By Taye Obateru
â€œIt is a goal!â€ the excited crowd shouted in unison following Nigeriaâ€™s goal against Greece in the on-going World Cup in South Africa. There was back-slapping, shaking of hands and holding of shoulders as the patriotic spirit in the crowd gathered at one of the Peace Football Viewing Centres established by the Military Special Task Force maintaining security in the troubled Plateau State capital took over. Like the typical setting in a stadium people momentarily forgot the tension and suspicion that had polarized the city along religious and ethnic lines for some time now to watch and enjoy football.
The Special Task Force established the three Peace Viewing Centres in different parts of the city at the commencement of the World Cup as part of its contribution to fostering peace in the state. Spokesman of the task force, Lt. Col. Kingsley Umoh while inaugurating the centres, said they were designed to bring people together to watch matches in a calm atmosphere devoid of any form of tension.
According to him, the initiative would also help residents take their minds away from crises which had been a source of tension. â€œThere has been some kind of tension in the atmosphere and everybody believes there will be crisis at every moment and every disturbance is interpreted as part of the Jos crises. But because sports, especially football unites Nigerians, we deemed it fit to establish these centres to help the peace process as people come to view the matches free of charge. This is one of the steps the Task Force is taking as regards community relations,â€ he said.
The centres equipped with giant screens have indeed been a source of attraction as many football lovers throng them to watch matches. Many abandon the comfort of their homes for the centres even when there is no power outage because, according to them, they enjoy viewership better in the company of other people. Some other viewers said the availability of generating sets at the centres was an attraction since they were sure their viewing would not be disrupted by sudden power outage. All those who spoke to Vanguard Metro at one of the centres commended the task force for the initiative.
Director of the Advancement Office of University of Jos, Dr. Victor Dugga was one of those excited by the development because, according to him, it is refreshing change to the negative developments Jos has witnessed in the past months. â€œI think that establishing football viewing centres at the time of the World Cup is quite novel. That the military is moving from crisis management to peace building is very impressive.
â€œI see people with motorcycles, with cars parked, people just lining by the road side and for once, our attention is not who is standing beside me, but we join the world to appreciate the World Cup and I think thatâ€™s a good thing to do. For a city that has been under a lot of tension, it is quite good seeing people coming together to watch football. This is what Jos is known for- peaceful co-existenceâ€” so itâ€™s a good thing that the Task Force thought about such a project,â€ he said.
Dugga believed that the measure and similar ones would help the peace building process in the state and quicken the restoration of normalcy. According to him: â€œPeople may feel that Jos is a place you shouldnâ€™t come to, but this is the reality of Josâ€” that people are living in peace_ we are going out to watch football together. For instance, a few days ago, there was no light around Tina Junction (along Bauchi Ring Road) and the only place people could watch football was one of the viewing centres because it had a stand-by generator. So PHCN helped people to come out to watch football together.
â€œThe second thing is that people watch on giant screen at the centre so itâ€™s like watching the game live. So I think that however one wants to look at it, the viewing centres provides an opportunity for interaction outside the conflict that has engulfed the state.â€
Also speaking, the owner of Kemson Viewing Centre, one of those temporarily â€˜taken overâ€™ by the Task Force for the initiative, Mr Kemi Hassan said he welcomed the arrangement as his contribution to the peace-building in the state. He noted that business could not boom without peace, lamenting that the crisis in the state has negatively affected his business because people were divided along ethnic and religious affiliations. â€œBut with this STF initiative, people now come in different groups to watch matches, irrespective of their religions or tribes; so the viewing centres are uniting the people because Muslims and Christians now come here to watch matches,â€ he noted.
Many other residents who spoke with Vanguard Metro while commending the Task Force for this and other initiatives to build peace and restore normalcy to the state, however, advised that the excesses of some members of the Force whose activities are capable of denting its image be checked. They noted that but for the activities of this handful which had resulted in negative allegations the Task Force was doing a wonderful job in the state.