Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The JOS we Know-- Reports from the media

Why The Jos Crisis Persists Permanent peace may continue to elude Plateau State, the acclaimed 'Home of Peace and Tourism,' for a long time until the issue of Jos North Council, which is seen by the Hausa/Fulani community, maligned as 'settlers by the natives, as theirs, is settled. Before the creation of Jos North Council in 1991 by the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida administration, the local council was an appendage of Bauchi Province, as a vassal local council, with loyalty to the authority running it as feudalism. Even though Plateau is now an independent entity controlling Jos North, because of the said old umbilical cord between the Hausa/Fulani of Jos North and the defunct Bauchi Province that held sway, the Hausa/Fulani still see Jos North as their own. So, the carving out of Jos North from the old Jos by the Babangida regime has not demonstrated any wisdom nor has it helped matters, years after, as the Hausa/Fulani see it as a council created for them and which, they must, therefore, run and no other person. The bad blood between the natives and the Hausa/Fulani in the area started to manifest when during the military regime, one Mato was appointed as the caretaker committee chairman for Jos North Local Council. The natives from the council- the Beroms, Anaguta, Afizere and so on- protested vehemently until the appointment was reversed. Also during the military, a military administrator appointed one Mukhtar Teacher as the chairman of the National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP), which also met stiff opposition from the natives. When it comes to politics, the Hausa/Fulani are more politically conscious, in terms of mobilising their people to come out to vote for their candidates. To them, any candidate they support must always win, because of their 'numerical strength' and their level of mobilisation. But no matter the odds, they must not win the chairmanship election of Jos North. In the past, they won election into the House of Representatives through the All Nigerian People's Party (ANPP), and that has not changed, with Samaila Mohammed representing Bassa/Jos North Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. They have also been winning the area's slots in the state House of Assembly on the platform of the ANPP. So, why not the chairman of Jos North Local Council? It is assumed by all that whoever wins the chairmanship has indirectly and impliedly won the sole of the entire state, being the commercial nerve centre of the state. The chairman of Jos North can even be equated to the deputy governor of the state, as far as economic resources are concerned. Unarguably, Plateau is a Christian state. The Hausa/Fulani community is a Moslem-dominated area. All these are facts. The Christians have a way of worship, which is peculiar to them, same for the Moslems. The two beliefs are poles apart. So, there might be that apprehension by the natives that to give the Hausa/Fulani the opportunity to rule Jos North might introduce a strange Islamic doctrine unacceptable to them, which maybe inimical to their own religious belief and practice. Also, the Hausa/Fulani see their denial of the seat of the local government as a clear manipulation and design by the state government to keep them out of power. The bad blood has already been generated. The Jos crises of 1994, 2001, 2008 and the recent one of Sunday, January 17 were politically and religiously motivated. If Moslems take any action, religious motive and meaning are read to it, and the same thing for the Christians. So, religion is always used as a weapon to whip up sentiments. Moslems and Christians are suspicious of one another. Moslems believe the government, which must of course be a Christian, will always be on the side of the Christians, even though whoever is governor needs both the Christians and the Moslems to effectively administer the entire state. Successive elected governors of the state have constantly reassured that that the two warring parties both belong to their constituency and that they administer the state's resources without any discrimination based on ethnic, political or religious affiliations. Since the 2001 crisis, during the tenure of Chief Joshua Dariye, attempts had been made to conduct council elections without success, hence the appointment of caretaker committee chairmen, particularly for Jos North, until he wound up in May 2007 and the administration of Jonah David Jang took over. The crisis of November 2008, which was occasioned by the council election, centered on who won the soul of Jos North, the beautiful commercial centre of the state. The conduct of the election was free and fair, but the collation of results was seen by the Hausa/Fulani as not fair and open. For example, they argued that they were asked by the Plateau State Independent Electoral Commission (PLASIEC) to meet at a named location, only for the electoral body to change the venue without informing their representatives and they had to start combing the whole area before they finally located where PLASIEC hid itself. They saw this as an open design to rig the elections in favour of government's candidate. And when the results were