Jos as a metaphor


“…We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption (done) in the land – (his punishment) shall be like that of he who slain entire humankind; and whoever saves one – his reward shall be like that of he who saved the entire humanity…” (Quran 5: 32).

Such is the fact of life – to love does not mean to be loved. This is the truth about hatred-sometimes we hate and abominate the other for reasons that are unknown to us. Like the beast in the wild, human beings are capable of descending to the deepest abyss of life, down there, beyond the ‘wild’s wildest imagination. The man can, by choice, kill himself; unlike the animal. The woman is able, by choice, to kill the other. And she just did. She murdered her hubby. Yes.  A man is an enigma. So, it appears. He can rise to the heaven.

She is equally capable of rising to the highest pedestals of nobility; in nature. She is the queen among the creatures. His heart could be a paradise. Of love. Of compassion. Of kindness. His heart could become a house of hell. A bosom full of hate. Of fear.  Yes. Hate springs from fear. Particularly in people whose hearts have become like a fountain – a fountain of darkness; a fountain of violence. Of hatred. He who hates the other for being the other diminishes the self. Behind every hateful crime and act of human brutality is an admission of fearfulness; of inferiority. Great men do not resort to violence for violence sake. They do not despoil the other nor destroy properties simply because violence pays.

All these readings would be pertinent for those who have not lost their sanity. However, out there, in parts of this country, some among my compatriots appear to have lost their innocence. They appear to have lost control of that subtle element that defines our humanity. Some among my compatriots are at war with difference. They are at war with diversity. They are at war with the Almighty. Out there in parts of this country, we are witnessing gradual return to the season of ignorance, to the age of Jahiliyyah. It feels as if we are witnessing the enactment of the Basus war of the pre-Islamic period.

The story happened long before the Islamic era in Arabia. The war was said to have started when a woman called Al-Basus, went to visit her niece, Jalila bint Murrah, along with her nephew, Jassas ibn Murrah. All of them belonged to the tribe of Bakr. Jalila was married to the leader of Taghleb tribe whose name was Kulayb. The latter had achieved renown for being protective of his property and land. The story says that Kulayb saw a strange camel in his territory, and shot it with an arrow not knowing that the said camel belonged to Al-Basus. The latter became angry. She told her nephew, Jassas, that what Kulayb did was an insult. The former thereafter went to the leader of Taghleb, his brother in-law, and killed him. This eventually triggered the war between the two tribes.

Just because a camel was killed, the Arabs of that era became locked in a war that lasted for forty years. They were engaged in war of retaliation. Whenever someone was killed, the other tribe would bid its time and wait for an auspicious moment in which it would kill another man in retaliation. Thus between 494 and 534 (CE), the two tribes knew no peace. Arabia was under a lock-down. Eventually, they learnt the lesson in a hard way- that retaliation never pays; that vengeance is a poison more for the perpetrator than for the victim.

Yes. The orgish ‘dance’ in Jos is said to have started not because of a camel but because of the rustling of three hundred cows. No. The story says it was not simply because cows were rustled. It was because four Fulani traders were killed by yet to be identified individuals.  Yet the other story says no. The truth is that Jos became the modern Basus simply because of the unending contest for land, for bread and water. For over a decade now, Jos has become a slaughter slab, a theatre of the absurd.

But who are those being killed in Jos? It is the poor. The oppressed. The deprived. It is those who live on the margins of life. It is these compatriots of mine and yours whose life has been plucked violently from the tree of life. Who are those who lost their lives during the last weekend? They were Hausas. They were Fulanis. They were Beroms. They were Ibos. They were Yorubas. They were all Nigerians. Indeed death knows no tribes. Truly, violence has no religion. Innocent travelers who found themselves at the intersection of hell. They were made to depart this world by force. The young man whose future was looking up; the young child who had an appointment with destiny. They were killed in retaliation; out of vengeance. They were killed by those whose souls have died.

Where do they get the weapon of violence? From the rich. Those who can afford an A-K47 rifle. The latter costs between two hundred and a thousand dollars. I know that you know that an ordinary Nigerian cannot afford that. Thus whenever his cow is taken away from him, he feels the whole world has been taken away; whenever he loses his farm land to the herders, he wants to bring the heaven down on the earth. These two identities have nothing more other than these prized possessions. Ironically however, they have both become unfortunate subjects in the contestations for power by the political elite. The cow has become the subject on whose body the struggle for power could be carried out. The land belonging to the Berom has become the space where identity politics, in its most heinous form, could be negotiated. Thus, the elites may want war, but it is that war in which he would not be an active participant. The elites want war but it is that which would be fought on their behalf and on behalf of their children by pauperized Nigerians. They want violence. But not that in which they, nor their sons would lead the troop. They want the balkanization of this country in order that they may sit atop the carcasses that may remain of the wealth of this nation.

Again who are the victims of “Jos”? They are the innocent compatriots of yours and mine. The man who was killed simply because he looked like the “Hausa-Fulani”. The woman who was murdered simply because she looked like a Berom. Who are the perpetrators? The Victims! Who are the victims? The perpetrators.

That, unfortunately, is the intersection at which this nation now stands in regard to the above incident. Thus Jos has become a metaphor. A metaphor for ignorance in the season of knowledge; a metaphor for the so-called educated elite who glory and bask in perfidious and heinous ethnic politics. Jos has become a metaphor for the failure of governance in the land; a metaphor for everything that has no basis in reason or revelation; a metaphor for the contest between the powerful outside power and the powerful inside power. This indeed is a season in which, in line with Shakespeare, what is fair is foul and what foul is fair.
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