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.
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.
In other news, there were other Christmas attacks on churches in Maiduguri and in other parts of the world.
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.
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.
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:
AlJazeera: “Nigeria Vows to hunt bomb suspects” 26 December 2010.
AFP: “Troops Patrol Nigerian City after Deadly Attacks.” 26 December 2010
BBC: (video and short report) “Nigeria Probes Deadly Bomb Blasts” 26 December 2010.
Leadership: “More Casualties Reported in Jos Bomb Blasts.” 26 December 2010.
Nation: “Police Confirm 32 Dead, 74 Injured.” 26 December 2010.
Nation: “CAN blames Govt, Security.” 26 December 2010
Sunday Sun: “X-mas tragedies: Harvest of Death.” 26 December 2010.
Sunday Trust: “Christmas Eve Tragedy: ‘We’ll fish out those behind Jos Bomb Blasts’ -Jonathan ‘It’s an Act of Terrorism’- Army Chief” 26 December 2010.
Vanguard: “Jos Xmas Eve Blast: 32 people confirmed dead, 74 hospitalized” 26 December 2010
Bloomberg: “Christmas bombs in Nigeria’s Jos kill 32, in Attack Army Calls Terrorism.” 25 December 2010.
NEXT: “Jos residents reel from twin blasts that kill tens” 25 December 2010
For other posts I have written on this blog and elsewhere about the ongoing crises in Jos, see the following:
“Village of Areh Being Attacked Right NOW… 18 July 2010.” July 18, 2010.
“July 17 Attack on Maza Village, Jos, Plateau State” July 17, 2010.
“Photos of Peace Rally in Jos.” July 3, 2010.
“Youth Peace Rally, Jos, Rwang Pam Stadium, Thursday, 1 July, 10am” June 28, 2010.
“Riots in Jos as okada ban is enforced” June 28, 2010.
“The Most Recent Violence in Plateau State” March 8, 2010
“Taking Sides” January 28, 2010
“Massacre at Kuru Jenta/Kuru Karama” January 23, 2010
“On the Latest Jos Crisis” January 21, 2010.
“First installment in a series of thoughts on the Jos crisis” December 12, 2008.