The McCain family in Gatwick airport 8 September 1988 on the way to Lagos.
My dad reminded me this afternoon that today marks the 25th anniversary of the day our family moved to Nigeria. My parents have lived here ever since, first in Port Harcourt for three years from 1988-1991, and then Jos up until today. We kids “grew up” here and have been back and forth ever since. My brother and I both currently live in Nigeria, while my sister lives in the U.S. where she is doing her residency as a doctor.
I kept a diary at the time, but it is in storage somewhere now, so I’m relying on memories and my dad’s journal. I may write a little more on this later [UPDATE 14 September 2013, see my column about this topic here], but for now, I will just post a few photos of our move. We had left the U.S. from Atlanta a few days earlier (the first time out of the U.S. for my brother, sister, and I).
Our grandparents and our Uncle John, Aunt Miriam, and our little cousin Karen came to see us off at the Atlanta airport. Here we are in airport’s chapel.
We spent three days in London being tourists.
On the train from Gatwick into London.
By the time we made it to the Tube, we must have been pretty jetlagged.
While we were in London, we visited our Aunty Lily. My great grandmother had been a World War I bride from England who married my great grandfather–an American soldier– and moved with him to Florida, so we visited her younger sister on our way through London. She served us a very proper British tea, including cucumber sandwiches, and a very rich almond cake, which I’m sure now I would love, but which at the time I thought was disgusting. I remember that her house had a toilet with a very high tank that you flushed with a chain.
With Aunty Lily and her neighbour
We walked from her house to the guest house where we were staying, but it took a lot longer than we thought it would. I ended up carrying my sister on my back, while my dad carried my brother. My dad says that I took the whole thing as an adventure. The next day, we went to Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, Buckingham Palace, and walked over the quite ordinary London Bridge, which nevertheless has a great view of the more dramatic Tower Bridge. The next morning we left out of Gatwick to travel to Lagos.
We landed in Murtala Muhammad Airport in Lagos on the evening of 8 September 1988. My memories are vague, but I remember the scent of Lagos airport, a moist stale smell from rains and probably old carpet, and I remember we were met by soldiers at immigration (sent by the university liason office–this was during the Babangida regime), waiting for our luggage to come under the grey flourescent lights. The hotel we stayed in had blue bedspreads, buckets in the bathroom, and a toilet to which the seat was not attached. Our food arrived around 11:30pm, rice and stew and plantains. My dad tells of how relieved he was when he arrived later from the airport with all of our luggage and found us jumping on the beds. While normally we probably would have been scolded for that, it demonstrated that we weren’t too traumatized by the move.
We flew to Port Harcourt the next day, 9 September 1988, where we were hosted at a university guest house for a few weeks before we moved into our bungalow on campus.
Our family in the university guest house, together with a Fulbright family.
In the guest house, I am busy writing in my diary my first impressions of Nigeria. The diary is somewhere in storage now.
The university accommodated us in a three bedroom bungalow, which became our home for the next three years until we moved to Jos in 1991.
Together with some of our closest friends in Port Harcourt, the Nwators, in front of our house.
After moving into our house, a few weeks after arriving in Port Harcourt, we began school at the university staff school.
Off to school.
In 1991, we moved to Jos, and I won’t go through all those photos, but here is one.
Family photo in Jos in the 1990s, around 1993 or 94.
So, now twenty-five years after we first moved to Nigeria, four of us still live in Nigeria. My sister was able to come visit for Christmas last year, and this is the most recent photo of us all together in Nigeria outside our house in Jos.
Family photo Christmas 2012, Jos, somehow wearing purple again.
I will try to write something more “literary” about this in the future. But, in the meantime, I am reflecting on how what was supposed to be a 4 year stint turned into 25 years. Nigeria has become home.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
St. Theresa’s Church, Madalla, Niger State, following Sunday morning’s bomb blast (c) BBC
Just a quick update. I’m sorry (once again) that I am so far behind on this blog. I have several posts I have been intending to write, including one about the death of a friend, Hausa comedian Lawal Kaura, for whom I wrote a tribute in the Weekly Trust last week. I have been trying to complete several revisions of academic work and reduce the time spent online. However, with the recent bombings in Jos , Madalla (Niger State, not far from Abuja), and Yobe state, I wanted to quickly post to let all know that my family in Jos and I are fine and things are (so far) quiet in Jos.
Christmas morning, my family and our guests were preparing for our Christmas service, and discussing the horror of the bombing at St. Theresa’s Catholic church in Madalla earlier that morning, when one of our guests, who had gone outside for a few minutes, heard what sounded like a bomb blast. He didn’t say anything about it until a few minutes later when another one went off, and someone came to tell us that there had been two explosions in Jos, near Mountain of Fire and Miracles (MFM) Church near British America. It seems, with the news coming in today, that a policeman was the only casualty in Jos, but in Madalla, up to thirty-five bodies had been found by this morning.
These things–thinking about the people killed while at church on a joyous day when we celebrate the coming of peace and love into the world; and the dread of what may follow–leaves me feeling a bit shattered, as did last year’s Christmas Eve bombings. This year, on Christmas Eve, as we drove home from church, we reminisced about how last year at this time, we had been turned back by panicky policement. We could smell fire and hear gunshots. It wonder if we will ever be able to think of Christmas in the same light-hearted, happy way. It is a terrible thing that now both Muslim and Christian celebrations, sallah and Christmas have become seasons to dread. I am trying to think about how to express it in my column for this week. In the meantime I will post a few links to articles about the bombings (which, as of this morning, are still the first headlines on BBC and Al Jazeera and apparently CNN, although my parents are not currently able to pick up CNN). I will also post my column last week, in which I discussed the bombs that went off in football viewing centres a few weeks ago and how I have been thinking about Christmas the past few weeks.
May God maintain the peace and expose the evil people behind these acts. I am grateful for the many concerned friends (most of them Muslims) who sent Christmas texts, emails, and called me from as far away as Germany. Allah ya kiyaye, Ya ba mu zaman lafiya, Ya kai mu gaba. Merry Christmas.
Also, quite a few Muslim Groups have come out to condemn the bombings, including the Sultan of Sokoto, 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, which has called the attacks as “inhuman.” This Day has a good compilation in its article “Muslim Leaders Condemn Christmas Day Bombings”:
Secretary General of JNI, Dr. Khalid Abubakar Aliyu, while reacting to the bombings in a telephone interview with THISDAY, said Islam, as a religion, respects human lives and would do everything to preserve it.
“Human lives must be preserved and protected by all including security agencies; it is rather unfortunate that Nigerians are losing their lives to bomb blasts,” Aliyu said.
The Islamic body also tasked security agencies to fish out the perpetrators and bring them to justice, stressing that it is only when the culprits are fished out and punitive measures taken against them that it would serve as deterrent to others planning to carry out such nefarious activities.
