8 December 2013

Nigeria: Jonah Jang's Cry for Help


Last week, unknown gunmen struck four communities in Barkin Ladi local government area of Plateau State. When Tatu, Rawuru, Bok and Dorang villages were attacked in the early morning hours, more than 40 people were killed and several others injured. According to eyewitnesses, the four communities were attacked simultaneously in a coordinated operation between midnight and 1am. The attack came barely 24 hours after the Plateau State governor, Jonah Jang, raised the alarm that was based on a security report indicating that the state would come under attack around the Christmas season.

The fresh mayhem shows that the crisis in Plateau State is far from over. Within the last 12 years, thousands of people have been killed and billions of naira worth of assets have been destroyed. Today, Jos, the state capital and once the most peaceful and serene city in Nigeria, is divided along tribal and religious lines.

The federal government has taken several actions, including the declaration of a state of emergency and deployment of troops under the Obasanjo administration. A special joint taskforce that has consumed billions of naira is still stationed in the state. Yet, in spite of all these measures, the state remains a war zone, a time-bomb that has exploded on several occasions. The so-called "natives" and the "settlers" have deep-seated animosity towards each other; as the violence increases, the grudges deepen. Each party seems out to seek vengeance. But mutual retribution can only lead to more conflict and anarchy.

The federal government is simply not doing enough. Now that Governor Jang appears helpless, he should be helped to put out the flames while the embers are still ablaze. The incumbent federal government should, as a matter of national urgency, review all the reports and recommendations made by several committees set up so far on the crisis, and address certain fundamental issues such as the status of a Nigerian residing outside his state of origin, the issue of compensation of victims of violence, and how to integrate all the communities once more.

The task force in the state should be forced to be alive to its responsibilities. It is not enough to simply mount roadblocks along major highways; they must protect the rural communities. There must be special outposts and good observation points. They must increase patrols on foot, with vehicles and even with helicopters. The intelligence-gathering apparatus should be expanded and upgraded. It is the same attitude of soldiers looking for comfort zones that has contributed to the prolonged crisis in the north-eastern part of the country. Across the country, security agents rarely enter bushes to hunt for criminals. Yet, everyone knows that armed robbers, kidnappers, drug peddlers and other bandits usually operate from forests and avoid highways where our security agents mount their surveillance.

The alarm raised by the Plateau State governor should no longer be ignored. Peace and security must return to the plateau. It is in everybody's interest.


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