Category Archives: Jos crisis

Remembering September 11 through a lens of fourteen years

Even all these years later, seeing the date September 11 still gives me a small jolt. Last night I was up past midnight trying to put up a course syllabus online. When I glanced at the date in the top right-hand corner of my screen, I jumped a little. I was chatting with my brother online about a documentary on climate change we are working on, and I said, “oh my goodness I just saw that it was Sept 11.” “Yeah,” he said.

I forgot again today until I saw this tweet from President Obama

I responded

Because remembering September 11, now, through a lens of fourteen years, I think of how America’s knee-jerk response, the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq, the years of bombings that often killed people as innocent as the ones working in those towers, ultimately led to rise of ISIS, maybe even Boko Haram. If we could go back to that time, if America had not gone to war, if we had investigated better, if we had responded less violently, what would the world look like now? Perhaps it is futile to play “what if” games, perhaps even worse things would have happened. But despite all the trauma of the day, since September 11, 2001, the world has been filled with bombs. Hundreds of them have gone off in Nigeria since 2010. I was closer to the Boko Haram bomb at the COCIN Headquarters Church in Jos on 26 February 2012 than I was to the World Trade Centre on September 11. Americans are loud in their grief, but elsewhere far more people have been killed than were in the towers, the planes, and the Pentagon on that blue-skied day in September fourteen years ago.

Yet it remains an epochal day in the history of the world, the scale of it, and by what it precipitated in the world. I’ll post here a few of the other articles I’ve written about my experiences on September 11. I’ve revisited those memories many times over the years. Reading back over them, I am struck by how each time I remember, other details emerge, while others fade away. Here are three columns I wrote in 2011, around the ten year anniversary of the tragedy.

Daily Trust has recently updated their website. The dedicated site for my column is gone, and almost all of my articles have their introductory paragraphs cut off now. I will try to slowly begin to archive them here on my blog from pre-edited copies that I submitted to my editor. The first article I will post here is on the event of the 10-year anniversary of the attack on New York published on 10 September 2011 and the second and third are from articles I had published in January of 2011.

2011-9-10-Weekly Trust-column-Sept 11 10 yrs later

September 2001, ten years later

(published in Weekly Trust on 10 September 2011)

Ten years ago, September 11, 2011, my flat mate and I arose to a crisp, clear-skied Tuesday morning in the New York City borough of Brooklyn and began preparing for the day. I had recently quit my job as an editor at a small children’s book publishing company in order to return on a Fulbright scholarship to Nigeria, where I planned to live in Jos for the year, doing research before applying to PhD programmes. I hoped to spend that Tuesday packing. While my flatmate got ready for work, I made tea and turned on the radio to listen to the news on New York’s National Public Radio (NPR) station. A crisis had begun in Jos on September 7, where both my flatmate and I had gone to school. NPR had begun to cover it in previous days, and we were anxious to hear the news. But when I turned on the radio, all I could hear was static. Strange, I thought, and turned the dial trying to find a signal. I tuned in to a different radio station, where the news was being reported of a plane flying into the World Trade Centre in lower Manhattan. I imagined that it was a freak accident involving a small private plane that held only a few people, like the one JFK Jr. had crashed in two years earlier. But as we ate breakfast, a school friend of ours from Jos now living in the U.S. called, her voice high and worried. “I just saw a plane flying into the World Trade Centre,” she said. “On TV. Are you Ok?” This was the second plane. The story became clearer. Both planes had been commercial flights. Both towers of the World Trade Centre were on fire and seemed to be structurally damaged. The news was unthinkable. Neither of us knew how to process the information. I had been in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics and had visited the Olympic park the day before American domestic terrorist Eric Rudolph set off a bomb there, but this was larger and more frightening than anything I had ever heard of. “Are you sure you should go to work?” I asked my flatmate, as she prepared to walk out the door. “Do you think the subways will be running?” “My meeting is in Brooklyn, not in Manhattan,” she said. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

We were very young, and neither of us had any idea of the world that day was christening us into. As she proceeded to the subway, I quickly dressed and ran down to the pier on the Hudson River only a few blocks from where we lived, which had a clear view of lower Manhattan. In previous columns I have written about standing on the pier with other New Yorkers, mouths agape as we watched hot fire devour the centre of towers, white smoke pouring across the blue sky into Brooklyn. I’ve described how a ripple of smoke ran down the South Tower before we saw it collapse into dust, how I walked numbly away from the water back towards my apartment, through deserted streets, televisions blaring through open windows. By the time I got back home to the radio, the second tower had also fallen. I lay on my bed, hot tears trickling into my ears trying to calling my flatmate, another friend I thought had been in the tower, my aunts and uncles. All networks were busy. My flatmate got home around noon, covered in soot. She had not yet arrived at work when the train stopped. She had walked about 70 city blocks back home through the ash blowing across Brooklyn, holding a paper serviette from a deli across her mouth and nose. Later, we went back out together, down to the pier where I had seen the first tower fall. The sky was clear and blue and the afternoon sun, hot. Where the gleaming silver twin towers had once loomed over the skyline of lower Manhattan, there was nothing but smoke. Suddenly, we heard the sound of planes overhead. My body tensed. There was a no-fly order imposed. There were not supposed to be any planes in the sky. When we looked up, they were fighter planes. It was a symbol of what was to come.

The next few days, we stayed at home and listened to the radio with two other friends who came to stay with us because they didn’t want to be alone. The couple who lived below us in the brownstone house were both newspaper editors, and one day I stayed with their children while they both went in to work. The children asked me why someone would fly planes into the World Trade Centre. I didn’t know what to tell them. “There are crazy people in the world,” I said. “There are bad people.” Around the city, family members posted photos of missing loved ones on subway walls and lamp posts. Small shrines sprung up around them, with candles and ribbons and letters. A bagpipe procession went past our window, as a funeral was held for a fireman at the Catholic church down the street. The Muslim shop owner around the corner from my house put up a gigantic American flag.

Two weeks later I boarded my plane back to Nigeria, on my way to another wounded city, where my parents had hosted a refugee camp at their house, churches and mosques had been burnt, and one of my father’s students had been found murdered, washed up on the banks of a river. It felt, in those days, as if the whole world were on fire.

Ten years later, both countries I call home are harsher more violent places. The U.S. has turned on itself. American extremists lash out against Muslims, who they blame en-masse for the attacks, filling the internet and airwaves with hatred. Al-Jazeera reports that in the past ten years the FBI has “investigated more than 800 violent acts against Muslims, Arab Americans, or people perceived to be of Middle Eastern origin.” The violent rhetoric in the U.S. does not stop at American borders. Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, who killed seventy-seven people in a bomb and a shooting this July, cited American bloggers in his online manifesto. In the countries the U.S. invaded following the 9-11 attack the death toll is much higher, and such actions are used by violent extremists as justification for further violence.

In Nigeria, the entity popularly called Boko Haram has, this year, initiated Nigeria’s first suicide bombs, only a few weeks ago attacking the UN building, which, like the World Trade Centre, represented the existing global system. Ten years after the first large crisis, Jos has become an appalling place. The first few crises may have been instigated by politicians, by “bad, crazy people” as I told my landlord’s children in the wake of 9-11, but is continued through communities seeking revenge. Those who were children at the time of the first crisis have grown up to become murderers, committing atrocities against those with whom they might have been friends had they lived in a different city, but whom they have been taught to despise. Parents and clerics and leaders who should be restraining them, encourage hate, or else refuse to speak because they are afraid their children will turn on them.

