By Godwin Onyeacholem
|Gov. Umaru Tanko Al Makura of Nasarawa State
Slowly but surely, the resort to ethnic preservation and protection – which is a natural outcome of deep ethnic consciousness – will continue to spread in irritating spaces like Nigeria so long as leaders wilfully deploy the principle of injustice as the principal tool of governance. Without meaning to exaggerate its disadvantage, it is this undeclared but obvious adoption of immoral and unjust system of administration, consistently enforced with the backing of security agents and hired mercenaries, which always widens the crack in a society and provokes bloody violence among its people from time to time.
In Nasarawa State since 1999, a disgusting wave of organised persecution of the Eggon ethnic group has been sweeping across the landscape with ferocious intensity. The situation is both sickening and depressing, leaving no choice for many natives but to reflect the sad expression of an endangered species in a territory where they are clearly the majority.
The most enlightened, the most liberal and the largest of the 29 ethnic groups in the state, the Eggons account for more than half the population of the state (2, 040, 097m according to 2005 census) which has 13 local government councils. Their ancestral home is Nasarawa-Eggon, which is one of the local government councils. But they also come from and heavily populate Akwanga and Lafia local governments, while also maintaining huge presence in the remaining local governments of the state, created 16 years ago by former Head of State General Sani Abacha. Indeed, the Eggons fought for the creation of the state.
In Lafia, the state capital, and in the quiet town of Akwanga, the Eggons own most of the land and noticeably outnumber other ethnic groups; yet they never show a desire or tendency to dominate or exercise excessive control or authority over others. Ironically, the orchestrated campaign of hate was launched just when jubilations were yet to die down over the return to democracy.
And for the record, the originator of the terrible regime of oppression, ill-treatment, abuse, discrimination and vicious physical attacks against an ordinarily peaceful tribe was no less than the greatest beneficiary of democracy in the state, Abdullahi Adamu, who is from Keffi in Nasarawa west senatorial district and became Governor as the Military returned to the barracks.
In a highly controversial move which the Eggons interpreted as a design to undermine them, Adamu, who was then only a couple of days in office, announced a directive that all local government staff in the state serving in local government councils other than councils of their origin should relocate to their local government while still keeping their rank and status. Staff of local governments who were not indigenes of the state were not affected by the directive.
As a result of this weird policy, all the state’s indigenes of Eggon extraction who were staff of various local government councils were redeployed to Nasarawa Eggon local government, even when they presented documents showing that, yes, they were Eggons but did not originate from Nasarawa Eggon local council. In Lafia local government council, a screening committee set up to determine who was an indigene ridiculously went ahead to recommend thus, “All Eggon tribe in Lafia are non-indigenes…. and should not be allowed to stay in Lafia Government Service as indigenes.”
Based on this imprudent advice, Lafia council straightaway redeployed from Lafia to Nasarawa Eggon 34 staff who claimed Lafia as their council of origin, insisting that Nasarawa Eggon was their council of origin. Dissatisfied, the affected staff went to court to challenge the Governor and the state government’s policy which they regarded as a breach of Section 42 of the Constitution which vested in every citizen of Nigeria a right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of belonging to a community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion and political opinion. The case dragged up to the supreme court which eventually gave judgment in favour of the plaintiffs on July 6, 2012. The court ordered Lafia council to reabsorb the staff and pay them their full salaries and other benefits.
Despite this humiliation at the judiciary, Governor Abdullahi Adamu virtually devoted his eight years in office tormenting the Eggons, unmoved by the fact that the first occupant of the throne of his ancestors in Keffi owed his origin to a woman of Eggon extraction. This despicable course of action continued under his successor, Akwe Doma, who hails from Doma local government in the Nasarawa south senatorial district. Rather than work for the collective good, he used the power of his office to ignite hostilities of his Alago kinsmen and other ethnic groups against the Eggons.
Throughout the twelve years shared between these two Peoples Democratic Party administrations, there was no meaningful development in the state such that today, it is no surprise that every major town including the capital Lafia, look like rundown camps of a defeated army. Nothing in the name of physical infrastructure will swell the head of the casual observer of developments in the state.
