By Dr. Aliyu Tilde
I just heard that a curfew has been imposed on Jos, the Plateau State capital, following the massacre of 22, some say 35, Southwest-Muslim passengers by people suspected to be Irigwe youths at Gada-biyu section of the Zaria Road in Jos metropolis two days ago.
The killing of the innocent travelers itself came a week after a reported reprisal attack carried out by herdsmen on some Irigwe communities in Bassa Local Government just outside Jos in which many villages were affected and many Irigwes were killed.
Going further backward, that reprisal attack itself followed the inaction of the government over earlier attacks on herdsmen by Irigwe youths in the local government area, like in many such occasions when the favoured side of the conflict was on the offensive.
Now we must be honest in the distillation of what has kept this fire burning on the Plateau for the past 20 years. I do not believe that the warring communities in Jos and its environs are interested in violence or bloodshed. I know them as peace-loving people, just like other Nigerians in their natural default setting. Government is the cause. Simple. And the oxygen that kept the fire burning is its inaction particularly when a section of the population is the perpetrator. This impartiality sustains the nascent, primitive biology of ethnic cleansing.
The other reason is the stubbornness of the Fulani herdsmen, who, unlike the others who gave up over forty mining settlements and migrated into the city and neighbouring states, have no option—with herds to care for—but to remain and find a way of surviving the hostile environment. One of the paths they took when confronted with the government’s reluctance to protect them is revenge.
From Dogo Nahauwa in 2010 to date, series of reprisal attacks by the herdsmen have established a balance of terror in the Berom dominated local governments of Jos South, Riyom and Barikin Ladi. The resulting war of attrition made both communities embrace peace. This state of affairs is yet to be reached in Bassa Local Government. The Irigwe are not yet tired of killing shepherds and their cattle on the one hand, nor are the unforgiving herdsmen ready to cave in and flee.
What disgusts most Nigerians the more is how highways are invaded by people who cannot stand up to their opponents but choose to transfer their aggression to innocent travelers that are not even residents of the State. Berom youths would block the Plateau section of the Jos-Abuja highway and kill Muslim travelers for a reprisal attack meted upon them by the Fulani in the hinterland—that is after spending the night hiding in the bush, on top of trees and in caves to evade the herdsmen. They have been doing the same along Jos – Barikin Ladi road, thereby deliberately making their pain and anger more distributive among Nigerians.
The Irigwe, unlike the Berom, do not have busy highways passing through their towns and villages. So they resort to going the few kilometers to the part of Jos closest to them, the Rukuba junction in Gada Biyu area, and kill innocent passengers as is often done on Abuja and Barikin Ladi roads. This calculated strategy of shifting their aggression to other Nigerians who are unsuspecting, unarmed and innocent must be condemned. If every grieving community will cowardly occupy the highway nearest to it and start killing many Nigerians of another faith, the whole country will be soaked in blood because all of us are aggrieved by many things especially these days.
Equally condemnable is the religionization of the conflict. If the Irigwe and Berom are fighting Fulani in Plateau State, they are fighting them not as Christians but as tribesmen who claim exclusive right to live in the area. The same way, the Fulani are fighting back as Fulani, not as Muslims. Just as the Berom do not call on the support of Angas, Irigwe or other Christians to fight herdsmen, the Fulani have never sought the support of the Hausa in the town or anywhere else to fight their war. Any aggression or reprisal from Berom or Irigwe should be limited to the Fulani who must bear the brunt—and vice-versa. Giving the conflict religious coloration smacks of cowardice. Let each carry his own cross. They should face the Fulani in their midst just as the Fulani are facing them directly and not rush to the outskirts of Jos hunting for innocent Muslim travelers. Let them learn the courage to be surgical in revenge. Let them be like that tribe that would habitually take the pains of passing several villages until they reach the one the people who wounded them and revenge. That is what is called courage. Attacking the innocent passerby in the name of reprisal is a sign of a cold stomach.
