In Jos, conflict seems to recur in ever-narrowing cycles: deadly riots rocked the city in 1994, 2001, 2008 and –not even two months ago– in January 2010. The current conflict is said to have started in reprisal for the destruction that occurred in January — there have been reports of children and the elderly being particularly targeted by roving gangs armed with guns and machetes.
Like the previous riots, the current conflict in Jos has been fought along sectarian lines – Jos lies on the border between Nigeria's Muslim-majority North and Christian-majority South. Access to land and resources is often determined by whether one is a native, or “indigene”, of the historically Christian city, or a “settler” from elsewhere (“settlers” are most often Muslims from the North; see a Human Rights Watch report on the subject here for more on the subject).
Many sources have placed the death toll in the hundreds: Al-Jazeera and the BBC both reported more than 500 casualties, although one government source put the figure at 55 official deaths. Quick burials make it difficult to accurately assess the total dead, while political considerations also lead to discrepancies in the numbers. Shuaibu Mohammed of Reuters gives one explanation:
Death tolls have been highly politicised in previous outbreaks of unrest in central Nigeria, with various factions accused of either exaggerating the figures for political ends or downplaying them to try to douse the risk of reprisals.
In the blogosphere, horror, shame and empathy were the prevalent emotions. Linda Ikeji posted a photo on her blog which graphically displayed the carnage. She wrote:
NO, I won't take the picture down. This is our shame and failure as a country. Let's all stare at it!
A commenter on her site agreed with her decision:
Thanks for leaving it up because we have to stop pretending everything is alright…it is time for these things to stop….
Several bloggers drew parallels between the earthquake in Haiti and the violence in Jos. Tywo, another commenter on Linda Ikeji's post wrote:
God has blessed Nigeria so much. I mean, we rarely have natural disasters and things like that. We only have deaths that are caused by heartless humans. The truth is we are not moving forward.
Babajidesalu shared a similar view:
As the world is experiencing natural disasters, Nigeria is experiencing self inflicted disasters. The latest massacre in Jos attests to this observation.
It was the effort of wyclef jean that made other stars come together to give towards Haiti. I noticed some Naija bloggers even gave towards Haiti while at the same time decrying what happened in Jos, VERBALLY while saying God should help Nigeria.
I've often wondered why we Nigerians complain and proffer no explanations or solutions to the problems that herald us. In whatever small way I can, I try to solve a problem or even make an effort.
F, another commenter on Linda Ikeji's post, saw the problem as broader than religion, and endemic to the country as a whole:
The nonsense will stop in Jos when the nonsense stops in Abuja. All this shadowy politics needs to cease so that the people can have access to basic amenities. They say a hungry man is an angry man. It is the same in the Niger Delta. If everyone was well-fed, had access to quality education, power supply, clean water and a decent standard of living, who would think of trying to kill off another religious/ethnic group seen to be “competing for space”?
…We will continue to express anger/disgust at these killings- this will not stop them from happening. Dealing with the root cause is the only solution to this on-going tragedy.
Adeola Aderounmu expressed a similar view, laying the blame with Nigeria's leaders:
The Jos issue is not a local issue. It is a reflection of the lack of democracy and failure of the system. We have no defined system and the country is built on very useless people instead of strong institutions and good principles of governance.
But a commenter on his post disagreed:
You are always separating the elite from the masses. At one time or another the elite emerged from the masses. So you can’t really separate them. (Many members of the masses are striving to join the elite).
The failure of Nigeria and Nigerians as a people collectively has to be shared all round.
Nigerians will have to look at themselves as a society and question why they have systematically over 50 years done nothing to arrest the slide into oblivion and hopelessness? Why is it when the get a sniff of power, they do all the wrong things? The fact is that most of society is corrupt, as such corrupt practices are condoned, in some cases celebrated…
Since the violence began on Sunday, army and police forces have taken control of the city, making more than 100 arrests. SolomonSydelle reported on the possibility that the International Criminal Court may step in to bring judicial resolution to the situation and avert a spiral of future reprisals.
Read about the January 2010 riots here.