Monday, May 29

Jos: The Metaphor of a State Bound to Violence

Since Operation Python Dance, it does appear that the decibel of accusation of ethnic or religious cleansing has been uncapped with the heap of accusations directed at the so-called Hausa/Fulani oligarchy as being the perpetrators through their foot-soldiers, the Fulani Herdsmen. The recent is the killing of more than a hundred persons by people suspected to be Fulani herdsmen. It has become difficult to get people to enthrone logic in the attempt to situate the problems correctly. This is necessary, no matter how unpopular such calls for reasoning might be.  

Certain facts are sticking out prominently, one of them being the fact that the government seemed to have lost the handle to cap back the state of anomy we have found ourselves. Or where it has the capacity, it has chosen to foist on itself a certain sense of impotence. This is because there were reports of security forces being aware and complicit of the last attack before it happened. Wole Soyinka in a recent article to the President titled: ON DEMAND: A Language Of Non-Capitulation, Non-Appeasement! lent himself to this position as he wrote;

When President Buhari complains …that it is unjust for the public to accuse him of being silent on the killer herdsmen, that is exactly to what they referred – the erstwhile language of complacency and accommodativeness in the face of unmerited brutalization. Buhari had yet to speak in the language that these murdering herdsmen understand – simply, that forceful seizure of land will not be tolerated in any part of a federation under his governance. That the temporary acquisition of weapons of mass elimination by any bunch of psychopaths and anachronistic feudal mentality will not translate into subjugation of a people and a savaging of their communities. That any such gains are illusory and temporary and will be reversed. The plaint of ‘injustice’ is a misjudgment of the injustice done directly to the victims, and vicariously to the rest of us who turn to the news with dread every day, wondering what new stomach-churning accounts of the gory agenda on their humanity will replace the normal concourse of humanity.

Though as we write, between 2001 and 2015 there were not less than nine panels or commissions of inquiry on Jos. A read of the report shows something; the inability of leadership to narrow the gulf of identity politics. 

In this regard, there are previous similar narratives which seem to suggest that Soyinka may not have been saying something new because in a report done by Human Rights Watch titled:  Jos: A City Torn Apart in 2005, it said as follows: President Obasanjo has also repeatedly called for calm and condemned the violence in public statements, but to date few practical steps have been taken toward prevention. Many Nigerians characterize the government’s attitude towards inter-communal violence as passive at best. To date, it has done little to address the longstanding grievances of the various communities concerned, nor has it attempted to find a solution to the problems caused by the notion of “indigeneity” which is at the root of many of these conflicts. Certainly, the September 2001 conflict in Jos can be attributed directly to competition and bitterness over perceived advantages and disadvantages between “indigenous” and “non-indigenous” populations, as illustrated above. Fundamental flaws in Nigeria’s constitution have still not been addressed, despite many appeals from civil society groups and others who have pointed out that by reforming the constitution, or at least by instituting a process for consultation to engage different communities in its review, the government could go some way toward putting a stop to inter-communal violence. A comparative analysis of what Soyinka has said above or what Human Rights Watch said as far back as under the Obasanjo regime is clearly indicative of the fact that the old thread of disorder has only been born again. Nothing has changed, it is only an escalation of the old problem becoming like a sore that has become gangrened 

For the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), it is the Hausa/Fulani Islamization agenda that is at the root cause of the crises. This position is in tandem to that of groups like Afenifere, Ohaneze and some Middle Belt Groups in Nigeria. The validity of this position is a subject of scientific inquiry. We do think the above position championed by CAN and the ethnic interest groups may not be valid for reasons of contrary and un-interrogated facts. In the first place, it is wrong to assume that every farmer in the Middle Belt is a Christian and is killed for the reasons of his/her Christian beliefs. CAN’s position is not true or factual and it is then erroneous to assume that once we can draw the boundaries between the Muslims and the Christians, the conflicts will end. Even CAN has not answered the question of how for instance it is going to be able to sponge out the Muslims from the non-Muslims? 

This sentiment espoused by CAN has developed into a siege mentality and was shared recently by Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah who in a paper titled; Threats to the Christian Faith on Contemporary Nigeria argued that “…I will speak of persecution as one that has always been part of the life of Christians… I will examine the reality of persecution in Nigeria and refer to our complicity in it… and by way of conclusion. I will suggest that overcoming the persecution of Christians in Nigeria requires primarily that we ignite the fire of our Christian calling.” This position of persecution being pushed is regrettably a very lazy scholarship. This is because Christianity is as guilty of expansionism and persecution of other faith as the Muslims are. The fact that they both promote monotheism as we know has basically been to render other religions inferior. As history has shown, these two major religions in Nigeria where necessary, have used violence to enforce their acceptance. There is a deeper narrative to this crisis than these shallow indulgencies of CAN and its foot soldiers. In the same Human Rights Report earlier referenced, they also made this observation to wit: Religious differences have also always been present, but were not originally the main cause of the tension in Jos. What started as a political conflict ended up as an outwardly religious feud: religion was increasingly used and manipulated to deepen divisions, creating a situation where one of the first reactions of the rioters in September 2001 was to attack mosques and churches as the most tangible symbols of “enemy values”. A professor at the University of Jos explained: “Religion was simply an excuse. It is not the main issue, but it played a role in widening the conflict. It was a tool of manipulation. People are more emotional in situations of poverty and religion is used to inflame passions. People respond quickly when something is presented as a religious issue. The disadvantage of Soyinka, Kukah and CAN narratives is that they all discard the misery that stem from people living in sub-human conditions which principally is at the root of this crisis. There is a shrinking availability of resources that is at the root of these conflicts as can be seen from responses of respondents from Human Rights Watch’s earlier report. It is a pity that CAN in particular and others are refusing to avert their minds to the teachings of the Holy Bible in the book of Isaiah that; ‘the root cause of poverty is in the fact that some people add house to house that their brothers have no place to inhabit,’ and the saying of the religion of the old that; ‘the destruction of the poor leads to poverty.’ Anybody who has done an extensive travel of Northern Nigeria does not need a microscope to see the degenerative poverty that people are being suffocated under. Let nobody beat his/her chest that it is Northern Thing because down South, the grim-ripper (poverty) is also carrying the children away into the belly of the beast.  