In his reaction, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, who joined other Muslims in voicing condemnation against Boko Haram, said taking of human lives in the name of religion was strange in Islam.
The sultan, at the formal opening of Islamic Vacation Course (IVC) organised by Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN), B-Zone, said dispute could only be resolved through dialogue and not by violence or bloodbath.
He said Islam abhorred violence and called for unity among Muslims to address the challenges facing them.
“Violence is not part of the tenets of Islam and would never be allowed to tarnish the image of the religion,” the sultan said.
Chastising Boko Haram, another Islamic group, Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC), said “cold blooded murder of innocent worshippers” was “horrifying and sickening”.
In a statement by its Director of Media and Communications, Disu Kamor, MPAC described the perpetrators of the dastardly act as “criminal and devilish hate cultists bent on imposing their evil ideology on us”.
“On this occasion and in similar incidents, Nigerian Muslims and Muslims everywhere stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our Christian brothers and sisters and we are determined to continue to work together to remove the mischief of those seeking to destroy peaceful co-existence and harmony. We feel the sorrow and share the grief of all that were affected by this tragedy – this evil attack is a crime committed against mankind,” MPAC added.
Also, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) said it is “shocked and petrified by this development”.
MURIC in a statement by Dr. Ishaq Akintola disagreed with Boko Haram, which had said it carried out the attack to avenge the killing of Muslims during the last Sallah.
He said: “The attackers cannot claim that they were revenging the attack on Muslims in Jos during the last Eid el-Fitr on August 30, 2011 which left many Muslims dead because Christians celebrating Christmas earlier on December 25, 2010 were the first to be killed in bomb explosions.
“Nothing in the scriptures of Islam justifies this kind of attack. We therefore assert clearly, unequivocally and unambiguously that Boko Haram is not fighting for Nigerian Muslims.”
Similarly, the Chairman of the Sokoto State chapter of Izalat Bida’a Waikamtul Sunnah (JIBWIS), Sheikh Abubakar Usman Mabera, said the killing of innocent citizens, under any guise, is a case of murder and in contrast to Islamic teachings.
“Whoever takes the life of a fellow human being has committed evil irrespective of his religion – whether Christian or Muslim – and will pay for his sins. So, this is an act of terrorism which is against Islamic teachings,” he said.
Mabera, who frowned on the act, 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.”
The Muslim Congress frowned on the Madalla blast and said the continued killing of innocent Nigerians by the activities of Boko Haram is uncalled for and should be condemned by all Nigerians.
The Amir of the Congress, Mallam Abdulraheem Lukman, said in a statement that: “The endemic killings can best be described as inhuman, wicked, condemnable and totally unacceptable in civilised societies.
“The action is even more repulsive during the periods of celebrations and this is highly condemnable.”
Written by Carmen McCain Saturday, 24 December 2011 05:00
December 10, I was in Jos, and I heard the bombs go off. Deep echoing booms that you could feel in your body. The feeling was like a ripple in water, expanding out in an ever-widening circle. “That sounds like a bomb,” I thought, when I heard it. I did nothing, waited for the news to ripple out to me—what had happened, where, and how many had died.
Two mornings later, I had the bombs in my mind as I made breakfast. I thought of the young men who had been doing nothing more controversial than cheering on a Spanish football match when they had their legs and arms blown off. As people around the world cheered and moaned goals for the Barcelona-Real Madrid game, there was the sound of weeping in Jos.
Outside the kitchen window, I noticed that the tap was running. City water had come. I moved to go outside into the cold to turn the tap off, when I noticed all the birds that had gathered around the tap—little yellow finches fluttering their wings in the puddle the running water had made. They didn’t seem to be bothered by the cold. They flew back and forth, settling on a tree limb and then coming back to bathe. One bird sat on top of the tap, ducking her head down to delicately drink from the flow, flicking her head up and down till she was full.
I thought then of how Christmas is the time Christians celebrate the beauty of small things in a torn up world. Morning sunlight and little birds, a gift of water flowing through a tap to the dry grass. The wonder of a newborn child laid in feeding trough, where donkeys and sheep and goats and cows press around, giving him warmth in the dark silence of the night before the sky explodes with angels’ voices.
Yet the hope and pageantry of Christmas is also mixed up with the horrors of human evil, if you read the story in context. Young Mary, pregnant out of wedlock, and her fiancé Joseph braved the prejudices of a finger-pointing community, the cold inhospitality of a village full of strangers where there was no room in the inn for them to stay. And though later the scholars from the East brought expensive gifts with them after following the star to the young family’s humble house, they also inadvertently brought crisis to Bethlehem when they told King Herod the prophecy of the king to be born there. Mary and Joseph, warned in a dream to escape to Egypt, fled town with the child, only hours before thugs, acting on the orders of a jealous ruler, slaughtered all the baby boys under the age of two in the town.
Where is the sense in such innocent death? There is none. There was no more sense in the slaughter of children in Bethlehem than there had been in the slaughter of young boys in Egypt centuries before, no more sense than there was in the attacks on the village of Kuru Karama in January last year when Muslim families were massacred and thrown into wells, or Dogo Nahawa in March where Christian families were slaughtered under a starry sky, in Damaturu or Maiduguri where churches and mosques alike have been destroyed or in Jos where young boys watching football were blown up in the night. In times of such horrific events, the sun, the stars, the birds, the water on dry grass too can seem to have no meaning. They do not understand, these nonhuman things, how much we suffer.
And yet, the message of Christmas is that the small will transcend the big, that good will grow slowly until it chokes out evil. The baby who survives the massacre will grow up to be the man who brings life to a people. Christians believe that just as Moses survived the slaughter of Jewish babies in Egypt to take Israel to freedom and give them the law, Jesus survived the slaughter of Jewish babies in Bethlehem to show the world the freedom of love behind the law. “Which is the greatest commandment?” Jesus was once asked, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” he answered. “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” He demonstrated that love for neighbor not only to his own people, but also to those outcasts and strangers the righteous were taught to shun: corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes, a Roman military commander, an adulteress from the hated Samaritan tribe.
Though Jesus survived the slaughter of his childhood, the great teacher of love and forgiveness was eventually caught in the human cycle of hate and violence. The masses, misled by hypocritical religious leaders, who cared more about their own reputation and security than recognizing the truth of God before them, joined their religious leaders in calling on politicians to execute the man they had called King only a week before.
This is an example, some may say, of why it is better to demonstrate power than humility—of why turning the other cheek when someone hits you does not work, of how hate, ultimately, is more powerful than love, of why it is better to take up your sword and cut off the ear of your enemy as Jesus’ disciple Peter did, than to heal him as Jesus did. “Better to fight, better to kill them before they kill you,” says the man who has lost hope. And yet Jesus’ life could not be contained in death. It echoes out in ever expanding ripples of light.
