Tag Archives: sectarian violence

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

Arresting the Music. Arresting Hope. Arrested for playing at a wedding “without permission”

Last night I wrote a post about a story my friend told me about some musicians being arrested for playing at a wedding “without permission.” However, since the case is still ongoing, I have decided to take down the post until things are a bit more settled.

[UPDATE: 16 March 2010: Abdulaziz A. Abdulaziz has just published a story in Leadership on the Alliance Francaise episode  that mentions the incident I am referring to here:

Meanwhile a six-man band known as Police Band who perform at weddings in the state was equally smashed by agents of the board on allegation that they were performing without a permit of the board. The band is led by one Solomon alias Solo, an emerging entertainer.

Members of the band were mopped up and taken to a court which subsequently sentenced them to six months with an option of fine of N20, 000. The group was thrown behind bars but was later released after paying the fine.]]

When I first heard about this story, my friend told me that the Police Band was registered with the Kano State History and Culture Bureau….

Readers may remember that two weeks ago, the Kano State Censorship Board also shut down a 23,000 euro international concert organized by the French embassy and the Kano State History and Culture Bureau, being hosted at the Alliance Francaise, for not “seeking permission” to hold the event.

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.

Massacre at Kuru Jenta/Kuru Karama

Today Al-Jazeera picked up on a horrifying story that I have been hearing rumours of since Tuesday. On Tuesday, a friend posted on Facebook and on his blog the following email plea from a farm owner based in Plateau State on the outskirts of Jos:

We are receiving terrible news from the village where Zamani Farms is located, called Kuru Jenta, on the way to Jos Airport Evidently the village has been set on fire and the Muslims in the village, including our workers some of whom are Muslims, have been surrounded and fear they are about to be executed. We have tried unsuccessfully to reach army and police authorities in Jos. Please, if any of you in Abuja have access to any authorities who can help stop this situation we would very much appreciate it.

The post was followed a few hours with an defeated sounding email post saying:

First of all, thanks to all of you who tried to help me rescue some of our staff and others in Kuru Jenta. I want to state that I have not yet been able to go to the farm to see for myself what is the situation, but have been in touch with some individuals by phone. According to reports, all of the Muslim houses in Kuru were burnt, and most of the Muslims were killed. Only a few are still alive. Although the person I spoke with (one of our farm staff) was naturally upset and a bit confused, he told me that he believed that except for himself, the other Muslim members of staff of the farm were all killed, along with many other inhabitants of the village.He along with his wife and children were injured but managed to escape, and at that point (this evening) he was attempting to walk through the bush to get to the Police Staff College, which he felt was the nearest place of refuge where they could be safe.

At Kuru, there was not a fight between groups, as had been the case in Jos. Muslim inhabitants were rounded up and shot or burnt in their houses. As I said, I have yet to see for myself, but I received the same report from both Muslim and Christian staff and have no reason to doubt its veracity. Only that I am not sure of the details of the exact number killed

A Human Rights Watch call for investigation posted today gives more details. All of the reports I have heard so far seem to indicate that the killings were carried out by armed invaders:

Witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that groups of armed men attacked the largely Muslim population of Kuru Karama around 10 a.m. on January 19, 2010. After surrounding the town, they hunted down and attacked Muslim residents, some of whom had sought refuge in homes and a local mosque, killing many as they tried to flee and burning many others alive. The witnesses said they believed members of the armed groups to be Christians.

Community leaders from Jos and journalists who visited the town under military escort later in the week told Human Rights Watch that they saw bodies, including several charred corpses of young children and babies, strewn around town, including dozens stuffed down wells or in sewage pits. According to a Muslim official who visited the town to arrange for burial of the bodies, 121 have been recovered so far, including the bodies of 22 young children. The official told Human Rights Watch that corpses are still lodged in 16 wells. Journalists and community leaders who visited the town said that nearly all of the homes and the three main mosques were burned and destroyed.

One of the town’s Muslim imams wounded in the attack told Human Rights Watch that a Christian pastor tried to stop the attack but was beaten by the armed mob. There are conflicting reports of the police response. One witness reported that at least one police officer participated in the attack, while another said the police abandoned their post shortly before the violence began. Witnesses said the killings took place throughout the day, without police intervention to stop the violence, despite repeated calls to the police.

