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Carnage on the Plateau: Of our humanity lost

We are saddened beyond words that barely three weeks after the last, we are here again writing on these pages about yet another painful and…

We are saddened beyond words that barely three weeks after the last, we are here again writing on these pages about yet another painful and senseless killing of Nigerians by Nigerians. If the last time it was the military mistakenly shelling citizens they are sworn to protect, this time it is Nigerians killing Nigerians just because they know they can get away with it.

Over the past decade and more, Nigeria has effectively turned itself into a giant killing field, as the world’s butchery of human beings where government security agencies kill citizens, where terrorists kill citizens, and where citizens kill citizens in a senseless and endless triangle of carnage upon carnage that has no equivalence anywhere in the world. Have we no shame as a nation? Have we no conscience left as a people? Have we all lost our humanity? Have we lost all will to act to say never again, individually and collectively as communities, as a people, and as a nation?

Just as millions of Nigerians were preparing for Christmas, an annual event meant precisely for the celebration of love and the gift of life, many communities in Plateau woke to yet another senseless round of gory violence that left over 150 people dead, more than 20 villages burnt, and thousands more injured or displaced by still yet to be identified “gunmen”. Whoever the gunmen are we, at Daily Trust, totally condemn this mass murder of innocent Nigerians and the destruction of their homes and property.

Details of the Christmas Eve attacks are well known as they have been reported by the media, by survivors and eye-witnesses, and by local authorities and security agencies. But the attacks were, in fact, only the third in a series of killings and arson that had taken place around the same communities within a space of 48 hours. As this newspaper reported, no fewer than 16 persons were killed in Mushu village of Bokkos Local Government Area of Plateau state; and following the Christmas Eve attacks, newspapers reported a further eight persons killed in the NTV community near Bokkos Local Government Area of the state on Monday, that is, Christmas Day.

Indeed, over the past year or so, Plateau State has been engulfed in a string of murderous violence and counter-violence between the various peoples and communities there who, in their own different ways, call it home. After seven years of relative peace, from 2015 to 2022, the recurring orgy of violence and counter violence for which the state had been known for years seems to have returned to Plateau, a place that was once a model of cosmopolitanism in Nigeria.

In the five months between January 19 and June 20 this year alone, again as this newspaper previously reported, not less than 201 people were reportedly killed in 27 attacks in seven Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Plateau State. These LGAs include Riyom, Bokkos, Jos South, Jos East, Barkin Ladi, Bassa and Mangu, the same “axis of carnage” in which all of last week’s attacks occurred, yet again. We are compelled to ask then, for how long will this cycle of senseless killing and carnage continue in Plateau State? And for how long will the rest of Nigeria continue to watch neighbours turn murderers of their own neighbours, their own fellow citizens? Where is the common humanity that binds us all together as a people and as a nation?

We ask these questions because although the media and official authorities frequently refer to the killers in each instance of this never-ending conflict as “gunmen” we all know who they are: yesterday’s victims turned today’s aggressors, again and again by all sides. We all know that these repeated dastardly acts are perpetrated by neighbours against neighbours who refuse to see one another as such, but who are yet one people by their common humanity, by their common citizenship of the same country, and by their common attachment to the same land and its resources.

Many have said that the long-running conflict in Plateau State, which mirrors similar conflicts in Southern Kaduna and parts of Benue states, persists because of the failure of the federal government to provide security to all or to deliver justice to all. This is true, but it is not the whole truth. In Plateau, as in those other states, we are dealing with a social psychology of revenge driven by both a deep sense of victimhood and hate. Those who cry victim today will turn killers on the morrow, again and again in a repeated and vicious cycle of revenge violence and counter-violence that sees or knows no end. Politicians, media and other outsiders then meddle in to muddy things further.

In such a context, security cannot be guaranteed merely by more military boots on the ground because the problem is the absence of peace—not the lack of security—and the way to peace is not outside but in people’s hearts and minds, individually and collectively. This is also why justice is complicated because how far back do we have to go to deliver justice in a decades-long chain of revenge violence that is often communally perpetrated? How do you deliver justice through the courts where both sides to a conflict are at once and in turn victims and perpetrators of hate crime?

While the federal government and security agencies must do their part, this social psychology of revenge driven both simultaneously and paradoxically by victimhood and hate must also be addressed. The responsibility for that lies with the communities themselves and their leaders. They must find a way to address all the factors that fuel endless and vengeful violence. Mutual destruction benefits no one; shared peace and prosperity benefits all. Security, justice and peace can only come through genuine reconciliation, not retribution or vengeance.

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