By Taye Obateru & Ejura Adama
For Madam Ngozi, life must continue despite the crisis in the Plateau State capital which has split the city along religious lines. As a widow with seven children to take care of, the little daily profit she makes from her petty trade of selling vegetables goes a long way in carrying her responsibility.
However, the crisis in the city has made certain places no-go-areas to certain people. It is dangerous for Christians to go to some places just as it is for Muslims to go to other places. Madam Ngozi on this particular day when there was tension in town, could not venture out to Farin Gada market to replenish her stock of tomatoes which has been depleted.
On the other hand, Mallam Suleiman Yahaya, her customer was also worried that the tomatoes and other vegetables he bought were perishable and would amount to a huge loss if allowed to go bad. He was aware that most of his customers, being Christians could not come to the market as is often the case whenever there is fresh outbreak of violence in the city.
Thank God for the mobile telephone, Mallam Yahaya put a call through to Madam Ngozi and volunteered to ‘risk’ taking the baskets of tomatoes to the Domkat Bali Road junction not too far from the Hwolshe Market where Madam Ngozi displays her wares.
With the haggling concluded over phone, Madam Ngozi waited by the roadside at the agreed place with the money ready and within minutes, Mallam Yahaya arrived with the baskets of tomatoes, took his money and was off before anybody could notice. This scenario narrated by Madam Ngozi to Saturday Vanguard is how many business people across religious lines inter-relate despite the general belief that Christians and Muslims are at war in the city once reknowned for its cosmopolitan nature.
Even at the height of hostilities, they still find ‘neutral’ places to meet and transact business underscoring the inter-dependency of people despite religious, ethnic and other differences. As a resident, Nonsoh captured it, “we say we are fighting, yet we must still meet and buy things from one another. It is both an irony and a contradiction.”
The ‘neutral’ markets include Katako, Terminus. Ahmadu Bello Way, Old Bukuru Park, Farin Gada Market, Maternity Junction and a few others, some of which also become dangerous depending on one’s religion at the height of tension in the city.
While the city might have been divided into Muslim and Christian dominated parts, with a mixture of both religious adherents in some places, there are some points of mixture where people still mix and do business, serving as one another’s keeper. Reports of how Muslim business neighbours protect their Christian counterparts and vice versa during violence abound, in some cases at the risk of their own lives.
To such people, their Christian or Muslim business colleagues have become friends and even like family members who they cannot do without. To some of them, survival more than anything else is the motivation for venturing into areas that might be dangerous because without the little income they make, life could become meaningless.
One of such people is Mrs. Latifah Yemi who sells Irish potatoes at Farin Gada Market and told Saturday Vanguard that she had no other place to do business. “I don’t feel safe doing my business here because if violence should break out, I can be endangered, but ‘man must chop’.
“The only way I try to get along is to look past what has happened and move on with life. But I am to some extent comfortable with the people around because we have become very close. Sometimes, when violence erupts, I leave my wares and run and my Muslim neighbours help to pack them and keep them for me until calm returns.”
In the case of Moses Ubani who sells clothes at Terminus Market, his Muslim neighbour serves as his informant whenever violence is likely to break out. “Most times, if anything is about happening, my neighbour who is a Muslim will inform me and ask me to pack my wares. I don’t feel safe but God is the one that grants safety.
“But what has become clear is that we can’t do without each other, whether Muslim or Christian because we are all important and we need ourselves to grow. At the peak of the crisis, when I am in need of goods, I call my supplier on phone and we meet at the roundabout and quickly transact our business because I can’t go to a ‘Muslim area’. So the roundabout serves as a border.”
For Auwalu Dahiru, a taxi driver, the crisis in the city has imposed restrictions which he has to devise ways of coping with for his survival. According to him, his customers call him on phone and they make arrangement on where to meet for him to help them transport their wares.
“The good thing is that despite the crisis both Christians and Muslims meet to transact business. Whenever there is tension and we all withdraw to our safe places, my Christian customers who need my services call me and we agree on a safe place to meet. That is how we transact business during periods of conflict so that we can eat”, he said.
In her own case, Mrs. Martha Bala’s vegetables selling business is dependent on the goodwill of her Muslim suppliers. She lacks the capital to pay for the vegetables, so she takes them on credit, makes a little profit and then pays back.
In her words, “I collect what I sell on credit from my Muslim customers who I see as brothers and after I sell, I pay the money and collect again. So you can see that I cannot do without them and no amount of religious crisis can separate us. We all need each other to survive; there is no way one group can survive without the other. At the risk of the crisis, our Muslim customers risk their lives to bring goods because they know we cannot go to them; so they are willing to make the sacrifice for us.”
Most of those who spoke to Saturday Vanguard believe that the inter-dependence being exhibited was evidence that the crisis in the state is not as deep-rooted as many believe or that they are being orchestrated to achieve selfish goals since the ordinary Christian and Muslim still relate freely.
Almost all of them view the crisis as unhealthy and an ill will which nobody enjoys. They argue that time has come to bring the crisis to an end so that they can co-exist peacefully and do business freely without the fear of going to any part.
According to Ahmed Adam, a trader at the Farin Gada Market, “most of my friends are Christians and I don’t see any reason why we can’t live together, because we need each other. The major problem I see in Nigeria as a whole is that we have failed to understand and appreciate each other’s religion.”
He recalled that during the violence that during the recent crisis on Sallah Day, they kept two of their Christian friends safe, away from rampaging youths until things calmed down. To him, that is the way things should be and called on government to do everything necessary for peace to return.
A group, Women Without Wall Initiative made a similar call during the week in commemoration of the International Day of World Peace, appealing to various groups within the state to forgive past wrongs and work for the restoration of peace. Addressing a press conference on Wednesday, Coordinator of the group, Pastor (Mrs) Esther Ibanga said the group had a fervent desire for the restoration of peace and security for the good of all in the state.
She said the group made up of women who cut across ethnic, faith, class, geographical or political divides “share a deep belief in our sincerity of purpose in wanting to work together for the constructive management of conflict and crises that have bedeviled our beloved state and disrupted our lives.”
According to the group, “We must forgive one another and break out of the vicious circle of hatred, killings and revenge. We must learn to speak the truth to one another in love. We also call on government to be in the forefront of the peace initiative on the Plateau.”
Pastor Ibanga added that the International Day of Peace was a good occasion to come together as mothers and cry out for peace adding, “we have lost husbands, relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbours to these senseless killings that have gone on in our land.”
She noted that if peace is right, then time has come for everyone to fight for it by embracing one another and coming under the umbrella of love. Also contributing, Hajiya Kadijat Hawaja said there can be no development without peace as people will live in perpetual fear, urging every side to the conflict to allow past wounds to heal and embrace dialogue for peace to return.
All these, no doubt, highlight the fact that there is no alternative to peaceful co-existence as hostilities affect business, relationships and other things negatively. As those who spoke noted it is time for all to see the futility of the constant bloodshed and find alternative ways of resolving differences or grievances.