A really good analysis of the Jos crisis

By | March 21, 2010

This is from Tatalo Alamo, writing for the Nation:

Taking inspiration from the conflict tree paradigm, we can say that while the immediate cause and outward foliage of the Jos crisis is economic, ie a conflict arising from allocation of scarce resources and the distribution of political patronage, the root causes are cultural and historical. While the current conflict is framed in terms of religious differences, Christian indigenes versus Muslim settlers, the bitterness is rooted in ancestral memory and the resentment arising from hegemonic quests.

But while ethnic resentment and bitter ancestral memory always exist in a state of dormancy in heterogeneous societies, they always require an active politicisation to become active, ie to achieve a collective and communal momentum. While members of different ethnic groups may disdain and hold each other in contempt, it always takes a degree of political mobilisation to tip over into active hatred and murderous rage.

The paradox of genocide is that although it usually involves ordinary people targeting other ordinary people, it is always an elite-fuelled phenomenon. As we have seen in Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Turkey, Hitler’s Germany and now Jos Plateau, ordinary people do not simply wake up and start killing each other. It usually requires a considerable degree of elite propaganda and religion-induced dementia.

Despite bitter ancestral memory about thwarted conquests, repulsed invasions and attempted cultural domination, there have been long periods of history when the so called indigenes and settlers of Jos lived side by side with each other in peace and harmony. Despite cultural and historical differences, children of both communities often found common political cause even as they joined the army in droves. Some of the notable leaders of the revenge coup of 1966 are from this region. Many of them fought valiantly to keep Nigeria one.

The so called Langtang mafia that wielded disproportionate influence in the post-Shagari military dispensation are from the region. Governor Jonah Jang himself was an outstanding product of this cultural mishmash until he began to sing about being unfairly cashiered from the Air Force. Surely, his ethnic identity did not prevent him from being enlisted into the armed forces in the first instance. And it did not prevent him from receiving the gubernatorial nomination of the ruling party, the PDP.

We have heard tales of how some of the most physically ineligible cadet candidates from the region were summarily enlisted on the orders of the late Sardauna. Except in hushed tones of ancestral recriminations, nobody, particularly from outside the region, could tell who was what among the political elite. Population-wise, no ethnic group loomed disproportionately over others. There are some Berom who are Muslims just as there are Hausa/Fulani supporters of Jonah Jang. The late Joseph Garba told a riveting tale of how his father, a native chief, finally succumbed to Sardauna’s proselytisation.

The most telling irony of the Jos tragedy is that post-military politics seems to have opened the Pandora box of ethnic bitterness and religious hatred on the plateau. This is precisely what has also happened in the Kaduna metropolis which has led to a virtual partitioning of that beautiful city. The liberating tonic of politics has turned out to be an ugly poison. It is a steep descent down a dark and dangerous precipice. In political dispensations, unlike military dictatorships, there are usually more elite mouths to feed and the feeding frenzy is usually driven by the politics of exclusion and the politicisation of ethnic and sub-ethnic identity.

Unfortunately in Jos, the army, the ultimate national institution, has been fingered as being part of the problem. There are dangerous insinuations out there that the Nigerian Army is partisanly embroiled in the Jos conflict. For weeks, serious allegations have been flying around about the culpability of the entire military command in the Jos tragedy. These allegations are a veritable threat to national security and are simply unprintable. God forbids the army of an ethnically combustible and religiously fractious nation being led by mullahs and religious fanatics. But when a normally sedate and even-tempered four-star General like Domkat Bali dismisses the military commander in Jos as an idiot, we have reached a most dangerous flash point.

Fortunately for conflict resolution, there are intriguing plays of signifiers across the rigid binary division in Jos. The Christian Berom indigenes are predominantly in the ruling party, the PDP, while the Muslim Fulani settlers appear to have pitched for the opposition ANPP. The hegemonic group is not in the hegemonic party. The imperialising culture is not part of the imperialist faction. It is a profound local difficulty. So, when the PDP rigs in Plateau State, it is rigging against the national consensus of its own party and its hegemonic thrust.

The open partisanship displayed by Umaru Yar’Adua did not allow him to take advantage of this sly adumbration of the forces in contention. Hence an embarrassingly ineffectual policy which could only have encouraged impunity on the part of a principal faction. General Obasanjo did not fare any better. His military frame of mind led him to slam an unwarranted and unjustified state of emergency on the fractious state. As a military tactician, it was the thing to do. But as a political strategist, it simply means that the poor general could not see beyond his nose. The result is that the ruling party is at the end of its tether and there is open genocide on the Jos Plateau.

Goodluck Jonathan can fare much better than his two predecessors. The first thing to do is to order an immediate and swift redeployment of General Saleh Maina from the theatre of genocide to a posting where his offensive skills would be better appreciated. Second, he should, as a matter of urgent national priority, inaugurate a National Restitution Commission which will look at the Jos catastrophe in a holistic manner and come up with acceptable solutions. This is not the usual job for the boys. Jonathan must source for tested patriots and experts of conflict resolution.

Jos has put Nigeria on the international spot. It is a purulent boil on the body politic and the earlier we lance it the better for our collective health. It is not enough to condemn Muammar Ghaddafi as a madman. We must first convince the global community of our own sanity.

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  • Aminufhamajoda

    We need to be drastic about our citizenship laws and invent more conciational and centrapetalist laws in party structures, electionering and institutional startegies. Liberal majoritarian democracy will not augur well for Africa