One of my favourite writers C.S. Lewis imagines in his novel The Great Divorce, Hell, as a place where people continue for an eternity in the path they decided to follow on earth. Unforgiveness, hatred, and arrogance eat away all their good characteristics till they become shadows, left with nothing but the sins they refuse to give up. Given a chance to go to heaven, most of the ghosts in the novel return voluntarily to hell. In heaven they are unable to hold on to their hatred, and they’d rather live in hell than forgive.

Ten years after the Jos crisis and the 9-11 attacks, I am only left with questions and fear for the future. What are our children learning? What are they becoming? What kind of world will we leave them? Where will we be in another ten years? Are we willing to do the hard thing, forgive those who have killed our loved ones and teach our children peace, or do we want to take revenge after revenge, until we have made for ourselves hell on earth?

2011-1-8-Weekly Trust-column-Anger Revolutionary Love

Anger and the Revolutionary Ideal of Love

(published in Weekly Trust on 8 January 2011)

Nearly ten years ago now, I stood with fifty or sixty other people on a Brooklyn pier looking over the water towards downtown Manhattan, in New York City. It was a crisp September day. The sky was clear and blue, except for the white smoke that streamed over Brooklyn. The iconic twin towers were burning. When the first ripple of smoke travelled down the first tower and it collapsed into dust, I stood with the others gaping. There was a stunned silence. We could hear nothing but the sound of people shouting on megaphones over the water. And then the people around me began to scream. “It’s falling.” “It’s fallen.” “That’s it. He’s going to war,” one man said. “He’s going to war.”

I thought I had just seen a friend die. I walked away, my hands on my head, dry eyed, my mind blank. As I walked back to my apartment, the streets were deserted. I could hear nothing but the sound of television news blaring out of open windows. Two construction workers I had passed on my way down to the water, ran past me. One dropped his helmet. “Leave it. Leave it,” screamed his parter. By the time I reached my apartment, I heard on the radio that the second tower had fallen. I lay on my bed, the sun travelling over me, trying to call my family (all networks were busy), waiting for my roommate to come home.

I lost a friend that day—but not to the towers. The friend who had worked in the world trade centre complex was fine. I lost my friend to anger. “I hope they hunt down who has done this,” I emailed my friend living in distant Midwestern America. “And kill them.” “Why do you want to respond to violence with more violence?” he asked me. “If you couldn’t look them in the eyes and kill them yourself, you shouldn’t say you want them to be killed.” I was furious. What did he know, living far away in an untouched city where he couldn’t smell the smoke, where he couldn’t feel the grit of pulverized buildings and burned bodies floating through the windows and settling on everything like harmattan dust, where he hadn’t suffered the agony of thinking a friend had died, a neighbor had died. His pacifist ideas felt namby-pamby, ideal without experience. How could he preach to me, when he didn’t understand my grief. I wasn’t saying we should go out and kill innocent people. I was saying we should kill terrorists. I never wrote him back. I never spoke to him again.

I flashed back to that day this week on New Year’s Eve, when I heard of the bomb that exploded in Abuja and the rumours of other bombs that turned out not to be true. I can understand now that there may have been more sense to my friend’s words than I gave him credit for. I regret losing a long friendship to anger. In anger, America went into a war they didn’t understand. They geared their action towards stereotypes rather than intelligence, and their actions have caused mass suffering and deaths far beyond what we Americans suffered on September 11.

Yet, although I never supported the war in Iraq, I can understand the anger that made other Americans support it. I do believe that international law should be followed in bringing justice, but I still understand why I reacted so violently to my friends glib pacifism, which did not seem to take seriously the massive suffering caused by those who hijacked planes and brought down towers.

It is true. I am white and the citizen of a superpower. My country has thrown its weight around the world. I can never completely understand the feeling of powerlessness, the feeling that there is nowhere else to go—or the very personal history of oppression. But I do know what it feels like to live in a city under attack, both in New York and in Jos. I have experienced terror attacks in America and lived through multiple crises in Nigeria. I have close friends who are Christians and Muslims in Jos, Kano, Abuja, Kaduna. I have seen the anger on both sides. And I know that it is not my friends, it is not the ordinary people who have committed acts of terror. But it is the ordinary people who suffer when angry people take the law into their own hands. It is the ordinary people whose houses are burnt and brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers and children are killed in the violence of retaliation.

Following my repeated reading of American civil right’s leader Martin Luther King Jr’s 1957 Christmas sermon “Loving Your Enemies” this week, I read excerpts from his book Stride Toward Freedom that describe how he developed his philosophy of nonviolent resistance, from influences as diverse as Marx and Ghandi. He has sometimes been accused of being too peaceful, of being a passive resister, of collaborating too much with the majority in power. Yet, Martin Luther King did not advocate sitting around and letting things happen. He advocated resistance and disobedience to injust laws and to corrupt law enforcers but a resistance that was based in nonviolence and ultimately love—a resistance that helped transform the American justice system and bring change to corrupt and injust policies. In his own words, “True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power, as Niebuhr contends. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it, since the latter only multiplied the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart.” And while King’s fellow civil rights activist Malcom X is often viewed as having more violent solutions to injustice, his turn to Sunni Islam and his trip to Mecca near the end of his life revolutionized his approach. “I was no less angry than I had been,” he told Alex Haley, in their collaboration The Autobiography of Malcom X, “ but at the same time the true brotherhood I had seen in the Holy World had influenced me to recognize that anger can blind human vision” (410). Malcom X anticipated his death, speaking with his brother about martyrs. “If I’m to be one, it will be in the cause of brotherhood” (467).

Both Martin Luther King and Malcom X were assassinated by hateful extremists, and injustice has certainly not completely ended in American society. [UPDATE: In 2015, with the constantly reported killings of young black men at the hands of the police, this becomes particularly clear.] But the peaceful yet passionate forms of protest espoused by both men towards the end of their lives provides a powerful model of how change can be effected. Nigeria is not America. And no outside solution will ever work to bring peace. It must be a peace that come from within. But we can look, as both of these American leaders did, to other models of transformation as examples of ways in which peace can be built, and remember that the deepest ideals can sometimes be the most revolutionary.

2011-1-22-Weekly Trust-column-Sad consequences of hate

The Sad Consequences of Hate

(published in Weekly Trust on 22 January 2011)

In September 2001, my flatmate and I were closely following the events in Jos. We had both grown up in Jos and had moved to New York together after finishing university. Each morning we would turn on New York public radio to listen for coverage of the crisis raging across what we remembered as a peaceful, quiet city. Then, on September 11, two jets slammed into the twin towers in New York, and Jos fell off the international news radar. Although my parents didn’t have a mobile phone in those days, I was able to get through to some other friends in Jos, who had a landline. My parents got word that I was fine when someone came to deliver a bag of garri for the several hundred people camped out in and around their house. They later told me they hadn’t really had time to be worried about me. They had heard the news but figured I wouldn’t have been in the World Trade Centre. In the meantime, there was gunfire on the streets of Jos and hundreds of refugees to find food for.

As New York draped itself in American flags, distraught family members plastered photos of their missing loved ones on subway walls. All over the city, candles were lit in little makeshift shrines to the dead. Two weeks after September 11, I left New York to fly to Jos. My trip back had been planned for almost half a year. I had quit my job in anticipation of spending a year in Jos, and now I was flying from one city in mourning to another. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay in New York and heal with the city. But I thought that if I let the attacks change my plans, I would be giving in to the terrorists. So, half in defiance, half because I’d already quit my job, I travelled back to my other home where people went about with haunted eyes, trading stories of where they had been, what they had seen during the crisis. “Happy Survival,” they said. It was an apt greeting for the time.

