The Mercenaries’ Saga In The Jos Crisis
Khicingwe W. Simji
This article was written before the unfolding highly level conspiracy at the level of Nigeria Police High Command that may soon see to the freeing of a band of 26 men caught in the heart of crisis-torn city of Jos during curfew hours with assorted sophisticated arms, fake army and police uniforms and fake identity cards. It transpired that the Kogi State Commissioner of Police had written his Plateau State partner to say that his command was aware that the arrested men were working with the Okene Local Government Council as vigilante. No one has told Nigerians how these men were armed, how they came about fake uniform and identity cards. And why they moved armed into a security zone during curfew hour. Read on to get a background of the story…
In the wee hours of 28th November 2008, ethno-religious violence broke out in Jos City with armed hoodlums, suspected to include hired foreign mercenaries dressed in the uniform of Nigerian security organizations, unleashing mayhem, burning churches and murdering innocent citizens including the cool-blooded execution of three poor hapless young Nigerians serving their nation as members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Unfortunately, given the dynamics of power relations dictating matters of minority-majority ethno-religious affairs in this country, particularly in the middle belt region, the victims of the Jos crisis were soon portrayed the villains. The Plateau State Government and its well-regarded peace loving people were soon to be branded as architects of the violence, orchestrated mainly by a partisan section of the Nigerian media, ignoring all glaring evidence of a throughout and premeditated act of terrorism against the Home of Peace and Tourism.
Preliminary investigations into the violence established incontrovertibly the presence and active participation of foreign mercenaries in the mayhem particularly with the arrest of arrest of about 50 citizens from Chad and Niger republics. Even though these foreign mercenaries were paraded before live television and detained by the Nigerian police authorities this otherwise sensitive discovery appeared not to receive the appropriate Federal Government attention it deserved. Ordinarily, these accusations, in addition to arrests, of foreign nationals’ involvement in an act of terror within the Nigerian territory are enough grounds to review the diplomatic relations between our country and the offending countries. The normal practice in such circumstances is to expel the emissaries of the countries concerned as the first step to other punitive measures. In clearly established belligerent situations as this, the government has the option to bare its teeth, lest it would be mistaken as a toothless bulldog.
So far, the Federal Government has not seen it prudent to even question the embassies of the countries whose citizens are presently in detention. Not even the National Assembly, with its new-found zealousness in setting up a Fact-finding Committee into the Jos Crisis, has seen the necessity of querying the two embassies. The truth is; there is a stealthy underhanded conspiracy, by those who should know, to deny the reality of the Jos violence as a product of a wicked and premeditated plot to plunge the entire Plateau State, in particular, and the nation, in general, into chaos.
The Government and people of Plateau State have been crying on the rooftop against this conspiracy to nail the state by all means; against the curious turn of event in which the victims of the violence are being branded the villains. The Presidency didn’t help matters by taking sides in the matter. Or how come is it that that the President’s fact-finding delegation, visited Jos on December 1, 2008 and went to pre-determined spots without the courtesy of visiting Government House as protocol demanded? Or why did the First Lady’s delegation pay similar visit to Jos on December 18, 2008, presumably for the purposes of distributing relief materials, without paying a courtesy visit on the Governor?
Against this background of anti-Plateau posturing, shoddy fact-finding delegations, dubious investigation panels and the well-horned disinformation machinery, the arrest of 26 armed mercenaries by men of the Nigerian Armed Forces at the UTC Junction in Jos on New Year eve must come as a rude upset to those who have perfected plans to humiliate and punish the people of the state. And yet it was another divine vindication of the hapless Plateau indigenes that have had to bear all manners of abuse in the past few weeks since the crisis!
According to the news, the 26 armed men were arrested in an 18-seater bus with an inscription of OKENE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL, of Kogi State, and a Toyota Camry belonging to the leader, one Alhaji Yusuf Hassan (Standard, January 7, 2008). The newspapers further reported that after their arrest they were taken to the Garrison Headquarters of the 3rd Armored Division of the Nigerian army, Maxwell Kobe Cantonment, Rukuba.
A search of the vehicle and its passengers led to the discovery of military-type green khaki uniforms (but sworn differently, as the military spokesman was later to clarify), assorted types of guns, police riffles, piston and revolvers, rounds of ammunition, teargas, machetes and knives, charms and amulets, large some of money, fake identity cards, and a purported letter of introduction from the Bauchi State Government.
By all reckonings, this was indeed a big catch; it gives conclusive credence to the charge that third parties- mercenaries- were involved in the Jos crisis.
When, only two days into the crisis, newspapers reported that 500 persons were intercepted while attempting to get into Jos, to support a certain ethno-religious group, the news item was perfunctorily dismissed by a section of the media. In fact, leading defenders of the criminal masterminds of the Jos crisis split hairs about the different reporting styles of the various media organizations that published the story. What these criminal elements and their media hatchet men tried desperately to conceal from the Nigerian public and the international comity of nations was the reality of external involvement of particular members of an ethno-religious group as mercenaries in the bloody conflict. With the arrest of these 26 armed men in the heart of Jos all doubts has now been removed about the true nature of the unfortunate and recurrent sectarian violence in Jos City.
However, desperados never give up easily. Rather than allow the police authorities to conclude their investigations into the matter of the arrested armed men, one Alhaji Yahaya Karaku, who claims to be the Chairman of Okene Local Government Council has stepped forward to declare that the men were his workers.
