By Taye Obateru
All too suddenly, or so it seems, the 2011 elections, which many across the world have been looking forward to for assessing if Nigeria will get it right this time around, are just around the corner. The elections seem to have crept in suddenly because many of the issues that ought to have been attended to or for which adequate preparations should have been made are being rushed again. The just concluded voter registration exercise and the primaries by the various parties are clear examples of the rush. But obviously more worrisome is the increasing level of insecurity in parts of the country that is threatening to derail the general elections especially with the difficulties leaders at various levels and the security agencies appear to be having in stemming it.
Plateau to Bauchi and Borno states and pockets of violence in different parts of the country place question mark on the assurances from government and its agencies of credible elections being held in April. What many are asking is how election would be conducted peacefully in the troubled parts of the county where people live in perpetual fear of possible violence, where a lot have been displaced and could therefore not participate in the just-ended voter registration. There are worrisome concerns about the threat of a possible conflagration that could envelope the entire country ahead of the elections unless the unending violence is nipped in the bud especially with the ethnic and religious dimensions to the crises.
Plateau State capital of Jos remains the major dark spot as a city enveloped by unending violence where killing, maiming, burning and looting of property have become the order of the day for many years now. An international organization, Human Rights Watch, published a report recently saying over 200 people have been killed in Jos since the Christmas Eve bomb blasts. Many more continue to die in unending violence and secret killings.
The Plateau State capital has been divided into Christian and Muslim settlements in a manner that makes it unsafe for a Muslim to live in Christian dominated areas and vice versa. Stories of how people are lynched when caught for ‘straying’ into ‘enemy’ areas abound. Most victims are innocent travelers who unaware of the grave security situation drive or commute through the ‘no-go’ areas and end up being slaughtered or burnt.
A former Secretary to the Plateau State Government, Mr. Ezekiel Gomos, captured the situation thus: “This state of affairs has become so dreadful that several parts of the city have now turned into deadly no-go areas for some people depending on your religious and ethnic origin. For instance, today, no Christian will willingly set foot in Angwan Rogo unless being conveyed in an armoured vehicle accompanied by a platoon of soldiers. Similarly, a Muslim Hausa-Fulani dares not enter Jenta Mangoro because he may never come out alive. Until January 2010, Christians used to worship in COCIN Church Angwan Rogo while Hausa Muslims, including Okada riders, could enter Jenta Mangoro. Today, that is no more! And the number of no-go areas is horrifyingly growing especially after the very bloody clashes in the last six weeks that followed the December 24 (Christmas Eve) bombings.
This scenario reminds us of the famous green line in Beirut, during the days of the deadly sectarian crises in Lebanon.”
The situation in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital is no less grave as people also live in perpetual fear of the Boko Haram sect members who have unleashed a reign of terror in the state. As in Jos, the people now observe a self-imposed curfew retiring home early, leaving most of the streets deserted once it is evening. Over 50 people are believed to have been killed by the sect members with the latest being the governorship candidate of All Nigeria Peoples’ Party (ANPP), Alhaji Modu Fannami Gubio, and six others. Just when Governor Ali Modu Sheriff was blaming the killings on political enemies, the Boko Haram sect came out to claim responsibility with a threat to continue with the killings.
“Definitely, we the warriors of Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, under the leadership of Imam Abu-Muhammad Abubakar Bin Muhammad, popularly known as (Shekau), are responsible for the attacks launched in Borno on Friday 23-14-32 (28th Jan. 2011)”, the group claimed in a statement pasted at strategic points in Maiduguri. The group also reiterated its earlier claim of responsibility for the Christmas Eve bomb blasts in Jos and other attacks in Maiduguri and Bauchi in furtherance of the crusade to liberate themselves and their religion from ‘infidels’. To say the situation in the state is precarious may be viewed as an understatement.
Bauchi State is also fast joining the unenviable league of violence-prone areas. From the pockets of political and religious skirmishes, to last year’s attack on Bauchi Prisons by the Boko Haram sect members to the recent violence in Tafawa Balewa, the state is now listed among the flashpoints in the country. While the Zaar (Sayawa) people of Tafawa Balewa and Bogoro Local Government Areas of the state claimed that over 96 people have been killed and over 800 families displaced, the police said the number of those killed is 25.
