Residents of Jos, Plateau State capital, live in a relative peace divided by a cleavage of fear, even with little or no assurance that the madness that have become a feature of the area until recently will not reign again
Poetry is hardly a pastime for Nigerian police officers. But it was Ikechukwu Aduba, a former commissioner of police in Plateau State who couched the prolonged sectarian strife in the state in the most apt metaphor. While briefing the press on the senseless killings that had plagued the state since 2008, he said in a tone full of shock that Jos had become “a jungle where vultures hover over human carcasses.”
But last week when the magazine visited the state, violence was on retreat and Jos appeared to be getting out of the jungle. Streets once deserted now swarm with people going about their normal daily businesses. Markets, shops, and schools were opened for business and vehicular traffic was again on the upbeat. Although the federal government had deployed thousands of soldiers and mobile policemen to the city, they were not visible on the streets, except at major intersections in the city.
The congregation, which had dwindled in churches and mosques as a result of attacks, had picked up again. Fridays and Sundays are no longer the days of blood when neighbours turn against one another. “We thank God that at least we can now worship in our church,” says Yohana Bitrus who attends the GOCIN Church in Tudunwada. “I think we have peace now but we hope it will continue.”
But while majority of the residents of Jos may be savouring the gradual return of peace to the city, hundreds of the surviving victims of the prolonged violence that rocked the state since 2001 still live in pains.
One of them is Mamaki Danboyi, 40, a motor mechanic, who got a shocking Christmas present as he went home to meet his wife and two children at the Christian community behind the Plateau State Police Headquarters in Jos on Christmas Eve last year.
A multiple bomb explosion, in which at least two other passersby lost their lives, damaged his legs. Though soldiers rushed him to the hospital where the two legs were immediately amputated, he still recalls the day with tears.
Ten months after his discharge from the Jos University Teaching Hospital, the magazine traced him to his home. “I need artificial legs so that I can be able to do one or two things,” he said as he shifted on a chair where he had sat all day in his small room in the ghetto of Jenta Adamu. “I cannot do anything now without legs. I don’t have any assistance from anywhere; no one has come to my rescue. I have not seen anybody from the government”
His wife of nine years recently packed out of the house, and left him with their two kids. The kids, still in the primary school, have been given up to next month to pay up or be sent away.
Timothy Steven, a civil servant, is another victim left to battle with his emotional and psychological depression. His father, a staff of the Federal Mortgage Bank, was going to work in the morning of September 31 when some Hausa youths allegedly accosted him at Dogo Nkarfe Abattoir. The assailants cut him into pieces and removed his heart. Some of the suspected killers were later arrested by the police, but they are yet to be charged.
“No one has visited or assisted the family of six children and a wife he left behind. We are made to go through all the problems on our own, the burial and even paying hospital bills to remove his corpse from the mortuary,” he told the magazine in Jos last week. He said the incident had affected him and his family psychologically. “It has drawn a boundary in our minds for the Hausa people. How can anybody now come and tell me to live in peace with the killers of my father? How can I accept them again? How?” he asked, shedding tears.
He said although many people desire to live in peace with others, there was no platform for any meaningful dialogue for peace in the state. He lamented that the state government has remained aloof, and has left the people to their fate. He said the wounds inflicted by the crisis are deep, and required changing the mindset of the people to ensure lasting peace in the state. “There should be a platform for dialogue and for mind re-orientation if we want the crisis to stop”
In Vwangkokot, a community in Jos South Local Government area, Nvou Mallam, a 70-year-old grandmother watched as Fulani herdsmen who found their way into the neighbourhood around 7.30pm, butchered 15 members of her family including her husband and their grandchildren. The incident happened last August. Apart from her, the only other survivor in the family is a 10-year-old child.
She told the magazine in tears: “Nobody has come to our help. I am too old to do any work and there is nobody helping me. I have to send the boy to go and do house help in the city and some people in the village have been giving me food. Up till today we have not been told that the killers have been arrested.”
The Hausa Muslim community in Jos also told pathetic stories of pain and deprivations. Haladu Adamu, 41, who used to live with his family in Tudunwada, said he had been forced to abandon a house he built from his sweat since 2008 when Christian youths surrounded their neighbourhood, burning and killing Muslims. He managed to escape through a narrow exit way with his family but his house was razed by the irate youths. He alleged that 42 of his Muslim neighbours were killed in the attack.
“Since then those of us who escaped have not returned to our houses. We expected that government would resettle us or rebuild our houses and provide security but nothing has happened since then. And we cannot return on our own because our neighbours in the area are still talking about taking revenge. We have become refugees in Jos,” he lamented.
