Joint Effort At Peace Building Yielding Results In Plateau State

DOOYUM NAADZENGA examines the efforts by peacemakers in the gradual return of peace in Jos, the Plateau state capital. And argues if sustained, their efforts would guarantee lasting peace amongst its inhabitants.

Jos, Plateau state capital has not known peace since the Jos serial crises in 2011. Today, occasional bomb attacks are usually attributed to Boko Haram elements, and gun attacks are often ascribed to herdsmen and sometimes ‘unknown gunmen’ mostly in local government areas outside the metropolis especially Barkin-Ladi and Riyom, continue as usual occurrences. The years of respite which all peacemakers hoped will endure have not come without effort. Although, roles played by both religious bodies and other non-governmental organizations have had very significant effects. 

The Universal Reformed Christian Church (URCC) translated in the Tiv as NKST for instance, dedicates Sunday, the 23rd day of March, every year as a special prayer day for the sustenance of peace in Plateau state in particular and indeed other areas the Tiv people of central Nigeria who have been serially affected in the conflict between farmers/ herders conflicts. The religious body has intended to sustain these prayer meetings. Indeed, the position of the church is evident in its resolution amongst others; that the Tivs and Fulanis in Plateau, Benue state, and elsewhere should remember their long-standing relationship of centuries ago and NEVER allow mercenaries to destroy same with such reckless abandon thereby throwing the community into a state of disharmony, mistrust, and anarchy.

Other bodies equally working round the clock for peace like; The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD), Search for Common Ground (SFCG), Apurimac Onlus, and some other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working essentially with, and for grassroots people to mediate toward peaceful coexistence with persons in conflict and to stop further conflict needs to be commented. While Apurimac Onlus directs its peacemaking efforts chiefly on empowering youths and women economically to take their minds from anti-social behaviors, for which it maintains zonal vocational centers around the state; SFCG works with communities in eight mostly troubled LGAs where its officials go repeatedly to coordinate indigenous peace mediation groups, currently through its "Plateau Will Arise program", to make citizens find the common grounds in their communal life that encourages peace.

On its part, HD works with communities mainly in the municipal Jos North and Jos South LGAs and surrounding council areas down-south of the state where the usual Jos crises or the typically herder-farmer-related crises have wreaked havoc in recent times, to make the device and implement their home-grown conflict resolution and peace-building strategies. So, in Plateau State where ethnoreligious conflicts reigned, especially around the state capital Jos, particularly between 2001 and 2011 and shattered mixed neighborhoods, rearranging the city into Christian \Muslim settlements where residents on either side viewed each other with suspicion and where what would otherwise be a minor disagreement in a community could readily grow into major unrest and spread fast to other communities; the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, otherwise called the HD Centre or just HD, began in early 2013 to try through facilitating reconciliation to end the culture of communities being quick to rise against each other.

From January to July 2013, the HD Centre held several consultations with leaders of five major communities: the Anaguta, Afizere, Berom, Fulani, and Hausa, and government officials, women representatives, and religious leaders, as well as civil society, the business community, and youth groups, to introduce the HD Centre’s proposed initiative. To facilitate that early stage of the community-driven process, the HD Centre supported the communities to develop position papers on their concerns, which served as a roadmap for the dialogue process. The HD Centre launched its inter-communal dialogue process on the 19th of August 2013 with a ceremony attended by a large gathering of members of the five communities, Federal and State government officials, religious leaders, women groups, and civil society representatives. That first session of the inter-communal dialogue, which took place from the 19th to the 24th of August, focused its discussion on trust/confidence building and religious/cultural respect and tolerance. The second session was held from 23rd to 28th September 2013, covering six topics of discussion, including the reopening and securing of religious places and burial grounds.

From 21st to 25th October, the HD Centre held the third session of the inter-communal dialogue forum, the agenda of which centered on governance. Candid interaction and exchange of views between community leaders and government officials made it obvious that there was a need in the future for more communication between the government and the communities. The third session was followed by, among others, a special session on the 9th and 10th December 2013 with three new communities: the Igbo, South-South, and Yoruba, who have a major presence in Jos and an important stake in the peace process. The fourth session, held from 6th to 10th January 2014, covered issues of traditional rulership and structures and resulted in the consensus that an effective system of traditional leaders could be a force for good in moments of conflict and tension.