Speaking on behalf of the Council of Elders and Traditional Rulers Forum of the two local government areas, national secretary of the Zaar Development Association, Mr. Dams Manah, blamed the recent violent crisis on alleged continued suppression of their rights to self-determination by successive administration in the state. The group said, during a press conference held in the Plateau State capital on Tuesday that the constant suppression of their rights and other cases of injustices had remained a constant source of trouble in the area. He said the fact that a minor disagreement between Hausa/Fulani and Sayawa youths over table tennis and snooker games on January 25 degenerated into a violent reaction was evidence that it was premeditated.
“We are worried at the recurrent violent conflicts in Tafawa Balewa, yet we know that it is so because justice has not been done to the indigenous community who have made and won their case for self rule. If for many years Kaduna State witnessed conflicts mainly attributed to the denial of the rights of Southern Kaduna for self-rule and that there has been peace since chiefdoms were created, why not do the same for us?” This underscores the fact that there are unhealed wounds that are bound to fester and create more violence if not attended to.
The summoning of Governors Isa Yuguda of Bauchi, Ali Modu Sherrif of Borno and Jonah Jang of Plateau to the National Security Council meeting, last week, might suggest how seriously the problems in these states are being taken by government. However, the fact that the problems, especially those in Jos and Maiduguri, have lingered make many to wonder if government and the security agencies have no answers to the problem. Promises to make every violence “the last” by leaders or to “bring perpetrators to book” by government officials no longer excite citizens because nothing comes out of them. Not even the setting up of series of commissions of enquiry has yielded fruits as their recommendations are kept on the shelves un-implemented. Many have, in fact, accused government of failure to live up to its constitutionally assigned responsibility of guaranteeing the security of lives and property of citizens which is supposed to be the primary concern of every government.
The Civil Society Coalition in Plateau State recently berated the handling of the protracted crisis in the state by the Federal Government, threatening to drag her to international courts for any further failure to protect the lives of citizens. The coalition said through its acting coordinator, Comrade Gad Peter, that the Federal Government “which controls the security apparatus in the country has shown gross lack of capacity to safeguard lives and property across Nigeria and more importantly in Plateau State”. Similar concerns have been raised from other quarters on the failure of government to end the killings in these states. Many argue that the failure of government to get at or take decisive action against perpetrators has emboldened people and created a culture of impunity. On the other hand, those who see themselves as victims are resorting to self help of defending themselves in the face of government’s unpreparedness or inability to guarantee their safety. There are those who argue that government’s fire-brigade approach of sending security men to troubled areas without addressing the root causes of the trouble should also be blamed for the deteriorating security situation.
X-raying the situation, Gomos said: “It has been stated many times before that the Nigerian security system is more re-active than proactive, waiting for crises to break-out before rushing to put off the fires. This strategy may have worked in the past but we cannot use the solutions of yesterday to solve today’s challenges. The practice of sending Special Military Task Force for internal security duties, even, if they work in the most professional and saintly manner, is only meant to put off the fire. It should only be a short term intervention because, by their training and operational system, they are not in a position to find solutions to the crises. It is therefore illogical and to an extent ridiculous that people are relying on them to solve the crises.”
He added: “With so much technological advancement and rapid changes in social dynamics, our security agencies must adopt new ways to tackle the obvious breakdowns in law and order that result from tensions and resulting conflicts in our society. Many commentators have criticised the present system where all the intelligence gathering and crises response mechanisms are concentrated in a few locations, usually very far away from the well known flash points of crises. This arrangement is characterised by extremely slow response to early warning signals, and in fact is so outmoded that it has become counterproductive. “
There is another school of thought that has attributed the upsurge in violence to politics. Those in this category allege that people bent on scuttling the April elections are sponsoring the violence to precipitate chaos across the country and bring about a state of emergency. They also claim that the orchestration of ethnic and religious sentiments in the crises especially in Jos was to deepen ethnic and religious animosities. Targeting particular ethnic groups for attacks, they argue, is to anger their kith and kin and cause reprisals in other parts of the country which would eventually engulf the entire nation. As far-fetched as this argument might sound, it is worth examining by our security agencies to see if it has any iota of credibility.
While the arguments continue, many Nigerians, especially those inhabiting, travelling to/through or who have families and relations in these troubled states, are worried and are yearning for urgent government actions to enable them live normal lives again devoid of sleepless nights and self-imposed restrictions, curfews and other limitations. They are expectant that government would live up to its responsibility of securing their lives and property instead of finding excuses or scapegoat-ism that has characterized the crises with no concrete action taken to end them. But will government hearken to their cry?