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Why Jos is different?

By Ochereome Nnanna

WHILE a debate on the latest round of killings in the Jos area raged, someone asked: Can a person be a settler in his own country? Can a Nigerian citizen be a settler in any part of Nigeria? The answer, clearly, is yes.

The Constitution at Chapters III and IV wrote down all the beautiful things in favour of Nigerian citizenship and his fundamental human rights, but that is only on paper. In reality, being an indigene matters more than citizen when it comes to your rights to enjoy certain privileges at the local, state and federal levels.

My own studied understanding of factors responsible for the Jos periodic killings is that it has nothing to do with the denial of anyone’s right of citizenship. After all, other ethnic groups such as the Igbo and Yoruba have lived in Jos since the town was founded by the British colonialists and yet not a single incident has pitched them against the owners of the land and other indigenes of Plateau State. The reason why the case of the Hausa/Fulani is different is the perception by the landowners that the Hausa/Fulani are pursuing an expansionist agenda.

Their thinking is that what could not be achieved through the Fulani jihads that established the Sokoto Caliphate is now being forcefully pursued with the help of highly connected people in the federal establishment. The indigenes now say that they would never allow the Hausa/Fulani to have the kind of hold they demand over Jos.

Unfortunately, the bitterness arising from this unhealthy relationship between the so-called indigenes and settlers has turned very ugly indeed, as the villages outside Jos have become pet targets of cowardly invaders, who slaughter women and children like chicken and melt away. The Jos crisis has now turned into a vicious war of attrition, guerrilla action and terrorism. Due to the new turn it has taken, I am under no illusion that we have heard the last of invasions and massacres. It is unfortunate, but there it is.

The Hausa/Fulani cultural group is a very important part of the Nigerian society. Without them, Nigeria, as we know it, is incomplete. Every group has its positive and negative sides. One of the positive sides of the Hausa/Fulani is that there are certain goods and services they provide wherever they are found but which cannot be gotten from any other Nigerian cultural group.

They exclusively supply the nation with foodstuff, such as groundnuts, onions, peppers, potatoes, fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, they are the only group that supply the nation with animal products in commercial quantities. The government of the former Eastern Region recognised their importance and decided to allocate special grazing zones for their cattle which were called garki, especially in major railway towns.

Their negative side includes, among others, their method of settlement in areas outside their immediate native zones. The Hausa/Fulani zango settlement patterns do not encourage integration. Perhaps to maintain their cultural purity, they cluster away from the local population rather than identify with their hosts since they do not intend to return to their home of origin. You cannot isolate yourself, maintain your cultural purity and lay claim to territory in foreign land and expect peace.

Examples abound where Nigerians successfully settled in other parts and became indigenes over time. In Lagos Island for example, Nupe, Bini, and other Yoruba people came and settled some centuries ago among the natives. Till today, Lagos families of Nupe origins are called Tapa. Oshodi is a Bini name. Yaba is not a Yoruba word. It is Nupe. They have acquired the rights to contest elections and obtain cultural privileges at the court of the Oba of Lagos, just like other Eko people. These groups acclimatised and acculturated.

In the East, the first Lord Mayor of Enugu, the capital of defunct Eastern Region, was Malam Umaru Altine, who hailed from Sokoto. He and his other kinsmen settled in Enugu in the 1940s. They joined the Zikist Movement and the NCNC, the predominant political party in Eastern Nigeria and identified with other young men in all that they did towards the end of colonial rule. Altine was one of those jailed, along with Mbazulike Amechi, after the coal mine shootings, when they led civil disobedience campaigns.

And when the Enugu Mayoralty was formed, the NCNC sponsored Altine for the top post and he won the election. Some Hausa/Fulani who were also part of the movement became councillors in Enugu. According to Chief Amaechi in a recent interview with me, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, was so impressed with Altine’s elevation so far away from home that, in a fit of reciprocity, he appointed the leader of the Kano chapter of the Igbo State Union as a member of Northern Region House of Chiefs.

If you go about your objectives in the right and pleasant way there is no limit to your possibilities. Our Hausa/Fulani brothers should consider changing their self-isolation style and seek to integrate with their host communities if they want to peacefully integrate and belong.

They should also consider opening up their native cities for settlers to integrate and belong if they wish. That is how other Nigerians live when they settle outside their cultural niches. If this had been done in Jos there would be no problem with the natives, just as there is none between the natives and other groups. After all, the Hausa/Fulani are natural neighbours of the Plateau people and their ties with the latter should be even closer than those who travelled thousands of kilometres to settle in Jos.

Nobody likes to be invaded. Nobody takes expansionism with delight. Minority groups, such as the owners of Jos, are usually very touchy about expansionist tendencies by majority groups such as the Hausa/Fulani.
There is no violent means of achieving co-ownership of Jos!


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