announced by PLASIEC and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won all the 17 seats, hell was let loose. After the crisis, the state government set up a commission of inquiry, headed by Prince Bola Ajibola, to ascertain the immediate and remote causes of the crisis, which the Hausa/Fulani boycotted on the grounds that it is the same governor whom they perceived as taking sides that would implement whatever recommendations were made. In addition, they felt cheated during the November 2008 crisis, and ostensibly bottled up their anger. When the January 17 crisis broke out, the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Gregory Anyating, while addressing a press conference that day said: "The crisis erupted following attacks by a group of Moslem youths, who stormed a church in Nassarawa Gwom.... The attack by the youths was without any provocation." But the Moslem community said the content of the conference was hasty and an open instigation for reprisal attacks on them by the Christians, claiming they were already seeing the effect of the instigations. Their worry was that the remark by the police commissioner, a highly placed security officer, whom they believed to be the custodian of peace in society, had openly shown his bias against them, particularly when investigation had not been concluded. With all this avalanche of crises occurring from time in the state, the question many ask is: will Plateau ever be ready for permanent peace? The over 1000 displaced people camped at the Nigerian Bible Translation Trust centre near the Air Force Base in Jos told the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau on Wednesday that their main problem was hunger, as they said they had not eaten since they ran there for safety. They appealed to the army chief to come to their rescue by providing them necessary food, water and clothing. The COAS promised to collaborate with the state government to bring relief materials to them and directed General Officer Commanding (GOC) the Division, Maj-Gen. Saleh Maina, to transfer the army medical team there to provide medical services when needed in the refugee camps, while the army engineers should provide water and other sanitary amenities, like toilet. The refugees, who were still very aggressive due to hunger, told reporters that the government and security personnel worsened the crisis. They claimed that the security personnel were just watching the hoodlums killing and maiming people on the pretext that they had not been given the go-ahead to shoot. The refugees also claimed that the crisis started from an argument between two people, but that government was promptly notified and it did not do anything before it escalated. About 100 persons were receiving treatment at the Plateau Specialist Hospital in Jos as a result of the crisis, with several others brought in dead. According to the Chief Medical Director (CMD) of the hospital, Dr. Pam Dantong, the injuries sustained by the victims were mostly bullets and matchet wounds. Datong disclosed that one of the challenges facing the hospital at the moment was mostly that of space to take in the number of patients coming in. "In terms of manpower, it is a big challenge, that is why we call them mass casualties. Another thing is that at the hospital, they have almost exhausted our consumables, both in the theatre and the casualty units. As I am talking to you now, we may still need a lot of drugs and blood, but nobody would come out to donate. They have exhausted all our drugs, but all the same, those that are recuperating are recuperating very fast," he stated. Some of the victims narrated their ordeals. "On Sunday morning, we took our car from Bauchi to Keffi and we entered Jos. We came back to Jos around 5pm. We just saw some boys coming to us with cutlasses. So, I started to reverse. But the car switched off. From there, they came and started hitting the car and hitting us. They later burnt the car," one of them recounted. At OLA Hospital, one official of the Red Cross and a passenger, who were also victims, sustained various degrees of injuries. At the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), the picture is almost the same, but the casualties there are more than those at the other hospitals and access to the patients was restricted. At both the police headquarters and the Rukuba Barracks of the 3 Armoured Division of the Nigeria Army, displaced persons continued to stream in on an hourly basis, making it impossible to know the exact number. Women and children, carrying a few belongings, were seen in the open under the prevailing Jos extreme cold. It is on this sad note that stakeholders began to talk. Member representing Shendam, Mikang and Quaan Pan Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, George Daika, assured that the House would get to the root cause to ensure lasting solution. The number of miscreants arrested over the crisis has increased to over 100, according to unconfirmed reports from the police headquarters. Those arrested are from Dutse Uku, Congo Russia and Angwan Shanu, with dangerous weapons, including AK47, locally made pistols, daggers, axes, cutlasses, etc seized from them. Also, Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Istifanus Mwansat, had directed all members of the