It used to be the home of peace and tourism. The weather in Plateau State is about the best in Nigeria, and so people desirous of a peaceful, conducive environment in which to unwind always rush especially to the state capital, Jos.
But that peace was shattered through sheer intolerance 18 years ago when an 18-year-old woman insisted in passing through a congregation of Muslim faithful during Friday prayers. The venue was a packed Juma’at mosque in Jos North. All entreaties on the young woman to take another path fell into deaf ears. It was obvious she was on an ominous mission to instigate crisis.
And since her mission was all too apparent, the Muslim faithful ought to have ignored and allowed her to pass. That would have been the end of the story. But they did not. Some overzealous ones among them attacked the young woman, and all hell was let loose. The natives, an overwhelming majority of whom are Christians, felt slighted. They took up arms in revenge and, days later, when the crisis was brought under control, it left in its wake tens of dead bodies and hundreds of millions of naira in destroyed property.
The peace that was the hallmark of Plateau deserted it since then. Holiday makers started turning their backs on the state, and that significantly affected the economy of the state and its populace. With poverty comes more anger and feeling of deprivation, and so Plateau has been relapsing into violence at the slightest prompting.
With the coming of Governor Simon Lalong to power four years ago, peace started returning to the state. The governor is a devout Christian, but knowing his disposition as a man of peace, the Muslims gave him resounding support at the polls, and he easily won the gubernatorial election of 2015. He is now into his second term of office, having won again in the election earlier this year.
One of the major issues causing problems in Plateau is the crisis of identity. The natives would rather be accommodative to a Nigerian of southern extraction, provided he is a Christian, than the Muslim whose parents and grandparents were born in the state. And so they always make sure the Hausa community, an overwhelming majority of whom are Muslims, do not come close to getting even as ordinary as the lowest cadre jobs in the state’s civil service.
There is the widespread belief that Jos North, which encompasses metropolitan Jos, is mostly populated by the Muslim Hausa community. The Muslims feel they are entitled to produce the local government chairman of Jos North. But the native Christians will not have that. Most of them feel it is an insult to have a Muslim as leader of that locality or any other part of Plateau State. And even though democracy is a game of numbers, they will not accept any election whose result indicates a Muslim winning in Jos North. In a 2004 local government election, hundreds of people were killed simply because a Muslim had won the election in that local government.
Now, the dark clouds are gathering on the Plateau again. In his bid to make peace, Governor Lalong appointed a Hausa Muslim as caretaker chairman of Jos North. Owing to security considerations, the governor tactfully decided not to have elections in four volatile local governments in the state. There is the belief that once a free and fair election is held in Jos North particularly, a Muslim will win. In any case, the person appointed in acting capacity won the primary election of the ruling APC. But the natives will not have that. And so the state is presently on edge, with some Christians promising fire and brimstone unless the decision is reversed with immediate effect.
Spokesperson of the Autochthonous Persons of Jos, Theresa Azi Nyako, who spoke at a media briefing two days ago, Wednesday, insisted that the governor of the state must conduct election in the four volatile local governments of the state. It does not matter to her that the outcome could result in widespread violence.
Flanked by community leaders in Anaguta, Afizere and Berom, Theresa minced no words in saying they were ready to die in defence of their land, which, according to her, was bequeathed to them by their forefathers. In her words: “We want to state in clear, unmistakable and unambiguous terms that we reject and condemn the suppression of our franchise in Jos North Local Government, among others. The imposition of a non-indigene who also doubles as the APC candidate during the primary elections completely rubbishes global best practices. It is illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional.”
Madam Theresa, however, could not state which part of the Constitution the governor’s action breaches, when asked by a reporter.
Governor Lalong is now faced with a dilemma the like of which he had never experienced. Youths are gathering and issuing all sorts of threats. But such is the politics of Plateau State. Both sides of the divide can be very uncompromising in their positions.
Fifteen years ago, precisely, May 13, 2014, President Olusegun Obasanjo had to, in frustration, publicly call the chairman of the state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) an idiot. The President had tried all he could to bring about peace on the Plateau, but the CAN chairman was proving impossible. Sadly, that led to reprisal killings in Kano, which were effectively nipped in the bud by the then patriotic governor, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau.
All the previous crises started this way. The difference is that, whereas the incumbent governor is a proven man of peace, who is doing his all to protect all Nigerian citizens living in Plateau, his predecessors were believed to be complicit in fuelling the division. Such is the negative role that previous administrations played on the Plateau that President Obasanjo had to suspend then governor Joshua Dariye and appoint a caretaker to govern the state for six months in a state of emergency. It was easy for Obasanjo to do that because he was a Christian. One can only imagine the wild reaction if it were President Muhammadu Buhari calling the state CAN chairman an idiot.
Now, it is not only Lalong that is in trouble. President Buhari is even in bigger trouble because he controls the troops, and the entire security strata of the Nigerian federation. If he acts with dispatch to stop the proponents of war, he will be accused of taking sides with the Muslims. And if folds his hands and allows the matter to degenerate, Plateau will sooner than later be engulfed in heavy fire, perhaps in a scale that is unprecedented.
