Da Chollom Gyang is the Secretary General of Berom Educational and Cultural Organization (BECO). In this interview with DANIEL DAUDA, he speaks on the plight of IDPs in Plateau state, recent constitution of management committee chairmen of Barkin-Ladi, Riyom, Jos South and Jos North Local Government Areas and security challenges across the country. Excerpts:
Sir, what is BECO all about?
BECO is an organization that has come a long way. It started in 1980 and it was the first organization of its nature covering the entire Berom land and Berom in diaspora.
The main aim was to unite the people, develop them educationally and ensure that the dying culture of the people is revived and maintained, that is why it is educational and cultural organization. Its mainframe thinking was to ensure that the people are well educated in western education and all ways of life because you know Berom people are highly gifted in technical areas. And we want to believe that the idea then was to ensure that, that gift was tailored and developed towards productive aim. That is the extent of developing the society, to unite the people, build up educational institutions, we have one in Kwi, unfortunately it has not been functioning well.
And it was BECO that conducted and organized the first culture and arts of the Berom (Izem Berom) in 1981. That is part of the realization of the Mandate that BECO set upon itself and over the years it has done very well with difficulties though.
Sir looking at the state of the nation, as a stakeholder how can you assess the security architecture of Nigeria?
Nigeria has made a very huge name of itself for good in international peace keeping operations. Wherever our soldiers have gone, right from the beginning in places like the Congo in the 1960s to date, anywhere our soldiers have gone for peace keeping they are marked as one of the best. It has given us a lot of joy especially from this part of the country where almost every household once had someone in the army.
But what bothers some of us today is that, we have a physician that heals other people but cannot heal himself. You have gone outside the world to broker peace and bring the peace be it in Liberia and other places.
But here we are today in our own country, what started like a joke now metamorphosed to something that is threatening the existence of this country and that is what gives one cause of serious concern. Is something wrong with the military? The rules of engagement that is given to them in the field? Its something that keeps one bothering to the extent that Nigeria’s security is in a serious jeopardy. We don’t have doubt about that one. We don’t joke or play about that one, that is the truth of the matter. Things are not okay the way it’s supposed to be today. Something somewhere is definitely wrong.
With this scenario, how do you think the life expectancy of citizens would look like in a near future?
Okay, we can look at life expectancy from two dimensions. The natural life expectancy that is a product of economic development, scientific innovation, health provision, access to health, good road provision and other things like that. Then, the other one is through the security platform upon which people live.
Today the life expectancy in Nigeria, let me use my own people the Berom as an example, you are accustomed to a situation where you go to bed, you and your family, anybody goes to bed after you have a night prayer. Unknown to you walking around your neighborhood are your killers. So when they come you are all asleep they set your house on fire, you have no choice, its either you die by being burnt alive or come out with wounds of gun shot.
So in that case the life expectancy has become so brutish, so short and you cannot be able to determine any longer. When you wake up the next day it’s by the grace of God because you live each day at a time. Just recently, in Gashish, Barkin-Ladi Local Government Area we buried the traditional ruler who was killed. The moment you cross the junction that lead to Bokkos Local Government Area, linking towards Gashish you hardly see any of the indigenes beside that vast land. It was occupied by the terrorists that attacked and killed citizens last year June.
Their farmlands have now become a grazing place. So when those things happen it kills the children of two, three, eight years, and that is the situation here. So the life expectancy is like every day you wake up, you are at the mercy of God because you do not know what would happen next.
Nigeria is practising democracy as a system of government, taking into consideration the happenings around us do you think the tenents of democracy over the years have come to play?
Well, I want to believe that with all challenges we are having today may not likely be a defining moment for Nigeria. At a point in time in Plateau state, when these Killings started, the massive Killings that was started in 2010 here in Dogo Nahauwa people just thought that it was a fluke but from there it hasn’t stop. And worst of all, the politics of providing security by the Federal government. Instead of bringing down the tempo of killings they heightened it because the choice of people they brought as administrators in charge, the commander with the security outfit it became very obvious that religion and ethnicity determined who was coming to Plateau as a commander.