Talking about the cold stomachs, we must concede that the Berom and Irigwe youths are not the only ones attacking people on our roads. In 1994, I nearly got hacked in Tudun Wada, Kaduna, being mistaken in the dark for a Christian for the massacre of Muslims that took place in far away Zangon Kataf. It was not Berom or Irigwe that nearly killed me. It was my fellow Muslims. Also, the Berom and Irigwe did not stop a bus of Muslims from Ningi going for a wedding at Mangu and killed them in 2001. Some others did. They did not stop the trailers carrying cows in the East some weeks ago, killed the drivers and burnt the cows. Some others did. They did not stop any Fulani-looking person along Birinin Gwari road and killed him just for his Fulani features. Some others did. They did not stop Muslims traveling to and from Numan at Billiri and killed them recently. Some others did. And of course, they have not been the ones stopping innocent Nigerians on the street of Jos North or Kaduna and kill them, nor those on the highways of Southern Kaduna. Some others did. So one of them can argue with me saying, “Look Aliyu, we are not the first.” But that does not justify the cowardly action one bit.
I refuse to be politically correct in what I clearly see as the failure of government here. If the government can be even in its delivery of justice, the crisis on the Plateau would have long gone. But successive governments on the Plateau, who control the judicial process of the State, have chosen to side with one section—the so-called indigenes—and punish the minority Muslims and herders, thereby encouraging one side in its atrocities and pushing their victims to resort to self-help, which the government now turns to punish.
Yes. Let us be bold here. Whenever there is a reprisal attack in Plateau, the government is quick to scan the entire area and neighbouring local governments of other states—from Dogo Nahauwa in 2010 to Bassa two weeks ago. They check every hospital and clinic; they comb the handsets of suspects and go after their associates. Many have been arraigned before the courts in Jos in the past eleven years.
On the favoured side, however, who was arrested for the atrocities committed by Berom or Irigwe? Of the few arrested, who is serving a jail term today? What has happened to the killers of General Alkali? Where are those that carried out the massacres of whole towns like Kuru Karama and Kuru Babba, among dozens of other Hausa settlements on the Plateau? How many Irigwe have been arrested and tried for the Fulani they killed or the cattle they robbed them of?
The press is not helping matters either. They are, for example, quick to report a reprisal attack by Fulani. I remember the reaction to the first reprisal
attack at Dogo Nahauwa in 2010. It was like hell was let loose. In fact, it was even the CNN and Aljazeerah that had the sense of justice to call it a reprisal attack, thus bringing some balance into the dynamics of the reportage. But how many papers reported the hundreds of attacks on Fulani and
Hausa that have been going on unabetted for the nine preceding years, especially the wholesome massacres of 2018 under Governor Jonah Jang? That is why sometimes one throws away the yoke of political correctness and speak on behalf of the oppressed who has no press to report his case, no government to support him and no judge to deliver justice on his behalf. As an individual, I am not for the justice that prescribes five minutes airtime for the Israelis and five minutes for the Palestinians when the former, in spite of its state terror, has all the propaganda machine of the West behind it.
I think we should end this hypocrisy and tell the government the truth. The Federal and Plateau State Governments must be even-handed. The Federal government must ensure that its law enforcement agents are not used as reagents in the equation that precipitates the prolonged crisis in the state. The police must treat all without fear or favour.
The state government owes all citizens the duty to protect every citizen. It must reign on agents of ethnic unrest and use its judiciary effectively without fear or favour. A criminal is a criminal. He deserves to be treated according to law, not encouraged or rewarded by complicity or silence. This is the fear of all minorities living in this kind of state when the issue of state police comes up. The danger is real and we oppose it vehemently. Give a state like Plateau its own police and matters will get much worse for some categories of people. Sure.
On our part as citizens, we Nigerians must stop the madness of nationalizing local conflicts in the bid to distribute pain to others through attacking innocent citizens simply because they do not belong to our ethnic or religious bracket.
Lastly, my heart goes out to all the innocent victims of this 20-year conflict no matter their tribe. I have friends since childhood among Berom, Hausa, Miango, and any other you may think of. They all love peace. We love one another. No less the present Governor who is detribalised. I cannot imagine losing any of them to this madness. Those victims are also friends, brothers and sisters of other Nigerians. Let us all, as citizens of this blessed country, embrace peace, our only guarantee to happiness and prosperity, instead of patronizing violence that only promises pain, agony and doom.
We must not, nor encourage others to, meet the one Lord we so much worship as Muslims and Christians in this country with the blood of the innocent in our hands. If any of us is guilty, it is our duty as a people to serve him justice in the here-and-now and not wait until the hereafter. Let his hell be here. Only that can break the circle of violence on the Plateau.
And let us pray for Jos and its environs. May it live in peace