I never thought it necessary to write on the ongoing brouhaha of legitimacy, supremacy and numerical strength between Northern Muslims, Pagans and Northern Christians until my recent visit to Zonkwa in southern Kaduna to meet a blood relation and my other visit in line of duty to the embattled Mangu, Chanso, Gindiri, Janaret and Panyam all in Mangu local government of Plateau State.
From on the spot assessment of my experience, I realized the need for religious faithful to sheath their swords, forget and forgive one another and unite for their own good or continue to perish in lightening speed.
The problem has to do with recognition and respect to religious beliefs and ethnicity. A typical Muslim Hausa/Fulani believes that the real Christians worth any recognition and respect are those from southern and eastern parts of Nigeria not those in the north. Why, because, he believes there is no genuine Christian worth a respect or recognition in the north but mere converted Pagans who were forced into Christianity through incentives from early missionaries.
For instance, the first Baptist Church and Baptist High School built in Jos was around 1820 by early missionaries. The Church and school were later handed over to Yoruba missionaries from Ogbomosho in present day Oyo state not to any Plateau state native for absence of any worth recognition in Christianity.
Plateau state and southern Kaduna are parables as to whether they can as a people ever cohabit as one or continue to exercise civilize pretence and deceit. Or whether they can honestly hug, wine and dine together as united people in the immediate future. There is glaring case of mistrust and love lost syndrome pervading the area.
Recently, despite the existence of fragile peace, an innocent Fulani community leader (Ardo) became a metaphor of such quandary. He was gruesomely murdered by blood thirsty tribal warlords in Panyam of Mangu local government, Plateau State unjustifiably. His only known offence was being a Fulani man.
Several Fulani and non-Fulani were murdered by tribal militias along the federal highways without justification other than being Muslims or fair in skin with pointed nose. In some cases, even fellow Christians and Pagans were not spared by the beasts on the highway.
Ironically, instead of the offended to carry their grievances to the doorsteps of their purported killers domiciled in neighboring forests and bushes, they cowardly block the highway that passes through their communities to murder innocent passersby as retaliation.
Not only that, the most provocative part of the crime committed in Panyam was the protest staged on the streets by Panyam women calling for the immediate release of suspected murderers of the Ardo from custody which signifies complicity that quickly reminds one of a similar protest by women in Dura-Du village of Jos south local government during investigation for the gruesome murder of Gen. Alkali, an innocent passerby few years back.
Plateau state and southern Kaduna are areas crawling with fear and trembling. It is about ethno-religious tension. Muslim, Christians and Pagans, political bickering and brick walls, about murderers and kidnappers walking the day and night. It is about claims of land grabbing, frustration, fear of a bleak future and inferiority complex. It is about cunning and sectarian murder, about cash and cassocks. Above all, it is not about Plateau and southern Kaduna alone. It is about Nigeria. The bonfire of death and fear in the northern region that triggers the question: Should there be peaceful coexistence or not?
Only recently, the southern Kaduna axis exploded in jubilation when Gen. C.G Musa, supposedly one of theirs was appointed the nation’s Chief of Defense Staff, shamefully forgetting that they had earlier coalesced, their votes against a so called Muslim-Muslim ticket.
The pirouette in spirit came because they now perceive Tinubu as a possible friend that can provide them a safety net. They now have a voter’s remorse. But then, under the present Kaduna state government, another Muslim-Muslim ticket, they have seen not a few attackers. Now, if it was not the Uba Sani administration looking the other way, what was wrong?
From findings, the crisis rocking Plateau state and southern Kaduna, is religious as it is not, and ethnic as it is not. Recently, when armed caches were unearthed, who were the arrested suspects? They were not the expected Fulani but people bearing Christian names. One of them was Napoleon John as a gun runner while his partner was Monday Dunia. Dunia is a typical name of the southern Kaduna people (Atyap).
If carefully examined, the matter is more complicated than it seems. While the Fulani may be doing the onslaughts, but who are their spies within the targeted communities? Most people believe that villagers on the take collaborate with the goons and get them informed of the most lucrative target for attack. This is a matter for the security agencies to examine and act.
According to investigation, some clergies and clerics within the troubled communities are taking advantage of the mayhem to make fast capital from the Arab world and Rome. They elicit donations when their places of worship or schools are destroyed and by parading IDPs as being persecuted for their faiths.
They also exploit funding from politicians and enthusiastic international donor organizations. Although, there are sincere and honest clerics and clergies who truly believe in God (Allah) and preach the gospel truth, behave decently that are above such vanities.
