Memories of carnage in the first weeks of August last year were still fresh in January as survivors recounted how hoodlums went berserk around the main campus of the University of Jos.
The government had relaxed a 24-hour curfew it imposed after the initial unrest, so 22-year-old Shedrack Iyaje set out for school on August 19. But he never returned home.
He was dragged from a moving tricycle and stabbed to death by the hoodlums, his blood splattered on the road.
His cousin, Humphrey Otola, a student of UNIJOS studying insurance, with whom he shared the same bed at their home in the Mista-Ali area of Bassa Local Government Area, was shell-shocked when he heard Mr Iyaje had been gruesomely slain.
“His memories are just everywhere in my head. He was the one who set up my kitchen. He was a very hardworking person and a very bright student,” Mr Otola, a student in his penultimate year, said.
Mr Iyaje’s death was just another casualty in the protracted conflict in parts of Plateau State, and yet another dream cut short.
“He once told me that after his BSc in microbiology, his Masters would not be in the same department,” Mr Otola recalled one of their conversations.
“He said he was going to build a health centre and combine both traditional and modern medicine to enhance the procedures of healing,” he added.
The circumstance of his death supports the statement of residents that criminals lay siege to roads and kill with impunity during a crisis.
How effective are the police in ensuring this is averted?
“It is what we have that we are operating with. The police are doing what is within their capacity. We are trying our best to do what we are supposed to do at the right time,” Plateau police spokesperson, Gabriel Ubah, told PREMIUM TIMES.
Like Mr Otola, Stephen Sagai’s cousin was burnt to death in 2018. He recalled how the attackers set fire on his household in Barkin Ladi LGA, killing five, including a neighbour who had come to assist.
“It happened for four days at a stretch. I remember very well. It was during the World Cup. Now we can no longer farm. Firewood that is supposed to be N70 is N200 [as a result].”
Mr Sagai said his Fulani neighbours sacked his family from their ancestral farmland, adding that he has been denied many social benefits “because I am Berom.”
Cycle of reprisals
After gaining a rare entry into some tense villages in the state, this reporter found that all the groups in the conflict have suffered human and material losses over the years and were equally engaged in targeted attacks on one another, creating a cycle of reprisals.
The leaders of Fulani communities in Barkin Ladi and Bassa local government areas (LGAs) said they had been victims of brutal attacks too.
“When they attack us, we cannot fold our arms and look. We have to defend ourselves and fight back,” Abdullahi Yusuf, a Fulani leader in the Kisagyip area of Bassa LGA, said.
His kinsman who heads the Miyetti Allaah Cattle Breeders Association in Barkin Ladi LGA, Muhammad Muhammad, shared gory pictures of the mutilated bodies of some herders. Some had their heads sliced, others butchered.
This reporter was not allowed to speak with some of the affected families. Mr Muhammad said in line with their culture, his people do not like recalling the circumstances of the death of their loved ones.
“Our members are also having problems with some of the farmers. Sometimes they poison our cows and kill them. But as leaders, we ensure that the owners are compensated.”
Mr Muhammad admitted that members of his group sometimes encroach on farms, by “accident” and sometimes by sheer “wickedness.”
“It is true. Sometimes we have cows that enter people’s farms. That is the essence of leadership, to make sure your members live in peace with their neighbours. We are leading cattle breeders. You know animals are not human beings. They are difficult to control,” he said.
“We use the good office of the Commander of Operation Safe Haven to compensate them,” he added shyly.
A herder in the Kisagyip area of Bassa LGA, Abubakar Umar, also said he had paid for damages when his herds encroached on a farm.
Why crisis persists
Ten days after an inter-ethnic clash in April 1994 resulted in five deaths and the destruction of property, the then military administrator of the state, Mohammed Mana, an army lieutenant-colonel, inaugurated a Commission of Inquiry chaired by retired Justice Aribiton Fiberesima.
The committee toured the affected places, interviewed victims and witnesses, examined memoranda, and submitted its recommendations.
Since then, several commissions of inquiry have been set up by both the federal and state governments to investigate the remote and immediate causes of the Jos crisis. Some of these were the Justice Suleiman Galadima Commission and the Justice Niki Tobi Judicial Commission of Inquiry, both of which looked into the September 2001 crisis; the Presidential Peace Initiative Committee on Plateau State, headed by the Emir of Zazzau, Shehu Idris, May 2004; Plateau Peace Conference (“Plateau Resolves”), August 18 to September 21, 2004; Justice Bola Ajibola Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the November 2008 crisis; the Emmanuel Abisoye Presidential Panel, 2009; the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Jos Crisis, March-April 2010; and Chief Solomon D. Lar and Ambassador Yahaya Kwande panel, 2010.
Asides from delays in making public the findings of these committees, the government has a culture of foot-dragging on the implementation of their recommendations. The Fiberesima report was not published until 2009, after two other high-casualty clashes. The Ajibola report was published after five years.
“For some reason, which is not altogether clear to us or for no reason at all, the government neither issued a white paper on the Fiberesima report nor implemented any of the commission’s recommendations,” Justice Niki Tobi’s team wrote in their report of 2001. “The crisis [of 2001] would have been averted if the recommendations of the Fiberesima Commission had been implemented.”
After her house in the Dutse Uku area of Jos North LGA was burnt on October 12, 2019, Sarah Joshua hoped for some succour from the authorities but nothing came. Barely able to cater for her two children, the widow of 20 years now lives in a rented apartment.
