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Nigeria: Bloggers discuss the massacre in Jos

On January 17th, news began circulating that violence had erupted in the central Nigerian city of Jos. In the following hours, reports of the fighting spread as witnesses reported mobs armed with knives and machetes roving among burning houses, mosques, and churches.

source: wikimedia commons

source: wikimedia commons

The conflict is ostensibly sectarian: Jos is a major city along Nigeria's “Middle Belt” – the border area which divides the country's Christian-majority south from its Muslim-majority north. This is not the first time violence has erupted in Jos: once known as a favorite destination for expatriates and tourists, the Plateau State capital has previously seen deadly riots in 2001 and 2008. During the past decade, more than 13,500 deaths have been attributed to sectarian violence in Nigeria — conflict which many observers say is more about resources than religion.

The initial cause of the fighting in Jos remains unclear: some witnesses cite a disagreement over the rebuilding of houses destroyed by rioting in 2008, some point to a row over a football match, some to the burning of a church. However, regardless of its source, the violence spread quickly: some sources have estimated the death toll as high as 400 with up to 17,000 people displaced. Authorities declared a 24-hour curfew on the city and on January 19th, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan (standing in for the absent President Yar'Adua) sent the military to take control of the city.

Brenda Hartman-Souder wrote about her view of the conflict:

Yesterday we seesawed between eerie quiet with almost no traffic on the road below our home and gunshots, the cackling fires of destruction and the excited voices of hundreds of onlookers. They were standing on the rocks and hills behind us watching gangs of youth torch and destroy buildings and homes – Muslim or Christian – depending on which neighborhood you lived in. All of it barbaric and still hard to believe.

This morning we climbed the hill again to see raging bonfires in the empty lot over our wall. Youth were carrying loads of household goods – pots, pans, a bookshelf – and feeding the black and smelly fire. We realized they were burning the possessions in those destroyed houses and other buildings that had been occupied by Muslims. These acts of pure meanness and revenge are happening all over Jos. One group starts a fight or fire, the other side takes revenge, people are killed, their homes destroyed. And what has this accomplished?

Acclaimed journalist Sunday Dare, wrote about the destruction of his childhood home:

My family home in the Nasarawa area where I grew up with all my siblings and where we all lived for nearly three decades was razed down by irate Hausa youths. My only elder brother who had just returned from church moments ago while trying to escape from a burning house was hacked down with knives and machete and left to burn with the house. Even as I write, his charred body lies on the ground around the house because it is impossible to recover his body due to a breakdown of security. I know of several family friends whose homes were equally burnt and relatives missing. I know of thousands of Jos residents hunkered down in hide outs and safe heavens in different parts of Jos unable to venture out.

He reflected on more peaceful times:

Jos never used to be like this. Not the killing fields that it has now become….

My primary and secondary school days were bright and simple. I had friends, many of them and their religion was never an issue. My friends and I, though of different religions and tribe bonded like brothers and shared almost everything.

That was then. This is now. Now in full adulthood, our friendships still remain though pushed into the realm of uneasiness because we all have suffered loss from the several conflicts that have engulfed the State. We have all failed to find an explanation, nay justification for what is happening. When, why and how did Jos lose it? What changed that turned friendly neighbors into bitter enemies and near savages?

Olusegun Gbolagun also wondered what had gone wrong:

Why will a dispute over a building project throw the whole city into predicament? Why would a difference of opinion in a section of the city grossly affect the entire Jos city? What would make neighbours and friends suddenly become enemies?

A simple disagreement claimed over 300 lives, destroyed hundreds of houses, cars and various properties. These are issues I kept thinking about during this present mayhem in Jos City. I keep thinking why there is such a tensed atmosphere in this city. Trust seems elusive.

There must be more than meet the eye in this crisis.

Adeola Aderounmu saw a connection between the conflict in Jos and the attempted bombing by Umar Abdulmutallab. He wrote:

I have at least 2 entries on my blog stating that Nigeria is not a terrorist country but the muslim region north of Nigeria continues to make nonsense of my claims. There are loads of groups now on facebook saying that Nigeria is not a terrorist country. But the more some of us have tried to paint Nigeria positive by saying that we are not a nation of terrorists the more some fools somewhere are negating our claims.