So, the ill will may not account for all or even the majority of the troubles. But it surely brings difficulty to the fight against terror, and in identifying the omens among men. Nor is it peculiar to Plateau state and southern Kaduna that persons have taken advantage of the Fulani hordes.
Former Governors of Benue State, Samuel Ortom and Jonah David Jang of Plateau State made rich careers out of a hate of haters. They made fortune and love within their like minds from a feast of haters. The provoked and frustrated herders were evil enough as defense and show of superior fighting skills, but Ortom and Jang exacted a raison a raison d’etre to thrive on it. With dark extravaganza of public funerals of herdsmen victims, they gave life and even respectability to a career of ineptitude as governors. We have seen and still seeing such tricks and criminality in different parts of Plateau and southern Kaduna.
Members of the military security outfit, Operation Safe Haven stationed in Jos Plateau state capital under the command of the General Officer Commanding 3rd Armored Brigade, charged with security operations in Plateau, southern Kaduna and parts of Bauchi state, have been combing communities in search of informants and collaborators of those that execute heinous crimes and creating unnecessary frustration to the people. That is an effort that should be intensified even as caches were found and suspects in custody, murderers smoked out and undergoing investigation not minding the street protests of those senseless women in Panyam.
It is not a day’s job but a long hard slog. There should be adequate surveillance of certain areas within Plateau state such as the notorious Turu community in Vom district, Berom militia groups in Heipang district and blood-thirsty beasts stationed in Tudun Wada of Jos North among others.
We have peace loving locals in all ethnic nationalities and war mongers. But who knows who is for peace and for trouble? Fulani is a peace loving ethnic nationality that abhors violence and trouble. But once provoked and threatened, they fight to the last. They are not the forgiven creation. They are courageous with inbuilt fighting skills and stand tall anywhere with pride in times of trouble. They can spend their last kobo to restore their threatened and frightened glory as the largest ethnic nationality in the African continent. They have a robust network in times of trouble.
Today, we suspect one another that pervade the country. The Yoruba and Igbo there in Lagos are suspicious of one another. The Fulani and other nationalities throughout Nigeria seem not to agree. The minority ethnic nationalities in the north are only pretending living together but have sharp differences. The Berom and Aten in Riyom are at each other’s throat so are the other minority groups.
But then, it is expected in today’s world as globalization is creating such tensions. Nations are turning into racial ramparts in Europe and North America. There is even a call to abolish the international protocol of refugees to allow nations reject migrants swarming their shorelines. It’s what is called distress of nations and perplexities in the Christian theology.
It raises a question as whether democracy is enough for the modern era. Or is it a problem of those ‘democrats’ piloting affairs of governments in a democracy?
For instance, few years back, Christian and Pagan natives in Plateau state craved the Fulani herdsmen and competed to welcome them to their farms with their cows for cheap manure. When leaving the farms on approach of the rainy season, they were given accolades and gifts in some cases. They accepted their differences without qualms and lived together. Unlike the assertion by French philosopher Montaigne, who wrote, “We all call barbarous, things that are contrary to our habits”.
It is an irony today the wicked and murderous ones are allegedly causing friction. They make the news, create the news and make the bombs and grenades. Their guns are not discriminating against anyone. As Napoleon said, “To a cannon, all men are equal”.
As part of struggle for a solution to those problems dividing us, we had a Sovereign National Conference under former president Jonathan, but it was an extravaganza of grandstanding and vaporous rhetoric. We need what Aristotle called “civic friendship” as a prelude to free citizenship. Today, we have Muslim, Pagan and Christian citizens. Hausa, Yoruba, Fulani, Igbo, Itsekiri, Ijaw, Ilaje, Mumuye, Taroh, Aten etc as citizens. We are yet to have Nigerian citizens that have no ethno-religious attachment.
The unwritten civic bargains, as we witnessed in the last general elections, are mainly ethno-religious. Such a backdrop can only doom a national conference.
We are today in an age of charismatic and straight forward leaders the likes of Governors Bala Muhammed in Bauchi, Caleb Mutfwang in Plateau state, Engr. Abdullahi Sule in Nasarawa state, Charles Soludo in Anambra, former Zamfara state governor, AbdulAzeez Yari in the senate and former deputy speaker House of Representatives Ahmed Idris Wase who ride populist hysteria. Those leaders mentioned and others can enthrone a new kind of social contract based on justice, the equity of resources and equity of recognition. It will banish kingpins of tribe and faith and announce a sojourn in citizenship. Lee Kwan Yu did it so well in Singapore when a Chinese leader visited Singapore the Chinese natives shunned the Chinese leader’s appeal to race. It is one of the ways to retrace our steps out of the stinking gutter we found ourselves.
Muhammad is a commentator on national issues