The HD Jos Forum held three other sessions up to June 2014, addressing some emotionally charged issues affecting Jos, notably the indigene/settler issue and ownership of Jos, in which case, the Forum had several government representatives who discussed government policies, and two academics made presentations on issues relating to rights and privileges of those ‘native’ to plateau state, and those seen as settlers.

Issues of the constant circle of attacks and counter-attacks mostly following cattle raids and attacks on farms mostly in Barkin-Ladi and Riyom were trashed out, in the course of which participants established, among other things, that some assistance from the various levels of government, such as supporting livelihoods disorganized or displaced in the years of destructive communal conflicts, would help the reconciliation process. Following each dialogue session, the HD Jos Forum developed recommendations on the topics discussed, to ultimately form the basis of the implementation phase of the project. The HD Centre, zealous to see recommendations and agreements from its dialogue and mediation processes from paper declarations to implementation, has started the implementation phase. Non-implementation of findings relating to crises in Plateau State has been a reality that has troubled many stakeholders. Between 1994 and 2010, the Federal and Plateau State governments set up six probe panels or inquiry commissions which studied the crises in 1994, 2001, 2004, 2008, and 2010 and turned up reports that were invariably dumped, including reports by the twin Justice Niki Tobi and Justice Suleiman Galadima commissions, set up by the Plateau State and Federal Government respectively in parallel capacities to investigate the 2001 Jos crisis. 

The lack of regard for probe panel reports by the government is part of what many blame for the recurring crises as preventive steps recommended in such reports are rarely taken. To see that this does not happen to its series of dialogues, which were investigative in their rights, the HD Centre is placing a premium on the implementation phase of its peace process. In effect, after hosting several dialogue sessions and a couple of special sessions from August 2013 through June 2014, HD continued with the implementation phase, which was scheduled for May 2014 to March 2015. The concerned communities, in partnership with the HD Centre, will be pursuing the implementation of the Forum’s recommendations in coordination with federal, state, and local governments and civil society.

At the moment, the Forum has identified two initial priority activities, the first of which communities are to jointly rebuild several churches and mosques destroyed during the various crises. At a ceremony to formally commence the implementation phase of the HD peace process in Plateau State sometime this year, the HD Centre had all the major communities in Jos North: Afizere, Anaguta, Berom, Fulani, Hausa, Igbo, South-south, and Yoruba signing an agreement to live in peace with one another. It came out in the course of the ceremony which took place at the Hill Station Hotel in Jos that the Federal Government had agreed to fund the rehabilitation and reconstruction of four churches and four mosques around the communities where such worship places were destroyed in the heat of the past crises.

Senior Country Advisor of the HD Centre, Dr. Yakubu Sankey, said it was awesome how the communities, through their various representatives, had committed themselves to avoiding future violence and bloodshed, and that it was an achievement that should inspire people in other parts of the country experiencing communal relationship problems. Sankey said, “The challenges we have discussed in the Forum are in varying degrees faced throughout Nigeria. We believe that the solution to our problems lies with us: the people of Jos and this region. We are determined not only to reconcile our different communities but also to present a positive example of non-violent conflict resolution to the rest of Nigeria.”

The six-page Joint Declaration of Commitment to Peace and Cooperation, among several other statements of intent, says, “During the dialogue sessions, we learned much about each other’s fears and desires, and have come to recognize several general truths, including that tolerance and respect serve as the foundation for peaceful living; dialogue rather than violence is the preferred means of resolving disputes; and that uniting around common values and ideals can achieve more progress and development than emphasizing differences. Further, we agreed that the actions of individuals should not be attributed to communities as a whole. Instead, our communities should work together to prevent wicked and criminal-minded individuals and small groups from wreaking any more havoc in our city and its environs.” Chairpersons of steering committees of the various communities signed for their communities. The signatories were Agwom Nyam Isha, for Afizere community; Aminu Agwom Zang, for Anaguta; Da Jonah Madugu, for Berom, Salihu Musa Umar, for Fulani; Alhaji Umaru Sani, for Hausa; Barr Zacch Nwankpa, for Igbo; Barr Smart Irabor, for South-south; Barr Bankole Falade, for the Yoruba community; and Dr. Sumaye Hamza for Women.

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