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Will sectarian crisis ever stop in Jos?

By Sam  Eyoboka

WHILE people were rejoicing and celebrating their entry into the New Year, 23 days ago, Miss Julian Emevor, a Mass Communication graduate of the Delta State University laid in bed not sure whether to join the rest of the family to celebrate.

She was despondent and outrightly uninterested in the exuberant jubilation among siblings and other playmates in the expansive family compound in the Ajegunle area of Lagos. Reason? Julian had just about two months to complete her National Youth Service at Pankshin, a 2-hour voyage from the Plateau State capital, Jos.

After about nine months in that Middle Belt town, this Isoko in Delta State-born beau was not comfortable with the security briefs filtering from that part of the country especially after the yet to be resolved raping and eventual murder of a fellow youth corper, Miss Grace Ushang in the Borno State capital, Maiduguri and was therefore too scared to return to Pankshin, a place that witnessed its share of religious crisis in 2001.

After intervention and prayers by the family priest, Julian reluctantly agreed to proceed to complete her national service. She returned on January 3 and by 15 days later her fears were confirmed as the nearby Jos was in flames again.

Jos, the Plateau State capital, had remained a hotbed of violent religious uprisings or what late Ebami Eda, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti would describe as demonstration of craze, in the last couple of years with thousands of innocent persons dispatched to their early graves and millions of property looted and burnt by people suspected to be young militant mercenaries imported from neigh-bouring states and in some extreme cases from neighbouring countries.

Specially trained militant youths are often armed with sophisticated combatant weapons and, like in the latest episode, clothed in Nigerian Army uniforms by powerful individuals who are bent on overrunning and taking over Jos from the original owners in the name of religion.

According to reports, the latest orgy of madness started when an attempt by Alhaji Garba, a Muslim who had actually began the reconstruction of his house which was burnt in the November 2008 riots, rekindled old rivalries and hatred were rekindled and the aftermath has left an estimated 700 persons dead and several worship centres and business premises torched.

Observers of political events in Jos are worried as to why every time there is a crisis in the area, people with vested interests often call for a declaration of a state of emergency in the place. Others openly canvass emergency rule in addition to a clampdown on the state chief executive. Senators Mahmoud Kanti Bello and Tafida Argungu strove to convince the apex legislative body to impose an emergency rule as a means of stemming the growing tide of religious violence in Jos. Unfortunately, these same law makers refused to raise a similar motion when Boko Haram held the spell bound in some states of the federation.

Religious leaders on both divide had roundly condemned the recent crisis and have vehemently urged the Federal Government to implement the reports of past panels of investigation and prosecute the sponsors of the crises, if nothing, to reassure the Western world that Nigeria, as a country, does not deserve to be in the US terror watch list. The Secretary-General of Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, Dr. Lateef Adegbite in his reaction, told the nation that the 4-day mayhem which grounded all economic activities in Jos was caused by ethnic differences and not religion as some persons would want the rest of us to believe.

That position, however, was at variance with that held by some Christian leaders who witnessed the orgy of violence. PFN national vice president in charge of the North Central, Bishop Jonas Katung, as well as his CAN counterpart, Rev. Yakubu Pam who were bent on calling a spade by its real name, described the 4-day war of attrition and all the incessant ethno-religious crises, as one specially planned to reduce the influence of Christianity in the Tin City with a view to taking over the city for a particular religion.

According to the twosome, the violence which is always targeted at Christians and their worship centres cannot be described as political because even the November 2008 crisis which was believed to be precipitated by local government elections, no politician’s house was torched. Rather, churches, business premises of Christians were the target and four youth corpers who were on national assignment were killed.

It is however, gratifying that even Islamic organisations like the Jama’atul Nasril Islam (JNI), have joined Christian leaders and the state governor in calling on the Federal Government to express shock at the repeated act of mass killings of innocent persons and the destruction of properties by fundamentalists in the otherwise peaceful state capital and called for the full implementation of past recommendations of various panels of investigation. They also urged the government to punish those found guilty irrespective of their status in society.

Like biblical Jonah, will the Plateau State governor, Jonah Jang be cast into the sea in order to arrest the raging sea? A former Nigeria Air Force officer, the governor is believing God to deliver him from raging storms of political enemies who are using the religion to prosecute a script. The question every well meaning Nigerian had asked since Sunday is: If Nigeria is a serious nation why has it not implemented the Bola Ajibola Commission of Inquiry set by the state government after the November 2008 crisis?

The nation was told that panel, after exhaustive deliberations had since submitted its report with wide ranging recommendations that can guarantee peace in the state capital but the Federal Government, it appears, will no have anything to do with that panel. It therefore instituted another investigative panel headed by Emmanuel Abisoye. Curiously, the Huasa/Fulani in the Jos North local government who refused to put up appearance at the Ajibola panel because they had no confidence in it, have embraced the Abisoye panel.

All across the country, there is anger over the handling of past investigative panels because it appears there are certain individuals being shielded by the powers that be, from prosecution.

Various religious leaders across the country are of the opinion that if the nation does not take decisive measures to stop the activities of fundamentalists in the North, the nation might be plunged into a huge crisis that we might be able to wriggle ourselves out. Eminent persons like the National President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor and the prelate of Methodist Church Nigeria, His Eminence Sunday Makinde have cried themselves hoax, warning of the dire consequences of throwing Nigeria into a needless religious war.

Responding to the latest crisis, Oritsejafor recommended a 3-point agenda to the incessant crises in the North, saying a political solution which will involve the 17 southern state governors whose citizens are at the receiving end all the time, must urgently engage their 19 northern state counterparts in a once and for all dialogue with a view to finding a way to protect persons and property in every part of the country.

According to him, the National Assembly also has an onerous responsibility to enact laws that will empower state governors in the country to prosecute brains behind most of the ethno-religious crises in parts of the nation, just as he reiterated his call on Christians in the North to defend themselves with whatever weapon available to them, in the event of any attack by fundamentalists.

“Why are protesting that the US is unfair to us in placing Nigeria on the terrorist watch because of the activity of one young man if we cannot guarantee the safety of innocent fellow citizens because of religious differences. By the current crisis in Jos, have we not unavoidably demonstrated to the international community that we harbour terrorists here?” the fiery preacher kept asking rhetorical questions.

Many Christian leaders in the South appear to support this position, especially because all efforts in the past by the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council co-headed by the most respected paramount ruler in the country and the National President of NSCIA, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Muhammed Abubakar and the National President of CAN, Most Rev. John Onaiyekan had fallen on deaf ears.

Where lies the faith of Miss Emevor and her ilk, who were virtually forced to travel to far-flunged areas like
Pankshin during festive periods, all in the name of service to the nation?

What is the way forward? Revisit past recommendations with a view to implementing them and prosecuting those found guilty if any complicity. A stitch in time, they say saves nine.


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