Human Rights Watch publishes eye witness reports from two witnesses:

A 32-year-old resident of Kuru Karama, described to Human Rights Watch what happened:

“Kuru is an old mining town. There are over 3,000 people who live in the community. When we heard that there was crisis in Jos [on Sunday], we went to the [local] Berom chief on Sunday and Monday, he said we should go back home, and go in peace. We went home and relaxed. On Tuesday [January 19] we sat down in the police station and [all] agreed that nothing would happen in the community. The three Muslim leaders were there; the three pastors were there; the chiefs of the Berom and Hausa were there. We then went home. After 15-20 minutes we saw people dropping [entering the town] from the mountains. They were Berom – the tribe of the governor. They were armed with cutlasses, guns, sticks, and bags of stones. It was not the Christians from our community but those from outside who came. Before they reached the area, we called the pastors who said it was none of their business.

I saw one policeman kill more than three people. This is not what I heard from people; I saw it with my own eyes. We were running away, and we met the policeman. He shot a small boy who fell on the ground, and we hid. We had only stones in our hands. He also killed a woman with a baby.

The children were running helter-skelter. The men were trying to protect the women. People who ran to the bush were killed. Some were burned in the mosque, and some went to the houses and were burned. We think 250-300 have been killed, including babies and children. My brother lost four of his children. I personally saw more than 20-30 bodies of children. Some were sliced into two from the head downward; others were burned; others were amputated. I saw a mother lying down and the baby lying next to her.

I am married with two children and one wife. I was waiting for her [my wife], I could not see her. I left Kuru after 12 midnight [early Wednesday morning]. I ran to neighboring villages. The next evening I saw her. She was wounded badly. The 11-month-old girl, they [the mobs] used an axe and cut her. They are both at the hospital.

I came back on Wednesday evening escorted by the military. I saw dead bodies everywhere. The corpses were there, but now you can just see the blood on the ground. None of the houses are standing. All the mosques were liquidated.”

A community leader who was in Kuru Karama the day of the massacre described to Human Rights Watch what he saw:

“Around 10 a.m. we started seeing people coming around and surrounding us. They said they will take our land, saying we are the non-indigenes. They started throwing stones, shooting bows and arrows, shooting guns; we tried to defend ourselves, but we had nothing.

After they started beating us and we ran back to the village, we started to gather our wives and children and put them in the central mosque because anyone who knows religion knows the mosque and church are safe places. We left a few people in the mosque and then went back to defend ourselves, but we couldn’t make it because we didn’t have anything to protect ourselves with, and we couldn’t run because they had surrounded us. So we had to just try to defend ourselves before they killed us. So along the way they were killing us. They were shooting us, hitting us with knives, burning us. They followed us; we went to another place, and they killed us. We were going round, and round, and round.

I saw what happened in the central mosque. They pursued us. They burned the mosque. They killed people in our presence. They burned the mosque with the women and children in it. There were over 100 bodies in the mosque – women and children. We couldn’t run away. All of us were wounded. They burned the whole village. There are 200-500 Muslim houses and they burned them all. The central mosque is a big mosque and was destroyed. They have killed almost 500 people. Some people ran to the bush and were killed. The dead bodies are in the wells, some in the soakaways. The fighting went on from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. They [the mobs] ran away and left at night.

I have three wives and four children. I saw the dead body of one wife; they had burned half of her. The remaining wives and my four children, I have not seen them. There are those who are burned to ashes, and you don’t know who is who.”

Other reports and reactions to this massacre can be found here:

IRIN: Nigeria: “Our Lives will Never be the same again”

