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The Plateau Crucible (2)

February 17, 2010
We have seen in the first part of our discussion how the destiny of Jos was shaped into a cosmopolitan city by the forces of economy, geography and politics. It has for quite a while proved exemplary in accommodating various cultures when we recall how life in the mining city looked like in the 60s and 70s. You can call it bariki, a modern town free from the shackles of tradition.
 It was an epitome of tolerance and a future model for other cities in the region. However, this enviable position of the young city became severely affected with the changing its political status. The inhabitants of the city greeted every such change with diminishing tolerance and a narrowing vision, a trend that inevitably led finally to its present sick state.

When Jos was a provincial city, its people were more regional in outlook. They saw themselves as part of the entire Northern Region like any one of us. Its natives were posted as civil servants to various other provinces of the region to work where they interacted with several other peoples and cultures. With the creation of states in 1966, the Northern Region was disbanded and Jos became the capital of Benue-Plateau State. The political focus of its people, like that of Nigerians in other states, became shrank into the smaller identity they have just acquired. The struggle for power in the new state ensued, as it did in every newly created state, then and always, between its various indigenes, with the Benue camp on the one hand, and the Plateau camp on another. The ethnic groups were many; so power was still diffused without any dominant block. Jos remained the darling of everyone, though migrant Muslim section of its population must have started sensing their diminishing prospects especially with the decline in mining.

Then Benue-Plateau State became divided into Plateau and Benue States in 1976. The status of Jos was reduced to the capital of only Plateau State, which, nevertheless, included present Nasarawa state then. As the natives of the Plateau celebrated their separation from Tiv, Idoma, and, later, the native Muslim and other tribes of Nasarawa, ethnicity started to become a dominant their political culture. Jos became politically more parochial than ever before. Its identity has become narrower. Its people are no longer seeing themselves as part of a larger North, or a smaller Benue-Plateau, or a still smaller Plateau that included Nasarawa. A'a. Their civil servants can only serve within the boundaries of Plateau, not the former greater North of Kwara, Sokoto, Kano or Borno or Benue, except in Federal appointments. So Plateau administratively must be for its natives only, the Tarok, Berom, Angas, Afezere, Anaguta, etc, just as Kano is for Kanawa, Sokoto for Sakkwatawa and so on.

The 'Pre-1966 Rule'
I have no problem with this argument at all to the exert that it applies only to state government offices or affairs within the exclusive jurisdiction of states. The indigene arguments applies in every state. The problem is when we fail to  properly define who is an indigene; or when the concept is applied to matters outside the jurisdiction of the state; or when it tramples on the fundamental rights of other Nigerians resident in the State. The definition of who is indigene is not given by the constitution and is subject to arbitrary application. After giving it a deep thought, I have realised that it is a degree higher than the word 'native', which simply means a person who the colonial masters met in a place during their conquest that was completed in 1903. The Hausa and Fulani in Wase for example are considered natives of Plateau State and that is why there is no problem regarding their indigene status. By this definition, all natives of a state are regarded indigenes.

Beyond the 'native' status, i can find only one rule regarding the definition of indigene that is universally applicable throughout the defunct North, and I believe it similarly applies in the old Western and Eastern regions. Natives of the North who settled in a place (within the North) before the region was sub-divided in 1966 are generally considered indigenes of that place regardless of ethnic background. Based on this, there are thousands of Plateau State natives (and many natives of former Kwara and Benue Provinces) who are enjoying indigene status in states like Bauchi, Kaduna, Taraba, etc. Some of my mates are natives of Plateau whose parents once lived here during the mining period and they are recognised today as indigenes of Bauchi State, enjoying public appointments and other rights, even though their parents have relocated back to Plateau State. This rule - the pre-1966 rule - if adhered to will go a long way in solving the issue of indigene that is among the biggest contributing factors to the present crisis on the Plateau until a clear cut constitutional provision is made. If I, a Fulani, cannot be considered an indigene in Sokoto because I am from Bauchi and has not settled there during the defunct North, I wonder why I should be accorded such status in Plateau.

However, the problem that appears so simple is complicated over the years by dishonesty, ignorance and administrative incompetence. How would we know the people who settled before 1966 in a country where people are always ready to lie in order to gain one thing or another, or where they will support any criminality a member of their ethnic or religious group would commit? Do the people who settled in Jos after 1966 know their rights as citizens of Nigeria or their limitations as residents of Plateau? Governments in the country have not helped matters either. There is not any place where a birth/death or settlement register is kept in the country. So how do we know who was here before or after 1966? Unless we are honest with ourselves and sort these things out, the ordinary man will simply use what he knows best - ethnicity - to define who is who. I thus support the proposition that all residents of Plateau and of any other Northern state claim the indigene of where they were by 1966 and so would their progeny. Honestly, a situation where every Hausa/Fulani now living in Plateau would claim the indigene of the state is not tenable. The people of Plateau are right if they resist this.

