By Taye Obateru, Jos
When social scientists say for every action there is a reaction or when James Hardly Chase wrote There’s Always a Price Tag several years ago, they might not have had Jos, the Plateau State Capital in mind. However, the two are apt in describing the situation in the Plateau State where ethno-religious crisis has raged intermittently for close to 10 years and has so far defied solution. While the cost in loss of lives and property has received wide publicity, the economic effects which have received similar but less attention are beginning to bite harder and might get worse.
Although the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), financial and economic experts and others have lamented the negative effect of the prolonged crisis on business, the disruption in the supply chain of goods and services in and out of the state is posing a big challenge. Cost of foodstuff and other essentials have shot up because truck drivers and other transporters are shunning the state for security reasons. Petrol has also become scarce in most filling stations because tanker drivers have also stopped taking fuel to the state. Farmers, especially growers of tomatoes, cabbage and other vegetables which are at their peak production period are also groaning as a result of glut occasioned by the decline in demand for their farm produce. Many of those who travel to Jos from the Eastern part of the country with trucks of plantain or palm oil and take back tomatoes and other vegetables are said to have stopped coming resulting in a decline in the supply chain of the items they take to the state and in the demand for those they take out.
Traders who spoke to Vanguard Metro said prices are shooting up because unlike before when suppliers bring in goods to the state directly from source, they now have to travel to places like Kano, Kaduna and other places to bring in items on their own, resulting in higher costs. A seller of onions said it is costlier in Jos than other parts because only a few brave transporters still bring items to the state. A woman who sells kolanuts also disclosed that they now travel to Kano to buy as drivers bringing them directly from the Western part of the country have stopped coming to Jos.
Even within Jos itself the “partitioning” of the city into Christian-Moslem enclaves makes Moslems or Christians afraid to venture into certain parts to do business. For instance, commercial vehicles and motorcycle riders now have ‘no-go‘ areas depending on their religion just as commuters are reluctant to patronise those they consider belong to “the other side”. Vanguard Metro witnessed a scene where a lady who wanted to take a commercial bike scrutinized the faces of riders before opting for one. Similarly, a Christian that needs an item from an area considered ‘unsafe’ might have to rely on a Moslem friend to help get the item and vice versa.
Virtually all those interviewed by Vanguard Metro agreed that the situation is not healthy and is capable of slowing down the economic growth of the state. An economist, Philip Magaji said the scenario would kill business in the state unless something is done urgently. “It is unfortunate that we have found ourselves in this mess. It is a mess because when patronage of goods and services are now based on ethnic and religious considerations, then business cannot thrive. There are also certain services that are provided by specific groups and this kind of situation will send such people out of business because of poor or lack of patronage and also deny those who rely on their services access to them. It is not funny at all,” he said.
Another resident, Alhaji Musa lamented that business has generally slowed down in the state, noting that many residents are unable to meet up with their financial obligations because of poor business. He said it is important for concrete steps to be taken to rebuild confidence so that people can live together as brothers, sisters and neighbours devoid of the current mutual suspicion that pervades the land.
Newly appointed Special Adviser to Governor Jonah Jang on Conflict, Professor Shedrach Best, however, gave hope that steps would be taken by government to rebuild confidence among the people in an interview with journalists last week. According to him, a process of engagement among the various communities would be initiated so that areas of differences and mutual suspicions can be addressed. He emphasized that peace cannot be enforced through the use of security agencies but that sincere dialogue and the willingness of the people to bury the hatchet and live in peace are critical to ending the conflict in the state.
If like some have argued the biting economic effect of the crisis on all would make people see the futility of unending hostilities and move them to embrace peace, perhaps it would have served a useful end on the long run. Similarly, if as the state Police Commissioner, Mr. Abdulrahman Akano said recently, the people are tired of the hostilities, they must demonstrate this by stopping the violence and embrace peaceful ways of resolving differences.