It is in watching the small things, he taught, that we can learn hope: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” asked Jesus. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
So much of our conflict is based on words, on names, cultural differences—on varying interpretations of the law. We would rather judge that which we do not understand than pay attention to the lessons Jesus demonstrated: to live justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. Yet, if all of us who claim to follow God could put aside theological differences long enough to follow what Jesus taught—to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, to turn the other cheek, to give our extra cloak to one in need, to be at peace even in times of conflict —then instead of listening in terror for bombs in the night, we could look fearlessly up into the starry sky and sing along to the chorus that still echoes throughout the universe: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
I have put off writing anything on this blog about the Christmas Eve bombs in Jos, in part out of weariness, in part perhaps feeling that if I didn’t write anything perhaps it would not be true, in part because we know so little real information–I don’t want to add to the rumour mongering and disinformation that so easily causes problems during these times. I am in Jos, right now, but most everything we hear is just hearsay.
Here is what I know and have seen: I went with my family to a Christmas Eve church service on the south side of Jos that started around 6:30pm. We crossed over the Gada Biyu Bridge on our way to the service around 6:15pm or 6:20pm. At the end of the service, someone came onto the loud speaker encouraging people to go home because there had been a bomb that had gone off around the Polo field. Looking at my phone, I saw I had two missed calls from one of my friends in Jos. When I called him back, he told me he had seen bomb blasts on Ring Road at Anguwar Rukuba. Thinking the earlier reports of bombs at Polo field were reported in the wrong location, we headed home down Zaria Road. Around the Polo roundabout, where the traffic was getting heavy and people seemed to be terrified, we were turned back by a panicky policeman who told us the road was closed and we should go “find a place to hide.” We could smell smoke and hear gunfire.
Fortunately, my brother has a place not far from where we were turned back, and, although he had planned on spending Christmas eve with us at my parent’s house, we ended up spending the night at his apartment. We sat around on his balcony drinking hot cocoa and hovering over the radio listening for news, listening to the night which became increasingly more quiet except for the lorries which kept rumbling by on the road (perhaps trying to find streets that were not blocked off?) I posted as my status on facebook via phone:
Red moon rising over jos, and now that the bombs hv stopped and the gunfire quietened, and the cars chased frm the streets, it is a silent night, (except for 1 distant siren/
It was a bizaare moment, the eerie silence marred by the occasional siren or gunshot. Going inside, flipping through television channels, watching interviews with Matt Damon and Harry Potter stars, and then seeing a brief blurb on BBC with Jos identified on a blocky map of Nigeria. Making out beds on couch cushions and blankets, knowing that less than a kilometre away, there were dead bodies, and fire, and mourning families.
Around 6:40am, my father got us up and said we should go. A guard working at the compound had just come through Gada Biyu and said the traffic was flowing. We left around 6:55am and passed through Gada Biyu around 7:03am. There were people out on the road, but we saw no mobs. I saw families with small children, with suitcases, perhaps looking for transport out of town. People were walking in groups of two or three as if out to see the damage. As we drove through Gada Biyu we passed several parked lorries. One of them had been partially burned, but there was still a cow with gigantic horns sitting in the back, alive, and seemingly unharmed.We later found out that at around 7:30am, people began burning cars at Gada Biyu, so we had passed through just in time.
Heard from others: The rest of the day, yesterday, Christmas day, seemed fairly calm from our location in Jos North. When on Christmas evening I spoke with my friend Godfrey Saeed Selbar, who had told me about the bombs at Ring Road, he told me that he had been out and had heard the first bomb blast on Ring Road, sounding distant. He had gone outside and had only been a few metres from the second bomb that went off. He said he knew at least four of the people killed in the blast and that he tried to help one victim whose leg had been blown off. He said he still had blood on his clothes. He said later there was another bomb at a drinking spot not far from where he was. He has photographs of around 15 people killed in the bomb. He also told me that a few other people had been killed by the youth on Christmas morning. He will upload photographs to his blog when he is able to access the internet. When I just tried to call him to get an update (4:19pm, 26 Dec 2010), his phone was switched off. [UPDATE: 30 December 2010: Godfrey has just uploaded a few photos and an account of his experience of being “flung to the ground” by one of the bombs in Anguwar Rukuba. WARNING that there is at least one graphic photo of a dead body on his site.]
Another friend told us that a nine year old son of a friend had been caught in the blast while running an errand. He had not been killed outright but had his jaw and the side of his face blown apart and was taken to the hospital hardly breathing.
I have also heard that youth have blocked off Ring Road with corpses insisting that the governor come and see. According to the hearsay, some tension over this ended in soldiers shooting some of the youth. Apparently some of the corpses have since been taken away. (But this paragraph is all hearsay)
What happened, according to the news: From the reports I’ve read, it seems that about 6 or 7 bombs went off in two different locations, on Ring Road and the Anguwar Rukuba area and at Kabong near the new Gada Biyu overpass bridge, around 7pm on Christmas Eve. News reports from various agencies are reporting that there were 32 killed and 74 wounded in the attacks.
Destroyed building and brunt Trailer following the Christmas eve bomb blast in Jos (c) Vanguard
Briefing journalists yesterday, Plateau State commissioner of police, Mr. Abdulrahman Akano, said a total of seven explosives were planted in two parts of the state capital.
According to him, five of the explosives were planted at the Kabong area while two were planted at Angwan Rukuba. One of the bombs was planted in a busy market at Kabong where people were making last-minute purchases for Christmas while another was planted at a relaxation spot in Angwan Rukuba.
He said the police and other security agencies had swung into action to get to the root of the matter and had already got some leads which were being followed to unmask the culprits. He said dynamites and about 100 match boxes were recovered from one of the places combed by men of the bomb unit of the police and were being analyzed.
The most recent information I have found is from RTE: “Houses set alight in Jos, Nigeria.” 26 December 2010. Xinhuanet also reports that at least one was killed and houses burnt today, Sunday 26 December. 2010. In church today, we heard news that there was tension around Katako Junction and have heard from other friends living near the abatoir that there has been conflict in that part of Jos. However, we have seen no smoke and have not heard very much gunfire from where we are.
As a Christian, it is quite a blow to have such violence committed on a day so sacred and devoted to peace. One of the best known Christmas scriptures (Luke 2:14) features angels bursting through the night sky to sing to shepherds:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
It is hard to understand. Why? Why on Christmas? (Why ever?) Why kill innocent people celebrating the birth of Jesus, who is venerated in Christianity and Islam?
