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When I served in the mandatory one-year national youth service in a little village close to the city of Jos in 2005, the state still deserved its motto, “The Home of Peace and Tourism”, even though there was always a shadow of violence looming in every corner and conversation. In September 2001, 4 years before I arrived there, there was one of the bloodiest bouts of violence between the Hausa–Fulani “settlers” and the “indigenes” of the state and when the smoke cleared, there were over 1000 people dead, with many homes and businesses destroyed. In a few months things returned to normal but there was always the shadow. Nobody knew when it would rear its ugly head or what its trigger would be. But it was always there.

In May 2004, a few months before I got my deployment papers to travel over 800 km from my home city to Plateau State, there was another bout of killings in Yelwa, the southern part of the state, in which over 700 people died. In all of these cases, the failure of government has been the cause of the carnage. In all of these cases, the violence spread and caused irreparable havoc before the agents of state appeared on the scene. And in some of these cases, when they eventually showed up, they took sides and did some extra-judicial killings of their own. Of all the ills of a badly-run government, the biggest and most disappointing crime is to be found guilty of taking sides and complicating the situation, and finally, not bringing the perpetrators of crime to justice.

While I was in Riyom, which is a short distance from the state capital of Jos, I lived in relative shelter from the political realities of the town, but only to the extent of actual violence that eventually occurred in some parts of the state even while I was there. I was not sheltered from the conversations and the anger. For many who lived in my part of the state, the problem of the state was not only fuelled by religion, but also by a political and economic undertone. Who were the indigenes and who were the settlers? To many who had an opinion, the Hausa–Fulani cattle herders had come from the North to take over the land from the Plateau indigenes, who were of a different tribe. Plateau state is one of Nigeria’s most linguistically

“In Nigeria today, this politics of ethno-religious domination, mistrust and ignorance/ arrogance is sadly one of the biggest threats to the survival of the nation.”

and ethnically pluralized states, yet Hausa is a language spoken by all in addition to local languages. In Riyom, where I lived, the language was Berom. The indigenes did not see themselves as Hausa–Fulani and always seemed to be fighting against a perceived dominance of the language and culture of the “settlers”.

In Nigeria today, this politics of ethno-religious domination, mistrust and ignorance/arrogance is sadly one of the biggest threats to the survival of the nation. And because of this, an agriculturally unique region of the nation—that was famous nationwide as the best place to live in the country because of its climate, history and people—is trapped in a burning fire. In an ideal federation, there should never be restrictions on where free citizens should live, as long as it’s within the borders and one can respect the rules of the land, which are fair and just.

The religious dimension of these series of crises is as unfortunate as it is saddening. It is high time we removed separated religion from all affairs of state, as is accepted practice in the most developed countries in the world. The case in Plateau state as well as many other volatile regions in the country—including some places in the Christian south—is the distrust that comes from ethnic affiliations. When it becomes tied to economic and political survival, hell is let loose— especially in the absence of a moderating influence of a trusted agent of state.

I am, like every other patriotic Nigerian, wondering how we got to this sad juncture, and wondering, too, how to move on from this cycle of violence. More than prayers
for the family of victims, we need a more responsible and responsive government, just as much as we need better education for all. Also, as deterrent, all culprits in the killings must be brought to justice. If international intervention is needed, let us have it. Those who kill fellow citizens do not deserve to live among us, if they deserve to live at all. There is nothing that should stop Hausa–Fulani cattle herders from living and prospering in Jos or in any other part of Plateau State, and neither should there be a threat to the practice of Christianity, Islam or any other religion in the state. For years the 2 major religions practiced in this area—Christianity and Islam—have lived alongside each other without any hint of violence. What changed?

I intend to visit Plateau State again. I still have friends there, many of whom I’m still in touch with. I will go with a camera and I intend to visit places I didn’t get to see during my first visit. It is not just a sense of loss and sadness that moves me to plan this visit; it is also a sense of disappointment at the wasted lives, the wasted property, and the wasted chance of nationhood as exemplified by Jos, formerly the home of peace and tourism.

Kola Tubosun is  the author of the blog where a version of this piece first appeared in March 2010. It was republished as Part 3 of the JOS feature in RE’LOAD 2.