Plateau natives, on their part, must look beyond their narrow interest in Jos. They must realise that they have citizens enjoying this status as a result of this consideration in other places. The fact that someone's ancestor came from Kano, for example, does not automatically exclude him from being an indigene of Plateau, just as the Berom cannot be denied the same status because they are migrants from Sokoto or Niger Republic. Populations are dynamic. Everyone came from some where. The task remains for the State government to put in motion a machinery that will sort these things. A database can be created permanently for the registration of all its citizens along with documentation of death/birth/settlement that will be useful in future. Who knows whether in future the government could be so liberal to accord indigene certificates to any resident whose ancestry spans for 1000 years or so in the state, or the constitution would one day be reviewed to accord every Nigerian rights of a full citizen wherever he goes, or qualify it to a residency of say just 5 or 10 years? Records, in any case, will not harm anyone. The only problems here is that as Africans, we hate them.

Trouble will always brew when the Plateau State government considers all non-native residents as non-indigenes while its citizens continue to enjoy the same status in other states as we have shown. The Hausa/Fulani must themselves show a high level of patriotism to the state by guarding their status against intrusion from their kinsmen and avoiding dual indigene status. Many Plateau natives in Bauchi also carry Plateau indigene certificates. Today they will cross a stream and claim they are from Plateau, like when there are local elections there. In the evening they return to Bauchi State and continue their claim as Bauchi State indigenes. The fault is on both sides. Nevertheless, it is time to sanitise these things since they have become basis for bloody conflicts by applying uniform rules, before the day comes when we will be so civilised to accept every Nigerian as a full brother.

 Citizens' Right
At the bottom of the ethnic/religious conflict in Jos is the right which non-native Hausa/Fulani residents of Jos North Local government are asserting on the one hand, and what rights the native dominated state government is not willing to accord them on the other. The non-natives have been enjoying full citizenship rights, including right to political office, without any significant hindrance when the State was part of larger administrative units, until when finally Nasarawa State was carved out, and Jos North Local Government was created. The creation of Nasarawa State left the non-natives without any significant native ally, thus becoming more vulnerable than before in an environment that is increasingly becoming hostile. The creation of Jos North Local Government on the other hand gives them a sort of majority assurance, that they can use their number in a democracy to mitigate that vulnerability. That is why some natives see the creation of Jos North as a deliberate attempt by Babangida to protect the Hausa/Fulani. To be fair to the General, this is not true. Every state capital like Jos with substantial population in the country has been divided into many local authorities then. If he did not divide Jos, he would have equally been accused of impeding the progress of the city because it is Christian. So Jos was divided into North, East and South Local Governments.

The Hausa, however, became dominant in the heart of Jos City, the old Jos, where their parents and grand parents were among the first to settle. That area formed Jos North Local Government where all commercial and government activities take place. This raised a unique situation where the non-natives are the dominant ethnic group of the capital city. If this were happening in Mangu or Langtang or Anguware, little premium would have been assigned to it. But the position of Jos North as the State capital would prove to mean a lot to the natives of Plateau State. Afraid that they will be subjugated by the natives as often threatened, the non-natives seek to assert their rights relentlessly. The natives, on the other hand, cannot put up with the 'indecency' where even their governor will be resident in a local government headed by a non-native. They have acquiesced to legislative positions quite alright: allowing a Hausa to be the representative of the Jos North and Bassa Local governments in the House of Representatives, another at the state assembly, and a number of councillors in the local government chamber.

However, the bone of contention is executive position, of any kind. To avoid a Hausa becoming the Chairman of Jos North Local Government, Governor Dariye postponed elections into the council for eight years. And when one of them, Mukhtar Sale Hasan, was appointed by the Obasanjo administration as coordinator of a poverty alleviation program for the local government in 2001, it led to the first bloody conflict between the natives and Hausa/Fulani in Jos and its environs. When the elections were held in 2008, all accounts indicated the Hausas were on the way to winning the Chairman's seat. Crisis ensued at the obscured collation venue and the PDP government finally announced a berom, a junior brother of the Governor as the winner. Who would question the right of the PDP to rig anywhere? Literally, that was the defence of the government and indeed of many other Nigerians, including Hausa/Fulani leaders in other parts of the North. "Ku je ku zauna lafiya da abokan zamanku (go and live in peace with your neighbours)", the Sultan reportedly advised the Hausa/Fulani Jasawa then.

It will be difficult in a democracy for any government to succeed in suppressing the rights of a majority in a political unit no matter how small. Rigging elections in so crude a manner cannot be sustained as a solution for ever. Violence on the other hand would only complicate matters as it has done so far. A political solution is required. Officially, no citizen should be asked to derogate from his fundamental human rights in a democracy. The constitution guarantees all citizens the right to vote and stand for elections once they fulfil some constitutional requirements. Beyond this, one, the Plateau State government can look into the issue of indigene as we stated above, ascertain the status of every resident and allow democracy to run its course. This will be ideal. Two, if that is too big for the heart of the natives, they can enter an arrangement where the Hausa/Fulani could be a deputy chairman, as they suggested to Jang in 2008 and which he arrogantly rejected saying, he can do without the Hausa/Fulani. In the end, he did so only through rigging the election and at the expense of hundreds of innocent lives. The third suggestion is for the natives to allow time to gradually give them an upper hand because they only seem to be in hurry. The number of natives increases at a faster rate in all the new parts of Jos North Local Government. They only arrived late but with time they will definitely acquire a legitimate majority. Then, the Chairmanship will become theirs, neat and clear. However, they appear to be pulling the future in haste.

(To be concluded)

18 February 2011

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