House to reconvene yesterday to discuss the current happenings in the state. Similarly, the Inter-religions Council for Peace and Harmony has unanimously condemned the unrest. The council's co-chairman and Catholic Archbishop of Jos, Rev. Ignatius Kaigama, who stated this shortly after the council's emergency meeting, expressed dismay over the hasty resort to violence as a means of resolving communal and religious disputes. The council appealed to those using GSM handsets to peddle rumors and trigger panic to desist from their action, appealing to citizens to remain calm, saying government had undertaken to guarantee the safety of lives and property of all its citizens. The council called on the citizens to guard against insightful comments or utterances, calling also on the media to be promoters of peaceful co-existence rather than embark on sentimental or sensational reporting. It assured that both Christian and Moslem leaders would work together to ensure that peace returned to the State. Meanwhile, the State Security Council had met, but no statement was issued at the end of the meeting. The state Commissioner for Information, Gregory Yenlong, called for security reinforcement. As a result of sporadic shootings all over Jos/Bukuru metropolis, Jos remained a ghost city, as the crisis escaladed. IN 2008 the story was The 2008 Jos Crisis has come and gone; leaving in its trail many lessons especially on the idea of national service. With biros or keyboards in remote areas far from where the conflagrations occurred, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) was hung with endless tirades by some elites, with many unjustified and unnecessary accusations. While this writer mourns the unwarranted waste of lives and property, it should be observed that many commentators have been unfair on the NYSC, especially in their call for its abrogation. Many commentators forgot that apart from biological parents of the deceased corps members, the NYSC was mourner-in-chief. In Africa, mourners are not usually treated with scorn but with respect and sympathy. But the NYSC was hauled with blames in a matter she did not cause, and for which she was also a hapless victim. All I can do now is pray: May the souls of all those who lost their lives in the crisis - students, corps members, businessmen, children, etc rest in peace. It is helpful to recollect that on November 27 th 2008, a local government election was held in Jos, Plateau State which in the aftermath resulted in a conflagration that saw 400 people allegedly dead and loss of several millions of naira worth of goods and services. On the surface, it appears a political crisis, fuelled by religious antagonism and deep seated ethnic hatred. But as I traversed the city and asked questions, the different dimensions began to emerge to becloud answer to the question; to what extent was the crisis a product of religious, ethnic, and political differences. More questions - Was the eventual exchange of hostility actually between the PDP and ANPP - the two leading political parties in the state? Was it a class war with the poor taking arms against the rich? Clear, however is that there were tinges of religion, ethnicity, economics, and politics in the Jos Crisis. It is also a painful reminder of the pervading extent of poverty and ignorance in the country and troubling depth which religion, ethnicity had sunk. This is a big shame after 48 years of nation building. Apart from being the Director, Corps Welfare and Inspection of NYSC, I led the team dispatched to Jos by the NYSC management soon after the outbreak of the crisis and stayed there until normalcy was restored. I was opportune to observe the different dimensions of the crisis at close-range. Thus, this essay is motivated by three factors namely; to correct certain impressions which seem to me as misleading, to contribute ideas to genuine efforts in finding a lasting solution to such crisis, and to participate in what Femi Orebe calls a "profound debate on the reasonableness or not of the NYSC scheme in the present form" (The Nation 21/12/2002 p.10 & 12). Indeed, this was my prompter, a move to express a personal view which has nothing to do with the position of the NYSC. Contrary to the impression created by some writers, NYSC’s response to the Jos crisis was swift. Immediately the news of the crisis broke, the Director-General directed me to action. A team raised at the Directorate in Abuja to join operations arrived in Jos on 28 th November and the Director-General too, suspended his national tour of orientation camps to join efforts in Jos. Of death, distance, hand of fate, and misdirected anger in the 2008 Jos crisis A careful review of comments showed that the calls for the abrogation of the NYSC had been largely based on language difficulties, distance from home, general insecurity in the country, and the death of corps members in the Jos crisis. These seem to me as illogical product of misplaced anger because these problems are general in nature, affecting everyone alike. While the issues of security, poverty, etc are beyond the powers of the NYSC scheme, most of the writers tended to ignore the human failure as exemplified by the elites and the hands of fate. Of necessity, people would always move from one place to another for