Vanguard: Religious Renegades

Daily Trust: Norma farms proprietor sends distress message

Next: Jonathan orders troops to Jos religious crisis

BBC: Nigeria Religious Riots Bodies found in village wells

Yahoo News: ‘150 Bodies found in Wells’ After Nigerian Massacre

AFP: Clashes Bring Horror to Nigerian Village

Reuters: Bodies Pulled from Wells after Nigeria Clashes

CNN: Christian-Muslim violence warrants probe rights group says

Sunday Trust (24 Jan ’10): Jos Crisis: 150 bodies stuffed in wells in a village

[UPDATE 24 January 2009: Let me just note at this point, that, as a Christian, I find this an excrutiatingly painful thing–to see those who claim to be Christians carrying out massacres against fellow human beings created in God’s image. Anyone who knows the scriptures and words of Jesus, who even as one of his disciples tried to protect him against arrest by cutting off a man’s ear healed the wounded man and said: “Put your sword back in its place […] for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52), will know that this sort of violence is blasphemy. This is a political/ethnic crisis that has much more to do with resources, identity, and belonging, than it does to do with religion, as this Human Rights Watch report case study on the indigene/settler politics in Nigeria might help explain. That said, I find very troubling the trend on other Christian websites I have seen spinning the story as one of “persecution” against Christians without acknowledging the other side of the story or admitting that there are those who claim to be Christians who are murdering, killing, and destroying. Rather than attempting to excuse reprisals against “those who started it,” we also must acknowledge, both as Christians and Muslims, that there are those who are using the names of our God to commit atrocities, and we must denounce them in the strongest possible terms. So I say: To those who kill and loot and politic and conspire and corrupt youth in God’s name, may He judge you with the same fire you used to burn the houses and bodies of innocent people. To those who preach hatred and prejudice and violence in God’s name, listen to the words of Jesus, who is venerated in both Christianity and Islam: Luke 17: 1-4Matthew 7:15-23Matthew 26:52,Matthew 23:13-39John 3:19-21. For those who excuse attacks on those who are of a different religion or ethnicity because you think if you don’t strike first, they will persecute you: Matthew 18:21-22, Matthew 5:38-45Luke 6:27-31Matthew 10:24-31John 13: 34-35,John 14:27. These are just a few selections of many more passages from the New Testament, which reflect a focus on the “fruits of the spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control. To kill one’s neighbor in the name of Christ is a complete opposition to the whole meaning of Christianity [and although, as a Christian,  I speak more knowledgeably about Christianity than Islam, and am here specifically talking about the atrocities committed by so-called “Christians”, here are a few links to sites about peace and love in Islam as well: Islamforpeace.org, Islam and World Peace: Explanations of a Sufi, A Book of God’s Love The Necessity of Interfaith Dialogue: A Muslim Perspective, etc] , and to those who selectively defend an ideology of hate out of a few passages taken out of context, I think Jesus’s words in John 8:44 are appropriate: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  ]

On the latest Jos crisis

Taken during the Jos Crisis 2008 (c) Carmen McCain

I have been a little too overwhelmed to post recently since the beginning of third  (large-scale) Jos crisis this decade.  I arrived in Nigeria for two years two weeks after the Jos 2001 crisis, I was in Jos during the 2008 crisis, and I had just left Jos last Thursday, before this most recent crisis started on Sunday. My parents, however, have been there for all three.

They are fine, but many loved ones of neighbors and friends have been killed—Christians and Muslims.

In the last two crises, I have found myself in the disorienting position of being in between the two “sides.” After the crisis in 2008, I came from a beleaguered Jos and a community of aggrieved Christians who had been driven from their homes, seen their churches burned, and family members wounded back to Kano, where I heard stories of entire Muslim families being wiped out. On my return to Jos for Christmas in a taxi full of Hausa Muslims, I saw the blackened Islamic school for Higher education, the knocked down mosques, the utter destruction on the North part of Jos.

I attended secondary school in Jos living in an almost completely Christian community.  Most of my neighbors and friends in Jos are Christians, and when my family had a refugee camp at our house in 2008, almost all of the refugees were members of a Baptist church, Catholic Church, or COCIN church close to the university community where my family lives. The Baptist church had been burnt for the third time. For this reason, I have experienced the “Christian” side of the crisis—and have heard many bitter complaints about how the “Muslims want to take over everything”—perceptions that the Plateau is being besieged by large “sinister” forces that wish to “take over Nigeria.” At the same time my life right now is centred around my community of friends in Kano, most of whom are Hausa and Muslim—many of whom are also “Jasawa,” Hausas/Muslims from Jos. Their families have been in Jos for several generations, if not much longer, and until recently had fine relationships with their Christian “indigene” neighbors.  They believe that churches are preaching violence and that the ‘yan kasa—Jos “indigenes” have political agendas in attempting to reclaim land lived on for generations by Hausa “settlers.” They feel like the “indigenes” refuse to live in peace with them and many fear returning to their childhood homes.

This Sunday, I was staying with a Christian family in Kaduna when the first rumours of the crisis came in—again, there were the murmurings, this time from Christians, about how “Muslims refuse to live in peace.” I came back to Kano, where Muslim friends told me about family homes burned down and brothers slashed and wounded. On Facebook, one girl  weeps onto another friend’s post that she has lost many family members, including her grandmother to the violence.

