10 February 2010

Nigeria: Jos - Once Upon a Peaceful Town


Lagos — I have been making efforts to understand the underlying issues in the crises, that often make life in Jos, the Plateau State Capital, a nightmare. I must confess that I have not lived in that city. But I have read and heard stories of how fantastic life in the city is. I even made plans for a holiday there last Christmas, but changed my mind.

However, it was for my love of adventure that I decided to find out, for myself, and share with you, what could lead to a possible solution to such maddening clashes. It was for this reason that I made enquiries and stumbled on two important documents, which for me, hold the ace in finding lasting solution to Jos crises. But I have my doubt about the willingness of our political leaders and crisis merchants to agree to implement suggestions in those documents.

I make reference here to the Justice J. Aribiton Fiberesima commission of 1994. That commission had as members Major D. J. M. Igah, Squadron Leader M. B. Usman, Alhaji I. D. Muhammed, Mr. T. Didel, Mr. S. O. Aboki and Mr. P. P. Deshi who was secretary. The commission was set up by Lt. Col. Mohammed Mana who was military administrator of Plateau state at the time.

The second document I bumped into was the Justice Niki Tobi commission of 2001.. It had as members Justice Ismaila Adamu, Barr. Ibrahim Hamman, Barr. Nasiru Goshi, Chief (Dr.) Chigozie Njoku, Chief Markus W. Ishaya, Mr. Thomas Didel, Hon. Mali Khandi Dung (Late), Hon. Mrs. V.K. Umaru and Mr. John G. Gobak who was secretary. This commission was set up by Governor Joshua Dariye.

One interesting thing about both commissions is that they sat almost seven years apart, and were supposed to find the remote and immediate causes of the riots. Immediate causes, as I got to know, became triggers that diffused bottled up emotions and subdued hatred and anger between ethnic groups living in Jos. Somehow, Nigerians have been made to believe and argue that Jos riots are purely religious. I rather think that religion is the smokescreen. What lay behind the riots is deep ethnic resentments and the indigene versus non-indigene ideology that has been created by political leaders for selfish gains.

After a review of 60 memoranda filed before it and the examination and cross examination of witnesses and the taking of evidence, the Justice Fiberesima commission reached this verdict. It said: "Almost every witness who proffered evidence on the remote causes of the riot gave the same reason(s).

"A recurrent friction for many years, between the Berom, Anaguta, and Afizere tribes on the one hand, and the Hausa-Fulani tribes on the other hand, is a remote cause of the riot. Each part lays claim to Jos. The Berom, Anaguta, and Afizere claim that they are the indisputable indigenous people of Jos, that the Hausa-Fulani are settlers, strangers, who migrated into Jos for various reasons which include commerce, employment and repair of fortune. But the Hausa-Fulani contend that they, as owners of Jos, had had the privilege of producing the rulers of the town since way back in 1902. They also claim political ascendancy over the other communities at all times. This feeling of one having supremacy over the other simmered for years, only to break out into open confrontation and riot on 12th April, 1994.

"Although the riot took place on that fateful day, it was merely a product of accumulated tension which had been mounting sequel to an attempt by a group of Hausa-Fulani (Jasawa) community in Jos to exercise political dominion over the Berom, Anaguta, and Afizere tribes. This dates back to 1987 when one Alhaji Sale Hassan, a Teraman by tribe and a strongman of the Jasawa Development Association, called on the Jasawa community to wrest the rulership and ownership of Jos from other tribes. Alhaji Sale Hassan alleged that the rulership and ownership of the town slipped off their hands in 1945. This incitement by Alhaji Hassan generated tension in the Berom, Anaguta, and Afizere communities, and created unnecessary sentiments in the minds of the Hausa-Fulani residents of Jos. Thus a seed of discord was sown.

"A remote cause can also be traced to 1991 when the Federal Military Government created 89 additional Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the country. The exercise witnessed the creation from the former Jos Local Government Area, of Jos North Local Government Area and Jos South Local Government Area, with Jos metropolis and Bukuru town as headquarters respectively. This was totally against the wishes of the Berom, Anaguta, and Afizere communities who prior to the exercise had requested the creation of Federe Local Government Area out of the then Jos Local Government Area. With what actually transpired, the said communities found themselves in Jos South LGA, while the Hausa-Fulani community was left to enjoy numerical dominion in Jos North LGA where Jos metropolis is located. The former communities saw this arrangement as a grand plan by the Hausa-Fulani to seize Jos town from them. They also resented the pattern of the newly created LGAs because it left their paramount ruler, the Gbong Gwom, isolated in an enclave of the Hausa-Fulani in Jos municipality."

Seven years later, the Justice Niki Tobi commission sat. After review of memoranda, examination and cross examination of witnesses, and physical inspection of destructions, the commission gave this verdict. "It is the feeling of the Commission that as long as the Elders do not tell the Youth the story of ownership, half truths as contained in Exhibit 339 will continue to threaten peace in this great city and cause violence and crisis. The Elders owe posterity a duty to tell the youth that the Hausas were not the founders of Jos and therefore not the owners of the city. They should also tell the youth where they came from so that the youth may know their ancestral homes or routes. That will solve so much of the present predicament of the youth who are fed with false claims."

Now, I reckon here that truth is painful but not a shame. If truth must be told, the cause of constant riots in Jos is not far fetched. But again, it calls for deeper understanding and acceptance. Despite arriving at the fact that it is the quest for ownership and control that is at the base of the riots, I honestly think that we, as a nation, are constantly driving on the wrong path without addressing this point.

Ownership of Jos can therefore not be in question, but the politicization of the indigene/settler status has made nonsense of our quest for nationhood. Really, accommodating one another in Jos would not be a problem if those who settled in the city understand the limits of their desire. In a situation where there are no cultural and anthropological proofs of ownership of land, the quest to forcefully acquire such land is often resisted. That is what we have in Jos.

I say this because I have lived in Nairobi, Kenya. The population of that city is about 20 percent Indian. Most of the Indians can not spot India on the atlas. They only hear of India and see it on television. Their great grand parents were born in Kenya and they carry Kenyan passports. But they neither inter-marry nor have lost their Indian identities. Yet, Nairobi is peaceful to the extent that the relationship between Indians and Kenyans are concerned. In all my days in Kenya, I never saw or read of Indians seeking to supplant Kenyans on their land.

Therefore, if we must find a solution to the Jos riots, we must look beyond religion and return to the Fiberesima and Tobi commission reports for more wisdom. There is no way original owners of Jos would remain happy if they are constantly faced with ownership questions about their lands. In the same measure, those who have migrated to Jos, only need to understand the limits.

I however, have a feeling that our political leaders, who see in such riots, an opportunity to make themselves politically relevant, will not allow peace happen because it is in their interest that such riots take place.

A count of the dead in the last riots show a great number of youths killed, on both sides. These are youths, who had, prior to the riots, played football together and even done joint businesses. Naturally, these youths would not recognize the difference between them. But politicians would make them bitter enemies on the argument of indigene and non indigene. That is why I am even becoming a bit afraid. I know that one day, an igbo boy who was born in Lagos. Grew up and schooled in Lagos. Speaks and writes Yoruba much better than he does his native Igbo language, would be reminded that he is a non indigene and cannot be elected to represent Lagos state at the State or National Assembly. Neither can he be appointed to represent Lagos state on any federal government board. This, to me, is the tragedy of our nationhood.

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