Social Media and the threat to fragile peace

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By Marie-Therese Nanlong

Jos – In May, 2017, when residents of Plateau North Senatorial Zone were sensitized by a non-governmental organization, Centre for Advocacy and Rights, CAJR on responsible use of the social media as well as the need to avoid hate speeches and the participants from the six local government areas making the zone resolved to rise against such practices, little did one know that their efforts would resonate shortly after.

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The resolve was put to a test when false alarm rose on the social media attempted to plunge Jos, the Plateau State capital into another bout of bloodshed but for the collective will of the residents, government and security agencies to nip the rumour in the bud and stand in unity, proclaiming that peace must prevail in the city.

As the State has achieved a level of tolerance and all stakeholders work at achieving lasting peace, the fragile peace was threatened on Thursday evening when a social media message was circulated accusing the Igbos in the South East of killing people from the Northern extraction.

Due to this falsehood and the frequent calls made by people to ascertain the authenticity of the information, Igbos in the markets decided to lock their shops earlier than usual to avoid any untoward situation and the action raised panic in the entire city as other shop owners hurriedly closed businesses too.

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Before the rumour could be controlled, damage had been done as two people were reported dead but the State Government and security agencies took steps to forestall the escalation of the situation.

The State  Governor, Simon Lalong who declared an indefinite dusk to dawn curfew in the Jos-Bukuru metropolis   also convened a meeting with Ndigbo and Hausa community leaders confessing that the event took him by surprise and frowned at the role the social media played to fuel the situation.

He said he was compelled to impose curfew and will take even stiffer security measures if he doesn’t get the necessary cooperation from community leaders and charged all community and religious leaders to ensure peaceful coexistence in their respective places of authority.

His words, “Community leaders must ensure peace in their domains. As a governor, I cannot be everywhere, you must ensure that peace reigns. Let us talk to our youths to avoid taking laws into their hands. Government will handle the situation effectively, nobody is above the law.

“Our security operatives are up and doing. Anyone found wanting will face the full wrath of the law, which is why we imposed curfew. We will ensure maximum security measures in all parts of the state to ensure that no citizen is harmed. As I speak with you, similar meetings are ongoing in all our local government councils.”

Apart from the Governor, the State Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, in a statement by its Chairman, Rev. Soja Bewarang as well as the Director of Publicity of the Jama’atu Nasir Islam, JNI, Plateau State branch, Sani Mudi, rose to the occasion by condemning the threat to peace and appealed to youths not to tag the riot in Jos as a religious violence. Both groups, in separate statements, noted, “CAN expresses great shock at the sudden build up of tension in Jos metropolis, CAN frowns at the conduct of some disgruntled elements whose stock in trade and design is to throw Plateau State into confusion.

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“We call on Igbos on the Plateau to remain calm as nobody will ask them to leave Plateau State, let us work collectively to frustrate the designs of criminals in our midst.”

JNI added, “We should know that this is a political problem and government seems to be on top of it. We should therefore avoid giving it any sort of religious coloration.”

However, calm had returned to the city at the time of this report and residents were seen going about their lawful activities, although some shops were yet to open for business and they were fewer vehicular movements in the city centre.

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