By MAHMOON BABA-AHMED
Fire can easily be extinguished when it is a flickering flame. It could then be blown out orally or quenched by a flutter of a hand. But if ignored or abandoned it will rapidly develop into a ravenous blaze, consuming everything in its destructive frenzy. This is an analogy to what obtains today in Plateau State which has recently been predisposed to several bouts of crises that rendered it prostrate and powerless. It is now a shadow of its glorious past, weakened by incessant ethno-religious feuds which started as needless and preventable conflicts at low levels but official inaction to ward them off allowed them to vault higher to momentous level and snowballed to include set of circumstances that bred tribal militants and large-scale insurgency.
The sources of the conflicts on the Plateau were as varied as there were frivolous causes for their existence and persistence. They sprang from outlandish and ludicrous grounds bordered by worldly and spiritual considerations. The most obvious among them, however, is tribalism nurtured by religious intolerance which sparked off chain of skirmishes between age-old antagonists. These culminated in a sequence of battles that survived many administrations, outlived six-month emergency period, endured all attempts to prevent escalation, persisted in force and intensity despite an existing emergency rule in the areas considered the theatre of the scuffles in the state. The unrests therefore raged on unabatedly for more than a decade now, consuming hundreds of thousands of obdurate and stubborn disputants.
The tragedy on the Plateau started from the unhealthy rivalry, bordering on envy and mistrust, between the early and earliest inhabitants of the verdant, mineral-rich upland. The Berom were the occupants of the highlands in the beginning, and dwelt mainly in the mountainous terrains for fear of invasion by the first set of the influx which included the chivalrous Hausa that brought civilisation and progress. The Berom tilled the scanty arable land on the hilltops while other tribes cultivated the vast fertile and luxuriant land at the foot of the mountains. As time goes on both Berom and Hausa established themselves in distinct territories with clearly defined cultural boundaries and set of values, co-existed blissfully and interacted amicably until the coming of colonialists who further organised the tribes into standardised community.
The encouragement by British colonialists to miners of precious mineral deposits which included tin and tantalite on the Plateau attracted Hausa traders and manual workers that toiled hard to make Jos one of the foremost modern municipalities in Northern Nigeria. As the settlement grew and prospered a light railway was extended there to evacuate the minerals to Junction City of Zaria for export in aid of the British war effort to defeat Hitler. Subsequently Jos Township assumed a commercial and administrative importance in the north-east, attracting foreign and indigenous merchants and industrialists. Soon Hausa traders became ubiquitous and active participants in all aspects of human endeavour, gaining influence and foothold in commerce and related enterprises and becoming more politically relevant. However, with the break up of old Northern Nigeria, and the creation of Benue-Plateau state, the aboriginal population of the area became politically active, and sought to severe relationship with all relics of their past as they contemplated the formation of the Middle Belt, comprising all non-Hausa speaking areas of the North.
For that reason indigenes of the area later attempted to take over the federal government by force of arms ostensibly to restore one of their own, General Yakubu Gowon to power, resulting in the assassination of General Murtala Mohammed. Similarly in another deadly scheming they tried to excise a substantial portion of Hausa-Fulani dominated area of Northern Nigeria out of the federation. Since then Nigeria has known no peace with religious intolerance and ethnic squabbles breeding occasional friction between the Hausa-Fulani and other miscellaneous tribes on the Plateau. From the beginning it was an attempt to extricate the dominant Hausa from the city of Jos and to emasculate them economically and politically. When that proved an impossible mission, the campaign was then redirected at their Fulani kinsmen who are made the pariah of the North.
In retrospect it could be said that the recent quit notice, short as it was, issued by the States Task Force, STF to Fulani in some flashpoints in Barikin Ladi and Riyom local government areas of Plateau State, as a precondition for the return of peace, is already heightening tension and worsening security situations in that troubled state.
That disgusting order was sequel to a recurrent spate of senseless killings in and around Jos Township; with the recent spree claiming more than 300 lives of the two combatants, the Fulani and the Berom but it appeared the STF is taking sides by solely suspecting the Fulani herdsmen of gruesome murders that escalated the already bad situation. The Fulani cultural organisation, the Miyyetti Allah vehemently rejected the quit notice pointing out that there was no extant law in the constitution allowing for forceful evacuation order of one tribe for its religious beliefs. The Fulani believe that the STF is either directly or indirectly taking a step to exterminate an ethnic group.
Similarly, distinguished people across Nigeria have called on the STF to exercise extreme caution in uprooting the ethnic Fulani from their ancestral abodes, replete with their personal effects and flocks of animals as that will amount to palpable injustice that all fighting for inequality should come out and condemn. While the Fulani are vehemently against the quit order, the Berom Youth welcomed the idea, pointing out that it was a right step in the right direction that will foster durable peace. However it is hoped that the Defence Headquarters will maintain its avowed stand that the relocation is only temporary, aimed at avoiding collateral damage, even as some critics believe otherwise, contending that it will come to stay as it was intended to serve a sinister purpose.
It is instructive to note that previous unsuccessful campaigns to destabilise some portions of the North involved some misguided elements in the army, but still the government is either unwittingly or erroneously mobilising the army in what is obviously a constitutional breach by forcefully relocating one of the combatant tribes on the Plateau in favour of the other. This is grossly unfair since it takes two to tango. The same treatment should be meted out to the belligerents.