Those first few months back in Jos, I’d spend hours watching CNN, wincing at the endless replays of the jets slamming into silver buildings, eagerly following the cleanup in New York, listening to stories of the families of those who had been killed in the planes and the towers. A few months after I had settled, the cultural affairs section of the US embassy brought an exhibit to the University of Jos of “Ground Zero” photos taken by a New Yorker photographer—beautiful abstracts of fallen beams, of light rays defined by dust, and portraits of firemen and clean-up workers at the site where the towers had collapsed. I was hungry for images of New York, but as I walked through the rows of photos, I was struck by how the other people around me shook their heads at photos of smoke and ash and weeping people. “This is terrible, this is terrible,” they said. I felt a sense of vertigo. The same people who had just lived through nearly a week of war, of smoke on the horizon and shootings in the streets, the same people who had neighbors gone missing, never to be seen again, these same people were shaking their heads in sympathy for the tragedy in America.

Yet what did America know about what had happened in Jos. CNN was not covering it then. There were no international exhibits of photography travelling around to educate the globe on the thousands of deaths Jos had suffered. In that moment, my world shifted further on its axis. I still grieved New York. But now I wanted to collect the stories of those not constantly on global television, make heard the voices buried under the loud mourning of my homeland.

Sadly, almost ten years later, Jos does rise to the top of African headlines. The shock that a peaceful city would erupt into violence is no longer there. News coming out of the Jos is increasingly more horrifying. “God forbid,” wrote one of my Hausa actor friends on Facebook, when someone invited him to shoot a film in Jos, the home of the National Film Corporation, the National Film Institute and once a booming centre of Hausa films. Jos is now one of the Nigerian cities most likely to make international headlines for violence.

Living in Nigeria with emotional investments both here and in the United States, I continue to recognize eerie parallels between my two homes. The first week of 2011, there was an upsurge of violence in Jos between rival factions, after a car-load of people returning from a wedding party were killed and a bus passing through Jos from Lagos to Yola was burnt. The second week of 2011, a gunman in Tucson, Arizona, shot American Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and eighteen others. Following the shooting, there was the kind of partisan bickering and casting of blame that has become usual in American public discourse. But whether the kind of violent metaphors and imagery used by “teaparty” political agitators against their political rivals had anything to do with the motivations behind the shootings or not, the rhetoric of hatred that is used regularly in American political discourse contributes to a general atmosphere of dehumanizing “the Other.” The consequences of such hateful rhetoric are seen even more tragically in Jos, where people seem to be killed on an almost weekly basis.

There is a long history of how dehumanizing rhetoric is used to justify violence. In the United States, Americans excused their enslavement and brutal treatment of Africans and their descendents by reasoning that they were not actually human beings. In the genocide in Turkey against the Armenians at the beginning of the 20th century, Armenians were called dogs and swine. In Nazi Germany as death camps were set up, propagandists repeated the old poisonous libel used during pogroms throughout the centuries that Jews drank the blood of Christian babies. In Rwanda the Tutsi were called cockroaches as they were being slaughtered.

I am, thus, horrified and apprehensive when I hear similar kinds of dehumanizing rhetoric in America or Nigeria. In America, extremist members of the conservative “teaparty” movement question the citizenship of President Obama, and make calls to “take America back.” Members of Congress have been called by racial epithets, spat on, had doors and windows of their offices smashed in, and had their home addresses published by opposition parties. In Nigeria, I’ve heard Beroms called “arna” and “blood-thirsty savages.” I’ve seen Fulanis called “dirty/stinking”, “hoards” and “marauders.” I’ve seen calls urging “indigenes” to “drive away the settler,” with violence if necessary. Such rhetoric is followed by attacks, which while also seemingly political in origin, take an even more dramatic toll on ordinary people. Hundreds of people in Plateau State have been killed in the past year, thousands in the past ten.

Right before sending in this article, I received an email telling how two nephews of a Muslim friend “were killed in Anguwan Rukuba. They were machine drivers. The wife of the one killed got a cell phone call. ‘They have me, they’re about to kill me.’ Somebody in the background said, ‘tell them Anguwan Rukuba.’ His people went with soldiers the next day and found the bodies.”

Those in both countries I hold dear would do well to take heed to the warning Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords made in March 2010 after her office was vandalized. In a chilling anticipation of the attack in January 2011, where she would be shot in the head, she said: “The rhetoric is incredibly heated. Not just the calls, but the emails, the slurs.[…]I think it’s important for […] community leaders, figures in our community to say, ‘Look, we can’t stand for this.’ […] For example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, the way she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gunsight over our district. And when people do that, they’ve gotta realize there’s consequences to that action.”

Advertisements

Global Reach?

Several times I have proposed keeping up with the blog by posting photos from my vast archive and writing a quick memory of the context behind the photograph, and today I intend to start that–begin the rhythm of a new blog posting schedule.

I went into my photos folder and picked a date at random. And this is the first photo that came up.

IMG_1681

Taken on 26 February 2012 after the Boko Haram bomb at COCIN Headquarters church in Jos, Nigeria (c) Carmen McCain, all rights reserved

The date: 26 February 2012

The photo: A bank flier amidst broken glass from a Boko Haram bomb at COCIN Headquarters church. I had been living in Jos at the time, while writing my dissertation, and the church was only a block and a half from my house. It was around 7:15am. I was lying in bed, procrastinating getting up, when suddenly an ear-splitting BOOM came, shaking the house. I lept out of bed, tangling in the mosquito netting. I couldn’t find my keys to run out of the front door, so I ran out the side door. In the sky were thousands of bats.

The closed windows in my neighbour’s houses had shattered. We all sat on the ground in a neighbour’s house, listening to the shouting outside the wall. Later that afternoon, when tensions cooled, I walked over to the church to take a few photos. I later wrote about the experience in more detail.

With the recent attacks on mosques in Jos and Kano, church in Potiskum, and during a biometric verification exercise for state workers in Zaria, it felt like a the right photograph to post today, expressive of multiple ironies. It expresses the uncertainty that we continue to face about the “global reach” of terror, in a time when ISIS, Al Shabaab, and Boko Haram often seem to work in conjunction (and in a time when more stories of terror against minority populations in the U.S. and Europe are being heard); the tensions of Nigeria’s economic expansion and attempts to join marketplaces of global capital in a time of Boko Haram. And so on.

Hopefully, my next photo will be a little more cheerful.

On the eve of the election: Podcast with Ade Torrent on blogging from Nigeria

PDP poster shoved through bus windows, 25 March 2014. (c) Carmen McCain

PDP poster shoved through bus windows, 25 March 2014. (c) Carmen McCain

Two days ago, while returning in a university bus from the institution in one of the western states of Nigeria where I teach, we ran into a PDP rally. The people danced and shouted, pounded on the bus and pushed posters of Jonathan and Sambo through the windows.  I smoothed the crumples and put it in my bag–a souvenir of this time. I was relieved when we left the mob behind us.

When I got home, there was no light. There had been no light for five days. I tried to turn on my stove to cook supper, and there was no gas–a leak somewhere.  I ate cornflakes, which I keep on hand for times like this, and went to bed. The next morning, waiting for someone to come fix the gas leak, I washed clothes on the front steps. There was a moment, when black smoke billowed up and then drifted across the sky, that I had that familiar clenched feeling in my stomach–gut memories of Jos, Kano. Black smoke on the horizon and the grumble of distant shouting.

