At a joint meeting between the Special Task Force (STF) and representatives of Muslim communities of Jos and Barikin Ladi in Plateau State, the Muslims yielded to the appeal by the STF not to pray at their usual Eid praying ground at Barikin Ladi. A day earlier, the Izala group has also acquiesced to pressure from the STF not to pray at their Eid ground at Unguwar Rukuba, Jos, where many of its followers were killed and cannibalized last year. Muslim prayer is becoming impossible in Plateau State. The impossibility is aided by a federal government outfit, the STF, which misdirects its appeal at the victim instead of the assailant. But this is not even our point of discussion today.
In my conversation with one of the Muslim representatives just after yesterday’s meeting with the STF, he expressed his distress over the unhelpful behavior of top Muslim functionaries in government in the following words:
“Honestly, our leaders at the top are not helping matters. We could not reach any of them since yesterday; neither the Inspector General of Police (IGP) nor the National Security Adviser (NSA). Their lines have been switched off. One cannot but feel helpless and abandoned in situations like this.”
I have noticed that there is always a deliberate attempt by Muslim leaders and top functionaries in government to distance themselves from their fellow Muslims whenever the latter are faced with a crisis, when they need them most for guidance and advice. One of the leaders the Muslim community in Yelwan Shendam told me the pathetic story of how they were failed by Muslim leaders.
Since 17 February 2004, Muslims expelled from the villages around Shendam started converging to Yelwa for safety. Yelwa itself was eventually attacked on 24 February 2004. The attack did not succeed as intended. The Muslims were able to chase and kill many of the attackers, including some who, the Muslims claimed, were using a church as a hideout. Since then, a dusk to dawn curfew was imposed on the town and it remained so until it was attacked for the second time on 2 May 2004.
Sensing the worst might befall them when they are attacked the second time, given the revenge that the then governor Joshua Dariye promised, Muslim leaders of Yelwa took the pain to tour the North for thirteen days after the first attack, appealing to Muslim leaders in the region to persuade the federal government to beef up security in the area. Among the several Emirs they visited, only those of Birnin Gwari and Dutse promised to take their complaint further. The Emir of Zaria out-rightly dismissed them as incapable of living peacefully with their Christian neighbors, as if he is able to live peacefully with his Christian subjects in southern Kaduna. Blaming the victim is own way of escaping any involvement in the issue. The Emir of Kano consigned the Yelwa delegation to his Sarkin Fada, meaning that the matter did not even qualify for his attention. The Sultan was not in the country. Babangida, according a member of the delegation, “played us his maradona, without committing himself to anything.” Etc.
And the worst came.
When the end of 28 April 2004 approached and the campaign by the majority Christian tribes was about to commence, all policemen withdrew from Yelwa, saying that it has become “Afghanistan.” Only one Muslim police officer remained in the town. He was allegedly shot by a mobile policeman colleague when the attackers returned to Yelwa.
After they were informed that Christian forces were seen heading for the town, the soldiers stationed in Yelwa withdrew on 2 May 2004 – the first day of the second attack on the town – under the pretext that they are going to seek for reinforcement. They never returned. The Muslims were thus abandopned to their fate. Luckily, they suffered only eight deaths on the first day. If the military had stayed or returned with the reinforcement as they promised, the massacre that happened the following day would have been avoided.
Monday, 3 May 2004, the Muslims lost close to 570 lives. Hundreds of their girls and women were captured from their hideout at the house of the Galadima by the Christian tribesmen. They were carted away literally into captivity and slavery. That day, it took the braveness of a youth who drove through the roadblocks mounted by Christian youtand to inform the soldiers at Shendam of the massacre that he left taking place behind him in Yelwa. If it were not for the intervention of one Col. Femi and his troops, the entire Muslim population of the town would have been wiped out. He had to “clear” a number of Christian youths at the roadblocks on his way to Yelwa. Thanks to another brave mobile policeman in the team drafted to the town after the crisis, most of the slave women were retrieved after they have been subjected to weeks of unprintable abuse that has been documented by many human rights groups. As a side note, I must say that nobody was arrested for any of these crimes.
Also, when the Fulani in Riyom and Barikin Ladi local governments were given a quit notice by the STF last month, I immediately got in touch with the Sultan, the supreme commander of the Fulani in Nigeria, to register my disapproval of the order. To be fair to him, he took me into confidence and said he would appeal to the President to withdraw it. Meanwhile, he agreed with me that the Fulani should disregard the order. I conveyed his stand to them.
