The Malady on Jos Plateau

By Niyi Egbe

John Donne, the great 17th century English Poet was known to be so enthralled with the fear of death that he wrote his funeral barely weeks before he passed on. He was so pained about death that he quipped "Any man's death diminishes me, because am involved in mankind." Were he around, one wonders what lines he would be composing about the malady on Nigeria's Jos plateau, where literally hell has been let loose, civility has crashed and our humanity as Nigerians diminished by the listless bloodletting in that divinely afforded blissful haven.

The same poet had in that poem "No man is an Island" envisioned a shrinking of the world into a small village and a world virtually without borders. Though he could hardly have had inkling that there would come a time when communication via mobile phones, the internet or through cross continental broadcast media would shrink the mental and geographical distances between men, he had quipped: "No man is an Island, entire of himself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main". Impliedly, he was indicating that we are all a community in this massive terrestrial ball called the earth. In today's world, whatever happens any where can hardly be hidden. The era of diplomatic cover ups, double tonguing and telling official half truths is on the exit. 

Simply put, not only Nigerians, but indeed the world community is aghast, wide awake, awaiting and watching how the Nigerian government would be handling this festering and nerve wrecking bloodletting on the Jos plateau. The United Nations, the Vatican, Britain and a number of friendly nations have expressed some concern about the ugly tide. The civilized and informed world is waiting to see if there would be another round of those denials and buck passing by our General Saleh Maina led security forces and how the Nigerian government would be handling the issue. We can imagine that another string of lame defences for the latest assault and extermination of lives at Biye and Batem villages in Riyom Local Government Area of Plateau State.

We can predict that there were again no official calls or text messages from the Plateau state government officials, and since there was dereliction of the duty of Governor Jonah Jang and his aides to their own citizens, who voted them to power, we needn't expect the General Maina collectives to be as concerned. Ever heard of a mere parishioner being more Catholic than the Pope?

The native Nigerian and indeed the larger world human community cannot understand this unnecessary wasting of priceless human lives on the plateau. Pictures did feed our opticals as clearly as they could. It was a tale of the unimaginable! The lives of some thirteen harmless Nigerians had been snuffed out in cold blood. They slept and on waking, they found themselves where they hardly thought about reaching that soon – the great beyond!

In the usual style of our nomadic felons, defenseless women and innocent children are the larger victims. As is the norm with these 21st century Barbarians, if they did not slash throats, they cracked skulls, chopped off limbs here or there and as necessary. They dealt deep machete cuts on their victims, ensuring that there was sufficient force to send them on irreversible journeys to the great beyond. They came well equipped; employing bows, arrows and guns freely. Of course, there was no scarcity of petrol and match boxes needed to finish the act. How mindless and bestial and who says they not merely whet their matches and daggers; they possibly tasted blood – that of their victims!

Indeed hell has been let loose on the Plateau. The suns of the victims have been downed in their prime. They have taken a number among their morbid and listless tribe that were earlier felled in hundreds at Dogon-Nahawa village. Together, their bloods drip from the crest of the troubled Jos plateau to Aso Rock, Lake Chad, the Sahara desert and the Atlantic. Like the blood of Abel, theirs are crying unto God, seeking vengeance from Nigeria over the carelessness of the Maina led security forces that again went to sleep on duty.

The recent ill development on the Plateau has generated this much attention because it is being sustained. How do we explain the loss of about 1, 000 precious lives these three months? How can human lives be wasted away like guinea pigs? In the civilized world, even animal life is becoming sacred – ever heard of societies set up to prevent cruelty against animals? How come that in this modern day, here in Nigeria we are cheapening human lives and having them so recklessly wasted away?

However, it is merely a number in the tribe of callous attacks by fanatics who are very poor representations of the God they claim to represent. In the case of the nascent killings on the Plateau, the war lords do portray their religious community in really bad light. More so, when the history of religious clashes is considered in our beleaguered country. You could hardly believe the level of bestiality and tempers that flare when it comes to rising to the defence of the religion by these usually hardly literate zealots.

Agreed the recent war path of these assailants may have been reprisal reactions to earlier pains suffered. Odd for them, history would reveal that they had sown the wind that has generated the whirlwind.

One would have resisted descending to religious debates. However, over this ill development, there is need to have a recourse to history. It is claimed that the recent war path of these aggressors are a reprisal to earlier pains they had suffered. However, we need ask ourselves who the history of intolerance and culture of reckless visitation of harm on dissents to religious views tilts against especially of the northern parts of this country. Who has all along been bearing the brunt? Who is suffering the more pain? I hate trading blames, whichever blood is shed be it Christian or Muslim is just intolerable. The person is first a human being before being a Muslim or Christian. Also, the state owes the average Nigerian the right to security, safety and protection from aggressors. 

