It was with a heavy heart that I resumed at work on Monday after the massacre of hundreds across 11 villages in Jos last week
If you have followed my column religiously over the last 3 years then you know that there is barely any quarter that goes by without me writing one of these articles.
I am a Jos person.
I was born and raised there.
My mother was a Berom woman and I have so many relatives both on my mother and father’s side who live there.
While the conflict in Plateau State is not restricted to Berom people, they have been hit so many times and buried thousands. It isn’t just a genocide, it is conquering and owning the spoils. In this case the luscious fertile lands.
I got to the office and my boss and colleagues who are mostly Yoruba huddled together discussing the latest killings.
“AH! I trust our boys. They cannot try that one here. Is it OPC? Is it awon le? Such a thing cannot happen here.”
They all affirmed this.
There was a little undertone, somewhere and underneath it all that suggested the victims elsewhere could have done things differently to survive.
It also sounded familiar.
I am old enough to remember a time when such a thing could never happen in Plateau State. It was a thing for places where Christians were the minority. Places like Kano, Bauchi and even the near 50/50 of Kaduna state.
I can actually recall a conversation with my childhood friend Bola Opadiji. We were walking to church. We took a short cut that was the space between two houses. It smelt of urine and filth. It was a place that led to a small prayer place made of cement. So not only did people perform ablutions there that drained into this passage, some people turned it into a toilet. We always held our breaths and suspended discussions till we passed through the tiny 50m stretch. Somehow that day, seeing people about to pray led to a discussion about religious crisis.
“Bola, it can NEVER happen here. They can never try it.”
I even gesticulated wildly with my hands to make a point as I bit down on my lip to emphasize the ‘never’ bit.
So, it was a deja vu to listen to my office people speak so confidently.
I have since been humbled. Never say never. Plateau conflict will be 17 years in September. Where it all began.
Why did I think it would never happen?
Peace is deceptive. You actually think that it means that you have gotten something right when there is peace. It feels like it will be that way forever. You do not know how fragile things are if the world around you has not crashed down on you
True peace is the preparedness for any eventuality and not a natural default human setting. If people know that a particular street houses people that are well armed, they will be careful to attempt anything there.
I hope I am explaining this right.
If you were over 6 feet, well trained in martial arts and carry a strap, you will walk the streets with a confidence knowing few people will attempt to confront you.
But if you have none of that and you walk around insulting everyone or even boasting about your strength without a walk to your talk, you are just a punch away from resetting.
I asked my colleagues if they had guns.
They all said they didn’t.
They were also in their 50s with amala softened pouches.
I shook my head and laughed.
I asked how they knew that nothing like that could happen in the South west.
“It can NEVER. No be us?”
So I painted a scenario for them.
What if you live in Mowe and one night, you are awoken by gunshots. You run out and find a hail of bullets with about 60men armed with rapid fire guns everywhere. All entrances are blocked. Mowe is surrounded, what would you do?
That OPC in your area will be the most agile and first to find ways to escape. Who faces AK47s with locally made pistols?
The police hut (or station if you want us to call it by its official name) of Mowe will be in disarray. We know our police are well trained for combat with private motorists and boys carrying iPhones and laptops. Not face this multitude.
By now, people are dying everywhere. Especially those who cannot run. Fire is burning and people are shouting. The police hut is also on fire.
You make frantic calls.
Somehow it gets to Ambode.
By then there is at least 30mins of bullets. Ambode makes calls and the military get instructions from above.
2 hours later the military is still not there.
Someone sees them on their way to Sango.
“Na Mowe dem dey fight o!”
“Our orders are to go to Sango.”
More calls are made up and down.
5 hours have gone by and Mowe has been razed to the ground.
Then the military finally appears.
Hundreds of people are dead. Houses are burnt. Corpses showing the horror of their death are scattered around.
Ambode comes to visit with a mini army and helicopters hovering around.
Statements of condolence are flying about.
Youth are bitter and want to lash out.
Gunmen have long retreated. But not disappeared into thin air.
No one is arrested.
No one investigates to find out who gave the orders for the army to go to Sango.
People cry and carry their trauma and fear for life.
Life seems to go on because in actual fact, life never pauses.
At this point, you could hear a pin drop in the reception area of my office.
I think they finally get a blurry picture.
“Just pray that no one ever targets you this way. Because a vulnerable person in Plateau state is just as vulnerable as a person in Lagos state. The difference is that no one has kicked the glass jar of peace to the floor.”
They mutter and disperse.
If it has happened to anyone in Nigeria, it can happen to you.
The country has one template.
If states that have not experienced the scourge of violence are reading this, it will do them good to go and map and plan to keep their states secure.
No one is immune to this.
We have roaming killers in our midst.
May they never reach your backyard.