Plateau`s Pandora`s box
For people to whom peace had become a staple for generations, the greater parts of the last two decades has been especially sour; full of pain and even regret for many a Plateau indigene. The bloody events that have become recurrent over the last two decades especially, have got a people lamenting their famed sense of hospitality and questioning the humanity of those they welcomed many years ago in the spirit of hospitality.
It is all as a result of the carnage ― the mindless carnage visited on innocent men and women, children and infants. It is as a result of the mindless destruction of property and the slow but sure decimation of livelihood of a people famed for their production of food, rivaled only by few sections of the country.
Plateau State is beautiful; almost ethereal. Its clement weather especially cherished by foreigners is a fixture in Nigerian lore. The jewel in its crown would seem to be the variety and quality of its food especially its fruits, vegetables and tubers. But its concentration of ethnic groups would deserve fitting mention anywhere as a sterling example of unity in diversity. However, the last time the “Home of peace and tourism” knew genuine peace, or the steady influx of tourists and investments is a matter of distant memory, and the steady decline has nothing to do with nature`s wrath or wear. Plateau`s pain is man-made and sorely to blame is the constant ethno-religious crises which constantly conflagrate parts of the state, reducing lives and livelihoods to dust.
At the dawn of the current millennium, precisely in 2001, Jos, the mainstay of Plateau State and its capital city was caught in a vicious 10-day crisis between Christians and Muslims. When the dust settled, about 1000 people lay dead; a further 50,000 civilians were displaced; and no one could count the cost to property. At that point the hitherto fragile and much frayed ethno-social fabric was effectively shredded. Sixteen years later, the price is still being paid in a currency of blood. It is fervently hoped that the costs will cease someday.
At the centre of crises was the simmering tension between Christians who are the majority in the state and Muslims who constitute a fraction of the population. The immediate spark for the crises was an appointment which was deemed out of touch with the religious reality of Plateau State.
No one can rewrite history and no one should try because history provides an invaluable guide without which the future and even the present cannot be properly navigated. Things could have been done differently about Plateau State from the highest quarters. The opportunity remains open, though it is a rapidly closing one. In the aftermath of the crises, an inquiry was perfunctorily instituted. Till this day, its findings and conclusions gather dust somewhere while parts of Plateau State continue to experience occasional eruptions of violence. Again, things could have been done differently.
Today, Plateau State is always in the news for unpalatable reasons. Where marauding Fulani herdsmen leave off slaughtering and intimidating helpless farmers and trampling their farms, other forces take over, perhaps, emboldened by the fact that the wheels of justice have ground painfully slow in Plateau State.
As usual, it is the poorest people that fall victim and are slaughtered with reckless abandon just as in neighbouring Kaduna State; just as in neighbouring Benue State and just as in neighbouring Nasarawa State.
It is easy and even lazy to blame religion for this problem as a growing army of cynics are doing. The reason is no rocket science. All over the world, religion provides a soft target in the face of despicable crimes committed against people. In spite of its usually unequivocal and unambiguous admonitions in support of peace and peaceful co-existence, criminals find behind its ever-open curtains a convenient mask for crimes. The law has been complicity slow to help, weakened by the dithering and dereliction of those who enforce it.
It is from history that Nigeria must learn to protect its most vulnerable lot by singling out and punishing severely all those who hide behind religion or politics to perpetrate iniquitous crimes in states. Religion and politics if they must exist together must be as inseparable as they can be and must be used as instruments to further peaceful co-existence and progress. The long arm of the law must be unsparing in punishing all those who deploy religion and politics for nefarious purposes.
A society without justice is comparable to a walking corpse: It is only a matter of time before it falls with a thud. For peace to return and remain in Plateau State, and all other states in the throes of ethno-religious crises, all ethnic foot soldiers and religious fanatics responsible for the current unrest must be identified and punished no matter how highly placed. We are used to instituting inquiries and impugning their findings and reports especially when parochial interests are threatened. Things must change in this wise. A country without accountability is a country sold for nothing.
A country without security is an unsustainable project; a country without a justice that is swift and retributive is as good as dead. For now, it is the prayer and song of all Plateau indigenes and all people of conscience and goodwill that the killings stop and genuine peace return to the Home of Peace and Tourism. The good people of Plateau State are tired of the peace of the graveyard.
Obiezu wrote from Abuja.
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