Haruna Pama, Ibrahim Hassan and Yahaya Kega, all Hausa car dealers along Zaria Road, told the magazine how they became victims of the Jos conflict in November 2008. They alleged that youths from Rukuba Road attacked their car marts and set them on fire. Pama said he lost about 30 new trucks and dozens of cars all amounting to about N1 billion. He said people identified some of his Berom workers among the attackers.
“Since then we have not seen anybody to ask us how we are coping. We barely live from hand to mouth now because we have not been able to re-open the shops up till now. Jos is becoming narrower for us to live in,” he regretted.
Hundreds of non-indigenes, including Christians and Muslims, have either lost their lives or property as a result of the crisis. Pastors and worshippers had been attacked and killed during worships. Recently also, Dilimi Market was attacked by youths and more than 40 Igbo traders were murdered in cold blood and their shops burnt. Others who escaped have abandoned the market and relocated to safer parts of the city. Dilimi is now allegedly a no-go area for Christians.
David Bamidele, a pastor and head of the Latter Day Glory Church told the magazine that many non-indigene Christians have lost their lives and many had abandoned their properties. Bamidele, who is actively involved the search for peace on the Plateau, said not less than 2,845 people have been killed since 2001. He said 440 were missing. He said the churches have tried to resettle hundreds that had been displaced by the crisis.
“No help has come from the government. The government has only concentrated on providing security. If there are any groups that need government’s assistance, it is the Christians because we are always at the receiving end of the violence and destruction. It is our churches and business houses that are being burnt or vandalised. It is the church that has been assisting victims through donations from good people, and that is why you will not find any single Christian who is a refugee in Jos,” he said.
Hausa and non-Hausa Muslims have suffered similar attacks. Muslim settlements in and around Jos had been attacked, while dozens of Muslims have been declared missing by the Central Mosque Committee. Sani Mudi, spokesman of the Muslim community in Jos, told the magazine that no Muslim could venture into parts of the city such as Jenta Adamu, Rukuba Road and Tudunwada without the risk of being killed.
Mudi, who was a former vice chairman of Jos North Local Government, said there was no peace yet in the city because people were still being killed or declared missing almost on a daily basis, especially since 2008. He said over 3,000 Muslims have been killed in the crisis, including women and children. Moreover, he said the government was yet to address the issue at the core of the conflict, which is the indigene/settler dichotomy.
He said: “We are now a people that live on our own without any form of government support whatsoever. Within our community, government schools are in a deplorable state without facilities, and the teachers have been withdrawn ostensibly for security reasons. They have refused to employ our people who are qualified as teachers. The same applies to health clinics and other facilities such as water, roads and refuse collection system. They’re all in deplorable conditions and any new project by government is in places where the other people are predominant. We have no any form of access to the government at all”
He said his group computed a total loss of over N13 billion suffered by the Muslim community since 2008. He said this include over 2,000 houses, 532 private and commercial vehicles and eight car marts. He alleged that the government prevented people from going back to their former settlements, but refused to resettle them anywhere up till now. He said such people have been without any means of sustenance and could no longer feed their families. He said many of these people currently live in a refugee camp in Rusa village, where food items are donated by some members of the Muslim community.
Tor Iorapuu, coordinator of the Civil Society Coalition in the state, told the magazine that government was not pursuing the peace process in a way that could bring lasting peace. He alleged that victims of the crisis have been abandoned by government, and only the civil society and non-governmental organisations are left to engage the people without any form of collaboration from the government.
But Abraham Yiljap, the state commissioner for information, said government had concentrated on stopping the violence and supporting the security agencies and Security Task Force, STF to secure lives and property. “Notwithstanding, the government is also talking to the people and holding dialogue with them on how to restore peace. We are talking, but I agree that there may be need to expand it, and government is looking at that.”
On why government has not reached out to victims, Yiljap explained that the number of people and properties affected had grown over the years, stressing that the government was collaborating with the federal government to address the issue.
The pathetic condition of the victims has also brought attention to the role of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, which is saddled with the responsibility of assisting victims of disasters. Bamidele accused NEMA of assisting only the Muslim victims who were in refugee camps in Bauchi, stressing that the agency had not done anything for the internally displaced people inside Jos. The state government also supports Bamidele’s allegation against NEMA. Yiljap told the magazine that NEMA had been playing politics over assistance to victims of the crisis. He said instead of providing assistance to victims in Jos, it was assisting those in Bauchi.
But NEMA officials debunked the allegation, arguing instead that it was the state government that chose to play politics with the issue. Yushau Shuaib, spokesman for NEMA said the Plateau State government is being unfair to the agency by saying it is not doing anything for the internally displaced persons in the state. “You can find out from hospitals what NEMA has been able to do for the victims. We have given relief materials, medication and cash to victims of the crisis. But find out if the state government has been able to do anything for the victims”
Shuaib said NEMA usually works with state emergency management agencies to reach out to victims, but that in the case of Plateau; the agency had to work on its own because the state had no such agency. “Every state has a state emergency board, but Plateau has none, and that means we have to reach the victims through our own means.”