They have started, I thought, (as I had thought when I heard gunshots in Benin after an election.) But the smoke drifted away and dissipated. The sky was blue again.

On the eve of the election. March 27, 2015.

On the eve of the election. March 27, 2015. (c) Carmen McCain

On the eve of the election. 27 March 2015. (c) Carmen McCain

On the eve of the election. 27 March 2015. (c) Carmen McCain

Since yesterday evening, there has been light, on and off. More than I have had in the two weeks I have lived in this compound. I hope it lasts through the election. I finally have enough battery time to go online and read the most recent  articles about Boko Haram and the people who have escaped from them. [Al Jazeera (whose journalists in Maiduguri have most recently been confined to their hotel rooms) has a particularly horrifying series about women who have escaped  forced marriages in Boko Haram camps and the huge number of orphans who have been left behind.]

Boko Haram propaganda video playing on the phone of an IDP I interviewed. (c) Carmen McCain

Boko Haram propaganda video playing on the phone of an IDP I interviewed. (c) Carmen McCain

I finally have enough NEPA to turn on AIT, the only station I get with my jerryrigged wire that works as an antenna, and see all the election adverts. A jovial president and bright-faced young people celebrating all that he has done while in office. The occasional beleaguered advert from the opposition.

Nigeria 2015 campaign, February 2015

Nigeria 2015 campaign, February 2015 (c) Carmen McCain

A friend tells me over the phone that he is watching  a documentary on Buhari’s VP running mate, Osinbajo, on Silverbird Dream network, when suddenly it goes blank with only a station logo on it. It stays that way for about 10 minutes before coming back on again. I think of the night in February when elections were postponed. How immediately after Jega’s announcement, PDP adverts played on the state television network NTA.  The president laughing. The president running on a treadmill, the president and his wife singing with Nigerians of every tribe and people about  “Mama Peace.”  Shiny happy people holding hands and celebrating the anticipated return of The President.

This morning, I also have enough NEPA to finish a blog post I started several days ago.

Last month, while briefly in the U.S. to take care of getting my STR visa, so that I could make a more permanent move to Nigeria, I recorded a podcast with London-based blogger Ade Torrent, for his series of podcasts on his website GidiBusiness.

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 11.34.22 AM

Ade had asked me months ago if we could do a podcast, but when we tried it while I was in Nigeria, Skype cut off about every 10 seconds. So, it was not until I visited the U.S.  and had steady enough light and electricity to have a 30-ish minute chat without being interrupted, that we were able to record the podcast about blogging from Nigeria.

I returned to Nigeria at the beginning of March to begin a job at a lecturer in a part of the country I have never lived before. Since my arrival, I have struggled with even more severe problems than I discussed in the podcast. Today is one of the first days we have had more than a few hours of light. Thus, the delay in posting this.

I’ve never done a podcast before, but I had a lot of fun with this one. We talked about lack of light and solar options (I am still working on that), balky internet, blogs and search terms for Hausa porn (the most common search term I have gotten in my 5+ years on this blog has been “hausa films blue films” followed not far after by “kannywood sex”) that draw people to my site (to be oh so amusingly thwarted), my research on the Hausa film industry, and what I am doing these days. And the inspiration I have gained from other Nigerian bloggers like Abidemi Sanusi, Teju Cole, Nkem Ifejika, Chikodili Emelumadu, Ainehi Edoro, Nura Abubakar, and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim.

The postcast is here, and while you are at it,  check out his latest podcast with voiceover artist, Sanjo Ogunseye. It’s a really great listen. Ade also has many other sites:  GidiBusiness, a YouTube channel, Google+,  Twitter, Pinterest, a personal website and more. My personal favourites are his photoblog, A Torrent of Photos, which record his wanderings with his camera, and his YouTube channel A Torrent of Videos, where he vlogs while wandering around London and beyond, camera rolling.

Ade Torrent (c) Ade Torrent

The light has gone again. And I need to go reload my internet credit, so that I don’t run out over the election weekend.

Let me end with a text message I just got from a pastor in Jos:

The hour has come 4Nigerians 2decide 2morrow.Dworld waits. Let us all join hands n hearts 2PRAY 4PEACE 2Reign as we vote n that God?s will be done. Prayer works n it is not an escape route. God Rules n Reigns. Not D riggers, the merchants of death, the sycophants, the false prophets, the merchants of corruption n those who plot Nigeria?s break-up if they lose, but GOD.It is He who has the final SAY. Let us UNITE 4PEACE nDnation?s survival.Vote Wisely.

Diary of a trip to four Nigerian cities

I apologize again for the long absence from this blog. I was not going to allow myself to post again until I handed in a chapter of my dissertation. However, this morning when I opened up the Weekly Trust and saw nearly two paragraphs missing from my column, leaving an abrupt transition that made no sense, I decided I needed to get the corrected version out there. It seems that a photo was accidentally pasted over the missing portion during layout, as the online version has the missing pieces. At any rate, here is my column as submitted this week. If you read the hard copy and are looking for the missing paragraph, I have put the missing portion in bold print. I have made my own little editorial decision here in deciding to leave out the conclusion, which I think, on second thought, was a little too much. If you want to read it, just read the article on the Weekly Trust site:

Diary of a trip to four Nigerian Cities

About three weeks ago, I was invited to the set of an Andy Amenechi film in Benin City. Friday, 7 July, I ride through Riyom in Plateau State on the way to Abuja. I make it in time for an Abuja Literary Society poetry slam at the Transcorp Hilton. Poets from Lagos, Jos, Abuja perform pieces on politics, love, Nigeria. The atmosphere is exuberant. Jeremiah Gyang plays his guitar and sings, “Take me higher. You’re the reason why I sing this song. My heart is on fire. It’s the reason why I sing this song.” Everyone sings along.

The next day, Saturday, I fly to Benin City. The same day, gunmen invade Riyom, killing over eighty people, including women and children who had run into a pastor’s house for refuge. My internet is down. I do not hear about it until the next day when I get a text from Jos. By that time, there is another attack. Over twenty more people are killed at a mass funeral, including two politicians.

Benin City, in the sealed off world of a Nollywood film set, feels like a different country. Crew members from Lagos, Cross River, Imo, Edo, Plateau set up each scene, joking, sometimes yelling. Boko Haram is discussed in a theoretical way. The story we act out is set in the 1960s, in the years following independence, before Biafra, when everything is new and the years ahead full of promise.

Although my internet eventually comes back, it is too slow to do too much. I begin to spend less time online, living in the blank space of the project, waiting for the director’s instruction. The story unfolds in multiple takes, out of chronological order, a puzzle that will be pieced together later by an editor. In downtime, off set, I study the script. When that grows tiresome, I read novels, Mukoma wa Ngugi’s cross-continental crime thriller Nairobi Heat; Eghosa Imasuen’s Fine Boys, a bildungsroman of a young man’s university days in Benin; Biyi Bandele’s World War II historical novel Burma Boy; then academic books and papers that send me to sleep.

Saturday, 14 July, during the Edo state gubernatorial elections, we work through the day inside a walled compound. Early Sunday morning, I wake to shouting, sirens, and continuous machine gunfire. My stomach clenches. The election has turned violent, I think. But when I throw on a gown and go outside to ask people what is happening, they greet me with grins. “It’s celebration,” they tell me. “Oshiomole has won by a landslide.” I return to my room and turn on the TV. Onscreen, people dance in the streets. The mood is festive. Everyone I speak to is happy. They tell me Governor Oshiomole has built roads and schools, has fought corruption. Throughout the next few days, I hear the crack of gunfire, see fountains of fireworks through the trees. In the streets of the city, Oshiomole’s likeness peers down from billboards, speeds past on the sides of cars. I am glad that democracy seems to be working in Edo State, but I grimace every time I hear the guns. “If this were Jos or Kano,” I say, “that sound would mean people were dying.”

