It didn’t take me long to locate him at Rayfield where he teaches in a private school. Once upon a time, he was in Riyom, a local government that has now made a name for itself in the spots of unrest around the state. On my way there, there were at least ten military checkpoints along the way so I naturally had a hundred and one questions that I threw at him. We went out and sat down for lunch at a restaurant at the old airport junction.
It all didn’t make too much sense at the beginning, and he didn’t even seem much perturbed by the whole situation.
“Plateau is still the home of peace and tourism.” he said.
“It’s all politics. It’s not that bad,” he said. “Let me explain it to you.”
“You see, it’s politics. They are bent on painting a picture of unrest in the state for their own benefit.”
“You know, recently we hosted the First Lady from Abuja. They knew that if they let her leave without incident, she’ll go with the impression that everything is fine, so they caused some unrest somewhere in Jos, just to make the point that all is not well.”
“And how do they gain from doing so?”
“They gain because their aim is to make the state ungovernable if they won’t have their way. The skirmishes used to be minor, but now they’re attacking prominent people just to create a state of chaos. They know that whenever the name ‘Jos’ is mentioned in the news, people panic, so they have stepped it up. But they won’t win because everyday people still come in here living their lives as usual.”
“I told you, it is still serene. it’s politics, and they are using the soldiers to perpetuate their acts of violence.”
“No, you don’t mean that.”
“I do. Seriously.”
“But the soldiers are from all around Nigeria. Surely they can’t all be used.”
“You’re naïve. You see the uniform they’re wearing. You should have noticed that it’s different from the one soldiers in this state used to wear. They changed it because there have been cases of the attackers wearing soldier uniforms.”
“At night, some of them give the uniform to the miscreants and they go to the villages and wreak havoc. How else can you explain that there are thousands of soldiers in the state, yet people keep getting killed.”
“This is sad.”
“Even now, with the new uniform, things still haven’t changed. Look at what happened on Saturday.”
“And no one has been arrested?”
“No one. Until they remove the GOC in Jos, things won’t change. They’re all acting a script.”
“The General Officer Commanding? The head of the Armed forces in the whole state?”
“Oh come on, the military belongs to the federal government and the federal government is no longer controlled by the North. How could that be?”
“Well, the new president hasn’t changed the GOC yet. Until he is replaced, this would keep happening. He has an interest in perpetuating the violence. He is very biased. He’s part of the problem.”
“Alright, I get you, but here is one question. What exactly do they want?”
“Yes, and don’t sound like it’s not important. We allowed them to settle down here over years, and now that they have become many, they want the chairmanship of the local government. Heck, they even want to install an Emir. In Jos.”
“Yes. Even to you, how does that sound? ‘The Emir of Jos.’”
“I know that Jos is a mostly Christian place, but isn’t the Emir going to be the head of the moslem community alone?”
“Jos is not an extension of the Emirate. We don’t want an Emir.”
“Now, with violence everywhere, the name of Jos in the news almost every day for the wrong reason, how do you think this will all end?”
“I don’t know, but we don’t want anyone to impose anything on us. Let them just be happy with the position of the deputy speaker which they already have. They have one more position after that in the legislative house. That should be enough.”
I sighed. It is all politics after all.
“I want you to go and tell the world what is happening here. Some people are just bent on destroying the peace, and then they give it a religious colouration.”
“But there is religion involved, like you yourself has admitted.”
“Yes, but it’s politics too. You know this journalist Olatunji Dare, right?”
“Yes. I’ve heard the name.”
“He lost a relative in the March killings.”
“Yes. They have been attacking the Berom villages, but now it seems they’re not attacking everyone just to cause a general state of unrest. We need you to tell the world what’s happening here. We are a peace-loving people. You should know. Look at Rayfield. From here onwards is the GRA. All of Nigeria’s big men have houses here, from Babangida to Abubakar because this is a nice place to live. Why do we need to keep fighting?”
“I wanted to ask you that.”
“ But, like I said, it is not usually as bad as the news says it is.”
I thought that it is, but I felt it best not to point out that obvious fact anymore.
What I took away from the encounter however was the fact that he doesn’t feel any need for pity from anyone, but action from the right quarters, and justice where necessary. And he was right on two points: that the media always jumps on stories that have to do with Jos, and for good reason. With all the reports that have come from there all over the years, there still hasn’t been any permanent and lasting solution of peace, and this is sad, for a land that should ordinarily be a model for all other parts of the country. The other truth is that in spite of these now frequent attacks that have painted Jos black in the eyes of the rest of the country, and in spite of the presence of soldiers and police patrol vehicles at strategic points, life in Jos is actually pretty normal without any sense of unease, and life goes on as it always does.