Plateau State, nicknamed “Home of Peace and Tourism” has witnessed series of violent conflicts, mostly between Christians and Muslims in the last two decades. This has created segregated settlements, arising from deep-rooted mutual distrust among citizens, particularly in the capital city, Jos.
Once a while, Government still sends securities to neutralize tensions in some parts of the city, suggesting the existence of unresolved issues, despite repeated efforts to reconcile the citizens. In the midst of all these however, two people practicing different religions and professions have shown that no matter the hatred on a person or their way of life, one still has something to gain from them.
Ezra Yohanna Jinang is a reputed Christian gospel singer. He is popular for combining old and modern styles of music to communicate messages of hope and salvation.
Ezra has sold thousands of copies, from over 10 albums in two decades, a feat rarely attained by any contemporary singer from Central Nigeria. This has earned him several awards and recognitions within and outside Nigeria.
Five years ago, Ezra became the first gospel music celebrity in Northern Nigeria to take up a career in Law, after years of studying while performing on stage. He is currently the Legal Advisor of the Arewa Gospel Music Association of Nigeria, a Trainer in Intellectual Property Law and Human Rights Activist.
He recently won an endorsement for the Plateau State Government’s coronavirus campaign, and has shared stage with other contemporary singers like Solomon Lenge, Jeremiah Gyang, Friday Jibo, Ice Prince and the likes.
However, Ezra’s success stems from a long-time encounter with a Muslim teacher, Hajiya Sumaye Hamza, during his highschool days. “She (Sumaye) was very instrumental to my career growth, both in academics and Music. She truly encouraged me to go and study while pursuing Music. Her words encouraged me. They are still fresh in my memory,” Ezra told our Correspondent.
Sumayya’s influence on Ezra started as early as the 80s and 90s when she was Vice Principal, Government College Zawan, Jos.
“When I was a Vice Principal in then Government College Zawan, Ezra was among the well behaved boys in the school,” Sumayya told TLB. His academic performance, she said, was impressive, as his character and moral conduct.
In her words, “Just like what I do with my students where I seize any opportunity to counsel and mentor them, I did with Ezra.
“He was always cheerful, a value I see as a motivation to others who think all doors are closed for them.”
Ezra graduated from Secondary school but Sumayya never failed to check on him.
“Each time he sang on TV, I would tell my children that he was my student. Once he is featured they will call and say “Mummy ga danki Ezra dan Plateau” (Mummy see your son, Ezra of Plateau). Then one day he came to my office and I said you sing but someday things might change and three things could happen. Either new generation singers will overtake you or age will become a hindrance or time will come that only those with certificates will be on the decision table. Why don’t you go back to school while you sing? When you are done you can keep your certificate under your box. A day will come that you may dust and use it. He adhered. After some time, he told he applied to University of Jos and I was happy and prayed for him. After a long time, he came back and said he had completed his study and proudly he said he is now a lawyer. My response was, ‘you will sing with a difference because you are more knowledgeable on issues of rights’.”
At the time of his encounter with Sumayya during his career days, many of his fellow Christians did not believe in him or his career. “It used to be me, God and a very insignificant number of people around me who believed that I was gifted and could shine,” said Ezra. Sumaye was one of those few in Ezra’s life. Despite being from different religion, Sumayya saw a future worth supporting in the young gospel minister.
According to her, “My principle is to mentor young people to be responsible in the society irrespective of religion or ethnicity. I grew up in a multiethnic and multi-religious environment. My parents had a very inspiring relationship with Christians and different tribes. I remember when we were very young during Christmas, besides exchanging pleasantries, the Ngas the Maghavul tribe dancers will pay homage to my dad and he will come out with smiles and give them “goron Christmas or Easter” (Christmas or Easter present). It was fun and we had friends across-the-board. Because my parents and I did not see religion as a barrier to growth and development , I attended St. Louis College Jos and participated in all activities including school choir. But it didn’t change my religion rather provided an opportunity to understand the Christian religion better; I even offered Bible Studies In WASC and had a C. All I wanted was to see these young people aspire.”
Sumaye’s passion for peace is unequaled. She has attended several workshops within and outside Nigeria on conflict management since 2000 when she was first trained by USAID in Jos along with other peace Advocates. She has been leader of Federation of Muslim Women Assocuation of Nigeria, Plateau State branch under which she organized series of community dialogues, as she did under various other organizations.
Sumaye’s is a proud advocate of social change as International Ford Foundation Fellow. Due to her Humanitarian services and academic performance, she gained sponsorship for her PhD in UK and is currently the Plateau State Focal Person on Social Investment, a Presidential program aimed at solving poverty and hunger in local communities.
“My desire is to see a society where we have equal opportunities to contribute in growth and development,” she said. This she is doing by advocating for women and children, as well as youths regardless of tribe or religion through her office in the distribution of the nation’s resources.
But of greater concern is the final return of peace to Plateau State, she said. “The issue of peace is everybody’s responsibility and we must work together and accept to do the right thing. Government can only provide an enabling environment and framework but the people are the ones to actualize it,” she said.
Youths, according to her, should work as a team in all areas of endeavor – politics, entertainment, others, eschewing all religious or tribal sentiments.
“They should put service to humanity above personal interest. Youths should avail themselves to learn and to contribute. We can start with Peace clubs in schools among other activities
“Families should not show children discriminatory attitude or behavior just like my childhood experience I earlier shared. Teach them love and care. I have a househelp who is a Christian. She cooks for us. We have spent 25 years together and she is still working for me. She is just a member of my family. All we need is understanding, tolerance and love.”
Sumaye before taking a government appointment was a Lecturer in the University of Jos. Her appointment is also tied to a fixed tenure and she could be relieved of it any time. However, she still openly advocates for a “realistic social protection policies” that favour all.
Perhaps, more Sumayes are needed to make Nigeria great.