The lingering ethnic crisis in some Northern states can snowball into a major national disaster that may affect the smooth running of the 2019 elections, the Journalists for Democratic Rights, (JODER) has warned.
The National Working Group on Peace and Conflict Prevention, (NWGPC) pioneered by the Journalists for Democratic Rights, (JODER) stated in a report made available to the press on Wednesday that the Government, indigenous and resident communities in Plateau, Nassaraw and Kaduna States are key to the resolution of the lingering crisis in the two hitherto peaceful dominions.
The group early this week submitted a comprehensive peace roadmap to State Governors of Kaduna, Plateau and Nassarawa states in the North where ethnic conflict has taken high tolls on human lives.
The working group said the crisis in Kaduna, Plateau and other Northern states are being underestimated by the Government and the people. The report signed by Mr Abukar Onalo, a lawyer, Chief Digifa Werenipre and Adewale Adeoye stated that the persistent ethnic crisis in some parts of the North is “a poisonous mustard seed that can engulf the country. We call for urgent and concerted efforts to heal wounds, bring justice to the perpetrators of crime, the victims of crime and also to the bruised society itself.”
The media group identified key elements that continue to fuel killings in some Northern states as historic injustices perpetrated during the years of military rule when territories were carved into local governments without consultation with the people and political delineation of wards for electoral demography was done using the same garrison lenses.
Though democracy returned to Nigeria in 1999, these potential landmines were there, they did not go away but were pushed to the background, with people hoping for a prosperous economy and robust culture of democracy which are yet to fully come. JODER said these historic errors continue to lead to fresh population dynamics that raise the fundamental question of political control and the associated real dispute on land ownership.
The second problem is the partial connivance and participation of government officials including top security personnel in one corner of the crisis; the third is lack of constructive engagement of the stakeholders either by themselves or by a credible third party. The fourth is the slow and weak judicial system and the absence of the rule of law which continues to embolden criminals to perpetrate crimes, the fifth is the spiral arms race among the disputing parties.
With the crisis assuming a life of its own, communities are procuring arms and ammunitions to prosecute their interests in the most bizarre manner never before seen in the history of human existence in these territories.
The Barkin Ladi, Dura Duo areas of Jos and Kasuwan Magani in Kaduna State, JODER said merely mirror a bigger problem of exclusion and lack of popular and community input in past and present policies the consequences which have now found outlets in violent outbursts. JODER urged the government to be guided by the fact that the crisis in 2012 took the lives of a Federal lawmaker, Senator Dung Gyang and another member of the Plateau State House of Assembly, Hon. Filani Gyang, following the massacre of 50 people including women and children by armed men.
The group recalls that in 1991 when several local governments were created through Decree 2 of 1991, by military fiat, petitions were written by communities whose homelands were carved and partitioned without consultations but there was no respite till date.
JODER said though Jos North for instance has 291 square kilometers with a population of 429, 300 people in 2006, but the population has almost doubled raising genuine fears of the indigenous population. The government needs to help the people work out a formula that will allay their fears and aspirations within the defined framework of peaceful coexistence and respect for the values and civilisations of each other.
JODER said Governor El-Rufai’s decision to implement the Riots Damage Law of 1958, the Collective Punishment Law of 1915 and the Peace Preservation Law of 1917 will not heal wounds but can only veil the fundamental problem for a short time only to reoccur again. It described the laws as repressive colonial legacies designed to stifle the rights of indigenous peoples and locals alike.
“It is surprising that these laws that should have been repealed are still in Nigeria’s status book. The Riots Damage Laws of 1958 seeks to criminalise the right to protest by imposing cost of damages on protesters for properties believed to have been destroyed even when it has become difficult to quantify, especially when human lives are involved. The Collective Punishment Law of 1915 seeks to punish a whole community for the offence of one individual. The law defines the dominion of crime perpetrators as enemy territories and people living there are collectively categorized as opposition while the Peace Preservation Law of 1917 sees peace from the position of victory by arms occupation which does not in any way win the hearts of the people.”
JODER said the crisis loiters on a daily basis with low scale killings that frequently peak at occasional mass killings of people, including women and children. JODER said an average of 10 people are killed every month in Plateau, Nasarrawa, Benue and Kaduna states adding that more than 200 people are being held at various security formations without trial. The group urged the Military which has been involved in arbitrary arrests to handsoff the detention, trial or prosecution of suspects which is within the jurisdiction of the police.
“The Federal and State Governments need to constructively engage local communities not for electoral ends, not even for the stability of the government as a primary consideration but rather for the stability of communities and the people that live in those provinces. We regret to say that governments at all levels have treated feuding communities as enemies and this has broken down the public trust needed for the government to stand out as impartial arbiter,” JODER said.
The security agents are notorious for ignoring warning signals. It is unfortunate that for the past five years, Kaduna for instance has been demarcated into ethnic and faith-driven settlements with each group relocating to areas thought to be save for them. This is more like what goes in in Lebanon. Jos in the past 12 months has witnessed the same trans-safety movements.
JODER had embarked on a fact finding mission in three Northern states culminating in reports submitted to affected state governments which the media rights group said it hoped would heal wounds and open a new vista for peaceful coexistence in the feuding communities.
The group regrets that recommendations made to the state and Federal Governments by the working group in 2017 that a permanent multilateral working group on peace building be set up has not been implemented. JODER asked the State Governments to initiate a tripartite working committee that will involve the communities, the governments at the state and federal levels and civil society organisations to urgently address the crisis warning that it could spill over across the entire country if not nipped on time.