I have seen a lot of anger from Christian friends on the internet. And it is completely understandable. However, I think the important thing to remember is that these bombs were the acts of extremists and cynics. Any acts of violence against the innocent Muslim population in Jos will play right into the hands of those who planted the bombs. The bombs were planted to create chaos in Jos. The best way to defeat the intentions of the evil people who did this is to act in accordance with the very peace that we celebrate during this season.
When I first heard of the bomb blasts I thought immediately of the article for my column I had submitted to my editor at Weekly Trust only two days earlier, set to come out the following day on Christmas. In it I celebrated the successful Peace Cup Games, organized by the Young Ambassadors for Community Peace and Inter-faith Foundation, in which teams, made up of half Muslim/half Christian participants, from Jos North and Jos South concluded a two week peace-building football camp with a final match.
Players from the teams from Jos North and Jos South hold hands as they enter the stadium for the Jos Peace Cup games, 21 December 2010. (c) Carmen McCain
I had been very hopeful about the peace-building efforts and the friendships built between youth on these neighborhood teams and their communities, quoting the idealistic words of the musicians who had performed at the Peace Cup ceremony: Jeremiah Gyang, the multi-ethnic rock band Threadstone, and the Hausa hiphop group JAPS:
The musicians perhaps said it best. “All our wounds were self inflicted cause we burned down our bridges,/ then we realized that hope was all we had,” belted out the Threadstones in their “Miracle for a Lost City.” Hiphop musician Sani Japs told me, “What religion has shown us, both in Islam and Christianity, is peace. The Quran has shown us we are all one, but the best one among you is the one who forgives and forgets. So what I think will bring peace is if all of us think of ourselves as One Nigeria, brothers and sisters.” This sentiment was also expressed by Jeremiah Gyang, who sang, “Zo, mu rera wakar Nigeria, Zo mu rera waka sallama.” Come let’s sing the song of Nigeria, Come let’s sing the song of peace.”
And my thoughts wandered back to that old Christmas hymn, “O Holy Night”: “Truly He taught us to love one another; / His law is love and His Gospel is peace./ Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother/ And in His Name all oppression shall cease.”
Barka da Kirismati. Happy Christmas. May the peace of God be with us all.
Sani Japs and Nazeefy Shuiabu from the hiphop group JAPS perform at the Jos Peace Cup games. (c) Carmen McCain
Umar Jawfu (guitar) and A.Jay Kafang (vocals) of rock band Threadstone perform at the Jos Peace Cup games, 21 December 2010, Bukuru Stadium. (c) Carmen McCain
Jeremiah Gyang sings at the Jos Peace Cup Games, 21 December 2010, Bukuru Stadium. (c) Carmen McCain
Sitting on my brother’s balcony I sent this text message to my editor:
“My column tomorrow is going to look awfully ironic. Jos in flames again. Apparently at least 5 bombs have gone off. We had gone out for christmas eve service and can’t get home but fortunately my brother has an apt in town where we are holed up.
But re-reading over the article, I was glad I had written it anyway. Perhaps the uneasy calm that lingers over some parts of Jos (I say this with the knowledge that my words here may later sound ironic) has something to do with the efforts of the Young Ambassadors, who have been tirelessly going around the state trying to bring Muslim and Christian communities together. Slowly, slowly, step by step, if we can continue to follow the teachings of Jesus who taught peace and love, patience and forgiveness, truth and justice, perhaps we can achieve peace.
And to those angry people, claiming Christianity, I have seen on the internet advocating a war of revenge and retaliation against Muslim communities you are assuming to be guilty, with no proof, please look first at this sermon preached by the great American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on Christmas 1957: “Loving Your Enemy.” I keep posting this link over and over again on this blog, but I was particularly touched when I went back on Christmas morning, after finally reaching home, and read it again, realizing that it was actually a Christmas sermon. We need his words, reminding us of the peace Jesus came into the world to bring, now more than ever:
First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us. It is also necessary to realize that the forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression. The wrongdoer may request forgiveness. He may come to himself, and, like the prodigal son, move up some dusty road, his heart palpitating with the desire for forgiveness. But only the injured neighbor, the loving father back home, can really pour out the warm waters of forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. It is the lifting of a burden or the canceling of a debt. The words “I will forgive you, but I’ll never forget what you’ve done” never explain the real nature of forgiveness. Certainly one can never forget, if that means erasing it totally from his mind. But when we forgive, we forget in the sense that the evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding a new relationship. Likewise, we can never say, “I will forgive you, but I won’t have anything further to do with you.” Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again.
Without this, no man can love his enemies. The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies.
Second, we must recognize that the evil deed of the enemy-neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy. Each of us has something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against ourselves. A persistent civil war rages within all of our lives. Something within us causes us to lament with Ovid, the Latin poet, “I see and approve the better things, but follow worse,” or to agree with Plato that human personality is like a charioteer having two headstrong horses, each wanting to go in a different direction, or to repeat with the Apostle Paul, “The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”
This simply means that there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. When we look beneath the surface, beneath. the impulsive evil deed, we see within our enemy-neighbor a measure of goodness and know that the viciousness and evilness of his acts are not quite representative of all that he is. We see him in a new light. We recognize that his hate grows out of fear, pride, ignorance, prejudice, and misunderstanding, but in spite of this, we know God’s image is ineffably etched in being. Then we love our enemies by realizing that they are not totally bad and that they are not beyond the reach of God’s redemptive love.
Third, we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy but to win his friendship and understanding. At times we are able to humiliate our worst enemy. Inevitably, his weak moments come and we are able to thrust in his side the spear of defeat. But this we must not do. Every word and deed must contribute to an understanding with the enemy and release those vast reservoirs of goodwill which have been blocked by impenetrable walls of hate.
Let us move now from the practical how to the theoretical why: Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. 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.
So when Jesus says “Love your enemies,” he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies-or else? The chain reaction of evil-hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars-must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.[Emphasis mine-CM]
Another reason why we must love our enemies is that hate scars the soul and distorts the personality. Mindful that hate is an evil and dangerous force, we too often think of what it does to the person hated. This is understandable, for hate brings irreparable damage to its victims. We have seen its ugly consequences in the ignominious deaths brought to six million Jews by hate-obsessed madman named Hitler, in the unspeakable violence inflicted upon Negroes by bloodthirsty mobs, in the dark horrors of war, and in the terrible indignities and injustices perpetrated against millions of God’s children by unconscionable oppressors.
But there is another side which we must never overlook. Hate is just as injurious to the person who hates. Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.
A third reason why we should love our enemies is that love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power.
May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us now and forever more, and may we be granted the miracle of peace this Christmas, in this city Jos, and in this country, Nigeria. Amen.