A commenter on Omotade's blog made a similar point:

And people recoiled in shock when they discovered Mutallab was Nigerian… “It is not a Naija thing”, they say… Well, if this isn't terrorism, then Obama is Chinese. Those Al Qaeda people are not stupid. They saw such tendencies towards extremism and made a point to start targetting Nigerians. It's not exactly rocket science.

Writing at A Tunanina…, Carmen McCain saw the violence as being rooted in something deeper than religious conflict:

While the crises have certainly taken on religious dimensions—especially when symbols like churches and mosques are the most obvious markers of identity—I have seen many discussions on the internet, whether in the comments sections of articles or on Facebook, which oversimplify the conflict as a mostly religious one. I think this is a mistake and a serious one, as it is exactly this over-easy identification of the religious symbols as representative of a group which makes churches and mosques the most popular targets in a conflict that is primarily over politics, land, identity, belonging, ethnicity, and retaliation.

Loomnie also wrote on the complex causes of the violence:

Most of the violence that is reported from northern Nigeria is about a weird definition of who an indigene is and who a settler is, and that most often, the immediate cause of the violence is some fight over resources. In other words, people fight over access to resources (control of state power should be seen as a resource), but quickly resort to claims of entitlement based on ethnicity, place of origin and religion. These modes of identification are then often used to mobilise other people with the same or similar identity markers to fight opposing groups.

Citing a Human Rights Watch analysis of the conflict, Jeremy Weate at Naijablog also pointed to the differentiation between “settlers” and “indigenes” as a primary source of the violence in Jos:

At the root of the conflict in Plateau State are two core issues: poverty and an artificial distinction between “settler” and “indigene”…

The settler/indigene dichotomy goes against the fundamental freedoms granted in sections 42 and 43 of the constitution.

Until the government takes a hard look at the issues that block 42 and 43 from functioning (“Federal character” guidelines and the “State of origin” law), the conflicts will remain and Jos will continue to be a flashpoint. Violent conflict will probably exacerbate as desertification, water scarcity and population growth drive northern populations southwards into the Middle Belt in the next decade.

On Thursday, January 21st, the BBC reported that the 24-hour curfew on Jos had been relaxed and Army chief Lt Col Shekari Galadima had declared an end to the violence.  But many still worried about the volatility of the region. In a post entitled, “Silence that is not golden,” Brenda Hartman-Souders wrote about her fears for the future:

The quiet in urban Jos proclaims that something is seriously amiss. Curfew now ends at 10 a.m. and begins again at 5 p.m. Our seven-hour window of “freedom” allows people to buy supplies, check on loved ones, move to a safer place and bury the dead.

Rumors of more “attacks” abound and we try to hear them but not let them paralyze us with fear. Yet with the intensity of the reactions, with the unbridled killing, maiming, burning and looting, it’s easy to believe that more revenge –suppressed for now while the city remains under tight control of the military–will rage upon this area again and again. Intervention at the highest levels of government and cooperation among key religious leaders has to be a top priority if Jos is going to keep from disintegrating into a war zone.

11 comments

  • Manzoor H. Sarkar

    The above article posted by Eremipagamo Amabebe is superb focusing a issue that is regretfully existing even in this 21st century . I have experienced such communal riots in India in the late forties and also the ethnic conflicts in ex Yugoslavia in the nineties of the last century, where thousands of innocent people were killed & butchered and their home burnt & belongings looted. It seems nothing was learned from the history and events are repeating again & again extending all over the globe. One blogger , Carmain Mac Cain , rightfully argues that it is always more than a simple religious war and always about a conflict that is primarily over politics, land, identity, belonging, ethnicity, and retaliation.Shame on the human race which behaves like in the old primitive age and could not civilize itself to this day . Shame on us , the world community , the UN & the relevant Governments that takes no examplary action against the trouble makers and the people , the actual policy makers , behind the executors .

  • Only if common sense was common. A little (or even big) dispute can be fixed through communication, understanding, compromise and forgiveness. But no, all hell just had to break loose. All hell broke loose in 2001, then 2008, now 2010, don’t these people learn that violence really won’t give them what they want? Violence only builds up the grudges and nurses the anger and hatred on both sides. I’m seriously tired, I’m tired, but I’m still hopeful for my country.

