I have been a little too overwhelmed to post recently since the beginning of third (large-scale) Jos crisis this decade. I arrived in Nigeria for two years two weeks after the Jos 2001 crisis, I was in Jos during the 2008 crisis, and I had just left Jos last Thursday, before this most recent crisis started on Sunday. My parents, however, have been there for all three.
They are fine, but many loved ones of neighbors and friends have been killed—Christians and Muslims.
In the last two crises, I have found myself in the disorienting position of being in between the two “sides.” After the crisis in 2008, I came from a beleaguered Jos and a community of aggrieved Christians who had been driven from their homes, seen their churches burned, and family members wounded back to Kano, where I heard stories of entire Muslim families being wiped out. On my return to Jos for Christmas in a taxi full of Hausa Muslims, I saw the blackened Islamic school for Higher education, the knocked down mosques, the utter destruction on the North part of Jos.
I attended secondary school in Jos living in an almost completely Christian community. Most of my neighbors and friends in Jos are Christians, and when my family had a refugee camp at our house in 2008, almost all of the refugees were members of a Baptist church, Catholic Church, or COCIN church close to the university community where my family lives. The Baptist church had been burnt for the third time. For this reason, I have experienced the “Christian” side of the crisis—and have heard many bitter complaints about how the “Muslims want to take over everything”—perceptions that the Plateau is being besieged by large “sinister” forces that wish to “take over Nigeria.” At the same time my life right now is centred around my community of friends in Kano, most of whom are Hausa and Muslim—many of whom are also “Jasawa,” Hausas/Muslims from Jos. Their families have been in Jos for several generations, if not much longer, and until recently had fine relationships with their Christian “indigene” neighbors. They believe that churches are preaching violence and that the ‘yan kasa—Jos “indigenes” have political agendas in attempting to reclaim land lived on for generations by Hausa “settlers.” They feel like the “indigenes” refuse to live in peace with them and many fear returning to their childhood homes.
This Sunday, I was staying with a Christian family in Kaduna when the first rumours of the crisis came in—again, there were the murmurings, this time from Christians, about how “Muslims refuse to live in peace.” I came back to Kano, where Muslim friends told me about family homes burned down and brothers slashed and wounded. On Facebook, one girl weeps onto another friend’s post that she has lost many family members, including her grandmother to the violence.
My parents tell me about a long-term neighbor who recently moved to a new home. He had a gun and had saved some university students from a mob. Going back home with his gun, he was accosted by soldiers, shot, and killed. Other Christian friends have lost family members to mobs or soldiers. My mother tells me the gut-wrenching story of the brutal murder of four youth corpers. Sunday Dare, the former head of the Hausa VOA service, in a piece that reflects the perspective of a Christian indigene, tells a heart breaking story about how his elder brother, not long after returning home from church, “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”. [UPDATE 25 January 2010, today I receive an email which describes great devastation in “Christian” areas of Bukuru, stories of old men killed by mobs, and family homes burned. The Bukuru market has apparently been completely razed.]
The losses have been great on both sides. However, at least according to the numbers being reported to the media, the losses have been the greatest among the Jasawa/Muslims. Although, the New York Times quotes the Plateau State police commissioner as saying only twenty-three people have been killed, BBC reports:
Religious officials said at least 265 people had died since Sunday.
Among the dead were said to be 65 Christians and 200 Muslims.
Muhammad Tanko Shittu, a senior mosque official organising mass burials, gave a much higher death toll – telling Reuters news agency more than 350 Muslims had died.
According to one report, as posted on Naijablog, the Muslim community in the village of Kura Jenta on the airport road in Jos was almost wiped out, with almost all of the homes of Muslims being burned and many Muslims rounded up and killed.
[UPDATE: 23 January 2009: Al-Jazeera has now picked up this horrifying story, reporting that around 150 people, mostly Hausa Muslims, were killed in the village.
Reports on Saturday said that about 150 bodies had been recovered from wells in Kuru Jantar, near the city of Jos, where clashes began last week before spreading to nearby villages.
Locals in Kuru Jantar, also known as Kuru Karama, told Andrew Simmons, Al Jazeera’s Africa editor, that a massacre had taken place in the village.
They said armed men had surrounded and attacked the village on Tuesday.
Al Jazeera saw the bodies recovered from wells, as well as the burnt bodies of children recovered from ransacked houses.
Up to 18,000 people in the area are thought to have been left homeless by the clashes in Nigeria’s Plateau State.]
