Tag Archives: Plateau State

Diary of a trip to four Nigerian cities

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

Diary of a trip to four Nigerian Cities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Village of Areh being attacked right NOW… 18 July 2010

I just received another call from my friend Godfrey around 9:45pm telling me that the village of Areh in the hills off a Ring Road, a few miles from where he lives, and not far from Maza, is being attacked right NOW. Godfrey said that everyone from his neighborhood was out, the soldiers were there, and he would call when he had more details.  When he calls I will put up more details. In the meantime, my prayers go out to the village of Areh….

UPDATE 10:47pm.

I just called Godfrey again, and he said that he is on the streets of Anguwar Rukuba with soldiers and other youth. He said that soldiers are now at the village. Apparently one house has been burned. He’s not sure whether anyone was killed. He will put an update on his blog first thing in the morning. [If clicking on the link to his blog, please note that there is a graphic photo of a dead body on his last post.]

UPDATE 1:13pm 19 July 2010

Facebook update from Godfrey: ”

The village of Areh,close to Maza was attacked last night at about 9pm.We tried to go to their rescue but were chased away by the soldiers.this morning we got there and found that the compound of one Mahauta Achi had been burnt down,but thank God no one was killed

UPDATE 9:22pm 19 July 2010

Godfrey has posted an update on his blog about the attack on Mr. Mahauta Achi’s compound in the village of Afeh, one night after at least eight were killed in the nearby village of Maza.

July 17 attack on Maza Village, Jos, Plateau State

It is with a sick feeling in my stomach that I post this. One of my friends Godfrey Saeed Selbar, a Jos-based filmmaker,  called me around 11:51am this morning, telling me that there had been “another massacre” in a village not far from where he lives in Jos. I immediately called my mother, who confirmed that this was actually the village of a family friend. The friend went to Maza at 5am this morning and personally saw the bodies of acquaintances.

According to news reports from Next, BBC, Al-JazeeraAFP, and Reuters, it appears that  between 5 to 10 people were killed last night in the village of Maza by attackers who invaded the village in the middle of the night, according to AFP, between 1:30 and 5am.

According to Al-Jazeera,

Seven houses and a church were burned in Mazzah village, near the city of Jos, the scene of previous acts of sectarian violence.

“Seven people were killed instantly with machetes while three others were seriously injured. One of them died on the way to the hospital,” Lieutenant Colonel Kingsley Umoh told the AFP news agency.

Next reports that

Mr. Umoh’s figure, however, differs with that of the State Government, who announced that 10 people were killed while another 10 sustained serious injuries.

Some reports said the dead included the family of a Christian priest.

Witnesses said the men attacked the family of Nuhu Dawat in the village of Mazah, 12km (7 miles) from the state capital of Jos, killing his wife, two children and a grandson.

The priest ran for his life, later telling Reuters: “I leave everything to God to judge.”

My friend Godfrey Saeed Selbar writes on his blog “Musings of a Lost Soul,” his own eye-witness account of what he saw when he went to Maza and has uploaded at least one photo of one of the victims. Warning, the photo he has uploaded is a graphic image of a dead body. He reports that “The pastor’s wife,children,and grandchild and the counsellor’s family amongst others were the victims.”

[[UPDATE 18 July 2010, 1:40pm. Today’s Vanguard This Day , and  Sunday Tribune have more details: According to Vanguard’s Tayo Obateru,

Recounting his ordeal, pastor of the burnt COCIN Church, the Reverend Nuhu Dawat whose wife, two children and a grandson were murdered  said he heard a knock on his door at about 1.am but found nobody when he opened the door.

He said he later began to hear sporadic gunshots which forced him to escape through the back door to take refuge in a farm. By the time he returned he met his wife and the three children  hacked to death.

“I watched as the attackers broke into houses and went after those who ran out of their houses with dangerous weapons”, he said.

Another resident, Adam Bala said “We were sleeping when we heard some movements. We cannot say exactly why they came to attack us. This incident happened between 1.am and 2.am. They came in with weapons and attacked some targeted houses.

”The personal house and family house of the councilor representing Mazah Ward Hon. Kankani Jaja were burnt, his parents and son killed, the COCIN church in the village was vandalized, the Pastor’s house burnt, his wife, child and mother murdered while another boy in the village was also murdered”.

