By Sam Eyoboka
REMEMBER that petite Assemblies of God Church cleric, Rev. Yakubu Pam who was at the receiving end ofÂ President Olusegun Obasanjo tongue lashing when the Jos crisis broke out in May 2004.
More than six years after â€œYou are an idiotâ€™ and â€˜CAN my footâ€™ invectivesÂ by the then president, the North Central zonal chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, still holds Obasanjo responsible for the failure of government to address the perennial violent clashes in the Tin City.
In an interview in Lagos, Pam said the only viable way now available to government, is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a strong leader who will ensure that there is freedom of worship for every Nigerian in every part of the country. A after Rev., Pamâ€™ s comment Jos hundred of people were slaughtered in the outskirt of the State. Excerpts…
What is the way out of the Plateau State crisis?
First and foremost, I want to appreciate the Nigerian Media which has been speaking on issues in the country. Without the Media in Nigeria, I do not know where we would have been today. To be specific on the crisis in the northern part of Nigeria, particularly the Plateau, I will say this is something that has come to really wake the conscience of the nation to think. Even if we were throwing it behind us before it is getting to a state where it will consumeÂ everybody if it is not managed.
Before they would tell people it is a communal clash between one community and another. Nobody would address the real issue and there were lots of violent clashes in the North. And these things kept occurring because the real issue was not addressed not until the 2000 that the real thing began to come out that this is an issue the whole nation needs to address.
I thought President Olusegun Obasanjo would have addressed the issue butÂ unfortunately , he didnâ€™t. He mismanaged it, thinking that by ignoring it, it would go awa
y. But no! It is still with us and if care is not taken, the problem would still come back again. I look at the Jos crisis from the background of religion riding on the back of political manipulations by people who want to get into power by all means. This is the way I look at it.
Removing religion out of the Jos crisis is senseless just as some people have being saying that it is not religion. It is a bloody lie! If it not religion, why are churches burnt? If it is not religion why is the target always the Christians and the Muslims? If it is just ethnicity, it should been the Birom man, who is the Plateau indigene, and the Hausa Fulani alone. But this time around, more of the damages was on the Igbo man or let me say any southerner that leaves in Jos because they reside in the city while the indigenes reside in the villages.
The Hausa Fulani man resides in the city and the war was more among those who reside in the city. For instance, Bukuru city, all the Igbos that have their houses there were all burnt. W
ith due respect to the Urhobos who were said to be the first people to settle in Plateau to work in the tin mines. Their houses got burnt. The Yorubasâ€™ houses were burnt. So, tell me on what grounds will you say that this thing is not religious? We will not deny the fact that there is political undertones, because the whole thing started from there. Human beings are political by nature but then, there must be a vehicle to use which is the religion.
Having said that, let me say if it is political, the party offices should have been burnt down and politiciansâ€™ houses should have been targeted and the politicians themselves should have been the ones being killed. This is not an issue of politics alone. Of course you cannot run away from the fact that no politician was killed. Some of them were killed, maybe, on the grounds that they were Christians or Muslims. That is the major stimulus of the crisisâ€”Christians and Muslims are fighting.
Having said that, the countryâ€™s problem is reflected in this Joy crisis. If you look at it as Jos crisis or Plateau crisis you may not get it correct. The real Nigerian problem is coming out of this crisis. This is what we have today and if care is not taken it is time bomb that may explode any moment in every angle of the country. If we are going to handle this crisis we should be able to study the crisis to reflect our problem and through this crisis we can solve the major problem of Nigeria.
At the end of every crisis panels were set up which made recommendations to government. Why is there no solution to the crisis after all these recommen-dations?
Recommendations were made but they didnâ€™t take such recommendations serious. Probably they felt that some of these commissions were politically motivated maybe to favour one party or the other. But, however, I think if there recommendations they should taken a look at them and see what they can make out of them. Of recent, I have said if there is doubt on any of the recommendations which can impede its implementation, what they should do is to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with men of integrity who Nigerians have respect for and can vouch forâ€”who would not found wanting.
