In a desperate call that can only exacerbate the security challenge in Plateau State, a member of the House of Representatives urged his traumatised constituents to defend themselves. On Monday, Hon. Dachung Bagos said that 19 people were killed within 24 hours last weekend in Jos South
and Mangu local government areas of the state. “Hundreds have lost their lives since May 2023, and villagers can’t go to their farms, several displaced persons, lands taken over, farmlands destroyed”, said Bago who released the details (name and age) of the people killed in his federal constituency. “In the face of this kind of breakdown in the will and capacity of the government to protect the people and their communities, law-abiding citizens must organize to protect themselves”, he admonished.
While it is difficult to blame Bagos for asking his people to embrace what amounts to self-help given the breakdown of law and order in the area, his prescription offers no solution to the killings that have ethno-religious undertones and feed on ancient animosities. Sadly, officials of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) and Berom Youth Moulders continue to trade accusations on the spiral of violence that have left hundreds gruesomely murdered and maimed, communities razed, huge swarths of farmlands destroyed and thousands of cattle missing. Because we live in a nation where people suffer from collective amnesia, it is important to remind readers that this is not a new crisis in a region where identity has become a matter of life and death.
On 3rd September 2018, Major General Idris Alkali (rtd) disappeared while travelling to his farm in Bauchi from Abuja. The family alerted army headquarters. Acting on intelligence, the army narrowed its search to a pond in an abandoned mining pit in Dura–Du District, Jos South Local Government Area and brought in dredgers. On 29th September, they found Alkali’s black Toyota Corolla car, a customised white T-Shirt with Nigerian Army logo and his name inscribed on it as well as a pair of canvass shoe belonging to him. Eventually, the body of General Alkali was found in an abandoned well in Guchwet village of Shen district, Jos South Local Government Area of the state. But in searching the pond, the army also pulled out two additional vehicles, a Toyota bus reportedly declared missing with the driver three months earlier and a Rover car declared missing with its occupants since 2013. These of course were victims of barbaric killings whose families had searched in vain for their whereabouts.
An eye for eye, as the saying goes, makes the world go blind. But that is what is happening today in many parts of Benue, Plateau and a few other states in the Middle Belt where the people have been reduced to undertakers. Every day comes with multiple burials. When a society is in decline, as I wrote five years ago, people look for solutions where they do not exist. In Nigeria, identity politics has become the new form of expression. Therefore, we must locate this tragedy within the context of the tit-for-tat ethno-religious violence that has for years defined Jos and environs. We cannot continue to manipulate differences while trading hate yet expect peace or development.
I have on different occasions written as to how artificial differences are magnified and manipulated in Nigeria for sinister ends. That is not what obtains in some other African countries. Two weeks ago, I was in Sierra Leone for their presidential election. One of the things I learnt from that country is how identity politics on which most Nigerians tear themselves apart means nothing to their people. Even though 78 percent of Sierra Leoneans are Muslim, both President Julius Maada Bio and his rival, the main opposition candidate, Dr Samura Kamara are Christians! Even Bio’s immediate predecessor, Ernest Bai Koroma who was in power for 11 years is a Christian. I pray for such a time in Nigeria when the faith people profess or the ethnic group to which they belong would matter less than the ‘content of their character.’
Meanwhile, President Bola Tinubu on Tuesday expressed sadness and grief over the latest round of violence and killings in both Plateau and Benue States. “It is most unfortunate that in this orgy of violence, an innocent eight-month-old baby in Farin Lamba community of Vwang District, Jos South Local Government, died in a conflict she knew nothing about”, the president said. “A major consequence of perennial conflict is always the tragic loss of innocent lives. To build virile, peaceful, and prosperous communities demand tolerance and forgiveness for every perceived wrongdoing.”
The president is correct. But he must go beyond merely preaching. He should help facilitate a dialogue for peace in the region if we are to end the cycle of revenge killings that has claimed the lives of thousands in the two states. Eleven years ago, precisely on 8th July 2012, Senator Dantong Gyang Dalyop and Hon. Gyang Fulani, then Majority Leader of the Plateau State Assembly, were attending a mass funeral for dozens of their people killed in Barkin-Ladi local government area when a gang of gunmen invaded the burial ground, shooting in all directions. The two lawmakers did not survive the massacre that claimed dozens of lives. Following that tragedy, I wrote a column, ‘Fire from the Mountains…’
I leave readers with excerpts from that column as I urge President Tinubu to work with stakeholders in the Middle Belt region to end what has now become multilateral killings.
It was bad enough that the victims were brutally massacred in their homes before one now considered the indignity of a mass burial. Unfortunately, it was at that emotionally vulnerable state at the scene of a multiple funeral that Senator Dantong Gyang Dalyop and others were callously ambushed in a second round of violence that ultimately consumed no fewer than 40 people. Given the nature of the crisis which led to that bloody madness, it would be very naïve of anybody to consider this as the end of a cycle of revenge that brought about the pogrom. And that is where the federal and state governments have now been left with a serious challenge which would require tact and commitment on the part of critical stakeholders.