I call Jos frequently. Friends sit through the curfew getting their news online too. I read that over 5,500 people are affected when the residents of five [the link says twenty-five] Plateau villages are temporarily moved during a security exercise. I feel so far away. I cannot write.

Friday, 20 July, the first day of Ramadan, I board a bus for Lagos. At a construction diversion on the road, we sit in a go-slow for hours. Beside us, the mobile police, in body armour, wave their guns in the air. I shrink away from the window. I feel a scream rising in my throat when the mobile police race off and our driver follows, speeding behind them. I imagine armed robbers roaming the kilometers of trapped cars, us caught in the middle. I remember people in Kano killed by stray bullets at checkpoints.

My fears are unfounded. Following the mobile police advances us hours ahead in the hold-up, and we make it to Lagos by nightfall. The next few days, I relax in Victoria Island, in 24-hour air-conditioning, with a view of the water. Boats and jet-skis speed past. At a fish park overlooking the lagoon, I speak Hausa with the young man making suya. At a party in Lekki, I chat with an expatriate couple. I mention to the husband that I had grown up in Jos. “Oh, that must be a nice peaceful place to live,” he says. I laugh. “Not so much,” I say, thinking he is joking. He stares at me, confused. A little later, I speak to his wife, again mentioning Jos. “Is that on the Mainland?” she asks.

That night we stop by a mall in Victoria Island, decorated by a huge poster of a blonde model. Fashionable young girls with perfect make-up and young men in tight Prada shirts walk past me.  As I wander into a Woolworths full of imported clothing, Fela chants over the loudspeaker: “Suffer suffer for world, Enjoy for heaven.” We eat ice-cream at the KFC. I can’t get Fela’s voice out of my head.

It is that night that I start getting sick. I think it is all the air conditioning. I jump whenever I hear a door slam or a car backfire.

Tuesday, sniffling and coughing into rolls of tissue paper, I go to MMI airport. On the TV in the waiting area, a pale Michael Jackson writhes to “Thriller,” with a host of masked creatures dancing behind him. Beyond death, he wails his haunting “Earth Song”: “What have we done to the world? Look what we’ve done./ What about all the peace that you pledged your only son?/ What about flowering fields? Is there a time?/ What about all the dreams that you said was yours and mine?/ Did you ever stop to notice all the children, dead from war?/ Did you ever stop to notice this crying earth, this weeping shore?” With his keening moan echoing in my ears, I board an Arik flight to Jos and Kano.

As we fly over the Plateau, emergency rule now lifted, I peer down through the gauzy clouds. It is green and peaceful, little patches of farms and rocky mountain tops. I wonder if there are militants hiding there in the hills—whether we might be able to see them from up here in the sky. After we land, we walk across the tarmac past a military lineup and rows of black jeeps. I turn around and look at the license plate. It says “Senator.” An airport employee tells me that Senate President David Mark and a delegation of the National Assembly has just departed after attending the funerals for Senator Gyang Dantong and majority leader of the Plateau State assembly Gyang Fulani both killed in the attacks over two weeks before. Exiting the airport, we drive through misty green hills. It is cold outside, but inside the car, with the windows rolled up, it is cozy. Farmers carry home buckets of produce on their heads. The clouds are dark overhead. The 5 o’clock news on the radio recaps the politicians’ funerals and the recent floods in Jos. “Do not throw your rubbish in the drainage ditches,” the woman appeals. “Water no get enemy. But when it has nowhere to go….” When I read the figures later, it says the floods have killed over forty people, dozens more are missing. There is fear of a cholera break out. A disaster born of rubbish.

I sleep, I cough, I wake, exercise, drink tea. Outside rain drips on leaves that have grown up to the windows. Vines wrap around roses, stifling the flowers as they climb towards the sky.

The Strange Poisonous Fruit of Hate: South Africa, Nigeria, and the world

Here is last week’s column, “The Strange Poisonous Fruit of Hate.” I wrote it in a very scattered state of mind. At times, there was gunfire in the background which punctuated my own emotional turmoil. I’m afraid my attention span manifests itself in the piece, which jumps around a bit, but which perhaps gives a feeling of Jos following the St. Finbarr’s Catholic church bombing in Rayfield and the tragic ‘reprisal’ attacks that followed–as well as my increasing horror at the hatred I see creeping out on little cockroach feet to infest the world.

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (left) with his publisher at Parresia, Richard Ali (right). A friend is in the background. (c)CM

I had been planning to write a piece on my personal boycott of South Africa, following the  deportation of around 150 Nigerians (125 initially and more thereafter) from the Johannesburg airport for supposed irregular yellow card certificates. I had spent the week before agonizing with my friends Elnathan John, a blogger with Daily Times whose most recent short story has been published in ZAM Magazine, and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, the literary editor for Sunday Trust whose collection of short stories The Whispering Trees is forthcoming from Parresia Press. (For a taste of their work, see Abubakar’s story “Closure” and Elnathan’s story “Your Man” both published in Sentinel Nigeria, edited by Richard Ali.) Elnathan and Abubakar had been two of the twelve African writers invited for the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing workshop to be held in South Africa this year. (The Caine Prize for African short stories is sometimes called the African Booker, and luminaries like Helon Habila and Binyavanga Wainaina have been among the recipients of the prize.)

Elnathan John in Abuja. (c) CM

Elnathan had applied for his visa over a month earlier but, because of a technicality regarding a deadline he was not told about for paying a N110,000 ‘repatriation fee’ that South Africa requires many Nigerians to pay before granting them visas, his visa was delayed until 3 days after he had supposed to travel the trip had to be cancelled.  Abubakar was able to get the visa in time but when he got to Johannesburg was told that his yellow fever certificate (which he had gotten following an inoculation in the Abuja Airport port health office) did not have the manufacturer’s batch number, and he was sent back to Lagos.  (Abubakar describes his travails in this article in Sunday Trust). Ironically, the day Abubakar was sent back, Elnathan got a call from the visa office saying that he should come pay the N110,000 visa fee. (He declined.)

Following this outrage, I determined to boycott South Africa. South Africa businesses make billions of naira in Nigeria (the largest market in Africa for South African businesses like MTN and DSTV), yet they continue to treat Nigerians with disrespect. In 2005, Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, incidentally one of the patrons of the Caine Prize,was held at the airport for over nine hours. (see here and here).

My Boycott: My phone had been slowly dying for about a year (and I had been stubbornly putting up with it.) But upon my resolve to boycott South African businesses, I took the opportunity to buy a new two-sim card phone and along with it a new glo line to gradually replace my MTN line. I also recently switched over from MTN internet to Glo (a Nigerian company), which gives more bandwidth and is cheaper. So far, I have been very pleased. Although the Thursday (8 March) after the deportations, South Africa’s foreign minister came out with a humble apology, later followed by an apology from South African President Zuma himself, the apology was too late for both Elnathan and Abubakar who missed the Caine workshop. Neither does South Africa seem to have any plans to compensate the nearly 150 visitors who were sent back to Nigeria by over-zealous immigration officials. Although I have long been invested in an “Africa without Borders” and while I am pleased with the apologies from the South African government over the diplomatic incident, I think this is an appropriate time to challenge the hegemony of  South Africa’s businesses on the continent.

