27th September, 2010
Last week, the Presidency placed security on alert in Kaduna, Kaduna State and Jos,Â Plateau State to forestall what those places have become notorious for: religious andÂ ethnic disturbances.
The move became necessary following an ominous text message warning of arms build-up andÂ reprisal attacks in those states. Jos has in the last few years become the hotbed ofÂ socio-political intolerance during which thousands have been killed or maimed for lifeÂ while property worth millions of naira have been destroyed. Families have been devastatedÂ and many have become refugees in their fatherland.
Nigerians would remember the horror of the Maitatsine riots in Kano in 1980, Kaduna andÂ Maiduguri in 1982. The fringe Islamic cult, Yari Tatsine (followers of the Maitatsine),Â sprang up in the 1970s and when police tried to control its activities, riots broke outÂ and over 4,000 people were killed between December 18 and 29, 1980.
The Boko Haram, a group allegedly founded in 2002 in Maiduguri by Ustaz Mohammed YusufÂ started out by attacking police stations and killing police officers. Yusufâ€™s group isÂ hostile to democracy and secular education, Western culture and even science. The policeÂ investigated the group in 2009 and several of its leaders were arrested in Bauchi,Â sparking riots in which over 700 people were killed.
In January 2010 there were clashes between Muslim and Christian ethic groups, a problemÂ that took root over 20 years ago. Many said the clashes were religious violence but theÂ Anglican Archbishop of Jos, Benjamin Kwashi stated that â€œwhat seems to be a recurringÂ decimal is that over time, those who had in the past used violence to settle politicalÂ scores, economic issues, social matters, inter-tribal disagreements, or any issue forÂ that matter, now continue to use that same path of violence and cover it up withÂ religion.â€
The first spate of violence on 17 January this year claimed over 200 people while theÂ subsequent clashes in March claimed hundreds. Over 5,000 people were displaced in theÂ senseless killings before government forces finally halted the violence. This was theÂ third of such massive bloodletting in Jos in the last 10 years.
On September 7, 2010, the sect attacked a prison and freed 750 inmates before settingÂ fire to the prison. It is not as if the government is unaware of the activities ofÂ religious bigots. Several times security reports are ignored and the result is usuallyÂ devastating.
We commend President Goodluck Jonathan for rising to the occasion. The approach of theÂ general elections makes the situation even more volatile. We cannot afford to look theÂ other way; we cannot pretend it is not happening. Such disturbances threaten the veryÂ foundation of Nigeria. We cannot afford another Jos experience.
The newly appointed service chiefs should also be held responsible for security lapses inÂ their territories while the Nigeria Police and State Security Service should dig deep andÂ fish out the perpetrators of evil.
We all remember the role allegedly played by the then General Officer Commanding, GOC, 3Â Armoured Division, Nigerian Army, Jos Plateau State, General Saleh Maina.Â He was alsoÂ the commander, Special Military Task Force saddled with the responsibility of restoringÂ peace to the crisis-ridden Jos. He was accused of not doing enough to quell the crisis,Â though the Army officer disagreed, saying the Army did its best in restoring order. TheÂ state Commissioner of Police, local government chairmen or even a federal legislator wereÂ not helping the situation by saying things that could inflame the situation.
Worried that aggrieved politicians may take advantage of any religious or ethnic crisisÂ at this time, President Jonathan has put all security agencies on the alert, to monitorÂ the activities of the sect in the Northern states.
Yet more needs to be done. Security agencies must be proactive and maintain a 24-hourÂ monitoring of religious groups and sects alike all over the country. We cannot afford toÂ become a laughing stock in the comity of nations.