It was no doubt a sign of the unease in the city that the 2011 edition of the annual lecture of the Yakubu Gowon Foundation, which held at the Crest Hotel in Jos last Wednesday, was turned into a peace dialogue. The lecture was part of the programme of the 77th birthday of the former head of state.
All the dignitaries eulogised Gowon as a patriotic Nigerian who has worked to ensure the country remained united. But it was, Ignatius Longjan, deputy governor of the state and Aliyu Babangida, governor of Niger State and guest speaker, who brought the matter home.
While making his opening remarks, Longjan said: “Whenever I remember that one of the nation’s foremost peacemaker is from this state, I always wonder why we have been in conflict with one another. But we are gradually coming together and understanding each other.” He commended the effort of the STF, especially under Olayinka Oshinowo, a major general recently deployed to head operations in the state.
Babangida told his audience that the birthday celebration of Gowon should have been held in Wusasa, Zaria, where his parents settled and where he also grew up. He said the move would have sent a message that “Nigeria is a country of migrants where some only arrived in certain places earlier than others.” He however said holding the event in Jos may be a “symbolic way of showing that peace has returned.”
Since the three-day civil disturbances that took place on September 7, 2001, Jos and environs have not remained the same again. Violence and bloodletting have become familiar sights on the streets of the hitherto “Home of Peace and Hospitality.” Since then, the cycle of violence has continued, leading to the current state of affairs where mutual suspicion and hatred has heightened. In 2008, the state went down the valley of infamy when attempt to conduct local government election in Jos North led to a violence that killed over 700 people and destroyed properties worth billions of naira. After that incident, there have been allegations of ethnic cleansing by both sides. Hausa/Fulani communities have been attacked by Christian youths, while several Christian communities were also attacked by Fulani herdsmen.
There have been mass killings in Christian communities such as Dogo Nahawa, Nasarawa Gwom, Jot and some other villages in Barkin Ladi. The Hausa/Fulani have also suffered alleged pogroms in places like Kuru Jenta, Kuru Karama, Bisichi and Ugwan Doki. The situation has given rise to a climate of fear and the combatants have declared their own safe and enemy zones.
But since the presidential order that the Chief of Defence Staff should take over the operation of STF last month, and the redeployment of Oshinowo, as the commander, some level of calm seemed to have returned to the state. The huge presence of the military in many parts of the state is certainly a deterrent to hoodlums. But Oshinowo, who had also lived in Jos before his posting, has engaged with stakeholders in the state. He has initiated and conducted several peace meetings with various groups in the state.
The relative peace currently enjoyed in the state was almost ruined on October 15, when a group of youths attacked a soldier and killed him at Lasisi Makanjuola Street in Jos North. The soldiers of the STF retaliated by arresting and manhandling residents of the area. The army assault led to the killing of Alli Kazaure, the ward head of the area, and a 13-year-old boy. Awwal, son of the late ward head, said Kazaure had to be buried secretly to avoid bloodshed that a funeral procession may cause.
“The army killed our father and said they picked up his dead body along Riyom-Abuja Road, a Berom-Christian area, so that they can pitch us against our neighbours. We did not know those who killed the soldier, but soldiers came to our houses and attacked us. We are still asking for explanation,” he told the magazine. The magazine was taken to see some men who allegedly sustained serious injuries in the hands of the STF.
Not less than four panels of enquiries had been set up by the state government to probe the crisis and make recommendations to government. They include that of Justice Nikki Tobi, set up in 2001 and Bola Ajibola panel in 2008. The Plateau State House of Assembly also set up a panel of enquiry in 2008. There were committees of the House of Representatives that also probed the Jos crisis and made several recommendations.
All the panels identified mutual suspicion, lack of respect for one another among ethnic and religious groups and dispute over ownership of Jos as the factors responsible for the crisis in the state. Several measures to encourage return of peace were also suggested but successive governments in the state have not shown the political will to tackle the problems.
The last panel of enquiry was the Solomon Lar Presidential Advisory Committee set up in February 2010 by President Goodluck Jonathan. The committee included eminent citizens of the state such as Fidelis Tapgun, John Shagaya, Yahaya Kwande and Ibrahim Mantu. The committee made similar observations and recommendations like the earlier panels. Their report was submitted to the president last May, but government is yet to act on it
There have been several calls from eminent citizens of the state and prominent Nigerians that government should implement the recommendations of probe panels it set up in order to address the issues causing the conflict. Jonathan promised that white papers would soon be issued on all the reports of the panels of enquiry. He stated this when the Ahmed Lemu Panel set up to probe the post-election conflict in the country submitted its report to the President last month. The question is when will the government fulfil its promise towards taking practical steps to achieve peace in the area?