Just take for example, the first sector Commander of the then STF was Major General Saleh Maina who was also the GOC Rukuba Cantonment. When all the killings were happening during his time, there was a change in government with the dead of President Umaru Musa Yar’adua and moved to the defense headquarters and new GOC was brought here at Rukuba Barracks, General Idoko.
We thought that since it is the new practice that the new GOC was brought he will double as the Commander of task force(STF). When Idoko came that will not continue, and Idoko was a Christian and Maina is a Muslim. So Idoko was not given that ground responsibility, instead another person was brought in as the Commander of STF. So the impression was as if the Muslim must always be a Commander of the STF.
So, when people begin to perceive government action in a way and manner that is negative it tells a lot on that government.
Today the problem is that, a lot of Nigerians believed that if the president of this country is not a Fulani man by ethnic background, perhaps the leverage Fulani seems to be having in killing the people will not be there because you only hear of arrest of killers, arrest of kidnappers but we don’t hear of them being jailed. So the assumption seems to be that, there is a backing, rightly or wrongly and that is why if care is not taken that will become a psyche in the minds of the people. It would take more than hard work to remove that one from the minds of the people and the future of the country will also be affected because by this tomorrow another person will become a president, the people will begin to behave in a way and manner as if they are taking advantage of their own who is in government then it sends a very, very dangerous signal.
But I want to believe that like in Plateau state the massive Killings must have reduced, and of course I am not surprise because those that were killed, there lands have been captured, So who will you kill there again? You can’t kill anybody when you have already grabbed the land. The issue here is that, government really needs to double its efforts toward combating terrorism.
There is a massive agitation for the creation of state police, what is your take on that regard sir?
My position is inline with the position of the Middle belt. We want a situation where by, well, you know between 2008 and 2009 the then Governor of Plateau state, Jonah David Jang called for the creation a state police. He was rubbished all over the North. There was no name that they did not call him. Today those states are having worst security challenges and now calling for state police.
But I have a little challenge with the police hierarchy about state police. They want a situation where community policing will be recruited from within the community but the police DPO and other administraors within the state will be in charge. In this situation we are only extending and enforcing the Federal Police. If the police under the Inspector General(IG) are sufficient they can stop what is happening.
We only want a situation whereby the state police should be under the command of the Governor, at the local government level should be controlled by the chairman, where the DPO will be taking directive from so that if the village is under attack, you don’t have to go to that village to start calling those ahead of you who will call the DPO, who will call the commissioner of police, who will call the IG and before they response from Abuja within a day or two killings would have taken place. We want a situation whereby prompt action will be taken.
The situation where people would be seeing strange faces in their locality, the DPO and chairman of the Local Government should ask where are those people coming from? Because what has weakened the security system is that the bureaucracy of security maintenance, it is so cumbersome.
A lot of time at the state level, a decision will be taken to avert an impending crisis, the police commissioner would have to call Abuja for clearance. By the time that clearance comes the damage has already been done. So we want a kind of state police that is so coordinated not the one that will be watching the people being killed. We want a situation where by proactive measure towards preventive strategies should be a top most priority.
Recently Governor Simon Lalong constituted management committee chairmen in Jos North, Jos South, Barkin-Ladi and Riyom Local Government Areas instead of conducting elections, the development that generated a lot of mixed feelings. How do you view the action of the Governor?
The truth of the matter is that, whatever may be the thinking of government of the day, one thing is very clear. Government is creating a dichotomy of we and them. Barkin-Ladi, Riyom, Jos North and Jos South LGAs there are those who benefiting from this illegality unconstitutionally quite okay. But the indigenes of those Local Government Areas are beginning realize that they have been alienated and that is the perception he is creating.
At a point in time when the Governor was to conduct local government elections, Bokkos, Barkin-Ladi, Riyom and Bassa were equally under threat. But the election was conducted in Bokkos and Bassa. That Barkin-Ladi, Riyom, Jos North and Jos South were not included beats one’s imagination.
The election held in Barkin-Ladi, Riyom, Jos South and Jos North despite difficulties here and there, no soul was killed as a result of insecurity there. So how come the government has just targeted local government elections giving excuses of insecurity? Why were there no insecurity in the previous elections?