For more information on the most recent violence in Jos, see the following reports:
I was hoping to post a longer article on the Young Ambassador’s Peace Rally that took place in Jos on 1 July, but I’m in the middle of a hundred different things, trying to write a conference paper and also hoping to write another blog post on the most recent arrests ordered by Rabo Abdulkarim, head of Kano State Censorship Board, who is himself avoiding arrest in Kaduna (For a quick summary of what is going on see Ibrahim Sheme’s opinion piece in today’s Leadership.) So for now I will just post a link to my photos of the event on Flickr. The Young Ambassadors for Community Peace and Interfaith were hoping to have a bigger rally but because they had a hard time finding funding, they changed their plan and had representatives of different communities from all over the state come instead. (Note, all of the photos here are copyright to me.)
Programme for the Jos Peace Rally, 1 July 2010 (c) CM
The organizers of the programme Young Ambassadors for Community Peace and Interfaith foundation describe their “journey so far in the event programme:
YACPIF registered 23 Young Ambassadors before the Jos crisis within the Jos City around the Assemblies of God Church and Central Mosque in Kwararafa, Jos. The Muslim Young Peace Ambassadors protected the church from being burnt by some Muslims during the crises.
YACPI Foundation holds the belief that there can never be any meaningful Development in a community where there is war and injustice. Jos is a city in desperate need of peace. YACPI Foundation has chosen Jos city amongst other cities in the Northern part of Nigeria to kick start her project. From here we will move to other places like Bauchi, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Borno, etc, cities that have a history of religious strife in Nigeria.
To carry out these initiatives we carefully identify youths most interested in promoting peace. Our desire is to work with them to channel the message of peace aimed at stopping religious and ethnic wars, promote peace building, and other challenges confronting our young people today in Nigeria. Very soon we hope we can organize a football tournament between youths of different people groups in Jos, first and then later Plateau State. Sports sometimes can be a powerful balm when there are festering wounds.
Peace Rallies held to date from March 22nd, Kwararafa, Bukuru, Dadin Kowa, Nasarawa/Congo Russian, Rayfield, Riyom Local Government, Tudun Wada and Zaria Road.
Today we are witnessing a State-wide peace rally. The journey for peace on the Plateau has begun in earnest. By God’s grace we will reach our destination
The programme included short speeches from the founder of the Young Ambassadors Rev. Yakubu Pam (who made a point of saying that the rally had not received financial support from the government), trustee Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, former governor of Kaduna State, Women’s Representative Ngo Naomi Jugu, among others, as well as youth leaders from Miyati Allah, JNI, CAN, SUG, Plateau Youth Council, and representatives from the Yoruba, Igbo, and South South communities. The best part of the event was seeing young people passionate about promoting peace and fellowship in the state parade past with their placards.
But, I was thinking as I sat there, that I hope that in the future YACPI can partner with Nigerian musicians to bring together more youth, perhaps with no speeches by politicians and elders–just youth, just the next generation, who can commit to change. As one of the speakers noted, it is the youth who inherit the bad decisions of their elders.
The Police Band played for the event, and the BBC Berom cultural troupe performed very danceable traditional music at the Peace Rally, but I thought it was telling that everyone (including the cultural troupe) started dancing when contemporary Naija Jams started piping through the sound system. There have been so many artists and musicians who are from or who have spent large amounts of time in Jos: M.I., Jesse Jagz, 2Face Idibia, Jeremiah Gyang, P-Square, Ice Prince Zamani, Ali Nuhu, Abbas Sadiq, DJ Yaks,etc, etc, etc. A recent article from Nigerian Entertainment Today describes how artists condemned the crisis, saying they were “keen to be of help and rally colleagues to ‘do something positive’.” It would be fantastic if this group could reproduce the kind of peace concert that took place in Port Harcourt last year, rallying the youth of Jos for peace with their music. And, indeed, one of the objectives of YACPI is “to solicit the support of Local and International Artists to license a positive song for our compilation CD that will inspire listeners to end war, crime, and violence in our country, communities and schools.” One would hope, we could have more songs like Eldee’s “One Day” and Sound Sultan’s “Let There Be Light,” which includes a very poignant tribute to “to the lost souls in Jos.”
Here are the photos I took of the rally on July 1. For those who were there and would like to download photos, click on the “All sizes” icon directly above the photo you would like to download and select either small, medium, large, or original, and you will be able to download it onto your computer or a disk. You are free to use these photos in other publications, as long as proper attribution is given to me and you send me a link to the article. Thanks.
A Representative of ACTS sells “My Brother’s Keeper” by Ruth Beattie (c) CM
A Representative of ACTS (African Christian Textbooks) sells at cost copies of Ruth Beattie’s book, My Brother’s Keeper: Stories of Grace from the Jos Plateau. Ruth Beattie is from Northern Ireland and brings insights growing up during times of conflict to her descriptions of Muslims and Christians helping those of different faiths during the Jos crisis.
Youth of Jos North march for peace (c) CM
Jos North looked like it had the largest delegation there.
Yan Zaman Lafiya: “Those who live at Peace” (c) CM
Yan Zaman Lafiya
Pankshin Ngas for Peace (c) CM
Youth march for peace in Jos (c) CM
The Youth of Shendam say “Give Peace a Chance” (c) CM
Youth March for Peace in Jos (c) CM
Youth March for Peace in Jos (c) CM
Peace Advocates from University of Jos, including students from the Niger Delta (c) CM
Peace 4Ever say the youth of Jos North (c) CM
Senator Ahmed Mohammad Makarfi, former governor of Kaduna State, is a guest speaker (c) CM
Rev. Yakubu Pam, founder of Young Ambassadors for Community, Peace, and Interfaith organization, looks on. (c) CM
People interact after the main events of the Peace Rally (c) CM
Youth hang out in the bleachers after the peace rally (c) CM
Magaji Sule, Young Ambassador for Peace and youth leader in Bukuru (c) CM
Magaji Sule, the leader of Muslim youth in Bukuru, helped avert a crisis between rival groups in March 2010.
Young People for Peace in Plateau State (c) CM
Young people gather for peace in Jos (c) CM
Young people gather for peace in Jos (c) CM
Soldiers want peace too. (c) CM
Police want peace too. (c) CM
Ruth Beattie, author of My Brother’s Keeper: Stories of Grace from the Jos Plateau. (c) CM
Ruth Beattie, an “indigene” of Northern Ireland grew up during, what she calls in her book, “the troubles” of Northern Ireland, the sectarian crisis between Protestants and Catholics. With this perspective, she approaches the crises in Jos 2008, which she experienced, with particular sensitivity, telling true stories about both Muslims and Christians, who helped neighbors and strangers of different faiths from their own, during the crisis.
Goro Seller: the next generation (c) CM
Boy with pure water. (c) CM
These children are the next generation. May they see peace.
A youth peace rally is planned in Jos for Thursday, 1 July 2o1o, 10am. The rally will be held in the Jos Rwang Pam Stadium along Tafawa Balewa road. The rally anticipates between 20,000 and 40,000 participants.
