Unending killing in Jos
The hitherto tranquil city of Jos, the Plateau State capital, has been witnessing the most dramatic bloodbath in the country. Killings in the city and its environs have assumed a pattern and frequency that seem as if such heinous acts are no longer criminal in the country. The tragedy is that there is scant sign that the bloody conflict is anywhere near ebbing. This is dangerous; more so that it is has become apparent that the state is helpless in bringing the felons to book.
On February 22, 10 members of one family were wiped out by gunmen at Koghum village in Jos South Local Government Area while meeting to plan how to bury their dead. A relation of the deceased, Habila Musa, who survived the massacre, gave a disturbing picture of how the assassins struck. He explained, “I escaped as soon as I heard sporadic gunshots. We began running in different directions. They did not pursue me, but they went after my younger ones and killed them mercilessly. They were pursuing them with torches and shooting at the same time.” The story is most pitiable and underlines the faultlines of our national experience – boiling sectarian and ethnic cauldrons that Jos has typified for over three decades.
The Koghum village mass murder is similar to the onslaught on innocent citizens that claimed over 100 lives in July 2012. The victims included a serving senator, Gyang Dantong, and the Majority Leader in the state House of Assembly, Gyang Fulani. The two politicians were among scores of mourners burying their relatives who had also been killed earlier by suspected Fulani herdsmen. In 2001, about 1,000 lives were needlessly wasted in clashes between Hausa/Fulani settlers and Jos indigenes; also, 800 people died in Yelwa in a similar violence, just as over 1,850 others were exterminated between 2008 and 2010.
What is beyond doubt is that the slaughter will go on as long as the Federal Government allows itself to be blinded by the same sectarian sentiments fuelling the bloodshed. Yet, human life is sacrosanct and guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution. But the Nigerian state has shirked from this most important responsibility, thereby turning Jos and other parts of Plateau State into a huge graveyard for innocent souls. For every sectarian uprising in Jos, either the state or the Federal Government has hurried to empanel a commission of enquiry, whose reports end up gathering dust on government shelves.
Befuddled by a bloody clash in 2008, the Federal Government, under the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, set up another commission to chart the course for lasting peace. It was chaired by Emmanuel Abisoye, a retired Army general. Similarly, the Plateau State Government established its own panel headed by Bola Ajibola, a former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. Instead of the two governments cooperating to find some common ground for peace, the state government under Jonah Jang challenged the Federal Government’s authority or right to probe the tragedy.
Thus, human lives and public peace were sacrificed on the altar of insensate politicking. Regrettably, the administration of Goodluck Jonathan has chosen the unproductive approach of panel-setting, whereas what the situation calls for is uncommon courage or political will to take the bull by the horns. On February 1, 2010, he inaugurated a committee with the mandate to examine the issues surrounding the recurring crises. Representatives of the Berom indigenes and Hausa/Fulani settlers made up the 15-member panel, which Solomon Lar, a former Governor of the state, and Yahaya Kwande, a former minister, co-chaired. That is where the matter ended.
However, no matter how long the Nigerian state plays the ostrich over the sundry questions of nation-building facing it, the bloodletting in Jos is a constant metaphor for national dialogue on how the country should be structured for the peaceful co-existence of its over 160 million people. There is no option! Jonathan should realise that summoning traditional rulers and other stakeholders to Abuja whenever there is bloodshed amounts to a veneer response, which solves no problem.
An observation by the Gbong Gwom Jos, Buba Gyang, while interacting with journalists shortly after a meeting with the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, in August 2012 in Abuja, is instructive. He had said, “All the reports are relevant. There are judicial commission reports, there are some administrative committee reports, but they carry some information, all information is very vital for the resolution of these problems. And we will suggest that the government should set up a committee to see what they can get out of those reports and the way forward.”
There is truth in this. Jos has for too long, been a victim of violence. The current government should shake off its lethargy and come up with concrete solutions to stop the blood-letting on the Plateau. In the absence of state police and other constitutional constraints, the Federal Government, and not the state government, should be held responsible for this horrendous human tragedy. It took the tragedy in Newtown, United States, where a lone gunman shot his way into an elementary school and killed 26 people, including 20 young children, for President Barack Obama to take up new gun control measures and for the US Congress to begin pushing numerous reforms designed to prevent similar tragedies.
Indeed, the only way out of the quagmire in Plateau State is for the Jonathan government to muster a strong political will to implement critical elements in all the reports spawned by the crises. By all accounts, this is an unwinnable conflict by either party. Therefore, decisive government intervention is the only magic wand that is needed here.