As I was writing my column, I was struggling with a bit of cognitive dissonance over my belligerence to South Africa vs my plea for peace in Nigeria. I didn’t get into that in the column, but I think I can settle my internal inconsistencies by thinking about inequitable power structures. Diplomatic relations between two sovereign nations are quite a different matter than people taking justice into their own hands.

As usual, to read my column, you can click on the photo below to be taken to a readable version of the original, or you can scroll down below the photo to read it on my blog (with lots of links added).

The strange, poisonous fruit of hate

 Written by Carmen McCain Saturday, 17 March 2012 05:00

 It’s a little before midnight on Monday, the day after the bombing at St. Finbar’s Catholic church in Jos. There was automatic gunfire a few hours earlier and I am having trouble concentrating on anything. I turn on the TV and Centurion is on. It is a film about a group of Roman soldiers fleeing a band of indigenous warrior Celts in ancient Britain. The movie is violent. Arrows thunk into the chests of soldiers. One Roman soldier betrays another, stabbing him so that he becomes bait for the wolves pursuing them, while the other man escapes. During an interlude, I hear, in my own world of Jos 2012, what sounds like the shouts of spectators at a football match. I know it is not football. I turn down the volume on the TV to listen. Onscreen, Romans soundlessly slam Celt faces into log walls. Celts stab spears through Roman bellies. Outside I can hear the rumble of an angry mob, then gunfire.

This week I had planned to write about xenophobia in South Africa. About how two of my friends, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim and Elnathan John were unable to attend the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing workshop that was to hold from March 5 to 15. Elnathan’s visa, for which he had applied at the beginning of February, was delayed until the travel date passed. Abubakar got the visa on time but was turned back at the Johannesburg airport because the immigration officials claimed he didn’t have the manufacturer’s number on his yellow fever certificate—even though he had been inoculated and received the certificate from the port authority in the Abuja airport. I spent the week furious at South Africa, which makes billions of naira in Nigeria from businesses like MTN and DSTV, and from Nigerian films on the Africa Magic channels, yet still treats Nigerians with such disrespect. South Africa eventually apologized for deporting around 150 Nigerians over the yellow fever issue. It was an appropriate gesture, but the apology came too late for my friends to represent Nigeria at the Caine workshop. I went ahead and bought a new phone SIM card from a Nigerian company and made it my main line. My ideal is an Africa without borders, but following South Africa’s display of contempt, I prefer to support Nigerian businesses.

Now Tuesday, it is still hard to concentrate. I read Internet news all day long. Hatred hangs in the air, a suffocating grey smog creeping along the earth. It is pathological, infectious. In South Africa, the poisonous structures of apartheid have been internalized and then erupt into violence. Xenophobic riots in May 2008 killed 62. Last week the hatred showed a more refined face, a more polite aggression. Uniformed immigration officials smiled cold professional smiles, while expelling Nigerians from their country.

But it is in Nigeria too. The hate. Writing in the Daily Times, Ademola Thomas Olanrewaju points out that Nigerians discriminate against each other much the same way South Africans discriminated against them. He cites how Fashola ‘deported beggars to their respective states’—how states all over Nigeria discriminate against so-called non-indigenes. Much of the violence in the country grows out of notions that people should stay in the land of their great grandfather’s origin or else live as second class citizens. This hatred also seems to be one of the factors behind the violence of Boko Haram, who have spoken about their plans to drive Christians, even those who are indigenes, out of the north and who tolerate no one except those who share their own purist ideals. Those claiming to be Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad raze schools, shoot up mosques, bomb churches, police stations, soldier barracks, the UN headquarters. [A partial UN list of attacks up to 20 January 2012 here.] Leadership reported the story of a former member of Boko Haram who attempted to flee the sect in Maiduguri by running to Kaduna with his fiancée only to be found by them in Kaduna and carted away to unknown tortures.

In her classic science fiction novel A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle writes of our planet as being covered by a dark shadow of evil. The shadow feeds on hatred. It covers the globe and is lodged like shrapnel in every human. After the bombs went off at the COCIN church in Jos two weeks ago and then at St. Finbar’s Catholic church last Sunday, cyclical revenge violence killed nearly as many innocent people as the bombs had. In my own country of origin, the United States, politics has become a cynical game of pitting those who claim purist American and Christian ideals against everyone else. The toxins enter the soil, and strange fruits grow out. The Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik praised anti-Islamic American bloggers Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and others in the Internet manifesto he wrote before he killed 77 people. Since Breivik’s bombing and shooting, other bloggers have praised this self-confesssed killer as a patriot. [See for example, this one] In America’s war of revenge after 9-11, the poison entered the armed forces as it does in most wars, driving soldiers mad. Out of a jingoistic military culture grew the American torture in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Most recently an American soldier in Afghanistan went berserk, going out in the middle of the night to slaughter 17 Afghan civilians asleep in their homes.

Violence feeds violence. Hatred feeds hatred. Living in a violent environment, we are all traumatized. We feel helpless. Striking out against those perceived to be on the ‘other side’ seems to be the only thing we can do. Our first reactions are those of mistrust. But the only way out of this is to reach across boundaries to those who are as hurt and confused as we are—refusing to demonize the ‘other’. In the midst of all of the bad news, my father forwarded me some encouraging stories. On March 12, the Kaduna youth wing of the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Northern Youth Muslim Forum met to pray together and break the Christian Lent fast together. According to Leadership, the CAN youth chairman Diji Obadiah Haruna said that the breaking of Lent fast with Muslims was continuing a tradition that had been halted by crisis: “Our quest to bring back the true spirit of togetherness has given birth to an association that will foster unity between Muslim and Christian faithful […] Love is the key […] The more you plan for progress, definitely, the more some obstacles will come your way. But I believe we will conquer those evils that do not wish us well.” Likewise, the National President of the African Youths for Conflict Resolution, who led the Muslim delegation, Dr. Suleiman Shu’aibu Shinkafi said, “I urge us all to respect each other’s religion and to stop the incessant killings and bombings or any act of terrorism against each other through whatever name that both Christian and Muslim doctrine has disowned. ‘We pray that God will expose those who want to see us apart and may God continue to join us together in his glory and mercy.’”

The actions of Christian and Muslim youth in Kaduna offer a glimmer of hope in troubled times. But beyond formal meetings, we need to rebuild those informal friendships across faith and ethnic boundaries that are often interrupted in times of crisis. It is in these personal relationships that we recognize that the ‘other’, so easily labeled as an enemy, is actually a brother or sister. It is only by this sort of unity that we will be able to rebuild Nigeria, Africa, and the world.

