“For whom is it well, for whom is it well? There is no one for whom it is well” – Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
Sometimes in mid-2003, I answered a summon by Ibrahim Talba, the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Vice-President, where I was posted as a Director, to be informed that I should proceed to the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) to take over as Secretary/Director of Administration. It was meant to be a stopgap arrangement and I would return to my desk in some months. Most readers would probably know that NIPSS is that prestigious federal government institution where the top echelon of the federal and state governments plus all the security agencies, the armed forces, police, the immigration, customs and prison services receive intensive training. Now, that is the kind of assignment most civil servants of my status would jump at.
I was gratified that I was picked to go but there was a snag. Kuru village where NIPSS is situated, sits smack on the cauldron of the communal crises that had engulfed Jos and environs since 2001. It is among the series of settlements ringing Jos where rampant skirmishes tended to spill over into the very busy main link road, taking the lives and properties of innocent and hapless commuters that in most cases would not have any association to the communal crises. It was therefore a fearfully prayerful me that took to the road that fine June morning to navigate through those settlements on my way to report to my duty post.
Those were truly anxious days for me but I lived through it in Kuru for about a year crisscrossing through Vom, Riyom and other villages to my Abuja base and was fortunate never to have been involved in any incident. Of course we know that matters unravelled in the following years with more spots of communal crises that always spilled over to that main link to Jos creating uncertainty and anxiety for commuters. Many of us who used to commute to the north-east had to find alternative routes. And the loss was mainly to Jos. Loss of revenue, loss of human activity weighed heavily on the city. Hotels that used to be congested were bereft of customers.
Jos city suffered other deprivations. It used to be one of the most attractive places in Nigeria to hold any event of national and international importance. President Olusegun Obasanjo took his entire cabinet plus all the federal permanent secretaries and many top officials to NIPSS in 2001 for a retreat that many would recall came up with the famous Kuru Declaration. The event was so successfully conducted that NIPSS was proposed as one of the venues to host a major international event, the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) to take place in 2003. NIPSS was feverishly preparing for the CHOGM when we were told that only Abuja would be used. That became the pattern in the years that followed. Organisations shunned Jos one after the other. In fact, the situation became so desperate that even federal government organizations quartered in Jos were seen to be holding their events elsewhere. Whenever I visited Jos in those days I never ceased to marvel at how things had degenerated for a city that we all loved.
However, I noticed that things had started to look up for Jos in the last two to three years or so. The city began disappearing from our mental radar of crises prone areas. It was a slow return to normalcy but I guess the good words got around quickly. When I visited recently I drove through all those tension-soaked areas of the past, Riyom, Vom and Kuru without misgivings. And what was most surprising was that one could hardly recognize the entry into Jos. The two-lane congested highway had given way to a beautiful express way with many lanes and even some fly-overs. Yes, fly-overs! And where ever you looked, you see vigour, alacrity, and an air of peace all round.
When I asked about the new found peace, I was told that it was a result of the new approach to governance. I was told the new administration came in with a real plan and genuine steps to engage all the embattled communities with a view to having a lasting peace. What the government did was to follow the well-trodden path of being transparently fair to all in terms of appointments and distribution of amenities in respective of ethnic grouping or religion. This was besides taking the state civil service along by ensuring that the backlog of salaries left behind by the previous administration were duly cleared. As a mark of seriousness to engendering lasting peace, the government even established the Plateau Peace Building Agency (PPBA) purposely to detect early warning signs of conflicts among the people and work to nip such in the bud before it escalates.
I also found out that prominent citizens of Jos led S D Makama have formed a social group, Make Jos Great Again, to consolidate on the peace process and bring back the lost glory of the city. The group which cut across political, religious and ethnic divides included prominent Jos indigenes such as Col Lawal Gwadabe, Senator Tilley-Gyado, Lilian Kachalong Rwang and Ibrahim Dasuki Nakande.
With Jos gradually bouncing back into reckoning and all stake holders working hard to firm it up, the return of the mayhem in the same old turfs was a shock and a tragedy of no mean proportion. Suddenly the nation was awakened to the bad news from Jos. When I saw the number of messages from well-wishers warning me to avoid the road leading to Jos I had a sinking feeling that the bad old times were back. The early reports that followed were bleak when the number killed in Barikin Ladi were released. Instinctively anyone conversant with the politics of the area knew then that the usual crowd would seize the chance to raise road blocks on the road and cause mayhem on unsuspecting commuters.
I still cannot fathom why the security agencies failed to pre-empt the trouble makers by making a loud presence all the way from Angle dee to Kuru down to Vom, Riyom. The mere heavy presence of the security agencies even without firing a shot would have doused the brewing trouble and assuaged the situation. As this was not done, innocent lives were needlessly lost. I still feel the pain of the parents of Zayyanu Shallah, a staff of the Nigerian Communication Commission, and his friend Zayyanu Gwandu who were on their way from Bauchi to Abuja and were unaware of the so-called reprisals killings being perpetrated on the road going out of Jos. Their lives were snuffed out in very gruesome circumstances. Many others who just happened to be on that highway were brutally set upon, killed and set on fire.
It is a terrible setback to all the efforts that the state government and all those well-meaning citizens of Jos have put up in the last two, three years. But they should not relent. Their efforts have worked even if it was for a brief period. Nevertheless, it showed what was possible and that with continuous engagement among the communities, old enmities and recriminations can be eroded. And with a government that stands above the fray dealing fairly and equitably with all its citizens a lot can be achieved. What needs to be done now will be to redouble the efforts and continue on the same path. Jos deserves to return to its pride of place.