23 January, 2010


22 January 2010
Lagos — While the world agonized over the devastating earthquake that had hit the Caribbean nation of Haiti, killing over 50,000 people with thousands still unaccounted for, many were stunned last Sunday that, rather than empathize with a fellow black country whose poor citizens are made up mainly of freed African slaves, Nigerians were instead engaged in the mindless and senseless past-time of bloodletting, on religious grounds!

The recent Jos riots began in an all-too-familiar manner. A minor dispute over the re-building of a damaged house by a Muslim resident in a disputed part of Jos had attracted the attention of scores of Christian youths who resisted the attempt.

Before long, the matter had degenerated into killings along religious and ethnic lines, one report says.

Another version has it that the fracas was actually a result of a soccer match that went sour.

Whatever the cause of this recent sectarian killing in Jos, the results have been similar: Churches and mosques have been razed down, hundreds of people have lost their lives, and thousands have fled from their homes and sought refuge in police and army barracks.

Many of those killed had been 'innocent' by-standers. Properties worth billions of naira have also been destroyed in the process.

Coming on the heels of a similar riot in the same Jos in 2008 that took the lives of about 500 people and almost led to the declaration of a state of emergence in Plateau State, this recent blood bath between Muslims and Christians in the area could be said to be one too many.

It is even worse that the Presidential Panel set up by the Federal Government to look into the causes of the November 28, 2008 riots is still sitting in Jos and has not concluded its mission before the present crisis erupted.

As with previous riots, government has announced the imposition of dusk to dawn curfew, deployed troops to the area, made arrests and has vowed to fish out the perpetrators of this heinous habit of citizens of the country killing one another at will with no adverse consequences to themselves.

Still many believe that after all the saber rattling by government, nothing much will come out of its resolve to fish out and punish those that instigate and profit from the state of uncertainty and insecurity among Nigeria's multi ethnic and religious groups.

It has been the unfortunate lot of Nigerians since colonial and post-colonial times that no year passes without a major religious riot that consumes their lives with nothing done by government before or even after the killings.

Many have blamed the recurrent nature of religious riots in the country to this inability of governments at all levels and the nation's major religious leaders to sincerely and squarely address the socio-economic and political imbalances that conduce for violent religious or ethnic riots.

Those who tow this line point at the high level of unemployment of the youths of the country who make up the foot soldiers in these riots, a situation made more galling to those inclined to inciting violence when they point at the nation's economic and political leaders who live in unearned and un-merited opulence in the sea of mass misery.

Some have also seen the motive factor of religious and other riots as the constitutional imbalance, as in the Jos case, which consigns great swathes of the population of the area to the status of 'strangers' even when these 'others' had been second or first generation descendants of the early settlers.

The adverse consequence of this 'indigene-stranger' dichotomy is that these strangers are practically disenfranchised politically and economically.

As the Senate President David Mark is reported to have said following the recent Jos riots, this nation can no longer afford or tolerate the totally irrational, 'nonsensical' state of affairs.

But it is one thing to wax pious over this matter by those in high government authority; it is however something else to muster the political will required to frontally tackle the monster of religious riots in the (mostly) Northern part of the country.

In this regard, our lawmakers of which Mark is a principal could dispassionately look at the constitution of the land and make it more people-friendly by resolving the thorny issue of defining "Nigerian-ness".

Also our religious and traditional leaders who command a lot of moral authority must be held to account whenever religious or ethnic violence erupts within their domains. It is not enough that they retrospectively deplore these killings; they should be made to explain why they have happened to begin with.

Furthermore, our security agencies must be more pro-active than re-active in riot situations. Patrolling the streets and interdicting mere stragglers after the act is just a lot of hogwash.

But most crucially, government at all levels must be seen to make examples of religious or ethnic rabble-rousers whose teachings radicalize the people and lead to these recurrent killings. This is because it is of no practical deterrent use and purpose when government announces just after these odious riots that 60, 70, 80 or 100 suspects have been arrested when nothing more is heard of them thereafter. Nothing will deter religious or ethnic murderers when they see that no one ever gets punished for these crimes.