Wednesday, June 27, 2018 07.25PM / By Ahmed Musa Husaini
I know the issues concerning the Jos massacre isn't only about cows!!
For those of us that ply the road to Jos often, we understand what it takes to get trapped in those senseless violence, so much that it has become the usual practice that on approaching Jos, we send out a call to those living inside it to find out whether it is safe to proceed.
Some years ago, my sister and uncle were caught up in that unfortunate chaos. They were fortunate enough to escape (out of luck) to the Muslim quarter of Bukuru town. If they had escaped to the wrong location or belong to a different faith, their fate will completely be different.
In the university in 2008, my room-mate had the unimaginable misfortune of losing his father in the conflict. His parents were caught in the unfortunate chaos, father and mother separated. The fact he was a Yoruba man did not apply. All his killers cared was that he was a Muslim and therefore guilty and condemned to die in their hands.
At Secondary School in the early 2000s, I was moved to tears when a Fulani classmate narrated how he lost three generations of his family in Heipang. Their family had lived there for generations only for them to be wiped out in a single surge of violence. His escape was only a miracle. His mother who was lucky to be away for a wedding fainted at the sight of him because his funeral rites were already conducted in absentia, having thought to have shared the terrible fate of his other family members.
All the individuals mentioned in the above instances may be reading this post. I have known real people who have been slaughtered while passing through Jos. I could be one of them, given a different quirk of fate. My family members could also be victims, God forbid!
As a result, there is the tendency for someone like me to see the conflict through those lenses, that my people are the victims and the 'other side' is the perpetrator. The same way someone whose local community in Plateau live in constant fear of invasion and attack by armed marauders, where local people could not farm their lands in peace or carry on with life in security and safety will see his people as sole victims and others as perpetrators.
Limitations of Single factor Analysis
That is how one-sided, mutually rejecting narratives set back the wheel of reconciliation. The crises in Plateau is so muddled up that it is now completely detached from its root causes. It first began as local politics borne out of ethnic and sectarian political struggle between the so called Hausa settlers and the native Beroms in Jos North.
For long, the Fulani, who have a long history of cultural intercourse with those local communities are kept out of those conflicts. It was until the Shendam anti-Fulani pogrom that the Fulani was brought into the equation, and from that, cycles of reprisals and counter-reprisals have so distorted the reality on ground, bringing a dominant ethnic and sectarian narrative to the fore.
That makes peace even difficult. Because all sides have genuine grievances, all sides have genuine complaints of victimhood. The first step towards peace is not in apportioning blame, the first step towards peace is in accepting that all sides have a point and that peace is possible only through dialogue and not further confrontation.
This Is Different
The Jos conflict is different from Boko Haram or even rural banditry where the enemy can be criminalized and targeted. In an ethnic or sectarian conflict, you cannot criminalize an entire ethnic or sectarian group. And above all, you cannot enforce peace by sheer use of force. Force should only be used to create an enabling environment for reconciliation and dialogue.
I know some may feel force alone could do this, but if that's possible, we will not be where we are today. Obasanjo declared a state of emergency but the killing still continued. Since 1999, the Plateau conflict continues under four successive Nigerian presidents, two Muslim, two Christians. If it were a Muslim conspiracy, the two Christian presidents would have stopped it. Likewise if it were a Christian conspiracy, the two Muslim presidents would have stopped it.
That shows that it is a collective Nigerian problem. It is a Nigerian conspiracy which is nothing more than our inability to see things as what they really are.
Like every Nigerian problem, from Boko Haram to Avengers, Ipob to Herdsmen-Farmers, those conflict have their roots in the local politics of their people. Those who harbor the killers, those who incite those hatred, are known to the authorities. There solutions also lie in the politics of managing Nigeria's diversity. Unfortunately, Nigerian leaders have always pursued the wrong politics in dealing with those conflicts, the politics that exploits rather than harness Nigeria's diversity.
Given the option of strengthening security and conflict resolution institutions and political appeasement, successive Nigerian leaders have turned to buying peace via appeasement. But for every single violence-sponsoring community leader appeased, ten potentials ones are getting inspired to earn their recognition through violence. It is like dancing on the head of snakes and if Nigeria were to die today, it will not be from a single bite, it will be the result of multiple bites sustained over a long period of lawlessness and impunity.
There is still a window of opportunity to get things right, to put Nigeria back on the path to sustainable peace and long-term progress. But only if we are willing to make the necessary sacrifices.
Post script – Revisiting The Prologue
First, it begins as a conflict between 'Herdsmen' and local communities. When local communities get the upper hand, herdsmen plot a revenge, and when herdsmen get the upper hand, local communities block highways and kill travellers whose only fault is to be of the wrong ethnicity and religion, leaving in their wake tales of destructions and suffering. The cycle goes on and on, creating a vicious cycle of reprisals and counter-reprisals.
Overnight, what was a communal conflict metamorphosed into an ethnic and religious war, with each group mobilising it's army of zealot adherents to advance its own narrative of exclusive victimhood. At the end, each side only acknowledges its own victims while ignoring those of the other side. Humanity is now ethnic and religion-dependent.
Where the victims and perpetrators share a similar identity, like in Zamfara, those conflicts are seeing as what they are, pure acts of criminality that are bordering on security failure. There was no consipiracy theories claiming a state-sponsored genocide against one ethnic or religious group. After all, they are the same people. They can kill themselves all they want.
But where victims and perpetrators share different identities, those conflicts suddenly turn into supremacy contests of the vilest types, often portrayed as attempts by one group to subjugate the other. Hence, the wrong ethnic or religious group must be condemned, charged and convicted. All the past consensus on security and governance failure no longer applies.
Those sweeping generalisations, selective empathies and one-sided narratives only serve to further widen the chasm of distrust and foreclose the chance of genuine rapprochement because true reconciliation will not occur when the wounds of mutual distrust have pierced deeply.
And while we count our losses as Muslims, Christians, Hausas, Beroms, and Fulanis; the world sees them as one, as Nigerians killing Nigerians and therefore undeserving of global empathy and outrage. That's why the world no longer pays attention to those tragedies within our borders. Because you cannot kill your own and expect outsiders to bereave over it.
There are those who seek to use the opportunity of those tragedies to propagate their toxic hatred and bigotry against one ethnic group or religion. Hate and destruction are all they have to offer but the ground has shifted beneath their feet. They will fail like those who come before them, and our communities will outgrow those divisions to emerge triumphant.
But before that, we all have a choice to make about the type of society we want; whether we want a just and peaceful society that treats every Nigerian equally irrespective of their religion, ethnicity or region; or we want the type that allow us to dominate and oppress our ethnic and sectarian other in our respective ethnic and sectarian Bantustans. For we can never have it both ways.