According to the Daily Trust newspaper which gleefully reported the story on its front page of January 7, 2009, the fellow claimed that the men were members of the Bauchi State vigilante group and were hired by his local government council “to quell the menace of armed robbers along Lokoja-Okene-Benin road.” He revealed further that they had been carrying on with their work “with the full knowledge of the state government and of law enforcement agents.” The “chairman” further stated that the men were returning to base in Bauchi for the New Year break when they were arrested.
Very interesting, isn’t? We now know, for example, that unbeknown to majority of Nigerians, and in clear violation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, some groups of Nigerians from a particular part of the country are under arms in this country “with the full knowledge of the [Kogi] state government and of law enforcement agents.”
Are we no longer operating a Constitution or laws which stipulate those who can legally bear arms as members of the Nigerian Armed Forces and the Police? We are aware that even the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), which regulates the operations of vigilante groups in this country, is yet to win the constitutional approval to bear arms. How come the Bauchi vigilante group hired by the Okene local government council able to bear arms?
Even if it is established that the group was legally armed, isn’t it curious that they should find themselves in Jos which is a virtual security zone since the November 28 crises? While the military and police authorities are there to unravel this mystery, from the layman’s point of view, it seems to me that even if this group was part of the country’s legitimate law enforcement agency, they shouldn’t have moved into such a security challenged area in convoy and with arms unannounced to the military/police commandant on ground. Is it possible for example to move troops from a different military division of the Nigerian Army into a trouble-spot without the knowledge of the ground command?
Secondly, if we were to believe that the vigilantes were vacationing how do we explain the presence of arms in their convoy? Does part of their employment give them liberty to bear arms even outside their areas of engagement? Is there a trans-border agreement between the Kogi State Government and other state governments, which gives this armed group the right to bear arms across state and local government boundaries?
Thirdly, if indeed the 26 arrested men were working for the Okene Local Government Council in such sensitive capacity as providing armed security, why didn’t the Council consider it expedient to issue them with authentic identity papers? Doesn’t the possession of forged contrivances by members of the group in itself compromise the safety of the public in Okene? Even a policeman with a dubious identity card is a person to be feared, not to talk about a vigilante with forged papers.
Fourthly, the chairman failed to tell Nigerians what had happened to Ebira youths that he had to cross several states to recruit vigilante to keep the Federal Highway passing through Okene safe. Does he distrust his own youths for such a crucial assignment? Has he provided them better employment elsewhere? Or are the Ebira youths so violence-wary from the incessant intra-Ebira internecine fighting? Or have the youths simply disappeared into thin air since his assumption as chairman of the council?
Whatever, the answers to these posers raised by the Okene Local Chairman, whose perception of his duties to the Okene people seems to tilt disproportionately toward patrolling Federal highways with band of imported vigilantes, we will get to the root of matter when he submits himself to the police investigators in Jos.
Meanwhile, another interesting twist to the saga is the wave of categorical disclaimer of the 26 arrested men in the past few days. The Kogi Government has not only refuted the story but has gone ahead to issue a query to the Okene Council chairman. Ditto the Bauchi State government and the Bauchi Vigilante Group. According to the Bauchi Government the arrested men could be going any where in the north east, or even Niger Republic or Chad.
Why should anyone speculate on the destination of the 26? They were nabbed in the heart of the troubled city of Jos. Their mission, it what we all know - to cause havoc to the innocent people of the city as they have done over and over again in previous crises.
This calls for some sober reflection; the Federal Government should spring to the occasion by demonstrating even-handed resolve to address this act of domestic terrorism. It should abandon its parochial approach and its characteristic lethargy in addressing issues bordering on ethno-religious conflict in this country. It should as a first step disband the suspect Abisoye Administrative Panel it set up to look into the Jos Crisis in order to allow the constitutionally-correct commission of inquiry established by the State Governor to do its work.
Same goes for the House of Representatives so-called Ad Hoc Committee investigating the crisis. If its interest is merely academic, one of its committee members Hon. Abdul Ningi is in good position to help the committee understand the phenomenon of ethno-religious “genocide.” Not only are the 26 arrested armed men are from his beloved Bauchi state, his home town Ningi, on May 15, 2008 witnessed a bloody ethno-religious cleansing of Christians and settlers. In the alternative, he may choose to prepare a position paper to the House on any of these ghastly happenings in Bauchi State in the last three years:
2006: Sectarian rioting by students of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, over downloaded internet web pages which some Muslims students claimed was insulting to the Prophet. Many Christian students, including the President of the Nigerian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (NIFES), were slaughtered and churches and property of Christians burned.
February 2006: The protest against a teacher of a secondary school in Bauchi, accused of blasphemy, leading to the killing of Christians in the town and the destruction of churches and property.
March 21, 2007: The summary execution of another teacher, Mrs Chritianah Oluwatoyin Oluwasesin at Government Secondary School, Gandu, for alleged blasphemy by her Muslim students.
December 18, 2007: Ethno-religious rioting in Yelwa, leading to the killing of hundred of Christians and non-indigenes accompanied with destruction of churches and mosques as well as property.
· February 2, 2008: The killing and destruction of churches and property in the wake of a sectarian violence in Yana, Shira Local Government, Bauchi State.
Nigerians are sick and tired of the hypocrisy and narrow mindedness of the political elite. This is at the heart of the injustice that ethnic minorities face in this country. The Jos crisis is regrettable but there is need to go to the root causes of the violence that has assaulted this model of communal peace and tolerance for ages. In so doing we should also look at such sectarian flashpoints as Kano and Bauchi States.
Mr. Simji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org