All the political, traditional, and religious leaders in Plateau State who have substantial influence must join forces if we are not to witness an escalation of this tragedy. What happened at the weekend was almost like a scene from a horror movie. That explains why it is nothing but gratuitous insult for some people to be dwelling on the irrelevant fact that there were no gunshot wounds on (some of) the victims who were, to all intents and purposes, simply murdered. There is also need for a serious inquisition into the role of the security agencies at the scene of the tragedy to ascertain their level of professionalism in such a panicky environment.
While we commiserate with the families who lost loved ones, it is important for those who are already talking carelessly to understand that making divisive and incendiary statements at a time like this can only compound the situation. Whatever the grievances (real and imagined) by the contending parties, this is not an auspicious moment to air them. When the tears have dried and the pains have subsided, there definitely must be a revisit of several issues that are critical to finding lasting peace in the state.
The ethnic conflicts on the Plateau and the resultant political tensions that have been pervasive over the years arose principally because of the politicisation of accumulated grievances. And it is not helped by the ethnic-settler controversy that is founded on division and hate. This is an issue that has become a serious challenge not only in Plateau State but in several places across the nation. And until, and unless, we address it, we will never be able to build a united society.
It is not too late for a political negotiation that will put an end to the ethnic strife and bloodshed. For that to happen though, it is important for all critical stakeholders to rise to condemn this massacre, not rationalise or justify such cold-blooded mass murder. It is also important to avoid a reprisal that can only worsen an already bad situation. It is natural that at a time when emotions run high, reason will be at a very low ebb. Yet except the relevant authorities move in quickly, (and I am not talking of drafting in some military men who will run away at the sight of danger as happened last Sunday), there could be further acts of anger and retaliation between the contending parties. And this will be most unhelpful.
We must explore all the possibilities for peace, though that is contingent on not bringing in mercenaries who may exploit the situation to further their own nefarious agenda. The fear is that there may already be some tell-tale signs in that direction, and we know that without peaceful coexistence and tolerance, the city of Jos and indeed Plateau State, will be in perpetual conflict. Each side will keep trying to eliminate the other through what has become a bilateral genocide, to borrow a phrase coined in Rwanda. To therefore put the brakes on the violence, there is the need to checkmate all appeals to hate, force and guilt by association. I will recommend for the people a 75 second video clip which, in a different context, puts this issue in proper perspective: http://www.seedsofpeace.org/#.
At the end of the day, all the contending parties must come to the sober realization that they have only been losing lives, wealth and their peace of mind since the conflicts began. Their children are being wrongly socialized because their religious and cultural teachings about the sanctity of life are being cheerfully violated. The local economy has crashed and a land that was a haven of peace and agricultural productivity now exports only tales of man’s inhumanity to man.
The failure of our security agencies and whatever may be their current tactics for dealing with the challenge in Jos is also evident. It is particularly worrisome that no arrests are made after these killings, implying that there is probably no real grip on the situation. This only encourages what has become a national culture of impunity. As the nation therefore mourns the distinguished Senator and other victims of this tragedy, let the people of Plateau State embrace the legendary admonition of Ukpabi Asika: “Enough is enough”.
Joe Irukwu and the ‘Nigerian Delinquents’
Former President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and foremost Insurance guru, Professor Joseph Ogbonnaya Irukwu, died last Sunday—11 days to his 89th birthday. I met him only once, but it was memorable. On 15th August 2014 in Abuja, I reviewed his book, ‘Nigeria at 100: What Next?’ at the public presentation chaired by Bishop Hassan Matthew Kukah. I had been approached for the assignment by one of his children. In the late Joe Irukwu’s memory, I am publishing excerpts from that review (of nine years ago) titled, ‘The Past is Another Country’.
If the young generation is made to believe that our past does not matter, how then can our children develop a sense of belonging and patriotism to a nation they don’t know? That of course is by the way, but we must commend Professor Joe Irukwu for documenting essential epochs and the dominant issues in our journey to nationhood. Reading through ‘Nigeria at 100: What Next?’, it is easy to understand why the author comes to the same conclusion as most writers that the greatest problem confronting Nigeria today is that of leadership at practically every level and in all strata of our society. However, the real message of the book is that the change we seek in our society must begin with each one of us.
Part One provides historical background to the nation now called Nigeria, right from the British annexation of Lagos in 1861 through the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914 to what many now cynically call the flag Independence in 1960. Even though briefly, the book deals with such landmark events as the resistance of three monarchs (the Nana of Itsekiri, Jaja of Opobo and the Oba of Benin) to the British incursion; the post-colonial constitutional developments; the First Republic and its acrimonious elections and census; the tragic military interregnum and the civil war; the Second Republic democratic experiment and why it failed; the military rule that followed and finally, the return to democracy in 1999.
For each of these periods, the author provides the lessons that were ignored as well as what might have been had we followed a different trajectory. Yet despite being a participant (or at least a ringside observer) in some of these events so aptly captured, the author adopts the detachment of an unbiased reporter which I consider refreshing for someone of his generation. In Part Two, the author deals with the impediments to nation-building in our country and the factors he identifies include the challenge of leadership and pervasive corruption. However, in presenting this twin-challenge in five chapters, the author relies on his earlier thesis that the Nigerian space has been hijacked largely by a group of men and women he describes as delinquents. I shall return to this shortly.
