Events in the past few weeks in Jos metropolis and the adjoining Local Government Areas of Bassa, Barkin Ladi, Bokkos, Mangu and Riyom have been quite challenging to us as a people. We thought we had learned our lessons over the years but it is most unfortunate that we found ourselves heading towards the very direction that had become our past. Whereas it may be true that most communities in Africa that have been in conflict have continually relapsed into more deadly forms with the passage of time to their utter destruction, some have moved out of it to become prosperous to their advantages.
Some people erroneously think and suppose that our problem is diversity and further think that the solution is for us to live in homogenous environments. This is certainly not true. We may do well to note that an African country which is the most celebrated case of state failure is a homogenous state. About 85% of the citizens belong to the same ethnic group and about 99% of the citizens are practicing the same religion. Ethnic and religious homogeneity is therefore not a guarantee for peace. Plateau State and particularly the metropolitan areas are mini-Nigeria due to diversity since colonial times but with a peaceful disposition. “Indigenes” and “non-indigenes” had lived together in peace in spite of our diversity before the challenges of the last twenty years. We were our brothers’ keepers and felt responsible for each other. Unfortunately, selfish and other ambitions by a few were allowed to divide us and set ourselves at each other’s throats along religious, ethnic and political lines.
Groups of people have found it convenient to kill one another by each demonizing the other and canonizing self. No sane human being can arise to invade a community, killing its people and destroying their habitation or intercepting commuters and hacking them to death. This is most despicable and unacceptable. We are first of all born as human beings before we are Christians or Muslims with any ethnic affiliations. We occupy the same space and must let each other be. We have seen how several societies have profited from their diversities by drawing from the richness of their various differences to build flourishing communities.
We, the people of Plateau State working in the University of Jos are worried that anytime there is crisis or tension elsewhere or around the city of Jos, staff and students of the University become victims of attack by the neighboring community, the last one being that students were attacked, killed, maimed and some missing till today. The vulnerability and porosity of the University campuses are on increase daily and exponentially.
The need to step up surveillance in communities at risk and ensure early response in emergency situations should be stepped up by government. It needs noting that as the night curfew is still in place, communities in Bassa and of recent in Yelwa Zangam in Jos north were/are still being attacked leading to casualties. This is disturbing. It has remained a puzzle that the communities that were destroyed in Bassa which lasted for hours and even days are close to the headquarters of the Third Armoured Division of the Nigerian Army and there was no significant early intervention despite early warning signals to relevant authorities, and more worrisome is the fact that persons said to have been arrested in connection with the attacks are not being seen to be on trial.
Communities in Riyom, Barkin Ladi, Jos South who were incessantly attacked, killed, maimed and displaced and their growing crops destroyed (mowed) uncountably have no much significant responses and condemnation from all that matter, however, the unfortunate massacre of the commuters which is equally condemnable attracted blatant responses and condemnation by government. While we commend the gallantry of the security in arresting the situation leading to the rescue of some human lives, we are worried that such gallantry has been lacking and lost when several sedentary communities have been under attack for years. Human life should be seen as sacred and sacrosanct and should be so respected irrespective of ethnic or religious leanings. Trusts and confidence among and between communities on the Plateau and security agencies have become very weak as a result of this. The Government of Plateau State and the Federal Government must take steps to remedy this ugly development.
We, the people of Plateau State privileged to work in the University of Jos condemn in totality all the attacks: killings, maiming and destruction of property by “unknown gunmen” and herders, reprisal attacks by affected communities; as well as destruction (mowing) of crops in farmlands and cattle rustling. We wish to commiserate with all communities and people that have suffered the loss of their loved ones and their properties.
While appreciating the Governor and Government of Plateau state and the Federal Government of Nigeria for the various interventions to bring the situation under control and ensure peace, we also wish to reiterate the need for a clear demonstration of objectivity in handling distresses or grievances from all sides. All lives matter. Government must be seen to be responsive to all affected communities in a manner that demonstrates love and concern for our common humanity. Responses that are capable of being interpreted as one-sidedness should be avoided.
