On 7 September 2001, the serene and beautiful city of Jos was thrown into a frenzy of violence which left about 1,000 people dead. This marked the beginning of cycles of frenzied violence which have risen time and again, consuming the lives of poor working-class people and youth.
The time is ripe to break these tragic cycles. The Socialist Workers and Youth League (SWL) thus fully supports the gallant youth of Jos organized as the September Seventh Movement, as they organize a procession tomorrow, in memory of the victims of bloodshed over these two decades.
As we remember the dead, we must fight like hell for the living. This requires a clear perspective on why and how this situation of perpetual killings began and has been sustained. Defining the causes of violence as religious and ethnic conflicts fails to help us explain why they started just twenty years ago.
Jos has been one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Nigeria for over a century. Even when several states in the north such as Kano and Kaduna were rocked by waves of violence in the 1970s/80s, nothing of such took place in Jos and across the Plateau. So, we need to grasp the underlying dynamics of things to be able to change this horrible situation.
Two intertwined reasons can be established. First is the worsening social-economic reality of life for the masses since the structural adjustment program was initiated in the mid-1980s This resulted in increasing unemployment, poverty, and disillusionment which reached record levels at the beginning of the twentieth century. With civilianization, the people looked forward to improvement in their lives. The opposite was the case, a terrible reality became even worse.
Second, different sections of the ruling class, including those in the federal government, chose to manipulate ethnic affiliation to appear to benefit members of their ethnic groups within the multi-ethnic setting of Jos/Plateau. This was like setting fire to an inflammable situation.
This was the background to the riots of the first decade of this century. The current cycle also shows the sheer incompetence of the Nigerian state and the clear complicity of sections of the ruling class. Communities have been attacked with hundreds of people killed this year alone. The government failed to take action. But when it appeared that travelers passing through the state were killed, it was quick to effect arrest and clampdown on communities that have borne the heavyweight of lost ones, destroyed homes, and wasted means of livelihood.
We must thus demand that both the federal and state governments put the concerns of the poor working-class people and youth in the city of Jos and the communities across Plateau state first and foremost, to address the situation. This means much more than the securitization approach which has failed time and again. It is not simply about putting soldiers on the ground who will themselves turn on the people.
Economic activities that lead to strained relations, which merge with ethnic lines, such as open grazing must be stopped. Youths must be provided with free and qualitative education from the primary to the tertiary levels. Jobs with decent work must also be made available for young people. Healthcare and decent housing must be guaranteed in line with provisions of Section 2 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Ultimately though, we cannot rely on the ruling class to lead us out of this quagmire of violence. The working people and youth themselves must seize their destiny in their hands. Now more than ever there is the need to forge strong ties of the poor masses’ solidarity across all ethnic groups in the state and fight together to bring this ugly chapter of the state’s history to a close.
Therefore, we once again salute the heroic steps being taken by the September Seventh Movement to commemorate the beginning of these cycles, towards bringing these to an end. We must hope and we must build on our hope with action that will ensure peace and justice for us and generations yet to come.
We also seize this opportunity to draw the world’s attention to the fact that the SSM’s action is a peaceful procession. This peaceful and historic action must be encouraged by all and sundry. This is thus a word to the state to duly respect the SSM members’ freedom of association and right to protest.
With efforts such as this by the SSM, there is hope that a new Plateau is possible and will be won. We look forward to the birth of the beautiful city of harmony that Jos has always been.
Onward forward to peace and justice on the Plateau!
Dare to struggle, dare to win!!