Also speaking to journalists, another victim, Gaya Suna who lost his only daughter said he had to escape into the bush but his daughter who was deep asleep was hacked by the assailants.

District Head of the Area, Mr. Abamu Kaiwa said they made frantic calls for assistance but none came until the attackers left adding that those injured had been taken to the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) for treatment.

Seriki Adinoye of This Day reports:

Another resident of the village, Mr Gaya Suna, who narrated his ordeal said the attackers came with such a bright torchlight that they could locate where their victims hid. He was however able to escape with his wife but his daughter was killed. He said “People were sleeping when we heard some movement. We cannot say exactly why they came to attack us”.
The Community leader of Mazah, Mr Abamu Kaiwa, who spoke with THISDAY said “This incident occured between 1 and 2am, they came in with some weapons and attacked some targeted houses. The personal house and family house of the Councilor representing Mazah ward in the Council, Hon. Kankani Jaja, were burnt, his father and son killed”.]]]

[[UPDATE 20 July 2010. Mr. Kyle Abts, who is with the organization “Food for the Hungry” (USA) and is a coordinator with CRCWRC, sent me the following information he obtained by going to Mazah and talking to people there. I am sharing this information with his permission:

After talking to one of the church elders, the councilor and many residents, I have more questions than answers!

FACTS:
– Mazah is the correct spelling.
– It is very difficult to drive over the hills and down very bad roads over streams (many park near the main road and trek in on foot).
– Mazah is spread out along the valley (unlike Dogo Nahawa which has a concentration of buildings).
– Church was not burned (pastors house was burned).
– Serious weapons (apart from machete) they had machine guns (holes in metal, concrete, etc). I did not see shell casings, but the residents said detectives came and collected them.
– Councilor’s house was burned and several from his family was killed (he was out of town).
– Some attackers were known to the villagers (they didn’t just lure them out, they went inside specific homes to carry out killings and then burned them).
– They don’t believe that peace is an option (they want it, but say how could they if the other side does agree to it).

UNCONFIRMED
– Many (including councilor and church people) said that some youths killed a cow and they had discussed repaying the Fulani, but never did (one even said the cow gave birth before they killed it).
– The 9 arrested had been released.
– Army involved in (as in other attacks the villagers said the attackers spoke Hausa, carried army-grade weapons, knew where/how to attack).

This middle of the night attack echoes similar attacks that have occurred on villages around Jos from the January attack on Kuru Karama, the March attack on Dogo Nahawa and surrounding villages, and more recent attacks on the village of Riyom at the beginning of this month that have taken place in the past few months. Jos and surrounding areas in Plateau State have flared up into crisis beginning in September 2001 in Jos (there were small problems previous to 2001 but this marks the largest scale violence seen in Plateau State) and continuing in Yelwa and Shendam in 2002 and 2004. There was another large scale crisis in Jos in November 2008 and January 2009, and since January, there have been a series of attacks on villages, individuals, and “secret killings.”

For background reading see a series of detailed reports (mostly by Human Rights Watch). I believe that there is a white paper that has been released by the state commission on the 2008 Jos crisis, but I haven’t yet been able to find where it is posted:

Human Rights Watch. “Nigeria: Protect Survivors, Fully Investigate Massacre Reports.” 23 January 2010.

Philip Ostien. “Jonah Jang and the Jasawa: Ethno-Religious Conflict in Jos, Nigeria.” August 2009

Human Rights Watch. “Nigeria: Arbitrary Killings by Security Forces in Jos.” 19 December 2008.

Human Rights Watch. “They do not own this place: Government discrimination against “non-indigines” in Nigeria.” 26 April 2006.

Human Rights Watch. “Revenge in the Name of Religion: the cycle of violence in Plateau and Kano States” 25 May 2005.

Human Rights Watch. “Jos: a city torn apart.” 18 December 2001

The Most recent violence in Plateau State

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).

According to BBC:

Some 500 people, including many women and children, are now reported to have been killed in a weekend ethnic clash near Jos in Nigeria, officials say.

The figure was earlier put at 100 and it is hard to verify casualties. Troops have been deployed and local officials said dozens of arrests had been made.

They said three mainly Christian villages near Jos were attacked from nearby hills by people with machetes.

There is a long history of local tension between Muslims and Christians.