    I’m just seeing this write-up. Big ups, thumbs up.

  • Dr Elias Nankap Lamle

    MISTAKEN NOTION
    I titled my contribution ‘mistaken notion’ because many of people do not even understand the type of Islam that is practiced in northern Nigeria. Let me pose and shout a question: WHY IS RELIGIOUS CONFLICT ABSENT IN OTHER PARTS OF WEST AFRICA EXCEPT NORTHERN NIGERIA? Have you posed and asked yourselves that question? Let me update you. The same proportion of divide between Muslims and Christians in northern Nigeria is found in Senegal, Ghana, Cameroun, and Benin Republic. Why are the Muslims in those areas not as active in conflicts as that of northern Nigeria? The simple answer is the type of Islamic faith that is practiced in northern Nigeria is different from the others practiced in West Africa.
    I live in Europe and dated a Fula woman from Senegal. Her name is Khady. Khady was ready to marry me if I wanted. In fact, she was ready to be my second or third wife if I already had a wife in Nigeria. Do not think that she was desperate because she was doing a PhD and a European by nationality and on full scholarship. Her only fear was that her fellow Muslims in Nigeria will kill her once they found out that she is a Muslim and Fula of the linguistic stock parent of the northern Nigerian Fulani. Why would a Muslim Fula in Senegal be ready to marry a Nigerian Christian but a Fulani girl in Nigeria cannot even dream of the same thing? LISTEN: THE DIFFERNCE IS THAT THE BRAND OF ISLAM PRACTICED IN NOTHERN NIGERIA IS DIFFERENT FROM ANY OTHER PRACTICED IN WEST AFRICA.
    The Islam practiced in northern Nigeria is called WAHABISM. Wahabism was founded by Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhaab (1115-1206 AH/ 1730-1793 CE) in the Arabian Peninsula and is well accepted among the Mecca people. It was the starting-point of government, which took it upon itself to apply the Islamic sharee’ah in “totality” and to seek the guidance of the “Qur’aan” and “Sunnah” in all its dealings. Before the arrival of petroleum, the Mecca people wandered in the desert taking care of animals. They were not respected in the Islamic world. In spite of the fact that Muslims go to Mecca and respected the birthplace of Prophet Mohammed, they did not respect Wahabism because of its doctrines. The most respected part of Wahabism doctrines, which other Muslims hate, is the use of violence to propagate or purify Islam. The Wahabists attacked many Islamic states in the name of trying to purity Islam, as such all other sects or countries of the Muslims world hate them even today.
    Now when Nigeria worn its independence in 1960, the Sardauna of Sokoto Sir Ahmadu Bello and Sheik Abubakar Gumi thought of ways to stop the advent of Christianity from the south. They were afraid that Christianity was going to overcome Islam in the North, so decided to look for a radical form of Islam that they will use to stop the advent of Christianity. The best and the most radical was Wahabism. The two went to Saudi Arabia and invited Wahabism and planted its roots and teachings in Nigeria. They planted the headquarters of Wahabism in Jos, the frontiers of Christianity and Islam. They named it Jama’t Izalat al Bid’a Wa Iqamat as Sunna (Society of Removal of Innovation and Re-establishment of the Sunna), abbreviated as JIBWIS and known simply as Izala, was founded in 1978 by Sheikh Ismaila Idris in Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria. Both in intention and reality, the JIBWIS is an anti-Sufi-movement that was established to fight against the so called bid’a, innovation, practiced by the Sufi brotherhoods, especially the Qadiriyya and the Tijaniyya. Practices like naming ceremonies, celebrating the Maulid (the birthday of the Prophet), visiting tombs of Saints, etc. are considered to be as non-Islamic by the Izala.
    Although the launching of the Izala society took place at the end of the 1970s, the history of the movement started several years before. Sheikh Abubakar Gumi (1922-1992) was one of the main figures of Islam in Nigeria of the 20th century. He obtained a Diploma in Arabic Studies from the Sudan and was appointed as Pilgrim officer in Saudi Arabia. After he returned to Nigeria he was appointed as a Grand Qadi of the North. The critical attitude displayed by Gumi towards Sufism in Radio Kaduna, his writings (both in Hausa and Arabic) against the Qadiriyya and the Tijaniyya are crucial elements in the later establishment of the Izala-society. Sheikh Gumi preached against Bid’a and Sufism without having any institution behind him. Today the Izala is one of the largest Islamic societies not only in Northern Nigeria, but also in the South and even in the neighbouring countries (Chad, Niger, and Cameroon). It is very active in Da‘wa and especially in education. The Izala has many institutions all over the country and is influential at the local, state, and even federal levels. Even though the Izala-organization split into factions in the mid 1980s, it still retain its main goals in Northern Nigeria, that is stopping the growth of other religions and sects that do not belong to Izala.
    Izala is Wahabism and its headquarters is in Jos. Even though the Izala are in Chad, Niger, and Cameroon, they do not make trouble there because they are not as many as northern Nigeria. Now you can see the reason why Jos is going through the crisis today. That is the reason why the petrodollar is used to perpetuate the conflicts of Jos. That also explains the reason why the conflict of Jos attracts Izala people from all over Chad, Niger, and Cameroon . Other fundamental reasons for the crisis are economic political and the others that people have mentions. Many do not understand however, the dimension I explained above. That is the reason why I am bringing it up.

