Vanguard News Nigeria

Gbong Gwom Jos on peace and conflict resolution

By Eric Teniola

THE recent killings in villages in Plateau state has made me take another look at a paper present by the late Gbong Gwom Jos, Dr. Fom Bot at a workshop in 2002 organised by the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation of which I was one of the participants. The contents of the paper and the suggestions made by the late traditional ruler are still needful in resolving conflicts in Plateau and in most parts of the country. In the paper he said: “The word conflict generates an instant negative connotation, but conflicts are inevitable in human society. Conflicts arise from the pursuit of divergent interests, goals, and aspirations by individuals and, or groups in a defined social and physical environment.

One of the most quoted traditional definitions of conflict is, that which sees conflict as “a struggle over values and claims to scarce status, power, and resources in which the aims of the opponents are to neutralize, injure, or eliminate their rivals. From the definition above one can see that conflicts are bound to occur in society, as long as people are competing for what they cherish, which is scarce, be it power, position/status or resources such as farm lands, grazing land, appointments, elective offices”, etc. What is fundamental to our existence is the ability to manage conflicts when they occur so that peace can quickly be restored, or to prevent a conflict situation from exploding. This is so because, without peace there can be no development in any society, because conflict will only generate more conflict.

Communal conflict management to my mind means the management of conflict which affects more than one individual, and cuts across divergent interests, be it ethnic or religious. The case of September 7th 2001 in Jos can fall under this category. Several others that have occurred in the central states are of this category too.

Plateau State as it is today has gone through a lot of metamorphosis beginning with its position as a province in the early 1920s as part of Northern Nigeria, to Benue-Plateau in 1967, to Plateau State in 1976, and now Plateau State less Nasarawa State. From my experience, conflicts on the Plateau can be categorised under three phases: (a) The pre-colonial setting (b) The colonial setting when Tin Mining became a prominent industry. (c) The contemporary situation.

Pre-colonial societies were basically communal societies, either with centralised political authorities such as the Emirate systems in the North, or non-centralised political Authorities, most of which were in the Middle Belt Zone, and South East, Zone of Nigeria. In the pre-colonial setting the population of people was smaller, and migration was limited to familiar Territory as such conflicts arose basically to organised raids on neighbouring communities for slaves when slave trade was still practiced, or farm lands when neighbours encroached, or hunting grounds where big animals were hunted for food, and grazing grounds for animals. The areas and intensity of conflicts were minimal compared to contemporary society. It was also easy to organise peace and reconciliation talks between warring communities. For example, the payment of cows, goats, or women could solve a conflict situation, and in some cases slaves were used as payment to chiefs to sue for peace.

Colonialism was a form of forceful occupation of Nigeria by the British. This started in the early 19th century through conquest. By 1914, Nigeria was fully under the control of the British under Lord Lugard who was the head of the British Government in Nigeria. The experience of colonial rule in Jos was two-fold. The first was the conquest and subjugation of traditional societies to the British rule, where the indirect rule system of Administration was introduced.

The second was the impact of mining industry on the socio-economic conditions of a people that was largely agrarian. Firstly on the one hand, colonialism introduced indirect rule, which gave power to either elected or appointed representatives of the colonial masters under the Native Authority to administer the natives. On the other, Tin Mining brought in so many people from different parts of Nigeria, either as forced labourers to work on the tin mines or as migrants who came to take advantage of the growing trade and commerce in the city and its environs.

The colonialist did not want to adopt the same style of Administration on both the Natives who were under indirect rule system and the immigrants and settlers who were in mining camps. Those in the mining camps were subjected to Hausa headmen, who administered them as if they were separate from the rest of the population. This scenario created the settler, indigene perception of a people who could have been administered as one entity. This to my mind was the beginning of the development of separate identities between the indigenes and settlers, particularly the Hausas who had a different religion and culture from the indigenous tribes (The Berom Anaguta Afizere, Irigwe, Rukuba, the Pengana groups and others).

Secondly, Tin mining industry destroyed not only farmlands of the indigenes, it forced them to mining camps to acquire money to enable them pay taxes, and introduced a new culture and social life on the people that almost destroyed their self-identity. 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 it’s 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 strangers element that came into Plateau as a result of Tin Mining, particularly those who laid claim to indigeneship of Jos. These were some of the sources of conflict that affected the city of Jos of recent.

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 ethic and religious colouration or motives e.g. the crisis of April 12th 1994, and the Gero crisis of 1997 in Jos South Local Government were communal and ethnic in nature. The April 1994 crisis bordered 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 7th 2001 has a 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.

Continues next week…

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