The Darkness only Love can Drive out: the COCIN church bombing, Jos, on 26 February 2012

A COCIN church newsletter on the ground outside the church gates after the bomb blast. (c)CM

 

(This is written 19 March 2012 but time-stamped earlier for blog organization purposes)As I describe in my Weekly Trust column

Onlookers at the COCIN headquarters church the evening after the bombing. (c)CM

below, I was not far from the bomb blast at the COCIN headquarters Church on 26 February 2012, the first suicide bombing in Jos. (Since then, there has been another suicide bomb on March 11, at St. Finbarr’s Catholic Church in Rayfield) It literally shook me out of bed at around 7:15am. Later in the day after things had calmed down a bit, I went to the church and took a few photos. You can access the album, here. I had not planned to actually go into the compound so I went with a zoom lens that made it difficult to get much perspective once I did end up going into the church compound. This, as I wrote on Facebook that evening, is what I saw and some of the rumours I heard that day (some of them false–for example–tragically one of the men misidentified as a bomber and beaten to death was actually a church member):

Ok, before I go climb into my bed, an update. Jos is calm and quiet. I was able to pay a brief visit to the COCIN church this evening, and this is what I saw: lots of people in the compound taking a look. First, the initial description someone gave on Al-Jazeera this morning was incorrect. The bomber did not drive into the church towards the pulpit. The car entered the compound with three men in the car (how exactly he entered is still murky to me as I’ve heard different versions from people who were at the church shortly before the blasts). Somehow two of the men got out of the car and the driver sped towards the church building. Apparently the car detonated a few metres from the back of the church […]I saw the crater where the car exploded, which had filled up with scattered church bulletins. The damage is not as dramatic as you would expect from the kind of sound that came out of the explosion. The church is currently under construction with wooden scaffolding all around it, so it is hard to tell the extent of the damage, but what I saw seemed to be a crack in the wall in the back, and a small portion that was blown off, which might perhaps cause structural problems. No part of the church, however, was collapsing. Neither did any of the pews in the church seem to have been burnt or displaced, though they were covered in dust from the explosion. The most notable things were the parts from the suicide bombers car that were scattered all over the

One of the wheels of the car carrying the suicide bomber. (c)CM

compound. There was a tire lodged into the back pew of the church. There was an engine somewhere else and another tire that went around the side, the fusilage elsewhere. There was what looked like an orange plastic water tank that seemed to have been torn apart. Apparently earlier in the day, the bombers body parts were also strewn around, but fortunately, I did not see that. The other notable thing was that windows as far as a 2-3 blocks away were blown out. All of the cars in the parking lot outside of the church had their windows blown out and a few of the ones closest to the church were blackened and a little melted from the blast. The windows in the 4-5 story COCIN headquarters office building were mostly blown out. There was shattered glass everywhere.[…] As far as casualties, I’m not sure, but what I heard earlier in the day was that 3 church members died on the spot, and 3 more died in the hospital later. There could be more, but I don’t have any way to verify that.

It took me until the next Sunday to walk around in the neighborhood near the church and realize the extent of damage that had been done in reprisal violence. The fruit sellers in front of the First Bank down the street from the church told me that they heard the blast and saw the dust cloud. When the mob ran down the street, they ran away, and the mob burnt or looted all their merchandise. The mob also burnt a Muslim owned restaurant and other shops in the area. I went to give my condolences to the men selling spare parts across from the Mobile station in that area, and he told me that the morning of the bomb they had been at the house down the street where some Muslim women have a business selling masa and miya every morning in front of their house, waiting for the ladies to finish frying the masa for breakfast. When the bomb went off, a mob came and they all ran away. Not only did the mob burn all the businesses around but they also burned down the house of the women who sold the masa and miya every morning. I had bought food from them before, and I knew most of the Hausa business people in the area. This I think is when the devastation really hit home to me–the bomb was bad enough, but then the human desire for retaliation resulted in far more innocent people suffering.

Before reading my article “The Darkness only Love can Drive out” (to read the hard copy click on the photo below, or scroll down for a blog version with links), if you are interested in reading the stories of some of the other victims, here is the sad story of Hajara, who fled Boko Haram in Yobe only to be killed in the Jos COCIN church bombing, and Grace, a Sunday School teacher. Her family tell of how she was born prematurely and they see the years they had with her as God’s blessing.

The darkness only love can drive out

Written by Carmen McCain Saturday, 03 March 2012 05:00

 I was in Jos and staying with friends in town. Sunday morning, I had been hitting snooze on my phone alarm for an hour. At around 7:15am, I was just about to get out of bed to prepare for church, when it happened. The gritty boom that made the house shake.  “JESUS,” I shrieked in a brief instinctual prayer, and leapt out of bed, swatting at the mosquito net that tangled around me.

I had heard the bombs at the football viewing centres in December. They had an echoing, reverberating sound. This was more immediate. It sounded like rocks and metal crunching. When I stepped into the hallway, grit from the ceiling had fallen down over everything. Outside, thousands of bats were in the sky. The morning sun was bright.

Of course, we knew exactly what it was, when the sound shook the house. In those few seconds it took me to untangle myself from the mosquito netting, I knew it was a bomb, and that it was at one of the churches somewhere nearby.

When the bombs and the gun battles were exploding in in Kano, Bauchi, Yobe, Borno, Kaduna, and Gombe, Jos had remained unnaturally calm. In January, refugees from Yobe had fled to Jos. I joked that the city had temporarily gone back to being the ‘home of peace and tourism’. Of course we had known it was only a matter of time.

In the house we prayed and read the Psalms. My mother kept calling. A Nigerian friend called from the UK. As my shakiness subsided, I drank tea, sent text messages, went online to check for news.

Around 9:30am I began to smell smoke. Strange, I thought, that I hadn’t smelled it before when the bomb had gone off. Outside, there were sirens, and the sounds of shouting, punctuated with silence. A friend, who usually attends the 9am service at COCIN headquarters, had gone to the church shortly after it happened. She came back repeating what she had heard, that there had been several people in the car, that they were in military uniforms, that one of them had died in the bomb and one had been beaten to death by the angry crowd. That she had heard at least two church members were killed, one of them a female usher. The smoke we were smelling was not from the church. It was from nearby shops that a mob of youth had begun burning. A doctor from Plateau Hospital came by. He confirmed that three church members had died. Others had been taken to Plateau Hospital. Many had ear injuries. He said that achaba drivers were being attacked. One woman with a machete wound to her head said they had seen the mob coming. They achaba driver had tried to turn around, but he hadn’t been fast enough. She survived. He hadn’t.

That evening, when things had calmed down, I went to the church to see the damage for myself . There were over a hundred onlookers milling about. The church, which had been under construction, was still surrounded by wooden scaffolding. There was a long crack down the backside of the church and a section of blocks that looked as if they had been blown off. There was a crater in the ground a few metres away from the building where they told me the car had exploded. It had filled up with the church bulletins that were scattered all over the compound. All of the cars in the car park were damaged with shattered windows, and drooping frames. Those closest to the building were blackened and pocked, with door handles blown off.

Windows of cars smashed by the impact of the blast (c)CM

Shards hung in the windows in the office building behind the church. The impact of the bomb had smashed windows as far as three blocks away.

Windows smashed out in office building behind church (c)CM

Most striking were the car parts that were scattered everywhere. There was a tire nestled against the last dusty pew in the church. Another tire lay outside towards the side of the building. The engine was a few metres away. When I came out of the compound, friendly police wanted to see my photos. They asked me if I had seen the body parts. I said no. That was something I didn’t want to see.

A few days later, more information has come out. The death toll still seems ambiguous, but it seems that at least five church members were killed, fifty others wounded, and three or four other people killed in mob violence.

Of course, Jos came out of this particular attack better off than some places have. The Madalla bombing killed around thirty-five. In Kano, the multiple bomb blasts killed nearly two hundred and the fighting continued off and on even to last week. The Friday before, five people had been killed in an attack on a Kano mosque. Later bombs went off in Gombe. There were other attacks in a village in Kaduna on Sunday.

I am of course devastated by what happened in Jos—that innocent people who rose early in the morning to worship God were killed. It is something every Christian in the north now faces when we go to church. But equally horrifying are the reports of mob violence against innocent young men on okadas just trying to make money to feed their families, the smoke that came not from the bomb at the church but from the Hausa businesses a block away which the mob burned. And then there is the devastating story that the man the angry crowd beat to death that morning was actually a church member who had been misidentified. As another friend pointed out, because so many have escaped from prison, people feel the need for immediate justice. But that was not justice. The story sickens me.

