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The chain of violence in Jos

By Tayo Obateru

JOS – If the plan of those behind the frequent violence in Jos is to rubbish its ‘Home of Peace and Tourism’ tag, then they are succeeding a great deal” said a resident in frustration as he ran for dear life to avoid getting caught in the latest mayhem in the Plateau State capital. It was the second orgy of violence in a little over one year and the third in nine years leaving in its trail pain, anger and helplessness.

From the umbrage that has greeted the mayhem from across the country, many Nigerians believe enough is enough with crises not just in Jos, but in other parts of the country. The question is, why have the crises in Jos defied solution. With the frenzy of investigations into the November 2008 crisis by various bodies, many expected that a solution should have been found by now, but this has not been the case. Rather, the one that follows a particular crisis appears worse than the previous one. Maybe an historical excursion would help to understand the issues better.

Following the creation of Jos North and Jos South Local Governments from the former Jos Local Government by Babangida Military Administration, one Aminu Mato an Hausa-Fulani was appointed the Sole Administrator. This did not go down with the indigenous ethnic groups who were already aggrieved that Jos North was created instead of the Jos Central that they asked for.

The feeling was not helped by the alleged taunts from the Hausa-Fulani who saw the creation as a victory for them. There was even the speculation that the Hausa-Fulani asked that the palace of the Gbong Gwom,the paramount ruler of the Berom people located within the premises of the local government Secretariat should be relocated to Bukuru which became headquarters of Jos South LG. The indigenous groups resisted the attempt to swear in Mato and this resulted in a crisis as the Hausa-Fulani community protested their action violence soon erupted. The crisis resulted in the burning of part of the Ultra Modern Jos Main Market.

Violence reared its ugly head again in 1997 at Gero village near Bukuru when some Hausa dry season farmers clashed over who had right to farm a particular area. Although lives were lost and houses razed, the crisis was controlled and prevented from spreading to other parts.

The struggle for the control of Jos city between the Hausa-Fulani and the indigenous ethnic groups took a turn for the worse in 2001 over the issue of representation. An Hausa, Mukthar Mohammed was appointed the National Agency for Poverty Eradication (NAPEP) coordinator for Jos North Local Government, but this was resisted by the indigenous groups. Youths from the indigenous groups allegedly prevented him from entering his office and were accused of splattering the walls of the office with human waste to drive home their message. The tension generated by this development resulted in the September 7-8 crisis claiming of lives and property.

Although the 2004 crisis occurred in Yelwa-Shendam far away from the state capital, it attracted national and international attention because of the massive loss of lives and the religious dimension it took. It is also significant because it led to the declaration of a state of emergency which resulted in the suspension of the then state governor Chief Joshua Dariye and the entire members of the House of Assembly. The appointed Administrator, General Ali (RTD) promptly convened a peace and reconciliation summit for the people to come together and dialogue on their differences, but the brevity of the tenure would appear to have undermined the consolidation of the effort as another crisis broke out a few years later.

The council elections of November 27, 2008 sparkled, another crisis over the results of Jos North Local Government Area. The All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) massively supported by the Hausa-Fulani community claimed that its candidate, Alhaji Aminu Baba was robbed of victory. The violence again took religious and ethnic dimensions leading to massive killings and destruction of property.

One thing common to all the crises, is that they are always followed by condemnation from various quarters, then constitution of by panels or commissions to investigate the cause, identify the masterminds and recommend appropriate sanctions. Huge sums of public funds are expended on the investigations but they always end on the shelves unimplemented. Hence, the culprits go free and wait for another opportunity to strike. Some of the reports actually identified and recommended specific people for prosecution but this was not implemented. While some blame the situation on the reluctance of government to ruffle the feathers of the ‘sacred cows’ indicted by the reports others see it as an effort not to open old wounds or worsen the existing animosity. How this has helped the situation remains to be seen.

Many prominent Nigerians including the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammed Sa’ad Abubakar have stressed the need for perpetrators of violence to be identified and punished following the 2008 crisis but rather than this happening, a dispute arose between the Federal and State governments on who had the right to investigate the crisis. The state government filed a suit seeking to affirm its right to investigate the crisis but later backed out under apparent pressure. The ‘strained’ relationship generated by the crisis appeared to have stalled the attempt to prosecute suspects arrested in connection with the crisis as their case files were taken to Abuja and never returned!

This was a major issue presented to the Abisoye Presidential Panel investigating the 2008 crisis which ironically, was holding public sitting in the state when the latest violence erupted. “We note with concern the apparent confusion in a matter that should have been guided by the Constitution and rule of law.

This not only characterized the numerous Investigative Panels set up by Federal and State Institutions on the crisis but also followed through in the investigation processes as to who has jurisdiction over what. And here we hasten to mention the case of the 26 suspected mercenaries who were arrested in Jos but mysteriously moved to Abuja and released for undisclosed reasons by the Police Force Headquarters” the memorandum stated.

Governor Jonah Jang repeated the importance of sanctioning those behind the crisis when he received the Chief of

Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau and the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ogbonna Onovo when they paid separate visits to the state over the recent crisis. He said punishing them would serve as a deterrent to would-be trouble makers.

However, as pointed out in the accompanying interview by Mr. Ezekiel Gomos, former Secretary to the Plateau State Government and Vice Chairman of the Conflict Management and Mitigation Regional Council (CMMRC) which has launched a campaign for peace on radio since the latest crisis erupted, this is just one aspect of the matter. According to him, sincere dialogue remains the best way out promising that his council would initiate something in this regard as soon as the situation calms down.

The search for the return of peace to Jos to quote General Yakubu Gowon who, incidentally is from Plateau State, “is a task that must be done”. But achieving this would depend largely on the sincerity demonstrated by all concerned to nip it in the bud. It remains a sore point as both sides count their losses and the victims many of whom have lost loved ones, property and other valuables struggle to pick up the pieces of their lives again.


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