000 lives were lost. Another crisis in May 2004 claimed 700 lives and culminated in the declaration of emergency rule in the state for 6 months.
Despite efforts in the past to curb this ugly trend, the orgy of violence keeps spiraling with different tales of woes often visited on innocent citizens. This calls for serious concern and self-introspection by Nigerians.
From our investigations, there are core issues in the heart of the crises that have dogged the state for many years. These issues must be exhaustively addressed by the government in order to have a lasting peace in the different communities of the state. These include:
1) The issue of Indigenes versus settlers.
2) The struggle for political supremacy in the middle belt.
3) Indigenes’ fear of domination by settlers.
4) The failure of existing laws to clearly state the rights and privileges of indigenes vis-à-vis that for settlers.
5) Manipulation of the people by unscrupulous leaders.
6) Resort to religion bogey to settle old scores.
7) Deep rooted poverty.
There have been different bodies empanelled by the government to investigate the causes of ethno-religious conflicts in the middle belt. These include:
- The 1994 Justice Aribetone Fiberesima Commission of Inquiries into the riots of 12th April 1994,
- Justice Mofe Oyetunde Commission of Inquiry into the Gero Communal Clash of 10th April 1997,
- The September 2001 Justice Niki Tobi Commission of Inquiry,
- The 2004 Yelwa/Shendam Justice Matilda Ochoga Commission of Inquiry,
- The Ethnic Nationalities in Plateau State Post Conflict Conference August 2004 (Under the Emergency Rule of Gen. Chris Ali).
What are the results of past commissions of inquiry into these crises? Does the government lack the will to implement the recommendations of these distinguished bodies? If so why? These questions and many others must be answered if the persistent crises are to be resolved.
Panacea /Action Program
The reasons advanced as the cause of this crisis and the past ones cannot be swept under the carpet if true and lasting peace must be achieved in Jos. All the issues raised must be tackled and addressed squarely by the authorities. Nigerians are tired of commissions of inquiry being set up without anything to show for them at the end of the day. The issue of indigene /settler status must be straightened out forthwith by the Nigerian constitution. The issue must be addressed urgently by the National Assembly. Every Nigerian must have a right to settle wherever he or she feels is suitable without any form of discrimination or harassment. While this is so, the preponderance of the settler community should not in any way lead to the desecration of the tradition and values of the indigenous peoples. The settler community has a responsibility and an obligation to respect the culture, norms, tradition, way of life, and wishes of the indigenous peoples as this would lead to a peaceful co-existence and gradual integration of the two peoples into one homogenous society. Any attempt to foist religion or culture on one community by another be it indigene or settler and vice versa would invariably result in violent reaction.
Regarding the political undertone, the crisis is a true representation of what the electoral situation is like in the entire country in general. After many years of political domination and subsequent deprivation of the people by the military, the Nigerian political class dominated by a few elites has made it a point of duty to ensure that victory in elections is achieved at all cost irrespective of the price paid by the innocent citizen. Political manipulations and electoral fraud has become endemic and permeated the system that one is wont to wonder if there is really a true democratic process in the country. A situation where the ruling party must always win in an election is unacceptable and does not leave room for a level playing ground. The result of this is violence – even by those who know ordinarily that they actually lost.
On the aspect of security, it is unfortunate that the authorities responsible were caught virtually napping despite several alarms being raised on the security situation – as claimed by the State Governor, Jonah Jang. This is unacceptable. The security agencies ought to have taken these reports seriously and acted promptly to save the situation and avert bloodshed. The aspect of the powers of the Governor as the Chief Executive and Chief Security Officer of a state without being able to issue directives to the security agencies on the security situation thus becomes pertinent here also. A situation where the heads of security agencies in a state have to await orders from their superiors in Abuja before taking any action despite the governor’s position needs to be re-examined.
While commiserating with the government and people of Plateau State on the recent crisis, NAS International wishes to call on the Federal Government to put adequate machinery in place to ensure that this spate of violence does not reoccur. It is also on this note that NAS welcomes the initiative of the Plateau government for heading to court to adjudicate on pertinent issues relating to the crises.
The culture of living up to official responsibility must be upheld if things are to go right. A cue should be taken from the incident in Mumbai, India in which some key government officials have resigned as a result of the situation. Those found responsible for the lapses should be made to resign and if necessary, prosecuted.
The country is gradually trudging to stabilize democratically. With these kinds of incidents the goals of the present administration regarding its Seven Point Agenda and the Vision 20-20-20 can hardly be attained. The world is currently embroiled in financial and economic crises. Efforts should be geared towards the promotion of economic revival and the empowerment of the people rather than being drawn back by avoidable crises. There should therefore be no room for manipulation of the people any longer by a few rabidly ethnocentric and religious extremists who would do anything to foment trouble and perpetrate violence in a bid to destabilize the polity for their selfish ends. Urgent and concrete steps must therefore be taken to bring the perpetrators of this mayhem to book. No one, no matter how highly placed should be spared.
I. Indigenes vs. Settlers – Necessary constitutional provision to be enacted to promote complete assimilation of all Nigerian citizens wherever they choose to be domiciled.
II. Tradition and culture of indigenous communities are revered rights and must be respected by settlers. In the same vein, the rights and privileges of the settlers should also be respected by indigenes.
III. Land ownership is very crucial to resolving the crises and decisions in this regard should be guided by fair play and historical antecedents.
IV. All communities should avoid the use of ethnic and religious derogatory names and terms such as Kafiri, Arna, Sarkin arna, Settler, etc and communities’ leaders should embark on massive enlightenment and sensitization campaign on the need to respect one another’s customs and traditions.
V. Containing Religious Extremism
- Clergies who incite violence and conflicts to be prosecuted.
- The use of mobile preaching vans mounted with loudspeakers to be checked.
- Government to implement the law on blockage of public roads during worship.
- The indiscriminate erection/location of places of worship without recourse to town planning laws should be checked.
- Pro-active inter-religious committees on peace and security to be established at community, local government and state levels.
VI. Delineation of electoral wards and creation of federal constituencies to reflect the realities of each community.
a. The government must probe the security lapses and prosecute security personnel indicted in past and current crises.
b. Continuous disarmament/mopping up of arms by security agents.
c. Security agencies must be strengthened to enable them respond to emergency situations.
a. The mass media should, as a matter of utmost urgency, be deployed to promote peaceful co-existence and good governance. Friendship parks and gardens to be built across the state.
b. The brewing of illicit hot drinks should be outlawed.
c. Indiscriminate conferment of traditional titles to be checked.
d. All known indigenous titles held and usage by ethnic nationalities should be replaced with the historic cultures of these communities.
e. Traditional rulers to be accorded due respects in line with laws of local government traditional councils.
f. Installation of traditional rulers in other territories without the knowledge of indigenous chiefs to be discouraged.
g. Traditional rulers to be sensitive to the influx of strangers into their domains
IX. Issues of unemployment, illiteracy and poverty must urgently be addressed by government.
X. Maintenance of law and order is undoubtedly one of the cardinal responsibilities of the government. In this regard, both the FGN and the Plateau state government must collaborate to guarantee law and order.
XI. Government to open up the economic sector by providing incentives for entrepreneurs for industrial development.
National Association of Seadogs.