Reports of how the crisis started will also vary on who is spoken to, as is noted in this Reuter’s article. Most Christian sources refer to an unprovoked attack by Muslim youth on a Catholic church as worshippers were leaving the building, while my Kano sources talk about a Muslim trying to rebuild his house burnt in the last crisis, who was attacked by Christian youths saying a Muslim could not stay in their community. Perhaps there is a meeting point in the two stories. My parents tell me a pastor friend of theirs told them that the church was right beside the house that was being rebuilt. According to him, the construction workers were disturbing the service and church members went out to ask them to halt their work until after the service. Apparently, the workers continued with the construction and then people were attacked as they were coming out of the service and the church was burnt. On the other hand as told to the Daily Trust (a Northern regional paper), according to the man who was trying to rebuild his house, he was confronted by a gang of Christian youth who said he could not rebuild in the area and told to stop construction. After some intervention by soldiers, he attempted to stop the workers, who refused to stop because they had already mixed the cement. Supposedly they were then confronted by a Christian mob. I imagine something close to the truth lies somewhere between these two accounts, with opposing gangs getting out of control on both sides.
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. (An Islamonline.net post makes a useful contribution to this perspective.)
I have gone into much detail on other forums in the last few days to try to explain the identity politics and complexities of the Plateau–at least what I understand of them. I’m so tired by this time that I will just recommend that anyone interested, read these documents: a recently published article by shari’a-in-Nigeria scholar Philip Ostien on the events leading up the the 2008 crisis “Jonah Jang and the Jasawa”; a Human Rights Watch report on the politics of “Settler/indigene” in Nigeria, with a section on Plateau State, and the Human Rights Watch report on the Military abuses during the 2008 crisis, which have no doubt been continued during this crisis.
The situation is particularly complex because the minority groups in the Plateau do have legitimate fears about being dominated by political and cultural forces further north. From what I have seen in Kano, there is much ongoing rhetoric about what sorts of behaviours should be allowed in a shari’a state–which often leads to discrimination against those who do not fit the conservative ideal. I have heard stories from my minority Christian friends here in Kano on how they have been actively discriminated against–one girl not being allowed to take an exam at a College of Education because she was not wearing a hijab. Another on how she heard a preacher on campus attacking Christians (an experience that could be easily reversed further south). A whole group of friends whose church was looted and torn down by neighbors. Muslims, as well, whose lifestyles do not fit conservative notions of those in power, have suffered, as can be seen in the ongoing conflict between the Kano State Censorship Board and writers, filmmakers, and singers. These are things that have happened, and they are the sorts of things that worry Christians further south. But unfortunately, legitimate desires by Plateau “indigenes” to maintain their culture and heritage have turned into a particularly toxic ethnic/”religious” chauvinism accompanied by violent rhetoric and a disregard/lack of human sympathy for Hausa neighbors with whom they have lived in peace for generations. Ironically, Hausas from Jos who are engaged in the film industry in Kano are often accused of bringing foreign and corrupting influences into Hausa culture; when they go back to Jos, they are told they do not belong there either. (Of course, although the harshest voices tend to be the loudest, there is also an intense creative engagement with these events by Northern and middlebelt artists. Interestingly, in the past two years, I have read novel drafts by three writer friends of mine from the middlebelt. All three of their novels deal with issues of political/ethnic/religious crisis in the middle belt and the north, engaging and challenging the rhetoric used on both sides. The actors, writers, and singers I know in Kano are full of lamenting songs and calls for mutual cooperation across ethnic and religious lines.)
Monday when I returned to Kano, I signed onto Facebook and realized that it was Martin Luther King day when I read part of this quote posted by one of my friends
Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.
The excerpt comes from Martin Luther King Jr.s 1957 sermon “Loving Your Enemies.” [Update 20 February 2010, I later discovered that the original link I had posted to the sermon seems to have been abridged. Here is the link to the sermon on mlkonline.net. ]It seems to me that it is exactly this sort of insight we need right now. While the 2008 crisis was kickstarted by politics, it seems, at the moment, as if this latest crisis is the results of simmering resentments and a desire for revenge. If neighborhoods continue to split apart and separate into more and more homogenous groupings so that Christians no longer know and interact and visit Muslims and Hausas no longer know and interact and visit Burims, I fear for Jos. I fear for Nigeria.
But where I see hope, I see it in these young artists I speak with. Nigeria is teeming with youth, and perhaps the majority are guided by the mistakes of their elders. But if the artists can somehow inspire a passion for change, for cooperation, for alternative kinds of employment, for a love of country based on new values, love and forgiveness among youth of various faiths who have grown up together… there must be hope somewhere here. Surely…