Fire from the Mountains…

By OLUSEGUN ADENIYI

In the last couple of days, I have had to imagine the tragedy of last Sunday at Barakin Ladi and Riyom, Plateau State, when Senator Gyang Dantong led the procession to give a final burial rites to their kiths and kins. It was bad enough that the people being buried were brutally massacred in their homes before one now considered the indignity of a mass burial which in the circumstance was the most plausible thing to do. Unfortunately, it was at that emotionally vulnerable state at the scene of a multiple funeral that Dantong and others were callously ambushed in a second round of violence that ultimately consumed no fewer than 40 people.
Given the nature of the crisis which led to that bloody madness, it would be very naïve of anybody to consider this as the end of a cycle of revenge that brought about the pogrom. And that is where the federal and state governments have now been left with a serious challenge which would require tact and commitment on the part of critical stakeholders. But evidently, the first major problem now is how to bury the Senator under the current atmosphere without negatively impacting on the peace dynamics in the state.
All the political, traditional and religious leaders in Plateau State and those outside, and who have substantial influence, must join forces if we are not to have an escalation of this tragedy. What happened at the weekend was almost like a scene from a horror movie. That explains why it is nothing but gratuitous insult for some people to be dwelling on the irrelevant fact that there were no gunshot wounds on (some of) the victims who were, to all intents and purposes, simply murdered. There is therefore need for a serious inquisition into the role of the security agencies at the scene of the tragedy to ascertain their level of professionalism in such a panicky environment.
Recounting the incidence, Rwang, younger brother of Senator Gyang Dantong, said: “When the Senator and others arrived at the burial site, they parked their cars some distance away because the road is not motorable. As the procession for the mass burial was going on, there were sudden gunshots. The shooting came from the direction where they had parked their cars and so there was no way they could reach their cars.
“The STF soldier then advised everybody to run for safety because he said that the guns were more powerful than the ones they had. All the people then ran towards the hills to escape, by climbing the steep hills. They struggled to climb as the shooting continued. In fact, the bullets were just flying over their heads. It was in that process that they lost strength, fell and collapsed. From the direction and the manner they were shooting, it was obvious that my brother was the target of attack. He was crying and asking for glucose, but in the bush and in that circumstance there was nothing anybody could do than to take him to the hospital. They were then put in a Hillux Van and rushed to the Barakin Ladi General Hospital, but he did not make it as he died on the way.”
While we share the grief of Rwang and commiserate with his family and the other families who lost loved ones, it is important for those who are already talking carelessly to understand that making divisive and incendiary statements at a time like this can only compound the situation. Whatever the grievances (real and imagined) by the contending parties, this is not an auspicious moment to air them. When the tears have dried and the pains have subsided, there definitely will be a revisit of several issues that are critical to finding lasting peace in the state. But as Hon Victor Lar pointed out on Monday, the Biron lawmaker who fell is a Hon (Gyang) Fulani. That is not only instructive but says so much about the endless possibilities for peace and accommodation by all the peoples in what has become a theatre of violence and bloodletting.
It must be said that the ethnic conflicts on the Plateau and the resultant political tensions that have been pervasive over the years arose principally as a result of the politicisation of accumulated grievances. And it is not helped by the ethnic-settler controversy that is founded on division and hate. This is an issue that has become a serious challenge not only in Plateau but in several places across the nation and until, and unless, we address it, we will never be able to build a united society.
Rather than politics of accommodation, what has been evident in Plateau State over the years is an unnecessary battle for supremacy. But it is not too late for a political negotiation that will put an end to the ethnic strife and bloodshed. For that to happen though, it is important for all critical stakeholders to rise to condemn this massacre, not rationalise it, because nothing can, or indeed should, justify such cold-blooded murder. It is also important to avoid a reprisal that can only worsen an already bad situation.
It is natural that at a time like this emotions often run high and reason can be at a very low ebb. Yet except the relevant authorities move in quickly, (and I am not talking of drafting in some military men who will run away at the sight of danger as happened last Sunday), there could be further acts of anger and retaliation between the contending parties. And this will be most unhelpful.