Young Ambassadors from Jos East at the YAPCI Peace Rally, July 1, 2010 (c) CM
The organizers of the event, an NGO the Young Ambassadors for Community Peace and Interfaith Foundation, which includes a nearly equal representation of Christians and Muslims, has planned eight other events in Plateau State in the past few months. According to Yakubu Pam, the executive director of the foundation, whom I spoke to on the phone, the first event was was held at Kwarafa Cinema, Jos, and had several thousands in attendance, the second was in Bukuru and again had over a thousand in attendence. The rest, held in smaller communities, were as follows:
3. Dadin Kowa, over three hundred participants,
4. Rayfield, over three hundred participants
5. Tudan Wada Stadium, over two hundred participants
6. Nassarawa Gwang, over two hundred participants,
7. Riyom LGA, over one thousand participants,
8. Nepa (sp?) community in Jos, over one hundred participants.
The rally planned for Thursday is a private initiative and is not sponsored by the Plateau State Government. It hopes to bring together young people from Plateau State and surrounding states to make a commitment for peace.
The Daily Independent, in it’s coverage of the Bukuru event on 1 April 2010, quotes Yakubu Pam on his vision for grassroots level youth talks:
“When I look at other peace conferences that had taken place in Jos and other places in respect of this Jos crisis and discovered that only select group of people were called to come and discuss in the peace talks, yet nothing happens at the grassroots because they were not made to be part of the peace process and that is why my foundation target audience is the grassroots,” Pam stressed.
Pam said the youths were the active participants in the recurring crisis in Jos and other parts of the state and must be taken into consideration by the government in its quest to seek for lasting peace in the state.
He pointed out that his foundation has engaged youths, which cuts across Christians and Muslims in the state and the result of this, he said, was the bringing them together to discuss and chart a new course towards getting out of the recent crisis that rocked Jos and Bukuru metropolis and the councils in Northern part of the state.
“Due to our contacts with these youths before now, we were able to have acted swiftly last week Wednesday to avert another crisis that was looming at Bukuru community in Jos South. We called on the warring Gyel youths and Hausas to lay down their arms and return to their respective homes without hurting each other. We know them and they give us their listening ears,” he said.
Pam challenged Plateau State government and the Presidency to change their approach towards finding lasting peace in the state from selecting only few privileged ones on the Plateau to be engaged in peace talks on behalf on the people; rather the youths should be engaged directly so that government could know what are their problems and find a way of solving them to put an end to youth restiveness in the state.
My father, Professor Danny McCain, who was a participant at the 1 April Bukuru event, described in his journal (I’ve quoted with his permission) how the 1 April community event in Bukuru was called following an averted crisis the week before. Apparently, as Pam described above, Christian and Muslim youth leaders had been able to disperse angry mobs of youth who were about to start fighting. My father writes:
Pam […] explained that the organization was providing special recognition for the two people who had helped to avert that serious crisis. He then pulled out our certificates and called Magaji Sule, the Muslim youth leader forward. Later, Ishaya Bot, the Christian leader came forward. The chairman presented the certificates to them with a strong exhortation to be peace makers. He then had them raise their right hands and repeat after him phrase by phrase a spontaneous pledge that went something like this: “As a leader of the youth, I commit myself to be a peace maker. I will not allow the peace to be broken again. When I learn of trouble, I will go there and intervene. I will encourage others to be peace makers until peace is restored to Plateau. So help me God.” […] One of the most moving moments of the whole event was when these two youth leaders came together and embraced each other enthusiastically, with big smiles on their faces. What a powerful statement that made to their followers! Both were very happy—genuinely happy for the recognition and for the hope of peace. The crowd was happy as well. Before they had hardly received the certificates, people were already shouting, “Take care. You need to get those laminated.”
When I read the news last night (after receiving a text earlier in the day from one of my friends who had heard about it on the news), I wanted to vomit. There has been a fresh wave of violence in villages on the outskirts of southern Jos killing hundreds of innocent men, women, and children. The attacks on Dogo Nahawa, Shen village, and others seem to be reprisal attacks for atrocities committed during the January 2010 crisis (particularly the well-publicized case of the massacre at Kuru Karama).
A joint team of the NRCS, Plateau state branch and NEMA visited Dogo Na Hauwa, a village about 20km from Jos the Plateau State Capital. It was reported that as early as 3.00am, some group of unknown persons attacked Dogo Na Hauwa and three other villages of Jos South LGA, all to the South east of Bukuru, Headquarters of Jos South LGA of Plateau state.
The visit revealed the following:
1) Four villages were attacked
(a) Dogo Na Hauwa
2) Several houses burnt
3) 23 injured and hospitalized at JUTH; one has died. Some other injured people were hospitalized at the Plateau State Hospital
4) We were able to see the corpses of about sixty people mostly women and children that were killed in Dogo Na Hauwa alone. The villagers claimed the figures could be more. The other three villages attacked were not accessible by us.
5) Several people were displaced within the communities
6) Police were seen at Dogo Na Hauwa]]]]]
[UPDATE 10 March 2010: To see the Human Rights Watch call for an investigation with three witness accounts, click here.]
My family, who live on the north side of Jos, says that so far, today (as of 10am this morning when I spoke to my father), things on their part of town seem to be calm. [UPDATE 12:20pm: I just received a phone call from my brother, who is visiting Jos right now, asking me to send him phone credit and saying he had received a phone call saying there were rumours (at this point it’s all rumours) of violence on Ahmadu Bello way.]
Here are a few more articles on the most recent violence, though you can find the same range of articles if you go to Google News and search for Jos. As I post these, I contemplate the double-edged nature of global news. While I think it is imperative that these atrocities be known and condemned by the world, at the same time, I wonder how much news coverage of events actually fuels hatred and violence in other locations. There are other links I am choosing not to post here, because I think they contain opinions that could be inflammatory, but, of course, all you have to do, if you’d like to see them, is google.
While this most recent violence was committed against Beroms (mostly identifying as Christians) by Fulani cattleherders (mostly identifying as Muslims), the use of the word genocide (I think the term “mutual genocide” might be appropriate) and allegations of conspiracy by victims of both side must be read in context of events going back for years. As those who have followed the case may recall, around 300 Muslim men, women, and children were killed in Kuru Karama by raiders self-identifying as Christians (as slogans written on a burned mosque testify). It is difficult to say who has “started” the crises, which often do seem to have a very planned feel about them, but the reality is that the tensions have gone back for years, from the resistance of people in the Plateau against the Fulani wars of aggression in the early 19th century to the resentment against colonial policies in the early 20th century to more recent national policies on indigine/settler rights. My own knowledge of these tensions goes back to the beginning of the decade in Plateau State to the 2001 Jos crisis (Though there has certainly been much earlier violence in other parts of the middlebelt and north). From the early Jos crisis in 2001, the violence has since spread into a web of reprisal attacks.