The attacks are said to have been in revenge for the killing of several hundred people around Jos in January.

[UPDATE 9pm: Naijablog, at 3:25pm,  reposted a report by the Nigeria Red Cross Society, Plateau Branch, on a visit yesterday07/03/2010,  to Dogo Na Hauwa:

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.

Findings

The visit revealed the following:

1) Four villages were attacked

(a) Dogo Na Hauwa

(b) Shen

(c) Zot-Foron

(d) Rasat

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.

BBC: Nigeria Religious Clashes “kill 500” near Jos

NEXT: Herdsmen Raid Jos Village, Kill Hundreds

Al-Jazeera: Deadly Clashes in Central Nigeria

Punch: 150 Die in Fresh Jos Violence

NEXT: Jonathan places security on red alert in Jos

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:

Nigeria: Protect Survivors, Fully Investigate Massacre Reports, a January 2010 call by Human Rights Watch for the Nigerian government to investigate the massacre at Kuru Karama.

“Jonah Jang and the Jasawa: Ethno-Religious Conflict in Jos, Nigeria” an August report published by “Sharia Debates in Africa”  in August 2009 by Phil Ostien

Arbitrary Killings by Security Forces:a July 2009 Human Rights Watch Report on extrajudicial killings by security forces during the November 2008 crisis in Jos

“They Do Not Own This Place”A  2006 Human Rights Watch Report on the Indigene/Settler Policies in Nigeria that has often been blamed for these crises in the middlebelt, including a case study on violence in Plateau State

Revenge in the Name of ReligionA 2005 Human Rights Watch Description of violence, between Muslims and Christians, in the Plateau town of Yelwa in February and May 2004, and reprisal attacks in Kano May 2004

My own thoughts on the January 2010 crisis: January 21st  On the latest Jos crisis ; January 23rd Massacre at Kuru Kenta/Kuru Karama ; January 28th Taking Sides

and a very subjective/emotional reaction I wrote in December 2008 on the November 2008 Jos crisis, during which my family had had a refugee camp at our house.

God help us all.

Taking Sides

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.

One of the best analyses I have yet seen on the crisis from the R.E.A.L. Organization (Responsibility for Equality and Liberty) takes to task the international faith communities for not doing more to denounce the atrocities committed by their faith communities, pointing out:

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
well.

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.

In fact, in one report, almost all of the Muslim homes in the village
of Kuru Jenta were burned and many Muslims”rounded up and killed:”
http://naijablog.blogspot.com/2010/01/tragic-news-from-norma-in-jos.html

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:

Recent academic article by shari’a-in-Nigeria scholar Philip Ostien on
the 2008 Jos crisis
http://www.sharia-in-africa.net/pages/publications/jonah-jang-and-the-jasawa-ethno-religious-conflict-in-jos-nigeria.php

Human Rights Watch report on the Settler/Indigene politics in Nigeria,
with about 5 case studies from different parts of the country,
including the plateau
http://www.hrw.org/en/node/11354/section/2

Human Rights Watch report on Military abuses in the 2008 Jos crisis:
http://www.hrw.org/en/node/84005/section/4

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.

thank you

To date, it has still not been posted. Perhaps the internet ate it.

The second post on the 2008 Jos crisis I found because it is the automatically wordpress generated “suggested link” after my blog post on the Jos crisis. This article,“Nigerian Christians Murdered Left Homeless by Organized Muslim Attack”, posted by a Pastor Chuck and Arlyn on a site called “Urgent Prayer Chain” was a bit more sensational.

Pastor Chuck and Arlyn say:

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:

carmenmccain said

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:

http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/01/22/nigeria-protect-survivors-fully-investigate-massacre-reports

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2010/01/201012333947758520.html

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.

carmenmccain said

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:

http://www.sharia-in-africa.net/pages/publications/jonah-jang-and-the-jasawa-ethno-religious-conflict-in-jos-nigeria.php

The link to the human rights watch report on the “Indigene/Settler” policy in Nigeria is here:

http://www.hrw.org/en/node/11354/section/2

The link to the specific details on Plateau State is here;

http://www.hrw.org/en/node/11354/section/8

The link to the Human Rights Watch report on Extrajudicial killings in the 2008 Jos crisis is here:

http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2009/07/20/arbitrary-killings-security-forces

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.”