Jos — The visit last Thursday by Governor Jonah Jang to Rikkos, a Jos North Community ravaged by flooding last Sunday, would have passed as just another government function, except for Plateau state's peculiar socio-political reality.
Governor Jonah David Jang of Plateau State, leading a lengthy convoy comprising officials of his government and heads of security agencies in the state, Thursday, visited victims of last Sunday flooding in the Rikkos area of Jos, in what seems refuting a view held by many that he hates the Jos Muslim community.
The various communal crises that Plateau state has suffered over the past decade have polarized the state, particularly the Jos metropolis, between people of the Christian and Islamic faiths and the governor who is of the Berom-dominated Christian community is perceived by the Hausa-dominated Muslim community as having no love for the Muslim community.
No reason to hate muslims
The governor said Thursday, however, that he who lived much of his youth with Muslim benefactors and friends cannot afford to hate Muslims.
"My government has good intentions for the Muslims in the state but some people say I hate the Muslims, which is not true. I want you to cooperate with government so that you will enjoy the dividends of democracy," Jang said.
Rikkos is a Muslim-dominated Jos North settlement which has been made more so by the civil unrests of the past 11 years which have seen Christians leave the place for neutral or Christian-dominated places. This was why it came to be that though the flooding that Sunday was still fresh in every Jos resident's mind, when Jang headed for Rikkos that warm Thursday, the impression that he was visiting a Muslim community was stronger than the fresh fact that the Sunday flood actually informed the visit.
It was thus not unexpected that as he spoke, he would veer quickly from the flooding incident to the recurring Jos sectarian crisis and how he has come across over time in the mind of an average Jos Hausa-Muslim who inhabits Jos.
Jang, addressing the displaced persons at the Islamic Education Centre camp in Rikkos, said he is in government to serve everyone regardless of differences in faith and that he is for even development of all parts of the state irrespective of who inhabits such parts.
Spontaneous nods and sighs of approval by the displaced persons at the Rikkos camp as the governor spoke showed a people that would gladly embrace lasting peace. Their gestures also brought to mind the opinion expressed by retired Col Inuwa Bawa, a former military governor of Gombe and Ekiti states who hails from Kebbi state but has long made Plateau's Jos his home. Discussing the strained communal living in Jos city in an interview which sister Daily Trust published penultimate Wednesday, July 18, Col Bawa said the Muslims in Jos are simple people who would appreciate a visit by Jang.
Bawa asserted, "The leadership needs to divorce itself from ethnic considerations. Then, the governor and officials of his government should go to the people in their localities to preach messages of integration and peaceful coexistence. He shouldn't sit in his office and call group leaders for peace meetings. He needs to reach directly to the people where they are. People will feel honoured and regard him more highly."
The Rikkos flooding has had the positive impact of bringing the governor and many of his officials to the Muslim community in the days that have followed the tragic incident.
For instance, the state Commissioner for Water Resources, Alhaji Idi Waziri led a government delegation to the Jos Central Mosque last Tuesday, July 24, both to commiserate with the Muslim community and to deliver Governor Jang's invitation to the community for a dialogue.
Reminding their hosts that the Rikkos flood came at a time the state was yet to recover from the crises of July 7 and 8 which led to the death of scores of people, including Senator Gyang Dantong and Hon Gyang Fulani, the government's delegation emphasized the need for dialogue.
Echoing Jang's voice, Waziri told his Central Mosque's hosts: "I am appealing for cooperation in order to achieve genuine and lasting peace in the state. My doors are open for dialogue."
The government delegation later visited the flood sites in Tudun-Osi where they met some of the victims, as well as the two camps for displaced people in Rikkos and neighboring Gangare.
First time in a long while responding to the visit of the government officials, the Chief Imam of the Jos Central Mosque, Sheikh Balarabe Dawud, noted that the visit was the first initiative of its kind. Expressing his gratitude to them for reaching out to the Muslim community, Dawud emphasized that it was the first time government was showing so much concern for the Muslim community in crisis.
The Muslim community also took note of this during Jang's personal visit of Thursday to the displaced people's camp in Rikkos. A Jos community leader, Alhaji Garba Abdulkadir who represented the chief Imam at the occasion, said the people were happy with the governor for visiting to pacify the flood victims.
Asking him to make such visits a habit, Abdulkadir said, "Your coming signifies that your doors are now open for more dialogue with the Muslim community. If you had taken this step since, people would have no cause to blame you for anything."
If strengthened, the Jang administration will be benefitting from the new era in government-Hausa community relationship in Jos by way of popular goodwill for the government, and the Hausa community is expected to benefit by way of government patronage.
Apart from promising to open Rikkos by reconstructing drainages and roads in the area to tidy up the community and prevent further flooding, Jonah Jang promised tricycles for residents of not only Rikkos but the rest of the northern part of Jos heavily populated by Hausa-speaking Muslims.
When the Plateau state government decided last month to give effect to its ban on use of commercial motorcycles (Okada) in Jos and Bukuru, the Hausa-speaking residents who were mostly involved in the Okada business saw the ban as another device by the Jang administration to punish them. Jang's visit to Rikkos Thursday became a handy forum for him to address it. He told the people that the Okada ban was not a witch-hunt but government's genuine intention to decongest the capital city and promote sanity in vehicular traffic.
He strengthened his request for understanding by asking Okada riders who had not got tricycles from government to submit their names for consideration.