Boko Haram, who has claimed responsibility for the COCIN church bombing and much of the other violence in the north, attack Christians and Muslims alike. The church attacks make the most news, but the Kano mosque attack on 24 February follows other attacks on mosques and Muslim religious leaders in Borno. [This UN publication, published 20 January 2012, gives a partial timeline of Boko Haram attacks.] The police attacked are from both faiths. What worries me is that Boko Haram seems to have become an umbrella under which all manner of violence can be excused, whether it is claimed by them, blamed on them, or in retaliation for what they’ve done. In a bizaare twist, papers (see Tribune ) reported that several church members in Bauchi were caught with explosives trying to attack a ‘rival’ COCIN church the same Sunday. The COCIN president denied it.  And such a story does seem suspicious coming as it did on the same day as the Jos attack on COCIN headquarters. [The story has since been confirmed]. But it does illustrate how Boko Haram seems to have become a cover for any other evil plans anyone may have.

All, I can do is to repeat what I keep saying, so that I grow tired of speaking, so that I resent having to keep writing about violence when I would much rather write about film and literature:  the only way to defeat this evil is to band together, Christians and Muslims, and refuse to let Boko Haram succeed in making us violent in turn. The words of Martin Luther King Jr., from Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community are worth repeating:  “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. […] Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, 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.”

Unity or Hell: Choices for the New Year

I am writing this post on 17 March 2012, but backdating it to the first of the year, for blog organization purposes.

My column for the new year with the not so subtle title of ‘Unity or Hell: Choices for the New Year’ was published as usual in the Weekly Trust on New Year’s Eve 2011, republished in the Daily Trust on 2 January 2012 (on pages 25 and 26) and again in the Vanguard on January 12. I wrote this following the bloody events of Christmas Day 2011, which has (with hindsight) unfortunately ushered in the “year of the bomb” in Nigeria. I pray that, despite the tragedies that have occurred so far in 2012, that we can rally around to unify against those who would divide the country. To read the original, click on the photo below. To read on this blog with links to the passages, I quoted, scroll down below the photo.

Unity or hell: Choices for the New Year

 Written by Carmen McCain Saturday, 31 December 2011 05:00

On September 15, 1963, during the American civil rights movement, the American terrorist group Ku Klux Klan, which uses twisted Christian language to support its racist ideology, set off a bomb in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, where civil rights activists often congregated. The bomb killed four little girls coming out of their Sunday school class and wounded twenty-two other people. In 1997, People Magazine wrote an article about the bombing in which they quote Chris Hamlin, then pastor of the church, saying “The bombing was a pivotal turning point’ […] Birmingham- so rocked by violence in the years leading up to the blast that it became known as Bombingham – ‘Finally,’ adds Hamlin, ‘began to say to itself, “This is enough!’”
The four girls killed in the bombing (Clockwis...

The four girls killed in the bombing (Clockwise from top left, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nearly fifty years later, in a very different context, another bomb has gone off in a church, this one St Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla, Niger State, Nigeria, this time on Christmas Day 2011, a holiday celebrating joy and peace. The latest in a series of bomb attacks around the country, it killed around thirty-five people including children and a pregnant woman and wiped out whole families. Boko Haram, a terrorist entity which asserts it is fighting for Islam, claims responsibility for the bombings. But just as the Ku Klux Klan violated Christian principles of love and non-violence, so also does Boko Haram violate Islamic principles of non-violence against non-combatants. Bombing a place of worship, especially on a holy day with families of worshippers inside, is such a sacrilege that I wonder if this time, remembering  the 2010 Christmas Eve bombings and this year’s attacks on Muslims during Eid-el-Fitr in Jos, we too, both Christians and Muslims, will finally say, “This is enough!”

When I first heard, on Christmas morning, of the bombs in Madalla, Jos and Yobe, I thought of my column published the day before. I had written about the December 10 football viewing centre bombings in Jos in the context of Jesus’s teachings on peace. As I tried to process the shattering news of dozens of innocent people killed after attending Christmas mass, I thought of a verse I had edited out of the conclusion of my last article to save space. It was Matthew 10: 28-31, where Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Several thoughts on Jesus’s words about fear:

First: the body. After I mentioned Boko Haram briefly in one of my other articles, a reader wrote me, warning that it was dangerous to talk about Boko Haram—“I think it is safer to avoid even mentioning the name of these mad creatures. They are everywhere: they watch & listen.”  My response was to re-tell the story of returning to Jos from New York in September 2001. “I realized that if I changed my plans [to return] either because of the attacks on New York or the crisis in Jos, I would be doing what the terrorists wanted, which is to make everyone change their lives and tiptoe around in fear. And if you do that, you are letting a minority of violent people rule your life, rather than God. I refuse to live in fear. My life is in God’s hands. If it is my time to die, it is my time to die. I will not refuse to speak out about truth or justice or peace out of fear.”  The deaths of those people on Christmas morning were tragic, but while terrorists could maim their bodies, they could not touch their souls.

Second: on hell. Whoever is behind the Christmas bombings and other “Boko Haram” violence wants to tear the country apart. They want Christians to curse Muslims and the South to declare war against the North. They want to deny complexity, deny love, drag the rest of us with them to a hell of hatred and violence. They want us to ignore the teachings of Jesus, beloved of both Christians and Muslims, who said “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” If we fall into the trap the terrorists have set and begin to behave irrationally, hating those who had nothing to do with the terror and lashing out in violence against them, then we lose our souls and those who are trying to destroy Nigeria will succeed in their plan.

During Christmas, most of the Christmas greeting texts and phone calls I received were from Muslims. These sorts of friendships are what the attackers mean to destroy. I was encouraged, therefore, when I saw so many Muslim leaders unified in their condemnation of the attacks.  Daily Trust and This Day reported condemnation from Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), Muslim Public Affairs Center (MPAC), Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), Izalat Bida’a Waikamtul Sunnah (JIBWIS), Muslim Congress, and the Malta Ahmadiyya Group, among others. Chairman of the Sokoto State chapter of Izalat Bida’a Waikamtul Sunnah (JIBWIS), Sheikh Abubakar Usman Mabera said “Almighty Allah forbids the killing of a fellow human being. Whoever thinks that he is carrying out Jihad by destroying places of worship and killing innocent citizens is ignorant of Islam because the religion forbids that.” Vanguard reports that the Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III declared:  “There is no conflict between Christians and Muslims, between Islam and Christianity. It is a conflict between evil people and good people and the good people are more than the evil doers. The good people must come together to defeat the evil ones.” And, despite rabble-rousing statements by some understandably distressed Christian leaders, Pope Benedict XVI responded in the pattern Jesus set, saying, “In this moment, I want to repeat once again with force: violence is a path that leads only to pain, destruction and death. Respect, reconciliation and love are the only path to peace.”

Back in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who would himself be assassinated five years later, preached the funeral for the four little girl killed in the Birmingham church, saying: “my friends, they did not die in vain. God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark city. The holy Scripture says, ‘A little child shall lead them.’ The death of these little children may lead our whole Southland from the low road of man’s inhumanity to man to the high road of peace and brotherhood […from] the negative extremes of a dark past into the positive extremes of a bright future.”

On this last day of 2011, as we mourn those innocents killed on Christmas morning, we can let this tragedy lead us on to a more unified voice against evil, both Christians and Muslims speaking out against terrorism and corruption, working actively together for peace against those who would divide at all costs. Or we can let our hatred lead us straight to hell. It is our choice. Happy New Year.