But at the risk of taking sides, one is compelled to advice the people of Plateau to grow up and firmly enlist the state in the list of civilized societies. The state should take a cue from what obtains even in neighboring states, such as Kano that inhabits the largest proportion of Muslims in Nigeria. When a Yoruba Christian won a local government election in Fagge, in metropolitan Kano, about 15 years ago, the natives did nothing to stop him.
Starting with Governor Shekarau, every governor of Kano since then has been appointing non-natives into key positions in the state government. Shekarau at a time had three non-natives as members of the state executive council. The people of Kano did nothing like claiming the state was their franchise, as Madam Theresa is now doing. Perhaps that explains why the state has continued to be prosperous, dwarfing Plateau in virtually every strata of development.
The world we live in today does not have a place for ethnic and religious champions. Nigerians are becoming members of parliament in European countries, and some of them are mayors and ministers all over the world. London is perhaps 90 per cent Christian. But the mayor of London is a Pakistani Muslim. And the city is prospering. Just as the interim local government chairman of Jos North cannot force anyone to convert to Islam, so also Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London cannot even try to. Through diversity, societies have been attaining maximum advantages.
Just three days ago, Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina, a Muslim-populated state, appointed a Christian as an adviser in charge of Christian affairs. Nobody even raised an eyebrow in that state. I also know quite a number of Christian-dominated states that have given the minority Muslim population a big sense of belonging. Senator Gabriel Suswam had done so when he was governor of Benue State. So also Senator Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State, as well as many of the incumbent governors. Though divisions still exist in some climes, many Nigerian societies are fast moving towards unity and integration. Plateau should not allow ethnic champions to keep pulling it back.
We therefore call on Governor Lalong to make sure nobody rubbishes his legacy of peace by setting Plateau on fire, especially since nobody is above the law. He should immediately seek the hand of the Federal Government to make sure the situation is not allowed to escalate. Christianity, the religion that some of these troublemakers profess, is a religion of peace. They should not drag the excellent name of Christ in the mud, in a desperate bid to achieve selfish ends. A stitch in time saves nine.
Appointments: Why governor Sani Bello should allow the future to guide him
I was six years old and already in a Christian boarding primary school when the then head of state, General Murtala Muhammed, appointed Col. Sani Bello the military governor of Kano State in 1975. Though I have never lived in Niger State, I have always regarded myself as a son of the soil in the state because of my state of origin’s permanent relationship with the father of the incumbent governor, the military governor under reference.
I have never met Governor Abubakar Sani Bello, but the footprints he is bequeathing on the Nigerlites is all too clear for even the blind to see. I am a witness to some of his shining legacies, having been to Minna and other major towns in that state quite a number of times.
Like his son is doing in Niger State 40 years later, the father, Col. Sani Bello, served Kano State, which also encompasses today’s Jigawa, meritoriously for three solid years. He left his mark in the sands of time, and the people of Kano have always regarded him as father of modern Kano. He took over from Police Commissioner Audu Bako to lay the foundation for many of the major landmarks that have since then stood Kano out.
Some days to this year’s gubernatorial election, Niger was one of the states I took particular interest in. For one, it donated Abuja to Nigeria and settled for the name Suleja, for what is unarguably its biggest town.
For any person to be elected as Niger State governor, his best bet is to make sure Suleja is in his electoral bag. It definitely has the largest population, second only to Minna, the state capital. But then there is a problem. Suleja is a cosmopolitan city, somewhat a mini-Nigeria. The population of non-natives far outweighs that of the natives. And in today’s Nigeria, what that means is that the ruling APC will always have a battle winning Suleja, with some people mischievously regarding the APC as a Muslim party.
But the governor bestowed the heavy responsibility of winning Suleja for the APC on some of his people, who are natives of that place. They did all they could. And they defied all the odds to deliver.
Surprisingly, however, when it comes to sharing what I would call the spoils of war the governor somehow ignored these people and settled for those who were far from the battlefield when the political war was being waged. But that is not the only thing that I find very worrisome. Governor Bello is also appointing two members of one family, same father and same mother, as commissioners in the state.
I understand that the people of Suleja are not happy with the governor’s decision on this. They are protesting in a civil way. Even the emirate council is said to have made an approach to the governor, respectfully asking him to rescind the odd decision.
I decided to lend my voice to the raging debate because, to my heart, I see Governor Abubakar Sani Bello as something of a big brother. He is someone I definitely wish the very best. Though it might sound bitter, I feel I owe him the duty to say that the decision to appoint two siblings into key positions in his government is completely ill-advised.
Suleja, as my brother the governor knows even better, is divided into two zones. Right now, only one zone has all the political offices. And the zone in favour only occupies 35 polling units. The other zone that has been completely relegated to the background has 100 polling units. For me, it doesn’t take a political scientist to decipher that this calculation does not, and cannot, add up.
Even though Governor Bello is already into his second term of office, I advice he considers the fact that he is a brilliant young man who has a future in Nigeria’s political configuration. Governorship can, therefore, not be his last bus stop politically. That being the case, he owes the other zone in Suleja the duty to carry them along in his government.
I understand the governor was prompted to take this action because some of those who fought for him were alleged to have ridiculously enriched themselves at the expense of the people. But a proof that this must be a baseless allegation lies in the fact that they were able to deliver Suleja to him. If they were alienated from the people as being alleged, they will not have been able to attain this unprecedented feat.