From Gyang Bere, Jos
The decades of insecurity that rocked Plateau North Senatorial District left the people separated along religious, ethnic and community divides.
The violence claimed dozens of lives in 2012, including former Senator Dalyop Dantong, and former majority leader of the Plateau State House of Assembly, Hon. Gyang Fulani, during a mass funeral procession.
Since then, the people have been living in perpetual fear where “no-go areas” were introduced. At a point, Christians were not allowed to cross over to Muslim communities and Muslims could not cross over to Christian communities. The crises polarized the state to the extent that there were different markets for Christians and Muslims, thereby making life difficult and uncomfortable for the citizens.
But several religious and political leaders have introduced friendly programmes aimed at bringing together youths across the divides to interface for peace and reconcile.
This was why the deputy chairman, Senate Committee on Defence, the senator representing Plateau North, Istifanus Gyang, introduced the first Plateau North Peace, Unity and Reconciliation Football Tournament, to engage youths in the constituency meaningfully.
The tournament afforded the Christian and Muslim youths in Plateau North the opportunity to meet as brethren after a long time to interface and discuss how to live together peacefully, as it used to be several decades ago.
The tournament commenced with 77 teams from all the electoral wards in Plateau North, who were given equal opportunity to present a team from the grassroots.
This provided the opportunity for the youths to integrate to promote peace, unity and reconciliation. It also availed them the opportunity to showcase the huge potential of their youths in the round leather game. Interestingly, all the teams displayed great skills and talent throughout the tournament. The matches were played peacefully in line with the purpose for which the tournament was organised.
The multiplier effects of the tournament on the socio-economic lives of the people and the social ties it created were something that most people would be looking forward to always.
Food vendors took advantage of the huge crowds that turned out for the tournament to do business. The hawkers went from Christian to Muslim communities to sell and to socialize for the first time. People were seen selling water, sugarcane, shoes and food items, among others.
The tournament was unique considering the dignitaries it attracted from all over Nigeria and the prizes for winners and participants.
The Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Ahmed Idris Wase, captain of the Super Eagles, Ahmed Musa, former governor of Plateau State, Sen. Jonah David Jang, were among the personalities who spoke in favour of peace, reconciliation and harmonious living.
Gyang said the tournament was meant to resolve the misgivings about the people of Plateau North.
Rafan Ward of Barkin Ladi LGA clinched the first position, with the star prize of a mini bus and N4,300,000.Jenta Adamu Ward came second and got a mini bus and N2,900,000; and the team from Jengre Ward came third, winning N1,200,000 with other prizes.
Addressing the cheering crowd on the need to imbibe peace, unity and tolerance, Sen. Gyang said: “I remain grateful to the people of Plateau North who have overcome the challenge of insecurity and today are living peacefully.
“This tournament is part of actualization of our aspiration to further consolidate peace, unity and reconciliation in Plateau North and Plateau State as a whole. The 73 electoral wards in the six local government areas in the constituency were used for the football tournament.
“We started with 73 teams at the preliminary stage and we had 24 teams at the group stage, we got to quarter-finals and we are playing the finals today.
“I am excited because this tournament is anchored on two things: peace-building and creating a platform for our youths to display their talents and for us to have the opportunity to identify hidden talents from our grassroots that are to be nurtured and groomed so that the next set of football players at the local and international level will come from this constituency that has been a birthing ground for many football fans.
“We have an enviable history in football and you have seen how wonderful the players have played. I doff my heart to the youths from the grassroots that made up the players and all those that have been supporting them. You are the future of this state, you are the future of this constituency, you are the future of this nation and I want to be part of those who are building a healthy future; that is why this tournament is not only starting but will be sustained.”
The senator representing Benue East, Gabriel Suswam, expressed delight that football was one of the strongest attractions that could bring people together for a common good.
However, he lamented the level of insecurity in every part of the country and noted with disappointment how gunmen shot dead his elder brother in his residence.
Suswam regretted the recent attack by bandits on the Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, and urged the Federal Government to deploy massive security to every part of the country.
Former Governor Jang said, with peace, talented players would be harnessed to play at various levels.