We once again have been witnesses to a large-scale massacre of our citizens. Even as this is being written, all the dead are yet to be buried. We have been told by various governments’ spokespersons that the dead numbered 700, 600, 400 and 300 depending who is speaking. The truth is we will never know how many. No one cares to count properly.
Similarly we do not know how many that have died or are dying in the Niger Delta. In a similar vein, we do not know, nor do we care why we have these crises. How they are organized and funded and by whom. They just happen and people die in large numbers.
In the last disturbances in Jos, many lives have once again been destroyed. No one knows how many. Or how much property has been destroyed. Most of the dead are innocent citizens going about their legitimate daily business activities perhaps not a single one of the perpetrators among them lost their lives.
This was not an isolated occurrence. It is one of many in Jos and the Plateau State. And it has happened too often, in many parts of Northern Nigeria. All the crises that we have had have been tagged religious, or tribal. We should be serious and we should ask ourselves: Are these riots really religious or tribal? What leads us to these conclusions?
The most recent of these acts of murder and destruction in Jos, followed the outcome of Local Government elections, whose conduct was challenged and which results, disputed. This would suggest political motives. The previous clashes, as thought by many, were the result of Grazers’/Farmer conflict in which cattle herders destroyed farmer’s crops in the fields.
Both electoral violence and grazers’/farmer conflicts are common in many parts of Northern Nigeria. While on the Plateau; in Taraba; in Benue; in Adamawa and so many other states of the north, the clashes tend to take tribal and religious colorations; why do we experience the same in states such as Sokoto, Zamfara, Yobe, Borno, Kano and Jigawa where the populations are generally of the same tribes and religious persuasions?
I wish to suggest that the real reasons for this tendency to violence are neither religious nor tribal. The reasons are two:
a) Access to politics, political influence and political power
b) Access to land and its resources
Why do I feel it safe to make these two assertions?
Let us look at some of the major clashes, which have resulted in the massive losses of human lives and the destruction of so much property. Except for the Maitatsine riots in the region in the early eighties, which concerned and involved only one religion (Islam), none was religious in the real sense of the word.
Take the Tigno riots of Adamawa State in which some hundreds of lives were lost in the early eighties believed by most to have been instigated by the State Government; the three massacres on the Mambilla Plateau, in Taraba State; the tragedies visited on the populations of Plateau. In every one of these incidents and everywhere else, everywhere; just only two or three days after every carnage, all is once again calm and serene, as if nothing has ever happened after so much death and destruction.
Although, everywhere the clashes have been tagged religious or tribal or both; very often the same Christian and Moslem children go back to the same schools and the same classrooms. The general population returns to the same work places; to the same markets; go to the same shops and go to play and socialize together; as if nothing happened two or three days ago.
All this calls for more sober reflection on the part of all of us; but more seriously on those who rule over us and whose constitutional and moral duties it is to protect our lives and property and protect the sovereignty and integrity of our nation.
At the time when the whole world was erupting in anger over the crisis in Dafur in the Sudan, fewer people had died there than in our Plateau State, in 2004(?).
Similarly when the world watched in horror and disbelief, the carnage in Mumbai, India, less than two hundred people had died there than in Maiduguri last week. In Jos by all accounts we lost at least twice that number. The fact, however, we did not bother to establish how many people had died. According to published newspaper accounts, about four hundred bodies were taken to the Jos Central Mosque and buried in different burial grounds, because they were too many for one Moslem cemetery. If it is assumed that these were all the Moslem dead; it is reasonable to expect, there were also non-Moslems among the dead who have not been accounted for. It was reported that the Yoruba, alone evacuated back to the South West, some hundred and fifty among their dead. A number of states were also said to have evacuated their dead and wounded back to their home states.
No one is talking about the wounded; some of who may have since died and no one is counting these losses. The same is true of all previous incidents: in Kaduna; in Kano; in Maiduguri; in Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba and Adamawa.
We should all be disturbed by what is happening in our country. No one can feel safe in this country where the lives of citizens are unsafe and unprotected; where their property is not safeguarded.
It is not hard to conclude that, we are in this situation, because the thugs that visit these tragedies upon us are not gainfully employed. They are employed and trained as thugs by our own political parties and our own political leaders. This is true whether, we are talking of the Niger Delta or anywhere else in the country.
The Political Authorities continue to choose to do nothing, because it is largely among them that the perpetrators of these crises are themselves; it is they who organize, train and arm the thugs who are ravaging our country.
This is the reason that our governments and our National Assembly in this democratic political dispensation can’t set up an Independent and Powerful Judicial Commission of Enquiry to conduct proper investigations of not only the most recent mayhem in Maiduguri, Bauchi and Jos but of all the disturbances that have occurred since 1999 and even before.
For so long as we continue in the belief that we should let sleeping dogs lie for so long would we continue to delude ourselves that peace and unity can be preserved even under these conditions. Nor can we expect harmony among our people and development in the land.
The purpose of this contribution is to call for a sober reflection of the situation we are in and where it is leading us.
It is also to call for the setting up of a powerful, Independent Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate not only the most recent eruptions, but all those past incidents in which hundreds of lives have been lost and where properties running into many billions have been destroyed all around the country.
If the Federal Government, certainly, not any of the State Governments, decides to investigate these outrages, the Commission should be given very clear and unambiguous Terms of reference. Certainly, such Terms of Reference should include, but many not limited to the following:
To thoroughly investigate Immediate and Remote Causes of all these disturbances;
Identify all those who have been involved in the planning and execution of all the disturbances; Determine the role played by state governments; their officials and institutions; the local governments’ Chairmen and Councilors; the Chiefs and other traditional institutions; the various Security Agencies; any other organizations, whether, religious or tribal; the role of political parties in the organization and execution; the role or roles played by Politicians; and, apportion blame.
In numerous instances, in the past, we have conducted such investigations but have consistently failed to publish or to act on the reports and recommendations. This time, a law to be passed by the National Assembly should back this inquiry and such a law should require that the Report and Recommendations should be published within a maximum period of three weeks.
Separately and independently, the Federal Government should undertake an urgent investigation, in all ramifications, on the Nigerian Educational System. Although we have various pieces of Legislations both at the National and State level, we do not seem to have adequate laws regulating Religious Education, especially as it concerns Moslem Religious Education.
The Northern Region of the country passed a Law in the mid fifties to regulate Quranic and Muslim education in the region, but with the creation of more states and the military interregnum, the law has gone into disuse. Today the Quranic System is totally unregulated. It seems anyone, educated or not can just start and run a school in his or her own sitting room. Anyone can take away young children to anywhere in the country and even across borders into our neighboring countries without any formalities and without any questions asked.
The practice is dangerous and must be checked. Conditions for the establishment of any kind of school in the country must be laid down in a national law.
Above all, every school of any kind must be regularly inspected and accredited. The movement from one village or town to another, even within the country must be strictly regulated. These conditions must be imposed, because, today the vast numbers of children are left in the hands of ill educated Quranic teachers, who neither understand the religion or know what to teach, except prejudice. It is many of these children who today constitute the most dangerous criminal and fanatics in our societies.
The above reflections were made in August 2009 after much death and destruction in Jos and around the country. The situation in the past weeks on the Jos Plateau and many other places in several parts of the North are the same; even worse.
We face a general election in just over three months from now. The clouds are gathering. The political gladiators seem to have learned nothing from the past. Every sign indicate that the elections will be tough and unrestrained. We should be very careful, in our own best interest and the future of our country.
– Joda, an elder statesman, writes from Yola