December 6, 2022

Jos prison break threatens terror spike but Plateau peace agency isn’t losing guard

Joseph Lengmang, Director General Plateau Peace Building Agency

Jos, Nigeria – Dec. 3, 2021: A spectacular jailbreak in Central Nigeria’s Jos city on 28 November has raised fears of a terror spike in Africa’s most populous nation.

262 inmates escaped during the evening attack which left one superintendent of prisons dead. Only ten of them have been rearrested.

The attack was the fourth major jailbreak in the country this year. Officials are afraid of a possible involvement of the escaped inmates who include condemned criminals in violent attacks which have caused a 20-year old mutual distrust between Christians and Muslims in Central Nigeria.

“For a society that is struggling to deal with issues of violence, this is a cause of and a cause of worry,” said Mr. Joseph Lengmang, the Director General of the Plateau State Peace Building Agency.

“They said 252 inmates are on the loose. We don’t know where they are, we don’t know whether they are armed.

“We don’t know their motives, we don’t know their . We don’t know how many of them will go and begin to undo the different things we have done [to build peace] in communities,” said Mr. Lengmang in a press conference in Jos on 3 December.

“It didn’t just happen [in Jos]. We saw it in Imo, Kogi and other States. Of course it’s a national question that we all need to answer,” Lengmang added.

Restitution for seized lands

Until the jail attack, there was according to Lengmang a ‘significant’ decline in violent conflicts in Plateau, which has seen hundreds of armed attacks since 2001, leading to the displacement of whole towns. More than 100 of the displaced towns were taken over by their attackers according to the Middle Belt and Southern Forum.

But the Plateau Peace Agency has made recommendations to state authorities to enact anti-land grabbing laws to aid in restoring such communities to their original owners, Lengmang said.

“Part of our work is to encourage peace through restitution,” said Lengmang. “We have received complaints in the cause of our work where people say “look, so long as we have been displaced, so long as people are still occupying our lands there can never be peace” and we are mindful of that,” Lengmang added.

Natural causes

“So long as the issues underlying conflict have not been completely resolved, this has become a maxim somehow even in the peace building agency that the likelihood of a relapse can never be overruled,” said Lengmang, “Because people are hurting and there are issues underlying the conflict,” he said.

“Take the farmer-herder conflict for example. People might have their different interpretations but I tell you in the heart of this there are natural factors. The overreaching effects of climate change, urbanization and population explosion combined together is making people to compete for resources that are increasingly becoming scarce.

“It is one typical example of an environmentally induced conflict,” he said, noting that the issues require ‘robust policies’ that might take time to yield results.

“We do not expect that it is a magic wand of a policy and all of these problems will disappear overnight. That is why we emphasize that peace work is a process not an event – one that needs to be carefully nurtured to blossom for us to be able to see results,” he said.

The peace agency is identifying and involving more stakeholders in its dialogue programs, he stated, noting it will soon unveil a database that might reveal the impact of its interventions in conflict prevention and management in Plateau State.