The Sultan contacted the President, who was attending an AU conference, and the Vice President in the following hours. We kept in touch until when it was clear by the evening of the first day of the quit notice that the Chief of Defence Staff has resolved that the operation must be undertaken. It then became clear to the Sultan that there was no going back. What would he tell the Fulani then? He never got back to me to advise us on what to do. Twice i called my commander, and twice he refused to pick my calls. I have not heard from him since.
As God would have it, Saleh Bayari was released that evening and together with Miyetti Allah leaders in the State we visited the STF the following morning and began to sort out how the Fulani would vacate their homes in the five affected communities. We agreed on a number of things with the STF and headed for Mahanga with a detachment of some soldiers and its deputy Commander that evening to explain matters to them. The rest is now a story which I was updating my readers on throughout the period of the crisis.
The operation has ended without any casualty. We thank God that the plan to use the soldiers to drive the Fulani out of their communities forever or “finish” them when they refuse to vacate was carefully foiled by the vehement outcry of the Nigerian public, especially from the civil rights groups and international humanitarian organizations which instantly responded to the apprehension we expressed online. As a result of that pressure, the federal government backtracked and instructed the soldiers not to kill anyone during the operation.
Throughout the period of that crisis, like in every other one during the past two and a half decades, not a single northern politician, traditional ruler, governor or government official – Muslim or Christian – made any public statement condemning the federal government for its actions. In their silence lies one of our greatest security problems in the country.
Muslims in the country are always left on their own under such situations. Unlike the Christians who would trust the Christian Association of Nigeria to speak on their behalf (though many times its leader speaks only on behalf of himself), Muslims have no voice to echo their grievances. The Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) and Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs are practically government mouthpieces because its core members – the Emirs – and their president – the Sultan – are officials of their respective state governments. They dare not say anything unpalatable to government otherwise they will soon be met with the wrath of their emperor-governors. The JNI branches in the states are mostly dysfunctional, made up largely by ulama are that are too weak to stop crises when they are set to happen.
What happens to the ordinary Muslim under such situations when he has nobody to refer to for guidance and no one to fight his battle in the security councils at state and federal levels? Take the case of Plateau for instance. There is not a single Muslim in the entire security council of the state – not among its federal representatives like the Commissioner of Police, Director (SSS), STF commander, Commander of Civil Defence, and, of course, not among representatives of state government like the Governor, his Attorney-General, Permanent Secretary (Security), etc. But if Muslim officials elsewhere cannot come to their aid, how would they expect any of the above officials to protect their interests during any crisis situation?
Muslims, being left on their own, are thus pushed to taking the law into their own hand in many instances. And should they take any move to defend themselves, the security agencies will promptly pounce on them with arrests, torture and prosecution. The press for political reasons will twist their story and blame them. Since the crisis on the Plateau started, many Muslims have been convicted – like the eleven convicted Fulani after Dogo Nahauwa reprisal attack – or are awaiting trial in jails, but there has not been a single Christian prosecution. This kind of injustice does nothing but feeds Muslim anger and complete feeling of estrangement from government.
This takes us to another dimension when government and the Christian leadership in the country would compel Muslim leaders to condemn their followers or appeal to them to remain calm or keep the peace even in situations where Muslims are at the receiving end. The result is a total disregard for the appeals of such leaders. Boko Haram is one such case. So much disconnect exists between Muslim leaders and their followers that their calls for dialogue and their condemnations have woefully failed to persuade the group to stop their attacks for a day. Two Emirs, the Shehu of Borno and the Emir of Fika escaped death from Boko Haram suicide bombers by a whisker. That was a powerful message.
And when Muslims suffer casualties or disaster, their leaders are the most unwilling to help them. In the donations we received for Fulani IDPs and the recent Jos Flood victims, apart from the Sultan sent a paltry sum of N2million to the flood victims through JNI, not a single donation came from a notable Muslim leader, top government functionary or politician even though hundreds of Nigerians including Christians and southerners sent in their donations. What crop of leaders are these who cannot defend the interest of their people, be with them during crisis or assist them during disasters?. How can they command the respect of their followers with this blatant abdication of responsibility? Nobody is asking them to carry any sword as their grandfathers did. We are only asking them to speak out; yet that too is not forthcoming. Kai!