The third civilian governor, Tanko Al-Makura, a Kwandere man also from Nasarawa south like Akwe Doma but from a different party, Congress for Progressive Change, was expected to make a difference. But he did not. Instead, he has followed in the horrendous footsteps of his predecessors, deploying various abominable methods, including importing mercenary herdsmen, to engage in a bitter warfare with the Eggon people.
In the last one year Eggons have also suffered a series of attacks from smaller ethnic groups – sometimes in collaboration with Fulanis – in Asakio and Agyaragu and in some other parts of the state. Of course, all this with the support of government in a bid to neutralise a perceived growing influence of the Eggons. Over the last couple of months, about 240 Eggons are known to have been killed and more than 2,000 houses razed to the ground as their villages came under heavy Fulani attack.
It was at this point that the Eggons felt that definitely, time has come for them to defend themselves not just against internal antagonists, but also against state-induced alien aggressors. And it is legitimate, as they will be doing this according to the provisions of Article 20 of the African Charter on Human Rights which declares the right of all peoples to existence and proclaims their “unquestionable and inalienable right to self-determination.” The Article also says they shall freely determine their political status and pursue their economic and social development according to the policy they have freely chosen.
In the struggle to preserve the Eggon nation, a purely spiritual body called Ombatse, which is just like any other religious body in the world, emerged to revive the famous and well-regarded tradition of the Eggons passed on to them by their ancestors. They receive converts and have a shrine where they regularly worship. Membership is restricted to only male full-blooded Eggons and their sole objective is to cleanse their land of all the troubles besetting it. One of these troubles, the one that’s been given them serious headache, is the constant ill-treatment and violence perpetrated by the state government and their agents.
They were meeting peacefully on November 17, 2012, on the hills of Alagoni, off Nasarawa Eggon, when some soldiers suddenly arrived in trucks and started firing at them. Of course they did not respond, and when the soldiers saw that nothing happened to their targets they fled. This caused a massive protest by the people, leading to the closure of Lafia-Akwanga road for hours until the governor arrived. They demanded to know where the soldiers came from and who sent them. The road was not opened until the governor appealed to them and assured that he would investigate. Nothing of such ever happened.
And just when the Fulanis realised that they had all along been deceived into an unnecessary fight and were wrapping up a peace deal with the Eggons, heavily armed policemen and state security agents in still unknown number of trucks on Tuesday May 7, struck at Alakyo, the base of Baba Alakyo the spiritual leader of Ombatse, just a few kilometres away from Lafia.
There was no report of crisis of any kind in the town; their mission, according to the authorities, was to go and arrest Baba Alakyo. But the unstated real intention, to the average Eggon, was to launch an attack that would forever wipe off a body that has been mischievously labelled a militia group.
Unfortunately, scores of policemen and all the state security agents died in the botched mission. The Eggons also say they lost 21 natives and many were wounded. Had the assault succeeded, it’s most likely that the authorities would have simply announced that “unknown gunmen” had attacked Alakyo and many people had been killed.
And that would have ended it. But as it is, with the police still embarrassingly unable to release the exact number of its men on the mission, it shouldn’t end there. The world really needs to know the truth, and the most credible path to finding out what happened and close the annoying chapter of allegations and counter-allegations is for the governor to immediately set up a judicial panel of enquiry on the Alakyo fiasco.
After all, this is a governor who ought to be grateful to the Eggons for supporting him and ensuring his victory at the 2011 elections by denying Akwe Doma a second term and massively voting for him at a time the people were calling for a governor from Nasarawa north – the only district that has never produced a governor.
Having secured their votes following the promise Al-Makura made to the Eggons to run for only one term, the least he could do as governor is to surpass the expectations of the people of the state. This might make the Eggons change their minds and say since he has delivered in his first term, better he is left alone to go for a second term.
But having been victims of repeated official harassments, sponsored attacks and serially disappointing leadership for the past 14 years, the Eggons would be justified to want to have one of their own occupy the governor’s seat for the first time in the immediate future.
Therefore, the state government should from this moment change its style by ensuring all ethnic groups are given a sense of belonging, for to continue to hatch Machiavellian plans aimed at crushing a particular ethnic group just because it poses a major threat to somebody’s political ambition will be counter-productive.
Godwin Onyeacholem is a journalist based in Abuja (firstname.lastname@example.org)