Also, the Fulani culturally carry arms especially for protection against wild animals as they lead their animals to forage and graze, the extermination of which enhance their killing skills. Sadly, they now seem to have little restraint where there are brushes with fellow men. Overtime, there have always been reported clashes between them and more sedentary crop farmers – be they Muslim or Christian which often times could be bloody. They carry on as if they have a monopoly of violence - of course, confident in the daggers that they wear as part of their cultural dressing. Usually, the other parties bear the most brunt. After all, they hardly have regular bouts with wild animals. And when there is a religious fevour to it all, it becomes all the more dangerous and horrendous.  

Agreed, it is not fair to label the Fulani people in the colouration of the hostile and murderous, just because of the nefarious activities of a few their kith and keen. They are definitely not all a wild race. We should also not forget that they have for centuries been there doing the humble task of providing beef and assorted dairy products. But for them, one wonders or imagines how poor our level of protein nutrition would have been. They have been there, navigating our forests, courageously committed to their transhumant animal rearing to our gain.

However, much depends on their leadership to properly educate and orientate the misguided deviants in their midst that we are no longer in the dark ages, where scores are settled on the basis of an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth. They can at least seek redress in the courts. That is the civilized thing to do.

Also, the fact that previous culprits escaped and are seen to have escaped without incurring the wrath of the state certainly is aggravating the situation. Certainly, the conversion of the state to a theater of war was not attained by flight. I would want to be optimistic that for once the government will take decisive steps to quell the anger and reprisals that are the promises of the recent development. The otherwise is surely expensive – there would definitely exist a vicious cycle of confrontation and the sorrow and tears that would follow. 

The efforts at education within the enclaves of the feuding divides should be complemented by the famed nomadic education which should further expose these people to the norms of co- existence. Such education will also facilitate their animal husbandry activities, helping them with enough work to concern themselves with. As it is said, an idle mind is the devil's workshop.

A worrisome development over the mindless mass murder by the criminal ethno- religious bigots on the plateau of Jos is the increasing loss of faith in the army. Governor Jonah Jang, himself a former military officer has barely been restraint in specifically accusing the General Officer Commanding the 3rd Army Division in Jos, Major General Saleh Maina of complicity in the security breach that led to the bloodbath. Of course, the army has denied Jang's accusation and there have been claims and counter claims. There have also been calls on the Federal Government to go to the roots of the troubles, look incisively into the outcomes of past probe and implement them. Some have even asked that Acting President Goodluck Jonathan should sack the Army leadership.

There is need for tact and caution as the issues threaten even the fabrics of our national existence. A sack of Maina could be interpreted as anti Hausa Fulani or Muslim. Some would see that as hogwash, if he derelicted duties, he should be given the boot or at least redeployed from the plateau command. They would ask: "What sentiment or price could be too high to pay to atone those who went to an early grave because of the negligence of the Maina led forces"?

There is also the recent claim that the sit tight zealot Muhmar Ghaddafi gave an uniformed and rabble – rousing suggestion that Nigeria be bifurcated into two geo- religious lines. He asks us to leave the North for his Muslim brethren and the south for Christians. Good Split Nigeria? Should that ever happen, one can hardly imagine how many nations would emerge. Especially considering the age long discontent over the way the ship of the state is being steered, no thanks to some of our self imposed or elected leaders, whose misrule has been threatening the very fabrics that hold us together.

The Nigerian Armed forces and allied agencies deployed to Jos, need realize that history will judge them should they fail to live up to expectation. Already, the people are losing faith in the ability of the army to live up to its billing. The development is the more worrisome, when it is claimed that some of the miscreants even don army uniforms and then surreptitiously unleash their attacks.  This is a task that the combined forces of the intelligence agencies and of course enlisting civilian informants, must stem.

Another issue that the nation need succinctly look into is the control of security forces. Governor Jang for instance complained that the way the command control is structured; a state governor cannot control "even a fly". If we capitulate to the suggestion, then we should be prepared for the potential in some of our politicians to abuse it. We should remember that in our clime, election and control of resources and of military power is conducted in the realm of "do and die"

One sympathises with Governor Jang. He is not alone in the request for some control of the security forces by states. His colleagues, governors have been making similar calls. The issue needs an in- depth examination by the national assembly with inputs from the larger society. Meanwhile, Governor Jang should properly liase with his colleagues in the army. Who is better positioned to enjoy some goodwill than himself, a former military general? It is not too much for the Plateau people to expect to enjoy peace because a retired general is control of the ship of their state.

Finally, there is urgent need for the Federal Government to step up efforts to save our historically blissful Plateau State from further degeneration. This request should not be treated with levity. Recently, on receiving a delegation from the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria that came to commiserate with the state leadership over the loss of lives, Governor Jang disclosed that there is increasing discontent among the youths of the state. According to him, they had lost faith in the army. They want to be convinced that those murderers troubling the Plateau would come to justice; otherwise, they are certain to take the laws into their hands. He also cautioned that the state leadership may not be able to contain their would-be vengeful mission, as they are determined to teach those that feel they have a monopoly of violence a thorough lesson and keep them in check. Needn't we give heed to him, in order to stem further blood bath?

Niyi Egbe

A Media Practitioner lives in Lagos Nigeria

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