Central Nigeria’s Jos, the capital of Plateau State came alive with electrifying business and social activities as the 2019 Jos Trade Fair opened on October 10.
The 17-day exhibitions at the Jos Polo Field, 5kms northwest of the Jos Terminus market saw the influx of local and foreign manufacturers and distributors. This offered an opportunity for different categories of consumers to discover new or improved products, interact with producers and enjoy low prices.
This is a huge relief for residents, who mostly travel out to enjoy such benefits, or get them at exorbitant prices from retailers. Plateau is one of Nigeria’s lowest business and manufacturing States. Since the fire disaster that destroyed the famous Jos Main Market and the later collapse of the State owned Jos International Breweries, the State has been widely defined as “civil service” oriented.
The ethno-religious conflicts that claimed hundreds of lives in 2001 have worsened situations. The “Christian versus Muslim” violence, though long curtailed left in its trail, segregated settlements and fractured relationships, sometimes sparking bloody clashes at the slightest provocation.
The deadliest of this phenomenon is the near frequent clashes between farmers and herders, which have claimed several lives, displacing entire communities in different parts of the State and widening the gap for intercommunication.
However, crop farmers and animal herders, both have needs, which directly or indirectly require the goods or services they each produce to satisfy. The farmer for instance must exchange some of his crops for diary products or money to meet other needs. The herder likewise must at a point exchange his animals for staples or money.
In this case, exchange must take place. But how does this happen if they only rate each other from afar? Glad enough, the marketplace is the playing field of ideas, goods and services, and not sentiments. Thus, the Jos Trade Fair was a good way to shorten the distance between them for mutual understanding.
The venue of the Jos Trade Fair sits right at the heart of the city, where roads to the predominantly Muslim Hausa/Fulani north and the predominantly Christian south of the city meet. There you also find motor parks and roads to other States.
Being a neutral ground therefore, the Fair brought together buyers and sellers, window shoppers, games and entertainment enthusiasts from different parts of the State and beyond, farmers and herders included.
One fascinating feature of these event is that not only did the buyers interact with the sellers, but also with their fellow customers. For instance, a herder went into an Irish potato booth and did not know which variety was the best to buy until he asked another buyer, obviously an experienced farmer.
In another scenario, both herders and a group of crop exhibitors sat on a table of a local yogurt vendor, obviously the wife of a herder, drinking the diary product and happily conversing about the politics of Nigeria. One would have thought that since these two hardly cohabit, they would never engage each other in any business or social interaction. But alas, money has no tribe, no religion. And the place where such is exchanged is always a place for mutually beneficial relationships.
What this perhaps implies is that the more communities engage in business interactions, the likelier they would identify their common values, thus forgetting their differences. Perhaps, bitterness only exists where barriers to communication exist. Like stereotypes and prejudices, people easily judge when they don’t get close enough to discover the good about others.
Thus, trade fairs should not just be organized “as a forum for dialogue and exchange of ideas between producers and consumers of goods and services” as the Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong said at the event opening. They should be encouraged as an avenue for renewed social interactions for peace and development.
Government could also create more of such opportunities by resuscitating ailing businesses and markets, and establishing new ones to reposition the State as the “Home of Peace and Tourism” that it is widely regarded.