This will not a commission that will meet in closed door environment. No! This will meet in the open place in full glare of live television and any big man that is mentioned should appear before the commission and let Nigerian see what is happening in their own country. It will address the national issues. During some of these commissions of enquiry, big names likeÂ were mentioned. Such people can appear before live televisi
on to defend themselves.
Apart from the big people the lower community people should feel free to come up with what they can come up with. You will even see the sponsors of these riots. But if it is business as usual where a committee sits in one room to deliberate politically; it will not help us and the nation at large. Let us have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with credible persons as members. The earlier we come up with that the better for us.
Secondly, let the government address the problem the problem of youths in the country. these are the people they always use to foment trouble. We have a lot of youths, the government of Nigeria has maintained a circle of the wealthy people where nobody without the blue blood can break in to. Nobody comes into that circle. The old people we used to know are still the same people who are rotating the circle which means if you were not born into the circle you remain a poor man for ever.
To me, it looks like a cult. We should offer room, where even a common man on the street can have an opportunity to serve this nation. I donâ€™t have to belong to the elite family to be able to serve this country.Â . I was in Kuje Prisons to see the people arrested from Jos and I can say to you that over 95 per cent of the detainees were all youths who were fighting on both the Christian and Muslim sides. There wereÂ Â 12 years oldsÂ Â Â rejected by the Prison authorities because they were too minor to clamped together with adult det
ainees. These are young people. Why did they join the gang of rioters; because our country has failed us.
After the 2008 crisis, the Sultan and the CAN president were in Jos for a reconciliation. Is this the kind of commission you are solicitingÂ Â now?
That one was just a visit which established a commission but if you remember that was the commission that brought a division between the Federal Government and the state. The state established their own and Federal Government established another. I wanted something on the grounds and non-political. In fact, they can involve the international community in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Let us look at credible people who seat at a designated venue where people with any case at all could come and air their views freely. You see people coming to tell the commission that they held meetings in so so place and mention names of people who will immediately be summoned. That is the kind of commission I am taking about. The coming of those people was good; it was based on inter-religion, interfaith which is NIREC. I spoke there on the ground that the people who are fighting are far there in the community while the people who are settling the matter are above.
Some people believe that President Obasanjo could not address the problem which was why he imposed an emergency rule in the state then, because he didnâ€™t really understand the politics of the crisis then. Do you agree with that?
Yes! I agree with that. If you read my statement at that time; I said President Obasanjo should allow Plateau to settle their problem themselves. He was too much involved because he didnâ€™t understand the philosophy of the crisis. Of course, even from the political angle, you see that the problem is not solved even up till now. The same thing he was harming the then governor then, this current governor has not escaped it.
He is a PDP candidate who has not finished one tenure but has had three or four crisis already. So, Obasanjo did not actually understand the trend of things at that time in Plateau. The reason is because he has one problem; before you speak to Obasanjo he would tell you he knows. In fact he will even speak more than you; if you seat with him, he will speak for hours telling you he knows it. I think a genuine leader should keep quiet and listen more and talk little. He didnâ€™t give us an opportunity to tell him what really Plateau
problem is and how we can sought it out.
We recall that it is because of the Jos problem that President Obasanjo insulted you publicly then. Has he apologised to you?
Oh well the issue is already over. We settled it that time. He apologised in his own way as the president. To me as a Christian I donâ€™t look at it as an issue again. He came to Jos and I attended the programme he came for. That shows that I donâ€™t have any ill feelings towards him.
Whatever he did that time, he thought he was right but I think with events and the trend of things that time everybody proved him wrong and definitely he knew he was wrong. And that was why the meeting was summoned between him and I in Aso Rock Villa through the help of the CAN president that time. I wentÂ and we discussed it and he actually felt that he was not right but you know as a President, its not easy for him to say he was wrong; but he knew he was not right.
But have you forgiven him?
Oh! Since then.