Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Plateau Conundrum

Nigeria is in its 50th year of independence, unfortunately, the country is yet to achieve national integration. Governance is still largely based on primordial sentiments. Ethnicity, tribalism, nepotism, godfatherism, religious inclination and cronyism still play significant roles in who gets what, when and how in Nigeria. These considerations have become a cankerworm that has eaten deep into our national life so much so that even in federal universities, Vice Chancellors are now appointed from the geo-political zones where the institution is located. Thus, there is presently no Yoruba Vice Chancellor in any South East or South-South zones, likewise, no Igbo Vice Chancellor in any of the 19 Northern states. It does not stop there, more than 30 years after the creation of Federal Capital Territory; no Southerner has ever been a substantive Minister of FCT. There are other ministries like Agriculture and Water Resources which are also exclusive preserve of the Northerners. The adopted principles of federal character and quota systems are lopsidedly applied. All these are antithetical to national integration.
It is primordial sentiments that are the root causes of the Plateau crises, the latest of which took place on March 7 and 17, 2010. By the time the dust settled, over 500 women, children, elderly and infirm had been sent to early grave. The Plateau State conflict is a potpourri of ethno-religious and politico-economic conflict. The two main actors in the crisis have been the Berom, Anagutas, Afizeres, Tarok and some other tribes who lay claim to be indigenes of Plateau State and the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group who are regarded as the settlers. Thus the crisis is about citizenship identities. News report has it that the Plateau crisis has been a recurring decimal since Tuesday, April 12, 1994 when the natives resisted the appointment of Alhaji Aminu Mato as the chairman of the Caretaker Management Committee of Jos North Local Government Area.
In the past 16 years the upheavals have manifested in Jos, Wase, Yelwa, Shendam, Qua Pan and Langtang. In fact, over the crisis, former Governor Joshua Dariye was temporarily removed from office for 6 months when on Tuesday, May 18, 2004 Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo declared state of emergency in Plateau State and appointed Major General Chris Alli (Rtd.) as the Sole Administrator. By 2008, precisely on November 28, disagreement over the local government election into Jos North led to the destruction of lives and property which official figure put at over 300. The deep rooted nature of the Plateau crises came to fore aftermath of the November 2008 massacre when two different panels of enquiries were set up to look at ‘the immediate and remote causes of the crisis’. While the Plateau State set up Prince Bola Ajibola Commission of Enquiry, the Federal Government inaugurated General Emmanuel Abisoye (Rtd.) Commission of Enquiry. Though the Ajibola panel has submitted its report, the Abisoye panel was still sitting when on Sunday, January 17, 2010 the bubble burst again in a 4 day war of attrition leading to 326 deaths and over 40,000 internally displaced refugees.
There is no doubt that the Sunday, March 7 attacks on Dogon- Nahawa, Zot and Rassat communities in Jos South as well as the March 17 siege on Byei and Baten communities are premeditated reprisal from the January attack on some communities in the Local Government such as Kurujenta and TimTim. It would be recalled that in January, some 150 bodies were recovered from a well and sewage pits from Kuru Karama, according to news-report. Some of the Fulanis arrested over the latest crisis have confirmed that they participated in the attack on Dogon-Nahawa because their people and cows were killed in January. The Federal Government had set up Chief Solomon Lar committee after the January attack; however, the reprisal is obviously a vote of no confidence in the new committee. By far the most worrisome development in the January and March attack is the allegation of bias against the military high command in the State and the Federal level. Christian Association of Nigeria had accused the military of bias and genocide. Political and military juggernauts like the Governor of Plateau State, Da Jonah Jang and General Domkat Bali (Rtd.) have openly accused the military of prejudice and failure to act on intelligence report provided. Expectedly, the military has debunked these allegations.
I am of the opinion that something is fishy in the way security agents and the Plateau State Government have handled the Jos crises. They have chosen to adopt fire-brigade approach rather than a pre-emptive strategy. Why has it been difficult to forestall the violence? Why have there been no successful prosecutions of those arrested since the crisis broke out in 1994? Who are the arrowheads and masterminds of the Plateau crises? Is there any justification to continue to give security vote to Governors who in truth do not have the authority to issue command to the security agencies in their state when there is security breach?
As things stand now, the local economy of Jos and indeed the entire Plateau State has been rendered prostrate by the perennial conflict. Many of those whom were bussed out of Jos by their respective State governments in January have vowed never to return to the once revered “Home of Peace and Tourism”. These include students, traders, Youth Corps members and thousands of those who were contributing to the economy and development of Plateau State. Even the tourism sector of the State has now been destroyed as many local and foreign tourists who go to Jos to enjoy its temperate climate and beautiful scenery have since sought fun in other tourist centres of the country. It will also be foolhardy to expect any investor – local or foreign - to come and do business in a politically volatile environment like Plateau State. What this means is that the high incidence of unemployment and poverty in the State will worsen.
I am in support of the call for Truth and Reconciliation Commission being set up to bring about lasting solution to the Plateau palaver. However, for any peace effort to succeed there must be the political will and sincerity of purpose on the part of the political elite both at the State and national level to see that wilful and malicious destruction of lives and properties is halted in Plateau State and in Nigeria at large. Efforts must be made by the security agencies to mop up the small arms that have been smuggled into Plateau State by the different factions to the crisis. This is very important if the weapons will not come handy during the next general elections which is months away. In the short term, the internally displaced people must be properly resettled and those who suffered financial and material loss must be adequately compensated.