Friday, December 05, 2008

Politics and the Devil's parking space in Jos

JOS North Local Government is a major flashpoint in Northern Nigeria. On April 12, 1994, the appointment of one Alhaji A. Mato as the management committee chairman of Jos North Local Government Council resulted in serious conflict between Muslim-Hausas, considered settlers in Jos, and the indigenes: the Anagustas, the Afizeres and the Biroms, who insisted that they would not accept a non-indigene as a local council chairman in their land. The aggrieved seized the council headquarters and in the outbreak of violence that followed, the Jos market was burnt down; casualties were recorded.

On September 7, 2001, the appointment of one Alhaji Muhammed Mukhtar-Usman as the Chairman of the Jos North National Poverty Eradication Programme also resulted in riots. The indigenes insisted again that they will never accept a non-indigene in that position. The Hausa-Fulani queued up in defence of their kinsman. The exchange of hot words of hate between both parties eventually resulted in the break down of law and order. In 2002, disagreements over ward elections also led to violence in parts of Jos North.

Whereas there have been many recorded cases of violence in all parts of Plateau state, over the years, the pattern and the root causes have all been similar, and they are traceable to power politics, identity, hate and intolerance, so conveniently dressed and fired up with religion. In all the recorded cases of conflict, the basic issues have always been ethnicity and religious politics, and often times, when the catalyst is not struggle over political office, it could be something as seemingly trivial as a Christian woman walking across a mosque, some Fulanis stealing onions from a Birom farm or an indigene having an affair with a settler's daughter.

In virtually every part of Plateau state there is no love lost between the alleged Hausa-Fulani settlers and those who insist that they are indigenes. The last overtly dramatic case of ethno-religious violence in the state was in 2004, when between February and May, thousands of lives were lost and the Obasanjo government had to declare a state of emergency in that state.

Last week, the Devil found a parking space again in Plateau state, and in Jos North Local Government. As at the last count 500 people had been killed, over 60, 000 had been displaced, the cost of lost properties is yet to be calculated. The only difference between this and previous conflicts is that the violence did not spread to other local governments and neighbouring states. In 2001, the killing of Hausa-Fulani Muslims led to reprisal attacks in the city of Kano where Christians and their churches were attacked and burnt down. The casualty figure of 500 in the latest incident is also small by Nigerian standards. As they say, it could have been worse. The mayhem was reportedly caused by local council election. The two main contenders represented the two major ethnic and religious divides in Jos North: Aminu Baba, the ANPP candidate is Hausa-Fulani and Muslim, the other candidate, Timothy Buba of the PDP is Christian and Birom. Politics in Jos North is always a matter of life and death. The indigenes do not want an outsider, the settlers are resolved to gain political power. When the Christian PDP candidate was declared winner by 30, 000 votes, hell, the Devil's abode, broke loose.

The crisis has not been well-handled. On display once again is the Nigerian authorities' lack of capacity to deal with emergencies. Did you see the Indian commandoes taking ownership and seizing control at the Taj Mahal terrorist attack in Mumbai? The Nigerian Police Force proved utterly incompetent in Jos. Consider also the current situation in Ibadan, Oyo state where virtually all the banks have closed shop because robbers have taken over the city and they are targeting the banks. No bank opened its doors for business in Ibadan two days ago! In Ibadan as in Jos, we are confronted with the failure of the Nigerian state and the failure of governance. This is why there have been more casualties in Jos where the combatants used machetes, bows and poisoned arrows, petrol and matches, than in Mumbai where the terrorists used guns, bombs and grenades.

As Jos burned, President Yar'Adua did not deem it necessary to visit the place. He didn't consider the carnage important enough for him to address the nation. Governor Jonah Jang has been widely blamed for proposing to inaugurate the new local government in the midst of the violence. The President had to step in to stop him from doing so. We should thank the President for this. The problem with PDP politicians whether in Plateau or elsewhere is that they do not know where to draw the line. PDP Governors always insist on winning every local government seat, to lose any seat at all is considered a sign of weakness. But when the Plateau state Governor Jonah Jang visited the President later, he was said to have snubbed him. Why? What was that in aid of? President Yar'Adua has now ordered the Chief of Army Staff and the Inspector General of police to relocate to Jos to hold the peace. We need no further evidence about this government's inability to manage national security.