The complacency of Muslim leaders when the rights of their followers are violated has thus become one the greatest sources of instability in the country. It has allowed the boat of our internal security to be pedaled by only one side – the Christian side, while Muslim leaders continue to keep their own pedals on their laps. No wonder the boat is tilting to the safety of one side, albeit temporarily. If Muslim leaders had pedaled their own side too, the boat would have moved straight in the desired direction of our collective safety when he government will be compelled to guard the rights of all citizens equally. Inevitably, the boat will capsize. In the end, the complacency they think is a service to government is turning out to be a great disservice to it. Today, it is evident that most of them can no longer be relied upon by government to calm anybody.
The Muslim communities in Barikin Ladi and Jos are therefore on their own. I doubt if any of them is able to reach the Sultan, the governor, the IGP, the NSA or the President. But for how long would they continue to yield to the STF appeals at the expense of their right to worship, just because there is a “security report” claiming that there will be trouble if pray for not more than an hour on a ground they bought and have been using for decades now? For how long would they continue to remain passive without learning from their Fulani brothers? As I set out to write this article this morning, I was told that the Berom have killed three Fulani and injured one as they were riding their motorcycles home from Barikin Ladi yesterday. I will not shade tears for them. I am sure the killings will not go unanswered.
And to Muslim public officials who toe the line of injustice by their silence and making themselves inaccessible to their Muslim constituency during crisis, we only need to remind them of the temporary nature of their seats. Boko Haram alone has brought down two IGPs and the most connected NSA in the Jonathan administration. With time the occupants of those seats will suffer the same fate. No amount of complacency will save them.
Back to Jos. If the STF commander, Major-General Ayoola, and his team are too weak to secure Nigerians in their place of worship for just an hour, I cannot see the reason why he should not be redeployed. This is incompetence at its worst. Some of the STF sector commanders are even conniving with the very Berom youths who instigate these crises. In the meeting yesterday, the STF commander was told about the connivance of the field commander of Sector 5 in Barikin Ladi, Col. Victor Ita. The Fulani have bitterly complained that he led the team of soldiers who demolished their houses using armoured personnel tanks just after a MOPOL was killed by an unknown assailant. He just could not wait to verify the murderer. Both the Fulani and Hausa accuse him of supporting the Berom in every instance. In the meeting between Muslims leaders and the STF commander yesterday, unknown to the STF Commander, Col. Ita smuggled two Berom youth leaders into the venue. The commander became clearly disappointed. Yet, I will swear by my honour that the sector commander will not arrest the assailants that killed the three Fulani in the area under his command yesterday. I will also not be surprised if he launches an attack on the victims’ community soon, should they retaliate in any form. How could there be peace?
Such a person is not needed to command our soldiers. If he wants to fight the Fulani or the Hausa, let him remove his uniform and join the Berom camp. Then, I am as certain as my death that he will get a good run for his money. He thinks his actions are helpful to the Berom while in actual fact it is hurting them. It was his demolition of Fulani houses that led to the escalation of the crisis in many communities in Barikin Ladi and Riyom local governments last month. Many of the Berom have been living in self exile since then. They are too scared to return to their homes. If not for the aggression of Col. Ita, Senator Datung and House member Danfulani who lost their lives in that escalation would have been alive today.
I will appeal to civil rights groups to redouble their effort in fighting for the rights of the minority groups in Plateau State. Denying people worship is going too far: it could be a tipping point. Last year, at the Unguwar Rukuba ground, over forty Muslim worshippers were killed and cannibalized under the watchful eyes of the police. Despite the preponderance of the video clip, nobody is arrested to date. This bias cannot be sustained. It will not yield peace. The trend must be opposed by all well-meaning Nigerians.
The federal government, as I emphatically made it clear before the President at our meeting with him last week, must rise to protect the rights of minority Nigerians wherever they are in the country. It has for too long allowed its personnel to be used in the pursuit of narrow chauvinist agenda, especially in Plateau State. The hands of the chief architect of the crisis in the state – its governor, Jonah Jang – are very clear in every posting of security officials made to the state. The federal government in whose hands is entrusted our entire security and law enforcement apparatus must wake up to its responsibility. Otherwise, it must be prepared to handle crises worse than Boko Haram soon.
And, finally, I turn to you Muslim leaders in your palaces and government offices. Contrary to your belief that your silence is helping matters, it is further subverting the security of Nigerians and allowing the tree of intolerance and hate to grow and blossom. It emboldens the aggressor and pushes the victim to the state of despair where he must, in compliance with the natural law of self-defence, resort to his own devices. That is your despicable contribution to the insecurity of this country. I have come to your defence in the past when your name was unjustifiably dragged into the mud. But not in this. You must wake up and serve the nation boldly by speaking against injustice.
Please accept this article as my Sallah gift to you. And what a pleasant one!