I don’t know what will stop this cycle of hatred and atrocity, only that I keep going back to that 1957 Christmas sermon preached by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, entitled, “Loving your Enemies.” It calls for a love and forgiveness that rises above our human nature. Is such a love possible, when we have so many truly potent grievances against each other? I think that, though of course, as those civil rights reformers did, we must pursue legal redress and seek to change a system that perpetuates such violence , in the end, a wide-scale change of heart–an insistence on reconciliation by this generation–is our only hope. [See for example, the song “Nigeria Tamu Ce” “Nigeria is Ours,” which calls for us to “unite as one,” by young Kano-based singer DJ Yaks. You can listen to the song in Hausa, with an English rap, on his myspace page.] In the last paragraph Martin Luther King, Jr, throws out this challenge to those living under the oppression of racist policies and segregation in the United States:
To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”
This is a very hard teaching. My sense of justice revolts against the idea of wearing down the enemy by “our capacity to suffer.” But, in a system where justice is slow and faulty, what is the other choice? King, who, like the early Christian writer Paul, knew what he was talking about when he spoke on suffering, warns that:
[W]hen Jesus says “Love your enemies,” he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies-or else? The chain reaction of evil-hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars-must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
For more information on sectarian violence in middle-belt and northern Nigeria, particularly in Plateau State, see the following links:
One thing that has particularly troubled me in the aftermath of the Jos crisis has been hearing both Christians and Muslims (and all other combinations of this: Hausa/Berom/idigene/settler/outsider/insider) blaming the other “side,” without taking any responsibility for actions committed by their own “side.” I am also troubled by how international mission groups/churches have seemed to use the crisis as a way to further an agenda to “prove” that Muslims are fanatical and hateful and violent, even if this means ignoring the fact that so-called Christians have also been fanatical hateful and violent. In fact, some of these Christian websites go so far as to deny that Christians took part in the violence and claim that Muslims are inflating the numbers of their own losses, without recognizing that they might be doing the exact same thing. Even Craig Keener, a family friend and world renowned biblical theologian who has previously written books on peace and conflict resolution and whom I admire a great deal, in an article in Christianity Today ironically titled “The Truth about the Religious Violence in Jos, Nigeria” presented only the “Christian” side of the story he had heard from friends in Jos without doing much investigation on how the other side might view it. Many of the comments on the Christianity Today articles about the crisis from various Christian readers are cringeworthy.
But the obvious point to any people of faith who respect each other and respect our universal human rightsis that it really does not matter who “started” the latest conflict. The reports of burned houses of worship, rioters murdering with machetes, gunfire in the street, dead bodies thrown in wells, axes used on little children, warrant shame and international condemnation from both sides and a unequivocal renunciation of religious hate. The Jos riots are a horror story of human beings’ inhumanity to one another, driven by nothing less than blind, unreasoning hatred.
Let me be clear: I am a Christian. As I have mentioned in the past few posts, I know Christians who have lost homes, family members, and churches in these ongoing crises in Jos. In the 2008 crisis, I spent almost a week with Christians in a refugee camp at my parents house. I have the deepest sympathy for them and agree that the international community should pray for and support financially those who have lost so much. But perhaps the international Christian community should expand their compassion to include the many, many Muslims who have suffered as well.
Let me also be clear that, living in Kano and having many Muslim friends, I have heard similar claims by Muslims to the complete innocence of the Hausa community and complete blame against the “vicious and warring local tribesman” (that is a direct quote) of Plateau State. I recently read a poem by a Hausa Muslim acquaintance that I found very disturbing, that cast the settlers as peace-loving civilized people and the indigenes basically as bloodthirsty savages who pass the time by murdering other people. Now, it’s clear that both sides see the other side as having started the crisis and being at fault in it. Both sides dehumanize the other. And this kind of rhetoric, on both sides, will only feed the fires.
I intend my critique to be against all of those who look at only their own side of the story–both Christians and Muslims. However, since I am a Christian, I feel I have a particular responsibility to take my own faith community to task for what seems to be a lack of compassion and a refusal to try to see through the eyes of the “other,” of using the tragic deaths of both Christians and Muslims to further an agenda to demonize Islam. And to those who claim Christians are completely innocent, let me say that for the past year and a half that I have been back in Nigeria, I have heard Christian friends in Jos say poisonous, toxic, hateful things about Hausas and Muslims. I have heard Christian friends rejoicing over the destruction of Muslim property, even over the burned hull of a primary school owned by a Muslim. When I protested, I was told that I didn’t know what I was talking about. (In fact, my mother just told me the story of a Christian non-Berom friend whose shop was burned by Christians–he rents from a Muslim) So let me protest on a more public forum, and those who disagree with me are free to answer me in the comments section of this blog. I have no doubt that there is much similar rhetoric on the Muslim side of the divide that I do not hear because few people would say such things in front of me, but whether there is or not, does not excuse Christians for hate. As Jesus said, “43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[h] and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies[i] and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5: 43-45
I will provide links to two articles on Christian websites here. There are many more, but these are the two that I wrote comments on, trying to point their readers to Human Rights Watch articles that would provide a more complex picture of the situation. My comments, which I posted over a week ago, were never approved and made visible on these websites. I’m sure the people who posted these stories are good people, who have the best intentions to help their Christian brothers and sisters in Nigeria, but in not posting the comments of someone who tried to bring some amount of balance and context to the story, they are not doing our faith any favours. In fact, by ignoring my contribution in favour of their own preferred sources, one could even say they are complicit in the spread of hatred.
But let me give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they have not seen my comments. Perhaps the internet ate my posts. If this is the case, I welcome them to contact me when they receive the pingback from my link.
The first one, “Jos is Burning,” is from the CMS mission on January 20, 2010. I read the article because someone posted a link to it on Facebook. The article correctly reports on deaths and losses of property from Christians. It also reports several rumours and allegations about “Muslim” soldiers targeting Christians:
A statement from the Anglican Diocese of Jos said that over the last two months, there has been concern over widespread rumours of plans to bomb the homes of Christian leaders and to kill senior members of Christian churches.
There are worries that the military, brought in to contain the violence, seems to be splintering along religious lines with claims that Muslim troops are allegedly firing on Christians and armoured vehicles are opening fire on Christian civilians. CSW reports that one eyewitness saw a Christian youth singled out in a crowd by a soldier, who forced him to kneel and executed him.
It finally lists a number of admirable prayer requests, including that “For Christian leaders in Jos, especially the Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi: for safety, courage, wisdom and opportunities to make connections across the Christian-Muslim divide.”
