Olayinka Oyegbile, journalist and author of the historical book, Home Away From Home…The History of Ogbomosho People In Jos, explains to NKRUMAH BANKONG-OBI, why he wrote the book and the reasons for the persistence of the Jos crisis
Why did you write Home Away From Home at this time?
It is a long story, but I will tell a little bit of it. I was born in Jos; my father lived there for over 80 years. All I knew was that I am from Ogbomoso. I never set foot in Ogbomoso until I was 14 years old, and that was because I went to secondary school in Kwara State. It was during one of the long vacations that I went to Ogbomoso for the first time. Now, the reason I wrote the book is that Jos is a home to many people. You have Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo as well as people from the Niger Delta. The British, Americans, Indians and people from East Africa were also there. It was like a melting pot. Most people were attracted to that place by the temperate weather, which is like that of Europe. In fact, we used to witness ice falling when it rained. Around 1990 or thereabout, I decided to write a book about how Ogbomoso people came to live in Jos. The reason was that most of us knew about Ogbomoso, but we never knew where it was. We just knew that we were Yoruba, but considered ourselves as Jos people because anything you wanted was found there. We grew up with people from other tribes as one. When in the 1980s the North was witnessing crisis, people were moving from Kano, Bauchi and other places to Jos. How did we find our way to such a place? So, I started the book. I went to people who knew about the movement and asked them the relevant questions. They told me and those are the stories I have documented in this book. I started writing this book in 1990 before the issue of ethnicity came up. There was nothing like settler or indigene.
Do you think Ogbomoso people would have migrated to Jos if it was the kind of place that it is now?
I think so.
You mentioned in your book that Ogbomoso people refused an offer of traditional leadership in Jos. Do you think that if they had accepted, the tussle for Jos today would have been different?
That would be a conjecture. What some of the people I spoke to told me was that the offer was declined because they were there for business. Their aim was to go and trade and when they traded, they preached to people and those who agreed were converted to Christianity. One of the things I gathered they said was “look we are here as traders and sojourners, we are not here forever”. That was the thought. But the weather in Jos was welcoming and the people were loving too, so they decided to stay. A man came, stayed after sometime, he invited his brother. My father, for instance, was invited by his elder brother. My own father also invited his younger brother, friends and others. They made it clear: “We don’t want to be chiefs, give us a conducive environment so that we can pursue our businesses and leave us out of politics.” That was how the Hausa took the position because they are more politically “sophisticated”. The Hausa knew what they wanted. They chose what they called Mai Angwar. The Mai Angwar did not exercise power over the indigenes. He is just like a chief, who settled disputes between people in transit settlements.
Significantly, the Ogbomoso people were always moving with the labourers working on the railway construction sites and tin-ore mines. Remember it was when they got to Jos, the end of the rail line that they settled down.
Having reported for some media houses from Jos, have you noticed significant differences between what the city was and what it is now?
When I left the city in 1993, there was no crisis that I witnessed. The main crisis, I think, happened in 1999 or 2000 or so. The crises from other parts of the North have spread to Jos. The unfortunate thing is that Jos is now divided into camps. You have some areas in the city inhabited by the Christians, both of southern and northern extractions. This was very rare in those days. But now settlement is dictated by religion. If you see an Igbo man living near Hausa, the reason is because they share the same faith. If you enter the house where I stayed until 1993, you will see the central mosque. People of mixed origins cohabited.
What challenges did you encounter in the course of researching this book?
Some of the people I needed to interview were dead. Those that were alive were growing old and senile. So I had to crosscheck my information and asked them again to refresh their ageing memory. For example, one of the persons I spoke to is the Soun of Ogbomoso, Oba Jimoh Oyewunmi. He is 86 now. He was taken to Jos as a toddler and lived there until 1985 or 1986, when he was called home to become the traditional ruler of Ogbomoso. The things he told me were some of the things he witnessed; some he was told. But some of us were born there, so we witnessed some of those things.
The Hausas have no better claim to Jos than the Yoruba. During the tenure of Solomon Lar as governor of Plateau State, there was a Niger Delta person that was a member of the House of Assembly. A street is named after him there. But the way the city is now, that may never happen again.
In your book, you recorded that people of Ogbomoso did not leave Jos, despite the losses they suffered. Was it out of patriotism or because of their investments?
Both. The patriotic feeling that this is our country. When my father left, it was not because of the crisis. There was no crisis at that time.
But he was an old man…
Yes, he was an old man. Every Yoruba man believes that when you travel, at a point, you must come back home to relax. He was old. All his children had married. He didn’t need to work any longer. So, it was time to go back home and rest. Even people who still live there, if you ask them why are they are still in Jos, they tell you that the crisis is not as bad as people portray it.
Do you support dual-state citizenship in Nigeria, despite our cultural dissimilarities?
There have been inter-marriages. Hausa marrying Berom and vice versa and the same applies to other tribes. Yes, it is possible. People have married across ethnic lines and there haven’t been problems. Nigeria would have been a perfect example for that because there is no ethnic region you go to that you do not have somebody from another tribe in their midst.
Why do you think the perpetrators of the crisis in Jos have not been punished?
Because the president or the governor looks at the next election. If appropriate punishment is meted, it will have political implications. For instance, if the president is a Muslim and the commission of inquiry summits a report that clearly shows that the Christians were the aggressors and he punishes them, they will say: ‘He is punishing us because he is a Muslim.’ It is the same way if it applied to the other religion. The crisis is religious, but more of politics. It is lack of will power on the part of those in authority to punish offenders.
It is now a trend for journalists in Nigeria to write books. What triggered this?
I think it is a good thing because if you look at the world, most people who write on things that happen are usually journalists. There are so many things journalists witness on a daily basis and it is important to document those things because other people are coming, who may need the information. Journalists, I think, have now learnt that beyond being everyday reporters, there is a need to document things in book form.
I have always wanted to be a writer. I am a journalist because when I left secondary school, I wrote plays for radio and television. When I read newspapers, I wrote letters to the editor. When they were published, I was encouraged and I wrote more. Because of my effort, somebody called me and said you can be a journalist. That was how I got into journalism. I started gathering materials for this book before I became a full-time journalist. I was working in Jos, but was writing as a freelance journalist for a newspaper. When I moved to Lagos, the job and the time to travel to Jos to talk to people slowed down until two or three years ago.
Some prominent Northern Christian leaders have been accused of conspiracy of silence even as violence is unleashed on their people. As someone who grew up in that part of the country, is this correct?
Somehow, it might be right. It may be that they don’t want to engage in religious militancy. The belief of the Christian is that you don’t fight for God. When there is crisis, all they do is to pacify the people: ‘The Bible says when they slap you on one cheek, you turn the other one.’ But the other people don’t hold that view. The young people are saying ‘the other people are killing us, their number is growing and their population will be more than ours.’