When one set out for this encounter with Ambassador Yahaya Kwande, one was not too sure what to expect, especially since he fell out with President Goodluck Jonathan on the issue of zoning of the the presidential ticket of the PDP. So, one expected him to come down heavily on the Federal government. But this was not the case when he spoke on the Jos crisis and the way forward for the embattled Plateau. Beginning on a jocular note, he informed that it was ‘unfortunate’ his wife is Igala and more ‘unfortunate’ is the fact that she is a Christian. It was on this tempo that the chat began By Judith Ufford
AS one of the key political leaders in Plateau state what in your view is the cause of the crisis in the state?
I will be courageous to answer you. I shouldn’t shy away from expressing the honest feeling I have about Jos. I have been in Jos since 1954. I am a Muslim but married to a Christian wife and among my eleven children two are Christians while the rest are Muslims. I and my Christian wife have lived together for 44 years. We’ve quarreled only once when I was the secretary of Jema Nasir Islam, a member of Supreme Council of Islamic affairs. The Christians then made me feel I was useless to my religion by allowing my wife to be a Christian. So, whenever they met me among my Muslim friends, they pestered me by making enquiries about my wife. ‘How is Esther, is she well?,’they would asked tauntingly as if they wanted to tell my Muslim friends that my wife was a Christian and why should I authorise that particularly since I was secretary of a Muslim organisation.
One day, as she was about to go to church, I got so angry and told her: ‘if you go to church that is the end of the marriage’. Without hesitation, she turned back and went into the house and I went into my bed room in a rage and unconsciously picked up a copy of my Holy Koran and spontaneously opened a page. I was shocked by the message I was on the page. It said: ‘You can turn the body; you cannot turn the soul’. This is to say that to be a Muslim or Christian is not by force. From that moment I reconciled with my wife and till date we have not quarrelled again.
This background information is necessary so that you will know whether my answer will be biased or not; and understand that am not a die-hard person. Incidentally, I was brought up by the Roman Catholic and served mass as an altar boy.
Basically, what is happening in Jos is surprising. Jos has been a very pleasant city and people wanted to retire here after a hectic life. After World War 11, Europeans did not want to return home and were settled at a place called the ‘Hill Station’. This is the historical aspect of this crisis. At the time, I was a teacher in Jos, and later a senior District Officer.
In the forties when our people in the other areas were practicing nudism, the Hausa/Muslims who settled in the city of Jos during the mining business with the other tribes like Urhobo, Ishekiri were living peacefully here. I could remember that an Urhobo man was once elected by the Hausas to be a member of House of Assembly in the north. A Hausa man was representing this state (Plateau) in the House of Representatives. Inua Ali, Inua Adda, Inua Dan-Anacha, Mallam Bo, M.K. Sani who once represented this area at the parliament were Hausas. One incident I wouldn’t forget was that when Inua Ali whose father was one of the founders of the city of Jos contested with Chief Anatu Chelong, a Berom for the House of Representatives and when he defeated her, she ran, grabbed and kissed him like a brother. She took his cap and put her head tie on his head just to amuse those who were present and said: ‘Are you happy that you have defeated a woman?’ At that time there was no question of whether you are Hausa, Urhobo, Berom or any other tribe in the country. We lived peacefully then in this part of the world.
I don’t know what is happening in Jos now. I would say that things began to change when the natives began to get jealous of the fact that settlers in the city were becoming more prosperous than them. If you look at the city, you will notice that most of the areas were founded and developed by the Hausas. You will ask how come those places still bear Hausa names? We were friends until when they started to set up the traditional chief of Jos, the GbomGwom. Before that time, the administration of the city was in the hands of the settlers (Hausa/Muslims) and when they saw the importance of the Beroms as a nation, so the northern Nigerian government started making plans to set up a traditional chief for them. Mind you, they don’t agree with me on this story but that is what I know. They called their chiefs in little villages ‘Gwom’. The then administration decided to attach ‘Gbom’ which means big in their language to make it Big-Chief (GbomGwom).