economic and political reasons. And it should not be forgotten that but for the crisis, Jos remains one of the beautiful cities in the country with its temperate weather, hills, and shrubs. It is a delight to be there and many youths favour excursion there. And on its own, it will attract visitors and the consideration of death, distance, and poverty will not deter many from visiting Jos. Now, let’s consider one of the weightiest reasons for the call for the abrogation of the NYSC - the death of three corps members during the Jos crisis. There shall not be enough words to console all concerned. But, while we mourn, and pray their souls rest in peace, it should be observed that the abrogation of the NYSC shall serve no useful purpose. It would only worsen the situation by either obliterating the memory of the deceased or denying the society the quality and essential service which the scheme is well-known for today. The harsh reaction is however understandable, because death itself is a painful and irreparable loss. It is generally better to leave the question of death and life to God, rather than anything else, because as Sola Fasure observed, ‘people do die even in their bedrooms’ (The Nation 02-12-08 pg. 2) Against the foregoing, the ‘distance from home’ argument cannot be sustained. For instance, citizens in Ibadan were going with the normal business of life when the Ogunpa river tragedy occurred, killing many residents in the area in the process. Many of those who died were near their homes. Still on the hand of fate; one of the corps members was not serving in Jos per se. He was merely visiting and had packed and left home only to return due warnings from some Hausa chaps that the town was not safe. He returned to the joy of his cousins and aunt, only to be hacked to death a few hours later in secured premises. While fate was cruel to him, it smiled on his cousin - a female who would have been killed along with him, but for forceful separation. The head of the family was equally lucky. The man who had lived in Jos for over thirty years and who always offered accommodation to corps members was not in town on that day of the dastardly attack. If the mission was to kill all men in sight, your guess is as good as mine were he to be home on that fateful day. There is much to thank God for in spite of the ugliness of the Jos crisis, because it could have been worse for us all. The Jos crisis and the call for the abrogation of NYSC: A discussion with critics The contribution of the scheme has been acknowledged. And there is hardly any family without a stake, directly or otherwise in the NYSC. Unlike many writers and commentators, I was in Jos during the period and watched the crisis from close range. Some of the reports were incorrect and capable of misleading. Most of the issues raised - insecurity, death, language difficulty are of general nature not specific to the NYSC. Indeed, they are beyond the control of the scheme. It is painful that we lost our precious children to the Jos crisis, but contrary to some opinions, Nigeria is worth dying for, and in this case, she never abandoned its children in ‘their hour of need’ as has been canvassed by some writers. Indeed, the state rose squarely to the occasion. While we mourn our loved ones, is the abrogation of national service the best response to that ugly event as being suggested in some quarters? It is not, because as Tatalo Alamu observed, ‘nation building is a perpetual work in progress.’ Against the foregoing, I like to discuss with Femi Orebe. According to him, the deployment of youths to serve fatherland is a ‘continuous hemorrhaging of youths on the horns of misrepresented ideal’ (The Nation 21-12-08). To him, the best way of going about it is to allow people serve in their home states or states they graduated from as though such areas are immune from death or other tragedies of life. It is advised that Orebe reads the NYSC Hand Book at least for a better comprehension of the scheme’s objectives in order to make him see why his model would not fit. According to him, while, ‘those from the more developed areas work in poor condition or teach in poorly equipped schools, those from the villages or poor areas arrive in the city for the posh jobs and better life.’ It is needless to say that the ‘we are better than them’ syndrome simply breeds resentment, communication difficulty, and thus intolerance. Orebe’s excuse for all this is that the corps members were in Jos on posting, forgetting that there were other citizens in the area who were affected for no just reason. It is worth recalling that Mary Slessor, a young missionary from Scotland, Europe left the comfort of her land, an obviously more posh part of the world to work in Africa, which was then regarded as the ‘dark continent’, all in the service of humanity. It is noteworthy that her humanitarian work, especially in saving the lives of twins is still celebrated today. In more recent history, many of the America Peace Corps left their posh country for services in various parts of Africa, including Nigeria. They taught us in poorly equipped schools such as the ones detested by Orebe. If others can do it, why not Nigerians? Orebe and others would do well to read Sam Omatseye’s ‘Angel of Mercy’ in The Nation newspaper in order to have a good feel of modern trends in selfless service. It might be said that the element of volunteerism was expressed by Omatseye to make a case for charity does not matter. What matters most is the opportunity to serve mankind, especially those in difficult situation which Orebe seem to loathe. Now, turn to Professor Dapo Kolawole, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ado-Ekiti who as reported advised the government to abrogate the NYSC (The Nation 11-12-08 p. 2). This alarmed me for many reasons. Foremost is the falsehood contained in the report which alleged that ‘33 corps members at the last count had been slaughtered like rams and goats in some parts of the country.’ While the NYSC never lost that large number of its corps members, it remains one of the early misinformation about the crisis. Yet the professor could be excused for he allegedly spoke through a representative - Soyombo Olalekan. Still, the professor’s concern for security is genuine, but it should be provided for everyone, including corps members. A friend forwarded to my telephone the message by Professor Segun Osinowo asking ‘Dear parents join in the campaign for the abrogation of the NYSC’, admonishing them ‘not to wait till their children are wasted’. As one who upholds the African belief that a mourner is free to do anything within reason to express his sense of loss, I understand the position of Professor Osinowo. But the abrogation of the NYSC would not serve the cause for which his nephew and others died for. Thus, we could hear the same girl who escaped death saying, "yes, I would like to serve fatherland, but in a more secured area where no one would just wake up attacking others for no offence at all." According to Ropo Sekoni’s ‘young and promising citizens like Ibikunle Akinjogbin would have been alive if political leaders had given time to revisit a political institution started 35 years ago under a democratic regime’ (The Nation 14 - 12 - 2008 p. 10). Sekoni wrote as though nation building is not a continuous business implying that that it was once good but, now ‘no longer adding value to the country’s culture and has outlived its good.’ He cited other reasons for his position such as insecurity, rigours of the programme, the NYSC as cheap source of labour and the fact that it is not clear ‘if the NYSC can stop the senseless killings in the north due to ethnic and religious intolerance.’ While Sekoni was fair in conceding that the ‘NYSC must have achieved its goals’ the ‘twinning programme’ he advocates seems to be doomed from the beginning, as it suffers from the homeboy syndrome - that of very limited horizon, considered against the vast interest of the country. Perhaps, the criticisms are a reflection of the high esteem in which the NYSC has been held and thus expression of disappointment as a result of dashed hopes and expectation. But, abrogation is not the answer. As Tatalo Alamu, the Snooper observed, ‘despite our pains and agony …we must not throw away the baby with bath water’ (The Nation 14 - 12 - 2008). The Jos crisis is wake-up call to the elites to change their negative attitudes to national issues. The NYSC is not a military force and to this extent, it will never be clear whether it can stem the senseless killings in the north due to political immaturity and intolerance. Nor is it clear if it can stop ritual killings, armed robbery, and lately kidnapping which is fast becoming a nation-wide menace. But, what is clear is that the NYSC can promote understanding and create an environment that would make senseless and ritual killings unattractive and unacceptable. About 70% of corps members are deployed to teach in the national interest and over half of them serve in rural areas. In addition, it is a fact that many schools and even hospitals, especially in the rural areas would have closed shop, but, for the availability of crops services - teachers, doctors, nurses, pharmacists etc. Also, in spite of sporadic incidences like the Jos crisis in parts of the country, the scheme has largely succeeded in whittling down the web of barriers which were responsible for the suspicion which partly bred the Nigerian civil war. And apart from affording many corps members to be retained for permanent employment, the scheme serves as a comfortable bridge to the wider world. Also, many corps members met their spouse during service. Furthermore, through its dance, drama, and sports competition, it contributes to the sustenance of cultures and shared values among Nigerians. We could go on, but, in the face of these overwhelming evidences of both past and present contributions and relevance, how can Ropo honestly claim that the NYSC no longer ‘adds value to the nation’s culture?’ This is not true and some people may not appreciate the magnitude of these achievements. But, knowing where we are coming from, the contributions of the NYSC are remarkable and its achievements worthy of celebration. The NYSC is winning the war against intolerance, poverty, mass illiteracy, and poor knowledge of fatherland using sundry methods. And the country has been better for it. Its abrogation will indeed do more harm than good. Abhuere is the Director, (Corps Welfare and Inspection Department) of the NYSC.

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