The last time there was a blow out in the Niger Delta, the Inspector General of Police and the Chief of Army staff were similarly ordered to move to the war zone like marionettes. But has that solved the problem? The Nigerian government needs to be educated about how to manage emergencies and accept responsibility. In the Taj Mahal incident in India, the National Security Adviser and other state officials have tendered their letters of resignation for failing the Indian people. Where was the Nigerian National Security Adviser, when Jos was burning? Where was the SSS and its local operatives? A deaf and dumb national security apparatus is a disservice to the Nigerian people. In addition, the incompetence of the state electoral body (SIEC) ought to be deplored. The Plateau SIEC Chairman was said to have changed the collation centre and moved the ballot papers from one location to the other throughout the night: that was clearly provocative.

But the more disturbing aspect of the Jos North crisis is the sub-text of indigene-settler politics. What has been re-enacted is the same problem that we have seen, with similarly tragic consequences in Ife-Modakeke and in Warri between the Itsekiri and the Urhobo. It is tragic that in the 20th century, Nigerians are still trapped in primordial ethnic cocoons. It is the ultimate sign of our underdevelopment. The great grandparents of the present Hausa-Fulani population in Jos settled in the Plateau long before the 19th century. The leader of the Yoruba community in Jos claims that the Yorubas arrived in Jos around 1891 and built the first church in the city. The Ibos also probably arrived around the same period. Jos, a cosmopolitan city attracted populations from all parts.

The indigenous populations are also just as diverse. That such a melting pot of Nigerian nationalities could be reduced to an ethic warfare zone is tragic. But it is curious that the conflict is usually between the Hausa-Fulani and the indigenes. Obviously, it is only the Hausa-Fulani, who have gained much political prominence over the years, who insist on wrestling political power from the indigenes. However, the indigene-settler dichotomy is an assault on the Nigerian Constitution, which protects every Nigerian from discrimination. The fact that some Nigerians are considered settlers in their own country and discriminated against for that reason is condemnable.

There are Nigerians who are considered stateless non-citizens, whereas the Constitution is very clear about the rights of citizenship. This is a matter for the Constitution Review Committee in the National Assembly. Once upon a time in this country, Nigerians could run for office in any part of the country, but all that changed before the end of the First Republic, and the recourse to the age of kingdoms and hamlets has continued since then. Politicians exploit this backwardness to gain power although when they are in office, they are not usually interested in group interest but their personal interests and the future of their children. The system of apartheid that exists between the natives and the Hausa-Fulani in Plateau state requires statesmanship and leadership on the part of the Plateau elite. Remember: Barack Obama, in Nigerian terms, is a settler in the state of Illinois, and yet he got elected as a Senator and now President.

The religious cloak that every conflict in Plateau state always wears makes our situation all the more unreasonable. The Christian-Muslim dichotomy exacerbates every little crisis, and it transcends the immediate ethnic boundaries. Ibos, Yorubas and other Nigerians had no stake whatsoever in the conflict; they had no candidates in the Jos North election. They are not contesting the ownership of Jos, or any other part of Plateau with the indigenes. There was no disagreement between churches and mosques. But as violence erupted, places of religious worship were targeted. The terrorists did not spare Southerners if they happened to be Christians. The leader of the Yoruba community says an estimated 113 Yorubas were killed. Ibos and others too, their shops were looted and razed down. One woman lost two of her brothers.

The rioters did not burn down the PDP and ANPP secretariats; they did not attack SIEC officials but they looked for innocent men and women. Three members of the National Youth Service Corps were mowed down. These were young men in their 20s who had gone to Jos to serve their fatherland. Enraged, many parents have been calling for the scrapping of the NYSC. No one can blame them. And yet all of these happened just as many Nigerian Muslims trooped to Mecca on pilgrimage, just a few days to the Muslim Festival of Sacrifice (the Eid el Adha) and just as Christians began to prepare for Christmas.

National unity is increasingly an illusion - now, right inside Nigeria, some state Governors have had to issue travel alerts to warn people from their states to stay away from Plateau state. The least that the Police IG and his men can do is to identify and arrest the perpetrators of the Jos mayhem no matter how highly placed they may be. The election should be cancelled. The state Governor must begin the process of talking to the elders on both sides of the ethno-religious divide.