  • Musa

    I believe unless and until the unamed faces that capitalise on poverty and illiteracy in the polity to cause mayhem and disaffection are unmasked and exposed for who they really are peace may continue to elude the Plateau. Lets remember that the history of sectarian violence in Northern Nigeria has always occured in some particular locations( Borno, Kano, Kaduna and Lately Jos); as we speak, no one has been brought to bookon account of these senseless acts. A failure to do this will mean all the lives have been lost in Vain

  • […] wakati ambao matatizo yalijitokeza kama pale Umar Abdulmutallab alipofanya jaribio la ugaidi na mgogoro wa kidini katika mji wa katikati ya Naijeria wa Jos. Wanaijeria wengi walitoa wito kwa Makamu wa rais […]

  • […] about the January 2010 riots here. Posted by Eremipagamo Amabebe  Print version Share […]

  • […] Tangu machafuko yaanze siku ya Jumapili, jeshi na polisi vimeudhibiti mji, na kuwatia mbaronizaidi ya watu 100. SolomonSydelle aliripoti juu ya uwezekano kuwa mahakama ya Kimataifa ya jinai inaweza kuingilia kati na kutoa suluhisho la kisheria kwa tatizo hili na kuepusha mzunguko wa visasi siku za baadaye. Soma kuhusu machafuko ya Januari hapa. […]

  • glamgirl

    Am from the east and was born in Lagos.lived in lagos all my life now will some sick yoruba person say am a settler not an indigene?truth is dese northerners are predominantly illiterates and they only know wat dey r told n taught so d issue is the information they feed their minds because muslims here in lagos don’t have the time for such baseless violence especially when there’s need to hustle for money.
    I strongly believe this issue is political so let them stop hiding behind the facade of reliion. The people of jos know the true reason. We can only pray for the peace of God to prevail. Muslim or christian, we are all God’s people and the greatest commandment is to love God and people around us. Let people stop initiating violence by capitalising on some people’s ignorance.

  • Nkwar Bura

    Oh No! My dears. Let me just say you have missed it all. If Jos crisis is all about politics is the Church and INEC office? Are Christians bunch of politicians? What do you have to say about a situation whereby the Church becomes the first target when there is trouble in the land and a Christian blood shed just because someone cartooned Mohammed in another country? Why are we not saying the truth about the whole issue? You guys are making me so sick to believe that you are insisting on politics instead of calling a spake a spake. In fact, let me go or else I will be mad and make a provocative statement. Believe what you want to believe, Jesus must surely reign on the Plateau and in the North!

  • I think it’s high time everybody knows his/her roots claiming some1’s land 4 self ambition is not b’cos d pple of Jos dated as far as the history of Nok culture is concerned did know of any existence of a Hausaman as indigene of Jos. My prayer though is we are hoping dat peace will return 2 Plateau it was 1nce known 4. In Jesus Name. Amen

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