© Onyeisi Chiemeke
© Onyeisi Chiemeke

I think the greater issue to be examined is how this circle of violence is being used by certain interest to further their interest. For example in this incendiary fight that seems to have no end to its exacerbation, it is difficult to point to any child or children of the rich or the rich themselves that have lost their lives. None had died so far, all because they are in the cities egging the poor to kill themselves in the villages. The rich acting on their own or through the state have always historically struggled to uproot the peasants from their lands by many methods. For example what was the Bakolori Massacre of 1980 in Sokoto State all about? The study of informal repression shows mostly how not difficult it is for the rich to sublet their wars to the poor and wait in anticipation to reap the benefits of such wars. Who doesn’t know that from the history of mankind, war brings profit to the rich? 

In writing about subject like this, we all tend to recoil to avoid being politically incorrect. And in most cases, there are available victims to take the whack for what may not be. For example, how critical have we been in examining the possibility that there are foreign powers behind this thing which many local interest organizations are jumping into the bandwagon to queue behind. It is possible the victim has changed, but sometimes too, it is easy for everybody to hang the guilt on the old devil. For example, one of the greatest tragedies of the last decade of the 20th century was the Rwandan genocide of 1994. This tragedy up till today has been calibrated with the imprints of the Hutus all over it, that to argue otherwise seems to border on insanity. But the silent voices all over the world know that the Rwandan genocide was a well-coordinated Imperial Project by the West with Paul Kagame as the chief executioner. For all the atrocities perpetrated by Kagame and Yoweri Museveni, they became the poster boys of African politics. For his prize, Kagame got foreign investments to choreograph Kigali as a model of development. And what did the West get for the Rwandan genocide? They got Democratic Republic of Congo’s mines, where they are expropriating billions of dollars annually. And from that billions Bill Gates and Melinda Gates can come and practice cosmetic charity on us and we will all hail the charity workers as we swim in our misery. Is it impossible that we also have our own potential Kagames and Musevenis masquerading in some amorphous groups?

Anybody who has had a keen eye in analyzing Nigeria will agree with Aimé Césaire that the rule of the bourgeoisie will bring tragedy as it has done here. As he said; ‘we must resign ourselves to the inevitable and say to ourselves, once and for all, that the bourgeoisie is condemned to become everyday more snarling, more openly ferocious, more shameless, more summarily barbarous; that it is an implacable law that every decadent class finds itself turned into a receptacle into which there flow all dirty waters of history….’ Without being despondent, we need to look at our situation the same way the vulture burdened by its situation under the rainy season, bemoaned its fate against the impact of the rain beating it today and the one that will beat it tomorrow. In simple term, a traveled past that led to doom will suddenly not lead to salvation. 

For those who say the leadership is weak, it is a valid argument requiring no debate. But if we may ask, when has Nigerian leadership ever been strong? We want to be informed. The leadership had in the past had a modicum of strength, because there was an opposition. And it was the day that opposition succumbed to opportunism, treachery and greed that the leadership also fell flat on its face. Once a qualitative leadership cannot emerge from the underbelly of a rotten system, nothing will change. And such leadership is not an asinine contraption mantra of; not too young to run

Of importance to note too, is the fact that in each of these crises persons have been identified for punishment as far back as in 1994, but on no occasion did it appear that anybody has been punished. It got so bad that the Justice Niki Tobi Commission of Inquiry of the 2001 Jos crisis recommended a certain commissioner of police for punishment, but strange enough the said Commissioner of Police rose to become the Inspector General of Police in Nigeria, that was the extent of impunity with respect to the crisis of Jos. We therefore agree with Soyinka that it is incumbent that the State even if for its own survival should wield the big stick and show it does not have a stomach for impunity. To act otherwise reduces it to mockery and leaves it to become a subject of derision. The best testimony a ruling class can give of its capacity to assert itself and be respected, is when it gives example in terms of punishment with members of its own class at any point of transgression.

It is difficult not to cry for the dead, of this degradation of our humanity but wrong narratives will not prevent the death of more innocent people. For all the trouble bedeviling Africa and Nigeria, the road to take Kwame Nkrumah had charted long ago, and that is that the greater divided we are, the greater our enemies whether Islamic or Christian interest would have us as easy meals. It is a pity that despite all the works people like Kwame Nkrumah did for the unity of Black people and Africans, we have come to this sorry state in our existence.

Onyeisi Chiemeke, is a legal practitioner and Principal Counsel at Onyeisi  Cheimeke and Associates, a law firm based in Lagos Nigeria. He is the author of the book; June 12 Election – Campaign for Democracy and the Implosion of the Nigerian Left.

Copyright © Onyeisi Chiemeke, Maroonsquare

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