Part Three is titled ‘Repairing the damage and healing the wounds: reconciliation, transformation and patriotism’. While the author advocates for a united and stable Nigeria, he nonetheless believes that such a goal is better achieved by strengthening the ethnic and regional organizations. That the author would adopt this position is not difficult to understand since he is a former president of Ohaneze Ndigbo. However, he ends that section of the book with some enduring lessons that would serve the nation, but he tempered them with some caution. Part Four, which is the last section of the book, has five chapters and is appropriately titled ‘A roadmap for the future’. The author advocates the reformation of the family, restructuring of the polity and a complete national reconciliation.
In all, Irukwu has given us a fascinating collection that speaks to a period like this in our nation when there is an intense contestation for power between and among the major geo-ethnic groups and a growing apprehension, in several quarters, of an impending national crisis. What a book like this does is to remind us about where we come from, the mistakes we made in the past, the lessons we refused to learn and their consequences.
With the maturity that comes with age, experience and exposure, Irukwu’s patriotism shines through the collection. He agonises over the challenges we face while at the same time, proffering his own solutions to some of them. At the end, what the author says most clearly in ‘Nigeria at 100: What Next?’ is that we can overcome the human and institutional barriers that have for decades held the country back if critical stakeholders in the Nigerian project embrace a more productive and cooperative form of engagement.
While the author’s account of the civil war may be considered too brief, he nonetheless provides us with the enduring lessons and the more I reflect upon them, the more I wonder whether we have learnt anything from the tragic episode. The first lesson, according to Irukwu, is that in war everybody loses, at least to certain degrees: The wasted lives and resources as well as the missed opportunities when compromise, which is not necessarily a bad thing, could have helped to avert such tragedy. The second lesson is that no society can be peaceful if a section of it is either in turmoil or rendered vulnerable due to acts of omission or commission by relevant authorities. While the author is of a strong conviction that the formation of a national political party provides antidote to such situation, whatever that may mean within the context of Nigeria, there is yet a bigger message embedded in his narrative which those who pay close attention would see in the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast.
The third lesson, according to the author, is that we should never paper over our differences. We must discuss them and find acceptable ways to accommodate one another rather than allow misgivings arising out of conflicts to fester. While that is clear enough, the fourth and last lesson from the author with respect to the civil war is that we should never externalize our problems. With graphic illustration, Irukwu teaches us that solutions to domestic problems, like charity, must begin from home.
Reading through ‘Nigeria at 100: What Next?’, it is easy to conclude that the past was a much better country. Unfortunately, that has become the story of our nation as we almost always look back to “the good old days”. Notwithstanding, the author still believes and argues rather forcefully that the future holds better prospects, if we all play our part.
I share the author’s optimism that it will take our collective efforts to build a nation ruled by logic and ideas, rather than blind faith and fanaticism; a nation where girls would be able to attend school without the fear of being abducted by some criminal gangs who would turn them to chattels of pleasure; a nation where the poverty of the majority would not be cynically explained away with the number of private jets owned by a few individuals; a nation where sustainable growth and development would go hand in hand. Professor Irukwu may not have said so in those words but the message from ‘Nigeria at 100: What Next?’ is very clear about the nation envisioned by the author and the choices we must make to achieve that dream.
Although the book has 22 chapters, all of which are compelling, two chapters stand out. They are chapters 11 and 12 titled ‘The Advent of the Nigerian delinquents’ and ‘The Invasion of the Nigerian Leadership by Delinquents’. I take the liberty to quote the words of the author: “…they represent a small, noisy and highly visible percentage of Nigerians. This small group of delinquent Nigerians, from all backgrounds and ethnic groups, have over the years been responsible for the decline in the country’s traditional values. Their generally negative activities became more pronounced after the Nigerian civil war in the 1970’s and beyond. Although very few writers have written specifically about the delinquents as such, several writers and commentators have spoken and written about the havoc caused by this small group of reckless Nigerians and the damage they have done to Nigerian image, as well as their negative influence on the Nigerian youth.”
I am sure we can all picture in our minds the delinquents in the Nigerian public space. The private jet owners who have no visible means of livelihood; the so-called oil barons who have probably never seen oil rigs before yet feed fat on the collective misery of our people; the assistant directors in the civil service who move around with contingents of security details with billions of Naira belonging to pensioners in their private accounts; the airlines operator who sell 200 tickets for an aircraft that can only accommodate 150 passengers; the Judge who grants injunctions that can only be vacated in heaven and of course we should not forget the ‘Papas and Mamas’ who are supposedly doing the work of God but are helping themselves with the tithes and offerings of their church members to live in obscene luxury.
While the author argues that these characters represent but a tiny minority of our country, he nonetheless makes it clear that they are so powerful and visible that they have become the public face of Nigeria today. The question to ask is why do we have so many delinquents in our society? The answer is simple: Because it carries enormous rewards and little consequences. We are in a society where it is easy to get away with bad behaviour…
ENDNOTE: May God comfort the family of Professor Irukwu and may He grant his soul eternal rest.