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Murder in the Cathedral

By Obadiah Mailafia

JOS Plateau has the most beautiful, breath-taking landscape in Nigeria. It is closely rivalled by Obudu in Cross River and Mambilla in Taraba. But these two are far and remote – nobody really wants to live in either place. Jos Plateau is an 8,600 square km escarpment rising to a maximum height of 1829 metres in the Shere hills, the haunts of my camping days as a schoolboy.  The modern city of Jos, an acronym referring to “Jesus Our Saviour”, was founded more than a century ago by Christian missionaries on a mission to convert the local Berom, Anaguta, Irigwe, Afizere, Ganawuri, Ron and other native animist tribes.

My own father, of blessed memory, served in the Lord’s vineyard as an evangelist. His work took him to various parts of the Plateau, Nasarawa, Adamawa, Gombe and as far as Nguru in the present-day Yobe State. There is nowhere else I have ever felt more at home than in Jos. The city is the spiritual headquarters of Christianity in the old Northern Nigeria; the undeclared capital of the Middle Belt, if you exclude Abuja, that is.

I spent last weekend in Jos as a special guest of the University of Jos on the occasion of their Annual Convocation. Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto Diocese delivered the Convocation Lecture during the afternoon of Friday 22nd June on the topic: “Broken Truths: Nigeria’s Elusive Quest for National Cohesion.” In that overflowing lecture theatre, the Bishop did not disappoint. With high intellect, wit and humour, he diagnosed the multifarious ills besetting our country right from the British colonial days to ours. The Bishop blamed succeeding leaders for not truly believing in the Nigeria Project, in preference for private ethno-religious agendas.

He lambasted the ongoing so-called anti-corruption campaign of the APC-led administration; noting that there is a big difference between “fighting corruption” and recovering stolen money from thieves. He observed that what the Buhari administration is doing is not, by any stretch of the imagination, fighting corruption. Rather, it is a simple quest to recover stolen money from politicians with long fingers. It has hardly had any dent on the culture of grand larceny that has permeated the moral fabric of governance and political culture in our country. In that game of wits, according to the Bishop, politically exposed persons will simply find cleverer and more effective ways of squirreling away public funds from the eagle-eyes of the EFCC.

We were lodged at the small but elegant, well-appointed Silk Hotel in Rayfield. Jos was rainy and cold. Early morning Sunday, I went to church. Half-way through the service, I felt the urge to leave for Abuja immediately. My driver was rather surprised but did not complain. As soon as we entered Abuja, I received desperate calls from friends and family. They were wondering where I was. Apparently, as soon we left, all hell broke loose. A church was descended upon by well-armed militias. They were shooting indiscriminately at women, children, families. Those who tried to escape were mowed down with bullets and swords. One woman’s entrails were completely disembowelled. A friend sent me the video of a woman who went berserk with unearthly shrieks after her children and husband were lost in the inferno.

Last weekend’s massacre appeared to have been a well-planned, well-coordinated assault on the defenceless people of the Plateau. This new round of bloodletting began around 1 pm on Saturday the 21st in the villages surrounding Barkin Ladi. The Saturday mayhem began around the Kurra Falls and Rop areas of Barkin Ladi, as mourners were returning from the funeral of the father of a leading cleric of the Church of Christ to the Nations, COCIN. The pastor of the COCIN church in Rop, Pam Chollom, was quoted as saying: “The armed men ambushed the sympathisers on their way back from the burial, attacked and killed 34 persons from Nekan village, 39 others from Kufang, and 47 people from Ruku village. As we speak with you, many others are still missing in the bushes.”

The villages attacked included Gindi Akwati, Exlands, Nhgar, Gashish, Kakuruk, Ruku, Kura Falls, Rapps, Kinshan, Gengere, Heipang and Gana Ropp. We also received news that the CAPRO School of Mission founded by our dear the Uncle Reverend Bayo Famonure and his dear wife Naomi Chungha Famonure was also attacked. It is heartbreaking that people who preach the gospel of peace are seeing their labours being turned to dust by bloodthirsty hounds from the pits of hell. By Sunday, the conflagration had spread to Jos South and Riyom. According to official sources, some 120 souls were lost. But, as these things go, you can always multiply that several times to get an accurate figure.

I have received gory photographs of these atrocities. Children, women, young and elderly being shot, bayoneted, beheaded, disembowelled – their bodies macerated into pathetic wastelands of crimson flesh.

A spokesman for Miyetti Allah, the association of so-called “cattle breeders” was reported as saying that the killings were reprisals following disappearance of 5 of their members and several rustling incidences in the Barkin Ladi area. The response from the youths was rather vengeful. They set up several roadblocks and hapless, distance-faring motorists were set upon and killed. Meanwhile, the Plateau State Government has declared a dusk-to-dawn curfew while appealing to citizens to exercise restraint and forbearance.

The explosion of violence on the Plateau marks a sad departure from the three-year truce which prevailed during the administration of Governor Simon Lalong. It helps that Lalong belongs to the ruling APC and enjoys some goodwill with Aso Villa.  The counterfactual is that if he was in the other political camp things might have been a lot worse.

Those who describe the ongoing genocidal mayhem in the Middle Belt as “farmers-herders clashes” are people of evil mind. According to my dictionary, to clash is to collide, conflict or disagree, often in a spontaneous, temporary manner. The endless cycle of violence perpetrated by well-armed Fulani militias going back for more than a decade cannot be deodorised as mere “clashes”. It is an ethnic-cleansing Jihad. Their objective is to decimate the Christian Middle Belt and turn them into bond slaves in their own ancestral homeland. From Southern Borno to parts of Adamawa, Southern Kaduna, Birnin Gwari, Plateau and Benue, hundreds of communities have become dispossessed landless peasants. Strangers, many of them with foreign Hausa accents, have taken over their homesteads. Many can no longer attend to their farms. These rampaging, marauding militias aim to kill, maim, pillage, colonise and dispossess. And they are well prepared to carry on this war for the next 50 years until their victims surrender.

What we face is a long-drawn war anchored on the military strategy of fitna, i.e. killing with shocking venom and brutality, with the aim of instilling fear and paralysing powerlessness. They aim to continually pound upon their victims until they surrender. Another well-known strategy of theirs is, Taqiyya, the doctrine of lying or deception. According to this evil doctrine, it is perfectly legitimate to lie to “unbelievers” until they are completely hoodwinked and deceived. For them, nothing is sacred. The South and the Middle Belt must therefore unite against an Enemy who is a stranger to both God and Humanity.

Reminds me of the bleak language of the great German sociologist and jurist, Max Weber: “Ahead of us is not the bloom of summer but a polar night of icy darkness…no matter which group may triumph externally now….When this night shall have slowly receded, who of those for whom spring apparently has bloomed so luxuriously will be alive? And what will have become of all of you by then…Will you simply accept world and occupation?”


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