And you know the truth of the matter is that those of us from those Local Government Areas were disfranchised because you have a burden of having a local government chairman that you cannot have access to. Because his loyalty is to the godfather who is at the Little Rayfield rooted there not to the people whom he is accountable to.
As far as history is concerned, Barkin-Ladi, Riyom, Jos North and Jos South are not in democratic dispensation. What we have there is a situation whereby it is a one man gang who receives instructions from those who appointed him. The people are just there watching.
So, I don’t know whether the Governor after his eight years tenure will beat his chest that in eight years he denied Barkin-Ladi, Riyom, Jos South and Jos North their right to having democratically elected leaders.
You know sometimes we feel we are so smart and history does not require any smartness. Where you have done the wrong thing, that is not smartness because one day history will bring those things back to you. One your children will grow up to hear about it. People don’t know that everything about life has a beginning and end. We create this Local Government to enjoy the privileges of having their elected representatives, electing their own political structure at their own level as simple as that.
But when we keep refurbishing one set of people without having an election it doesn’t make sense. And I believe the government should have a rethink for that. Those that are misleading the Governor to set a particular tribe as an enemy camp and begin to devise various means of distrust, it doesn’t make sense.
There are a lot of contending issues to the extent that citizens begin to doubt government credibility in terms of due process and otherwise. Could it be the system or the people who occupy the reigns of power?
Well, you know one thing is very key in political economy. The first rule to bring the people down to their knees is to impoverish them. Once people are impoverished, anything can happen to them because they are powerless. And impoverishment is physical, mental and psychological.
Now the bulk of the people that were driven out from Gashish as a result of terrorism last year 2018 and scattered all over, some of them have gone far places out of Plateau because they don’t have any thing to do. The state abandoned them, well-wishers and donor agencies got tired. Those who are contributing have become donor fatigued and they have to start going out when those who are at home cannot do anything for the internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Many of the IDPs have even gone outside the state seeking for what to do. Now the people have been impoverished to the extent that they are no longer in the position to make demands on the government inline with constitutional provisions and demands. It is only when people are enlightened that they can stand and make demands for themselves.
The system may not be good but within that same system it is people who occupy it. Some political office holders are doing very, very well. So it is not the system alone. It also has to do with inability of individuals to deliver, because if l know that the system will not allow me to perform my perfection why must I stand for an election? I stand election because I believe I can deliver, going around the system to the demands of my people.
But when going to office just to make fame or to acquire wealth or whatever, it is not about the system. The system that can allow one to steal with impunity, leading people with impunity cannot allow the individual to do the right thing.
What is your call to the government and people of Plateau in general?
Truly speaking, there is nothing we can achieve without peace. Plateau has become a classical example in disunity, and is not the Plateau we grew up and nobody is benefiting from it. If this state spoilt, is not because of ethnic division nor even the government alone. There may be problems within individuals, there may be problems within groups we can discuss them. But when evil is allowed to germinate and grow, you only know that beginning but you don’t know where it will end.
This is not the Plateau we grew upin, I will always resist that. Plateau was the classic example of unity but today we are not like that.
My appeal is that, since this government came on board it’s like there is a deliberate effort to make sure peace and progress of Berom land is the target of attack. First, with all the attacks that were taking place under this government the Governor has never gone to any place to commiserate with the people neither has he attended any of the mass burials. None. And that is not good for the Governor. Even here in Geosciences it took the Governor almost a month or thereabout for him to go and see those people in IDPs camp even though he is contemplating to go and see them and he is the father of all.
One day he will be out of that office and he will be mingling with those people, what would his conscience be telling him?
Then for us in Plateau we come a long way, eight years of the government should not a defining moment for us to destroy what we have achieved over the years. When this attack started some people are saying that ” I, wanna abun Berom ne, Ku barsu sure dashe” today Bokkos is not Berom land, Bassa is not Berom land and is already catching up with Mangu that is not also a Berom land.
Our enemies knows the strategies they used is divide and rule. And unfortunately, we seem not to care we are buying into it. Gradually if this things continue, God forbid nobody will scale through this messed we will all perish.
And the earlier we come together the better for us. Government come and go, this one too will come to past but what is paramount is that as a people we should have what bind us, build on them for the common good of the state and the generation yet unborn.