Thereafter they started giving them the leverage of administering themselves. But things began to change when the issue of who is in control of the affairs of the city began to come up. The confusion then was: Is it the Hausa man who has been in control or the newly created traditional institution. Then they created two administration: The ‘Native Authority’ in the hands of the Beroms and an ‘Outer Council’, where the stranger elements raise their views in advisory position. Unfortunately, this big trouble that we are having in Jos today started when the natives and the settlers began to contest who would be in charge of controlling the affairs of the city.
So the Hausa/Muslim elements started misinterpreting the word indigene. They started calling themselves indigenes. But if you look at your dictionary, you will see that indigene is something that is there and cannot be found anywhere in the world except that place. But the Hausa man cannot rightly claim that he cannot be found anywhere except Jos. But they move forward and started addressing themselves as indigenes of Jos. And the indigenes of the place started disputing that claim. But why do they even fight over that? It is because the constitution of Nigeria has given them every right to seek political office anywhere in the country. An Ijaw man, Yoruba or Igbo can contest for governorship seat of the state. But since the law has given you the rights to aspire anywhere you reside in the country, why would you insist on becoming an indigene? What will indigene give you differently?
The misconception of the word indigene affects not only Plateau but some other places in Nigeria. I don’t even know why we are fighting, because a Muslim calls his religion peace. Islam means submission to the will of God, that you cannot do anything yourself. The same thing is applicable with Christianity. Christians said Jesus is a messenger of peace. When do we disagree? If you meet any Christian and Muslim fighting, stop them and let them tell you why they are fighting before they continue. Believe me, none of them will tell you why they are fighting, killing and destroying property. The irony of it all is that as soon as somebody somewhere shouts his religious chants of distress then elements of that religion would descend on the others, without asking for reasons for the conflict. That is what has been happening in Jos.
What happened? Who is going to stop these killings and bring the city back to life? How are we going to do it? I tell you the pride of every ruler is the number of population that is under him. Why would anybody want to reduce them? London is famous today because of strangers. Lagos is great today because of strangers. So, President Goodluck Jonathan appointed us who are all indigenous elder statesmen to look into the problems in the state. He said go and look into this crisis and give me back a report after two weeks. One thing I will tell you that I have been fighting about is the issue of Jos North. In the recent voter’s registration exercise, Jos north recorded over 407,000 voters, but it has only one district.
But, we have in this state, a local government of less than a 100,000 voters with eight districts of administration. I have always told them that it is not fair. If they have created more district administrations, when something happens, it will be easier for, let’s say the GbomGwom Jos to easily deal with it through the district administrators. This has no bounds of Christianity or Islam. When you are in one place and you have a leader, he is supposed to be open and subjective to his people.
The only thing the president told us is to sit, look into the crisis and bring him the report. This becomes necessary because all of us are aware of what is causing trouble in Jos. From those two weeks we spent six months before eventually submitting the result which up till now has not been implemented. I don’t know why. If that report is not implemented how are they going to end the crisis? Do they want an angel to come and settle the matter for us? It must be the government. I am very surprise with the turn out of events. I was in love with President Jonathan over the way he intervened with the first crisis that killed so many people last year. He came immediately and you could see his countenance that he was very angry and concern over the development. But all that has changed since we produced the reports. There are pertinent questions that Nigerians should ask him on the whereabouts of the reports. Why has he been delaying its implementation? Is the report blaming somebody that he doesn’t want to be blamed? Or is he claiming that he hasn’t seen the reports yet, eight months after it was submitted? That is the problem.
Was there a minority and majority view on that report?
No. we didn’t want to be disrespect to anybody. We could have done it but didn’t allow that to happen. We all agree that Chief Solomon Lar, who is a distinguished elder statesman, has been our leader and so we decided to allow him to lead us. We also know that politically, it would have been a disgrace for us not to come out with one voice. So we agreed and produce one report. Where is that report now?
Are you saying the report has all the solutions to the crisis?
Believe me if they had acted on some of the recommendations, we would have got somewhere by now.
What do you think is hindering the Federal government from implementing the report?
It is up to you to read in between lines. Whether the report is indicting somebody that Mr. President doesn’t want to offend, I don’t know.