“The little thing my husband left behind for me was destroyed. This thing has brought us backwards. We had to start buying things,” the teacher at a junior secondary school in Jos Jarawa, said. “Nobody has been brought to book since then. Nor have I got any compensation for the loss.”
One of the eight recommendations of the Fiberesima Commission was that the “government must apply sanctions to all individuals, groups of persons and organisations indicted by the inquiry in order to avoid future occurrence of such incidence [sic].”
To date, impunity persists and no one has been brought for involvement in that killing and subsequent ones. This attitude of the government fuels mistrust among groups, deepens suspicions and emboldens further attacks.
Plateau State information commissioner, Dan Manjang, declined comments via call and text message.
Reeling from the wounds of years of conflict, communities in Barkin Ladi LGA looked for ways to heal. A glimmer of hope came in 2019 upon the appointment of Abdullahi Abdulsalam as the commander of Operation Safe Haven (OPSH), Sector 4.
Matching military tactics with social intervention and recreational programmes, the colonel has been able to shepherd the communities into eschewing violence. Residents spoke highly of him as they said justice is quickly dispensed on cases on his watch.
“What is causing the crisis is injustice. When he (Mr Abdulsalam) came, he came with justice. The justice he came with was, when cows are being rustled, if it is the Berom-dominated area, he would trace the place and ensure they pay compensation,” Mr Muhammad of Miyetti Allaah said. “If it is a Fulani-dominated area, he would call us and we would pay. We have done that repeatedly. I can’t even count it.”
The head of Kampani 3 of Barkin Ladi, Murtala Dangata, said the tactics the colonel uses are working, “and we want it like that.”
“He is strict with his punishment and that is another reason why peace is reigning. Stubborn children who couldn’t be dealt with are taken to him. If a child is told he would be taken to Abdulsalam, fear grips the child,” Mr Dangata said.
There has been some respite from attacks since the colonel came on board, Mr Sagai and at least eight other residents from different ethnic groups attested.
Aisha Sa’adu struggles to live on proceeds from the local fries she sells after her soldier son, Abubakar, died in Maiduguri three years ago. But now that normalcy is returning, she is smiling again.
“The government had never brought a leader who knows how to deal with people when there is a crisis like him,” an impassioned Mrs Sa’adu said. “He does not discriminate at all.”
The deputy chairman of an association of persons living with disabilities (which caters for the blind, deaf, albinos and lepers), Yusuf Adamu, said people like him were being integrated back into society.
“Before his arrival, there were a lot of challenges that lepers faced. They have benefited a lot from him. And he has empowered a lot of people from nearby villages who hardly come out before,” Mr Adamu said.
Asides from palliatives and empowerment programmes for youth and widows, Mr Adamu said at least 60 persons living with disabilities (PLWD) had been given mini tricycles.
As he spoke, one of the beneficiaries, Henry Mashat, rode past, saying the initiative has helped his cobbling business.
“This tricycle has helped me… when I’m going to church… when I’m going to shop. If other things are coming, we would like it,” the 31-year-old said.
Another PLWD, Baraka Musa, mother of five, shared similar views about the social initiative of the OPSH.
PREMIUM TIMES visited the military outpost but the commander was not around and other officials declined to speak on the record.
A Crisis Group research paper has suggested, for Plateau State, the adoption of the Sokoto State example of zero discrimination in education, balanced employment opportunities and equitable and inclusive access to power and resources by all groups.
“An inclusive political system is perhaps the best antidote to reciprocal fears between the BAA [Berom/Anaguta/Afizere] and the Hausa-Fulani,” the report said.
This was corroborated by the recommendation of the Justice Bola Ajibola Commission’s panel of inquiry into the 2008 Jos crisis.
“Since [the] majority of the people of Jos North are dissatisfied with the form [in which] Jos North LGA was created,” page 208 of the report read, “the government can set up a machinery and put up a demand before the National Assembly to consider a restructuring of Jos North LGA to reflect the wishes and aspirations of everybody in Jos North.”
The former commander of the OPSH in Plateau State, Augustine Agundu, also suggested that “every armed militia” must “surrender their arms unconditionally.”
“It is common knowledge to everyone that there are armed boys in the state and the type of arms carried by these boys are very sophisticated, based on the experiences the military has acquired in the peace process,” Mr Agundu, a major general, said.
Likewise, in tackling the crisis in Southern Kaduna, which is similar to that of Plateau, the administration of Governor Nasir El-Rufai has set the tone for the elevation of broad-based citizenship above exclusive indigene status.
To institutionalise this, there would be a need to amend the constitution. If successful, it is believed that it will help bridge the age-long indigene-settler divide that has often been the denominator for violence.
A professor at the University of Jos, Ahmed Sabo, said the opposition to this call in some quarters is because of the “understanding that, if you are in a position of power, you will be entitled to a cut of the national cake.”
Sylvester Dachomo, a senior pastor at COCIN headquarters, shared the view that residency rather than indigeneity should determine citizens’ rights. He said this must nonetheless be done nationwide, and Jos must not be used as a specimen for the experiment.
“We don’t have the will (to do this) and we are so polarised now. The system that is flawed is protecting itself,” adding that this can change “if human resources are considered superior above personal gains.”
(Support for this story was provided by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), under its ‘Strengthening the Delivery of Peace and Security (SDPS)’ project.
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