In addition, the selective condemnation of killings by some individuals, groups and clerics and asking for compensation for one or the other side leaves much to be expected and desired of them. We strongly commend the Management and Administration of the University of Jos for the prompt action taken and providing food items to students who were trapped in the hostels.
Steps must also be taken to address the needs of displaced persons in the short, medium and long terms. Presently, they are scattered in various places as they have avoided camps because of the previous betrayal of their trust in the security personnel who had promised them safety only to be slain by those they were running away from. Concerned and well-meaning people have made contributions to assuage their conditions but government must take greater responsibility for their welfare. Mechanisms should also be put in place to rebuild their residences so they can return to their homes. Provisions should be made for their future food security as their means of livelihood which is their farms have been destroyed. It will also be necessary to attend to the psychological needs of people that have been traumatized so as to restore wholeness to their being. This will not only help them to be restored to a normal life but it is also a panacea against vengeance which leads to a cycle of violence.
We wish to state that the cycle of violence has to stop now. The world is moving forward and for Plateau state and Nigeria to be a part of this progress, the killings must stop. Development can only be achieved when there is peace. To put it in the words of Martin Luther King Jn, “we either live together as friends or perish together as fools.” We therefore appeal to all sides to stop the violence by not avenging themselves but rather resort to the appropriate institutions of government for redress. Much more than this, communities must learn to settle issues among themselves through dialogue. Whatever cannot be resolved by dialogue cannot be settled by violence. Conflicts that resorted to violence would eventually still come to the table in the end if people are to continue to live together. It is wisdom therefore to take the option of dialogue first and always. Religious and community leaders should address their followers to encourage them towards peaceful coexistence. This way, we will be on the path to a restoration of peace and our common humanity along with other progressive people globally.
As a community in the University of Jos, we re-emphasize the incessant attack on students and staff during crises periods. The University has suffered the loss of several students and staff around the hostels and staff quarters as well as other arears where they reside in Jos. We request that security provisions be made to safeguard our environment so we can concentrate and pursue the course of building the future of our nation through raising well educated people in a secure atmosphere. In view of the porosity and vulnerability of the campuses, staff and students and to guarantee their security, we recommend that:
(i) The University Management in consultation with the Federal Government must reclaim the University’s land encroached upon on the Bauchi Road and Naraguta campuses
(ii) Government should establish a Mobile Barracks in the vicinity of the campus.
(iii) The Management should hasten the relocation of all Faculties and Departments from Bauchi Road to Naraguta campus and College of Health Sciences to Lamingo Campus respectively.
(iv) The Management in consultation with the Federal Government should acquire and relocate all communities within the radius of 2-3 kilometers around the University Permanent Site.
(v) The Management in consultation with the Federal Government should open a major entry gate at the north western part of the University towards Zaria Road.
(vi) Government should dualize the road along village hostel with a deep and wide trench in between the road to the University fence right through to Bauchi Junction, to Naraguta Hostel that is along the Bauchi Road and its surroundings.
(vii) Government should raise security towers at intervals of 1Km round the school manned by armed and trained/licensed University security guards.
(viii) Management should procure students buses that should be plying designated routes.
(ix) Management should continue to dialogue with neighboring communities on the need to live in peace with the university community.
It must be mentioned here that if these and other measures are not taken, parents would be reluctant and may no longer be willing to send their children to the University of Jos for training just as staff of the University will lose the zeal and passion for work. The time to act is now as we are in the spirit of the zeitgeist.
While we console with families who have lost loved ones, we also wish speedy recovery to those who have been injured. We equally share the pains of those who are currently in distressful situations because of the destruction of their habitations and substances. May God heal their bodies, minds and hearts and restore that which they have lost many times more. We are confident that we will come through this with collective resolve and return Plateau state to its place as the Home of Peace and Tourism where people will come from far and near to relish our pleasant environment and boost our wellbeing.
Prof. Nestor M.D. Chagok,
Chairman Mr. Gogwim, Joel Godwin,