I was horrified to hear of the recent violence which once again rampaged over my dear, beloved hometown. Being as far away from home as I am, simply coming to terms with the details was an event in itself. I got my first hint about the clashes through a social networking website, where a friend had written something along the lines of “oh Jos, what now?” As, I think, most Nigerians I was immediately numb with fear over the safety of my loved ones in Jos. How often have you heard stories of violence erupting like a volcano with even less warning? Not so many years ago, it would have been unheard of for such large-scale violence to occur in the “home of peace and tourism”. But then, 2001 happened. And, as such, the international media were arguably correct to say that violence had won the day in Jos again. That last word alone mortified me to an unspeakable extent. Has it become such that Jos is to be known as a city of violence? Have our people changed so much in the one year I’ve been away that they would turn savages at a moment’s notice?
But then I read on, attempting to fathom the why of the entire thing; I wanted desperately to know who had begun this, who was responsible, why they had begun it and what, if anything, was being done about it. With all due respect to those in positions of authority in Plateau State, what came after the violence was arguably even more depressing than the violence itself. It is one thing for a group of people to roll into town and disrupt the everyday lives of innocent, law-abiding citizens with a show of violence and savagery equal to those of hell’s minions. That is something that may or may not be impossibly hard to predict and therefore preempt. I wouldn’t know; only those in positions to receive such intelligence can confirm or deny that. However, there is one thing which I believe to be a gross oversight and a terrible miscalculation on the part of the Plateau state government. The reports that I have read indicate in sweet and calm words that the elected (and, by association, the appointed) officials of Plateau state have accepted the lightning spark of violence as a routine, a part of normal life, and a necessary evil which we must all come to terms with every few years when some minor election takes place. Is it not so?
The Governor’s words were clear when he spoke to the public; “go about your normal lives”. A few sentences later, he then said “a dusk to dawn curfew has been imposed”. I need not
However, while the point above may be taken as a poorly written speech in a frantic moment and therefore excused, if not forgiven, there is one thing that I am at a loss as to how to explain away. My reason for saying that the government accepted the violence is that, as far as I can see, nothing has been done about it. On September 11, 2001 America was attacked in a devastating and despicable manner. They immediately reared up and fought back, by doing so sending a clear message to those responsible that America would not tolerate such actions. Why should Plateau state government do any less? All the news reports say is that the government is putting out the fires. I want to hear that the gas leak has been repaired or, at least, that the offending gas tank has been taken out of the building for repairs or whatever. It would be terribly unwise to allow a wonderful place like Plateau state to be degraded into a war zone every few years. Only when the rabble-rousers have been rooted out, the law-abiding citizens reassured, order restored and the Plateau state government is seen to be putting a firm foot down on a painful issue will there be true hope of lasting peace.emphasize the contradiction here.
While some might argue that the public doesn’t perceive all the efforts the government is putting into finding a permanent solution, I call that hogwash. I’m certain that a considerable number of people in positions of government have heard it said that justice must be done and must be seen to be done. After all, perception is everything, isn’t it? That’s what terrorism is all about. The manner in which the terrorists attack is unconventional and strikes, well, terror into the hearts of ordinary citizens. They create the perception that they can attack anywhere in any variety of ways, so everyone is at risk. That is not, in fact, true, but the perception has been instilled in the minds of the people and that alone is a very determining factor when you have a million people or more. Another example is a man who wants to establish his toughness and thuggery in a small town he just moved into. The quickest and best way for him to do this would be to find the “toughest” guy in town and make a worthy example of him. Everyone else will then fall in line. The same strategy needs to be adopted by the Plateau state government. A clear message needs to be sent out that this will not be tolerated. It should have been done in 2001, immediately after the first bout of violence, and maybe we would not be having this conversation today. But there’s no sense in crying over milk spilt by someone else. We have to do whatever we can now, before the situation gets completely out of hand and the historically peaceful citizens of Jos are forced to go about their everyday business with loaded pistols in their waistbands.
We cannot afford to pause in fear of reprisal attacks. Impossible! We are the ones in the right, we are the aggrieved, we are the force of good and justice and all that the best of humanity holds dear. Until now, we have lived in peace and respect with all our neighbours and we are neither the blood-thirsty nor war-mongering kind. However, the great statesman Nelson Mandela proclaimed that “it is the oppressor, not the oppressed, who determines the nature of the struggle. At a point, the oppressed is left with no recourse but to fight fire with fire”. That being said, my personal recommendation is not a show of deadly force, but a more civil one. I am not a supporter of violence in any form, except as a last recourse to preserve the lives and security of innocents.
According to the various reports that I have heard and read, the violence erupted after a local government election in which one party’s candidate was presumed to have lost. The
said party’s supporters, I gather, then took to the streets with weapons in their hands and rage in their hearts.
I recently read that fans of the French football club Marseilles flung coins and other shrapnel unto the football field during a match in which their team was losing. The international football federation, FIFA, then fined the Marseilles club for the violence. Is football to be safer and better governed than the great state of Plateau? Of course any found to be involved should be brought to book.
The police should also do their utmost to arrest and prosecute all offenders as far as the law will allow.
At the same time, however, rehabilitation should immediately begin starting from the most affected areas down to the least affected. Burnt churches and mosques should be rebuilt, debris cleared, grieving citizens publicly condoled, informants rewarded and amenities restored to proper working order as quickly and as efficiently as possible. This is because what is happening bears some similarity to guerrilla warfare in that the scale of violence is directly proportional to the affluence, comfort and happiness of the people involved. The richer areas of Jos escaped the violence with hardly a scratch and their residents almost certainly did not get involved in any of it. Throughout history, it has always been the disaffected that have been most willing to pick up arms at a moment’s notice and proceed to battle. One reasoning is that they have little to lose, but the reasons usually differ from one case to another. One thing is for certain, however; rehabilitation and a kind hand have saved more lives than any show of force.