We should never pretend that the challenge at hand is an easy one but it is also not insurmountable. I recall that the former Governor of Kaduna State, now a Senator, Muhammed Makarfi, faced a situation similar to, if not worse than, that of Plateau when he assumed office in 1999. But through meaningful and consistent dialogue sessions with critical stakeholders, he was able to find accommodation for the leading institutional actors, especially within Southern Kaduna.
We must explore all the endless possibilities for peace, though that is contingent on not bringing in mercenaries who may exploit the situation to further their own nefarious agenda. The fear is that there may already be some tell-tale signs in that direction and we know that without peaceful coexistence and tolerance, the city of Jos and indeed Plateau State, will be in perpetual conflict. Each side will keep trying to eliminate the other through what has become a bilateral genocide, to borrow a phrase coined in Rwanda. To therefore put the brakes on the violence there is the need to checkmate all appeals to hate, force and guilt by association. In that direction, I will recommend for the people a 75 second video clip which, in a different context, puts this issue in proper perspective: http://www.seedsofpeace.org/#.
At the end of the day, all the contending parties must come to the sober realization that they have only been losing lives, wealth and their peace of mind since the conflicts began. Their children are being wrongly socialized because their religious and cultural teachings about the sanctity of life are being cheerfully violated. The local economy has crashed and a land that was a haven of peace and agricultural productivity now exports only tales of man’s inhumanity to man.
The failure of our security agencies and whatever may be their current tactics for dealing with the challenge in Jos is also evident. It is particularly worrisome that no arrests are made after these killings, implying that there is probably no real grip on the situation. This only encourages what has become a national culture of impunity, because most people will feel some qualms about taking up weapons to kill their neighbours, and those with whom they have no issues at the slightest provocation, if they have an even greater fear of the efficiency of security operatives. As the nation therefore mourns the distinguished Senator and other victims of the tragedy, let the people of Plateau State embrace the legendary admonition of Ukpabi Asika: “Enough is enough”.
Fraudulent Subsidy Claims
President Goodluck Jonathan last Thursday established the second Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede Committee to verify and reconcile the findings contained in its earlier report. Explaining the reason for this development, Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the presidential committee, expected to submit its report tomorrow, was to give marketers who have been disputing the report the opportunity to prove their claims.
While this is okay, the tone of her remark was rather patronising. It is almost as if Nigerians are expected to clap for the current efforts to retrieve the stolen money when the same government allowed the monumental fraud to occur in the first place. According to her, “when we finish with that then the next stage will be for us to try and get our money back. We must get some of those resources back. Let’s wait for the resources to come back. I am sure Nigerians will like that and then we can take it from there. President Jonathan has directed the 15-member committee headed by Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede to begin work immediately and conclude its assignment by 5.pm on Friday, July 13, 2012 as a prelude to immediate action on all identified cases of fraud.”
While we await the second outcome, the first Imoukhuede Report is particularly revealing. Some of the highlights include the lack of evidence of sales proceeds in commercial banks (which then means monies so collected were pocketed) based on banks’ available records at the date of verification. Similarly, 88 companies were discovered to have collected subsidy payments without the signatures of external auditors and independent inspectors on shore tank certificates.
It is instructive that in the last couple of weeks, especially since the ill-fated Farouk Lawan-led House of Representatives Committee on the Subsidy Regime began its sessions, the federal government has set up a plethora of committees but we are yet to see any results. Rather interestingly, former EFCC Chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, whose appointment into one of these committees is being touted as evidence of transparency was lamenting this week that were he to be saddled with the assignment, he would smoke out the oil thieves.
While I will be very surprised if anybody is brought to book on this monumental looting, it will be comforting to at least name and shame all the perpetrators. I am not even sure that will happen. And that for me is sad, very sad!

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