On January 20, I attempted to post the following comment,
While we should rightly be very concerned about violence against
Christians in Jos and elsewhere, I think we also need to be careful
not to focus so completely on our “own” side as to miss the violence
and hateful rhetoric carried out by Christians against Muslims as
I am a Christian who spent a good part of my adolescence in Jos. I now
live in Kano and have many Hausa Muslim friends. At least two or three
of my personal acquaintances (Hausa Muslims–Jasawa) from Jos but who
now live in Kano have had their family homes burned and relatives
wounded and killed. One acquaintance lost her grandmother and many
other family members. And if Muslim soldiers have been targeting
Christians, the same is happening with Christian soldiers targeting
Muslims. If churches have been burnt, mosques also have been burnt.
For another side of the story about the beginning of this conflict,
see this article from a Northern newspaper. It presents one side of
the story, but it may provide some explanation of the context behind
the church being attacked: http://allafrica.com/stories/201001190555.html
Similarly, for those who are not familiar with Jos, to make this a
story about persecuted Christians without mentioning the complex
politics behind it oversimplifies the story:
For more detailed information on the specific context of this
conflict, see these links:
Have Christians been killed? Yes. Have churches been burnt? Yes. I was
in Jos during the 2008 crisis and we had a refugee camp at our house
made up of mostly members from Emmanuel Baptist church, which had been
burnt for the 3rd time. (Hopefully, it has not been burnt again in
this crisis.) There is very much a need for prayer for Jos. But, let’s
please not focus so much on the Christian side that we forget that
Muslims are suffering and dying, as well, often at the hands of those
who claim to be Christians.
To date, it has still not been posted. Perhaps the internet ate it.
The following report was received by Christian Aid from a native missionary living in Jos, Nigeria. Most reports of this situation by secular media contain skewed information, received directly from the Nigerian government. This information includes false claims that Christians attacked and killed Muslims, and vastly underestimates the damage done to Christian lives and property. In reality, Muslims plotted an attack on Jos Christians days before the election results were announced.
Now, I remember, at the time, as we sat through the crisis with hundreds of Christian refugees in and around our house, thinking that the international media reports did seem somewhat skewed and biased. However, for Pastor Chuck and Arlyn who were not actually in Jos or Nigeria at the time and who were relying on their information from one source, to claim that reports of Christians attacking and killing Muslims were “false claims” or that “in reality, Muslims plotted” the attack seems unwise and in fact quite dangerous.
I posted the following response, which I know was received, because on my google chrome browser, which I was using when I wrote and posted it, it shows my comment and says “awaiting moderation.” On Internet Explorer, it shows no comment. This was my response:
Your comment is awaiting moderation.
January 23, 2010 @ 8:48 pm
As a Christian who was in Jos during the November 2008 crisis and had a refugee camp from three different churches at my family home, I appreciate the attempt to raise awareness about the sectarian crises in jos. However, I think we as Christians also need to be a little bit careful about skewing the story to “our” side so much as to not recognize that Muslims, many of whom I know personally, also suffered a great deal in this crisis, many times at the hands of those who call themselves Christians. While you say that “secular media […] includes false claims that Christians attacked and killed Muslims,” it is actually very well known in Jos that so-called Christians did engage in serious reprisal attacks. While we can say that people who kill others are not truly Christians, I have, with my own ears, heard Jos-based pastors advocating violence against Muslims (as well as some very admirable pastors who stress non-violence and forgiveness.)
You say that the “original” inhabitants of the land are Christian, but that “but the green farmland pastures have attracted Muslim Hausa and Fulani people from the north.” This is a bit of an over simplification. The Muslim Hausa community, also known as the Jasawa, has been in Jos for over 100 years, and has until recently lived fairly peacefully with the Christian “indigenes.” Many commentators who have researched this feel that these crises are actually political and have much to do with Nigeria’s policies about granting certain rights only to “indigenes” of the land, which often means that three or four generations of a family may have lived in one place but still not be considered “indigine.” The Jasawa community is denied rights such as reduced tuition at the university, opportunities to be employed in the civil service, and political representation. This does not excuse violence but places the crisis in more context. Just as many Christian “indigenes” feel that the violence is orchestrated by outside Hausa Muslim forces, many Hausas also feel that the violence is orchestrated by local “Christian” “indigene” politicians who are using ethnic chauvinism to reclaim land that has been bought and lived on for years by the Jasawa.
For more detailed information, please see the following articles: “Jonah Jang and the Jasawa: Ethno-Religious Conflict in Jos, Nigeria” by sharia-in-Nigeria scholar Philip Ostien ; 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 most recent 2010 crisis .
For an example of why it is so dangerous to talk about only one side of the story, see these reports of a massacre of a Muslim community that took place only a few days ago in Jos:
I say all of this as a Christian who knows Christians who have been killed in these conflicts, Christians who have lost their homes, and Christians who have seen their churches burned. I am not trying to downplay the amount that Christians have suffered, but to urge us not to open our eyes wider to the complexity of these crises and to reach out in love to our Muslim neighbors who have suffered much as well. This is the only hope we have that these crises will stop.
Your comment is awaiting moderation.
January 23, 2010 @ 8:52 pm
For some reason, the links I posted above did not come through.
The link to the “Jonah Jang and the Jasawa” article is here:
I’m sorry that neither of my comments were posted, as I think those posts, without any sort of caveats, will merely further global misunderstandings about what is going on and will further solidify an “us against them” mentality among Christians and Muslims around the world. [UPDATE 4 February 2009: to be fair, the urgent prayer chain blog has now posted my comment.) As the R.E.A.L. organization notes:
You cannot promote religious love, if you won’t recognize and reject religious hate – especially when it comes from members of your religion. Our shared rights to exchange ideas and expect dignity for our religious beliefs comes with the shared responsibility to never allow our religious beliefs to be used to rationalize hate. Surely the thousands that have died in Nigeria over religious hate deserve more than a determined denial over why they died.
The widespread silence by responsible, international Christian leaders and Muslim leaders (outside of the anti-freedom OIC and Muslim Brotherhood groups) to recognize and condemn such religious hatred by both those Christian and Muslim rioters in Jos will certainly ensure that the Jos riots will be used by those who perceive a global Christian “war on Islam,” which remains a motivator for violent jihadists around the world.
Ultimately, I am not interested in “who started it” so much as “how will we now respond.” How will Christians and Muslims in Jos respond? How will Christians and Muslims in the rest of Nigeria respond? How will Christians and Muslims around the world respond? Certainly justice must be done, and the organizers of such violence must be found, prosecuted, and punished. But if we wait for justice before we begin to reach out to the other, before we begin to forgive and try to heal broken communities, I fear that as Dr. Martin Luther King observed: The “Hate [will multiply] hate, violence [will multiply] violence, and toughness [will multiply] toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”
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