Wanton killing of our people can no longer be allowed — Gbong Gwon Jos
Gbong Gwom Jos, Da Jacob Gyang Buba, Chairman, Council Of Traditional Rulers of Plateau State spoke with GABRIEL OMONHINMI on the situation in the Plateau.
Your Majesty, what is happening in your domain? We just heard about the killings in Barkinladi Local Government Area of Jos…
Well, what happened in Barkinladi Local Government Area is typical and similar to what has been happening in Benue, Taraba, Zamfara and other places across the country. Some villages in Barkinladi came under attacks, which resulted in total annihilation of some districts in these areas. As reported today in most national dailies, the death toll is between 80 and 100 people killed in the unfortunate attacks. However, the evidence before me presently shows that the people killed are much more than 100. We are still taking stock; it is after this has been done that I will be in a position to give an accurate figure.
The invaders attacked Razat, Ruku, Nyarr, Kura and Gana-Ropp villages, among others. Most of the people in these villages were virtually wiped out. I pray that these innocent souls find peace with God. We are about to meet. It is after we’ve held the meeting and gather all information that I will be in a position to comment further on certain issues. The attacks were more pronounced in Barkinladi, Remon and some parts of Jos South Local Government Areas. In all these places, people were not only killed, their villages were also burnt down and their properties destroyed for no acceptable reason(s).
What would you say is the problem between your people and Fulani Herdsman that has refused to go away?
I am not in a position to say exactly what the issues are, but I am aware that we’ve had Fulani, who have lived peacefully with us in most of these villages or localities virtually all their life. However, in recent years, there has been an unprecedented influx of herders into these places. These groups of herders don’t seem to have regard for the rulers and the order they met in the new places they migrated to. Some of them claim to have the right to graze anywhere they want to, not minding whether or not such places are other people’s farmlands.
This attitude has led to disruption and destruction of other people’s farms, especially the natives. This is mainly the reason for the conflict that won’t go away. This unruly behaviour of the herders is at the root of the problems. All these problems arose because Nigeria has not yet found it necessary to look back into our history and ask ‘who are we? Where are we coming from and where we are going?’
I have always told whoever cares to listen that before Nigeria came into being, some of us have always been where we were born or found ourselves as human beings. The indigenous communities across the country have always been in Nigeria. There is nothing anybody can do or say to change that position now.This was one of the major reasons why the traditional institutions were the government of the day before the advent of colonial masters. It was the colonial masters that changed everything, and brought us together as one country. Are we now trying to run away from this reality? In every community in Nigeria, there are ancestral lands. Even the Constitution through the Land Use Act still recognises customary rights ownership. And so, if I own a piece of land, I have the right to determine whatsoever happens to that piece of land. If I decide to sell such a piece of land, that is another issue entirely. But if that is not the case, nobody, and I repeat nobody should force me to do whatsoever they like with such a land.
We are not saying we should not live together, but in living together, we must learn to have respect for one another. This should be done culturally, traditionally and historically. If I may ask, why do we still have traditional institutions today? Because they determine exactly who we are. If this is the reality, why do we deliberately try to disrupt the system we met on ground by sheer brute force? Is it possible for me to be made a traditional ruler in the Southwest or East? No. It is not just possible because I am not from that system. I can only be a traditional ruler in Jos. So, if this is the case, we must learn to treat and respect one another from this perspective.
Let me ask you this question: ‘Why are other tribes all over the places in Nigeria not creating these problems where they are resident?’ Is it not because they are playing by the rules of the places they live in? From this explanation, you can readily see where these problems are coming from. In all the places, not in Jos alone, in other areas in Nigeria, we have the Igbos, the Yorubas, people from the South-South and the rest of them. They do not create problems where they stay, because they know that where they are is not their native land and as such, they will have to obey the laws in the places they find themselves. They live in accordance with due process.
What would you say is emboldening the so-called Fulani herdsmen to perpetrate these atrocities?
I don’t know. I am not at all in a position to say who and what is backing them. The cattle rearers we used to know only went about their business with sticks, but the ones we have nowadays, for obvious reasons, now go about with sophisticated weapons. I would dare say, therefore, that it is the weapons they are carrying that are making them to be bold and daring wherever they find themselves. I am also not in a position to say who is arming them. Information has it that a lot of these people are not even Nigerians.
When some people claim that the ECOWAS protocol provides for free movement of people, goods and services, they are looking at it from a very simplistic perspective.The free movement only takes away visa requirements; it does not take away identification requirements. Because if you fly to Ghana, Ivory Cost and Senegal today, at the airport you will be asked to identify yourself. That is why what we call the e-Passport, which simply means ECOWAS passport. So, you either have that e-Passport or other ECOWAS travelling documents that will identify you wherever you go; otherwise, how will you distinguish a Cameroonian from a Ghanaian? Because Cameroon is not part of ECOWAS. So a Cameroonian is not expected to enjoy the privileges a Ghanaian, Nigerian or Cote d’Ivorian will enjoy under the ECOWAS treaty. Identity is of essence. Security is of essence.
How do we handle this insecurity problem in the country, if you were to suggest?
Why we are having these security issues is because we are not handling them in a more realistic way, to show we really value this country. That is why people are calling for restructuring. We should all sit down and define what type of restructuring we want, what it means and how to go about it.Before 1975/1976, when local government administration was completely taken away from traditional rulers, local government, as the name suggests, is that tier of government that is meant for the locals, the natives. Is anyone trying to tell me that an Igbo man would wake up one day and want to be the chairman of Jos Local Government Council Area? That is no longer feasible now, in all honesty. An Igbo man could be a councilor, as we have to protect the interest of one another, but not the council chairman. The simple truth is that, if you do not like the ways things are done in the area you find yourself, is there any law that says you must remain there?
These people doing all these things also have their own places of birth. And under no circumstances would they accommodate any of the things they are doing elsewhere in their own places. So, why are we pretending to be what we are not? If you mention “Gbenga” for example, you know the part of the country your mind will immediately go to. As we speak, in spite of our national pretence, we still fill forms and other things identifying our places of birth and villages, our local governments and tribes across the country. If I may ask, what is the purpose of all this? Is it not identification, so that everybody would be made to feel that they belong to this entity called Nigeria?I am a Nigerian because I am a Birom person. And it is only in Nigeria that you find Birom people. And I was here as a Birom person before the country ever became Nigeria.
Where do we go from here, so that the killing is stopped once and for all, if Nigeria must continue to survive as a country?
All we need to do now is to sit down and discuss among ourselves as a country and go back to reality. This is the only option we have now. It is this pretence that is causing all these problems in the country. We cannot continue to pretend, as some people are presently doing. Pretence will not lead us anywhere. Even at the United Nations level, there is this issue of protecting the rights of the minority or indigenous people of any country or whatever name it is called. It is recognised.
Today, Monday, June 25, 2018, we are definitely going to hold our meeting and talk about so many issues. At that meeting, we are going to bare our minds. First, we are going to hold a meeting with my council, alongside elders and all youths and women organisations within Jos traditional council alongside all Biroms. We are also going to talk with other people and groups, who have suffered these unnecessary and unwarranted attacks.At these meetings, we will agree on the nature of what we are going to say to the international community. We will thereafter try to speak with the governor, who is supposed to be the chief security officer of our state. We have to sit with him. And by God’s grace, we hope Mr. President will agree to give us audience. We can’t continue like this. We would want to ask: all these things that are going on, are they intentional? For now, only God knows. But we would want to know from the right quarters what is going on. We are not going to allow this to go just like that. Enough is enough!
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