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JOS TRAGEDY: Other views considered

By Adisa Adeleye
PERHAPS to many Nigerians the surprise of the first decade of the new century is the association of Jos  with any form of crises – ethnic, religious and political or the combination of all these vices. 

Jos  (Jesus our Saviour to many)  is a fine city with an agreeable climate and a melting pot of many cultures and various traditions.  Jos in the past, was a place Nigerians would like to spend their retirement days in peace and tranquility.

Amidst the superficial treatments of the said incidents in 2001, 2004, 2008 and recently, perhaps it would be necessary to examine the present in the context of the past.  The understanding of the past structure of Jos as a town created by our past colonial masters, developed economically by the Tin Mining Industry for the British Mining Officials and the Nigerian workmen  (labourers).

The structure of Jos, as it appeared to me, until the middle of the last century, and later to the period of the creation of Plateau State, was rigidly class_based .  It was a sort  of apartheid town,  created and maintained  by the colonial masters.

At the top were the European miners, living in spacious houses in special reserved areas with every imaginable comfort.  There was European Club for whites only and European Hospital manned by European doctors and exclusively for Europeans.

Below the ‘Whites‘ were other Nigerians (mainly from Southern Nigeria) – clerks in government establishments – Posts and Telegraphs (P&T), Railways, etc and private European organizations like Banks, UAC, PZ and others – all transferred from Lagos and other places.  They resided in what was then known as ‘Clerks Quarters‘ in the southern part of the small town.

The third group consisted of other Northerners and Southerners who migrated to Jos for economic reasons – to enjoy the boom created by the mining industry.  Among the earlier southern settlers in the group were the Yoruba, Ibo and Urhobo who were mainly traders, teachers and artisans.  Some of them are in their third generation (my father traded in kolanuts between Oyo, Bida and Jos in the years before amalgamation, and finally settled in Jos about 1923 with his Nupe friend called Mallam Nasidi.  The families are still in Jos.

The Hausa/Fulani in Jos controlled the local administration and had Serikin Jos, supported by the British officials.  Many of the Northerners  in Jos, apart from those in local administration, local police, were farmers and traders.  The Northerners in Jos were favoured by the British – they had their own primary institutions ( NA Schools then not opened to Southern students) .

At Empire Day‘s sporting activities, the Northerners had their own special competition with better prizes.  Education for Southerners in Jos at the period before 1950 was undertaken by the churches – St Lukes School, St Paul‘s School, Baptist Day School and Roman Catholic School.  maintained by the church members.

Jos, before Independence in 1960 was strictly a class society with Europeans at the head, followed by the Hausa/Fulani as administrators and traders and the Southerners, majority of whom were Yoruba and Ibo, either as government officials, teachers or traders.  Each community stayed separately, but Hausa became the commonly spoken and understood language, like many cities of the North.

The tragedy of Jos was that throughout the early period of social and economic transformations, the original indigenes of Jos, the BIROMS were completely forgotten.  The Europeans started it and the nasty habit was followed by the ‘ruling‘ Hausa class and the leading Southern tribes.  The BIROM were rejected, despised and treated with indignity.

Social contact with that tribe was little or none.  To the Muslim ruling caste, the BIROM were mere animists and primitive people and to Southern settlers, they were uncivilized and uncouth in their manner.  In commercial dealing in the Jos main market, they were often cheated and ‘short-changed‘.

The old abode of the indigenes in the rusty hills was separated from the main lively town by craters and valleys created by the old  mining operations.  Those artificial impediments prevented social mobility and encouraged ostratisation by the other inhabitants.  The Muslims failed to attempt to convert and the orthodox Christians were busy saving their own souls rather than winning more souls for Christ.

The American Missionaries came (where the British failed) through the Sudan Interior Mission [SIM] to liberate the BIROM from darkness through education and Christian faith.  The despised tribe is now totally liberated, well educated and politically conscious of his rights and responsibilities under the constitution of our land.

The altered political, social and economic position of the BIROM today would no doubt be a great challenge to the old ruling class and the old economic masters.  And it becomes even more problematic politically since Jos is now the capital of the PLATEAU STATE and the BIROM claim to be owners of the land and could no longer be pushed aside.

From the scenario painted above of old Jos where the BIROM tribe was totally relegated, rejected and despised by other tribes and Jos of today where the indigenes do assert their rights, it could be possible to understand, if not in agreement with, the causes of constant mayhem by religious jackals and ethnic hounds.

It may be possible to feel the reaction of religious bigots  against those daubed as animists and primitive becoming followers of Christ, or watch with disdain the rage of Birom youths against the former oppressors of their tribe.  It is like avenging the sins of the fathers on the sons.  It is a pity that isolated cases of violence associated with Nasarawa area of Jos are now extending to other areas of the Plateau State.

The problem of disastrous religious riots in Jos and also in many places in the North could not be totally divorced from the assumed ambivalent attitude of some of the Northern elders who perhaps view killing of innocent Christians and burning of churches as a sort of Jihad against the unbelievers.

The ethnic cleansing aspect of the riots could be seen in the wish of some to drive away from their land those regarded as settlers and economic vampires.  Whatever might appear as justification, the scale of destruction by religious jackals and ethnic hounds should not be tolerated  in a civilized community where there is Rule of Law.

Some are suggesting and reasonably too, that both the Federal and Plateau State Governments should immediately rebuild burnt houses and compensate fully the families of those killed.  The immediate action would prove to the rioters the futility of their dastard action.

The lack of concrete actions by the responsible authorities on mayhem perpetrated in some parts of the country has been a clarion call to the political and religious jackals and ethnic hounds to try and try again.  It is to the eternal credit of Southerners (who are always the most affected victims) living in the North that they have not considered Retaliation as a reasonable option.

A simple advise to both the Federal Government and the Plateau State Government: Build Primary and Secondary Schools open strictly to children of settlers and indigenes of Jos and provide compulsory courses in Muslim and Christian religions.

The products of these institutions would certainly see things differently from their jaundiced parents.

Or could broadly base administrations in both North and South Local Government in Jos solve the problems?


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