By Eric Teniola
THE indigenous people of the Plateau (Jos) became attracted to monetary economy, which was based on tin mining. Many lost their farms, and got absorbed into the city with its negative consequences. Later on,farmlands became scarce, the tin industry collapsed, and people had to face realities of life. This situation has created intense competition for land, jobs, business, and appointments in the civil service to the extent that indigenes began to feel threatened by the stranger elements who came into Plateau as a result of tin mining, particularly those who laid claim to indigenship of Jos. These were some of the sources of conflict that affected the city of Jos some years ago.
Conflicts that have occurred in Plateau particularly Jos and environs cannot be divorced from the Impact of colonial rule and tin mining. Some of these conflicts are ethnic in character, while some have both ethnic and religious colouration or motives. For example, the crisis of April 12, 1994, and the Gero crisis of 1997 in Jos South Local government were communal and ethnic in nature. The April 1994 crisis bothered on the appointment of an individual who was perceived as non- indigene by the indigenous tribes. While the crisis of 1997 was between the indigenous Berom and Hausa over farm land/farm produce.
The most recent crisis of September 7, 2001 has multiplicity of dimensions. It is perceived as both communal/religious in nature. It is not our intention here to delve into the causes of this crisis, but to say that they had ethnic or religious connotations. It is from this perspective that my recommendation on how to manage conflicts would be focused.
Some of the following suggestions may be helpful if we are to succeed in managing conflicts in Nigeria, or Jos Plateau in particular.
(i) Dialogue: There should be a deliberate policy of government at all levels (ward, LGA, State, Federal), to encourage dialogue between various communities that have experienced one conflict or another. There should be clear channels of communication between Government Traditional Rulers, opinion leaders, religious leaders, youth leaders, women leaders, and the political class in order to find lasting solutions to such conflicts.
This, the Plateau State Government has started, and will continue to sustain it.
Peace Committees: Peace committees at ward, LGA and state levels be set up by government to include all groups that matter in the community. Issues that threaten the peace be reported to relevant governmental authorities at each level, with a view to finding lasting solution to such crisis. People should be encouraged to go into common projects that bind such communities together. Meeting of such committees be monitored by traditional rulers, states and Local Government’s. All issues that are observed to threaten peace be promptly discussed and solution found. Inter-Religious Committees: A permanent inter-religious committees he formed at all tiers of government to discuss areas of conflict. An effective youth programme is required. It is a fact that the youth in Nigeria today constitute the largest reserve of our population. In most cases, this group is not effectively utilised. Sometimes, those who have received western education are not properly engaged in useful ventures. Many are not employed to the extent that they can easily be deployed to areas of crisis. Deliberate efforts should be made by the Federal, States and Local government to properly engaged our youth in profitable ventures. The present effort by the Federal government in setting- the National Poverty Eradication Programme, NAPEP, is highly commendable and should be sustained. The youth should be encouraged to form associations or groups that cut across ethnic or religious lines to enable them understand each other, and serve as Peace Corps to their communities. In the event of a crisis they should quickly meet and adopt strategies to forestal the breakdown of law and order in their community.
The Constitution to address the issue of Indigenes/Citizens:
By law every Nigerian is a citizen of this country. But in practice certain rights are reserved for indigenes especially in appointments, awards of scholarships etc. The constitution should spell clearly the rights of citizens, as well as protect the indigenes against undue marginalisation by settlers who are more economically stronger than their fellow indigenes.
Personal leadership roles of the Traditional Ruler:
The traditional ruler should exhibit a leadership that is seen to carry all his subjects along so that non-indigenes do not feel alienated. At the same time, the settlers must respect the culture, (traditions) of their host communities. Rights to customary land and traditional stool must be respected by the non-indigenes. Political appointments be done in consultations with the traditional heads so that conflict areas can be avoided.
Finally, I will also advise that a forum be created for traditional rulers to exchange visits across the nation, but where this is not possible it can be done on zonal basis.