My parents tell me about a long-term neighbor who recently moved to a new home. He had a gun and had saved some university students from a mob. Going back home with his gun, he was accosted by soldiers, shot, and killed. Other Christian friends have lost family members to mobs or soldiers. My mother tells me the gut-wrenching story of the brutal murder of four youth corpers. Sunday Dare, the former head of the Hausa VOA service, in a piece that reflects the perspective of a Christian indigene, tells a heart breaking story about how his elder brother, not long after returning home from church,  “was hacked down with knives and machete and left to burn with the house. Even as I write, his charred body lies on the ground around the house because it is impossible to recover his body due to a breakdown of security”. [UPDATE 25 January 2010, today I receive an email which describes great devastation in “Christian” areas of Bukuru, stories of old men killed by mobs, and family homes burned. The Bukuru market has apparently been completely razed.]

The losses have been great on both sides. However, at least according to the numbers being reported to the media, the losses have been the greatest among the Jasawa/Muslims. Although, the New York Times quotes the Plateau State police commissioner as saying only twenty-three people have been killed, BBC  reports:

Religious officials said at least 265 people had died since Sunday.

Among the dead were said to be 65 Christians and 200 Muslims.

Muhammad Tanko Shittu, a senior mosque official organising mass burials, gave a much higher death toll – telling Reuters news agency more than 350 Muslims had died.

According to one report, as posted on Naijablog, the Muslim community in the village of Kura Jenta on the airport road in Jos was almost wiped out, with almost all of the homes of Muslims being burned and many Muslims rounded up and killed.

[UPDATE: 23 January 2009: Al-Jazeera has now picked up this horrifying story, reporting that around 150 people, mostly Hausa Muslims, were killed in the village.

Reports on Saturday said that about 150 bodies had been recovered from wells in Kuru Jantar, near the city of Jos, where clashes began last week before spreading to nearby villages.

Locals in Kuru Jantar, also known as Kuru Karama, told Andrew Simmons, Al Jazeera’s Africa editor, that a massacre had taken place in the village.

They said armed men had surrounded and attacked the village on Tuesday.

Al Jazeera saw the bodies recovered from wells, as well as the burnt bodies of children recovered from ransacked houses.

Up to 18,000 people in the area are thought to have been left homeless by the clashes in Nigeria’s Plateau State.]

Reports of how the crisis started will also vary on who is spoken to, as is noted in this Reuter’s article. Most Christian sources refer to an unprovoked attack by Muslim youth on a Catholic church as worshippers were leaving the building, while my Kano sources talk about a Muslim trying to rebuild his house burnt in the last crisis, who was attacked by Christian youths saying a Muslim could not stay in their community. Perhaps there is a meeting point in the two stories. My parents tell me a pastor friend of theirs told them that the church was right beside the house that was being rebuilt. According to him, the construction workers were disturbing the service and church members went out to ask them to halt their work until after the service. Apparently, the workers continued with the construction and then people were attacked as they were coming out of the service and the church was burnt. On the other hand as told to the Daily Trust (a Northern regional paper), according to the man who was trying to rebuild his house, he was confronted by a gang of Christian youth who said he could not rebuild in the area and told to stop construction. After some intervention by soldiers, he attempted to stop the workers, who refused to stop because they had already mixed the cement. Supposedly they were then confronted by a Christian mob. I imagine something close to the truth lies somewhere between these two accounts, with opposing gangs getting out of control on both sides.

While the crises have certainly taken on religious dimensions—especially when symbols like churches and mosques are the most obvious markers of identity—I have seen many discussions on the internet, whether in the comments sections of articles or on Facebook, which oversimplify the conflict as a mostly religious one. I think this is a mistake and a serious one, as it is exactly this over-easy identification of the religious symbols as representative of a group which makes churches and mosques the most popular targets in a conflict that is primarily over politics, land, identity, belonging, ethnicity, and retaliation. (An Islamonline.net post makes a useful contribution to this perspective.)

I have gone into much detail on other forums in the last few days to try to explain the identity politics and complexities of the Plateau–at least what I understand of them. I’m so tired by this time that I will just recommend that anyone interested, read these documents: a recently published article by shari’a-in-Nigeria scholar Philip Ostien on the events leading up the the 2008 crisis “Jonah Jang and the Jasawa”; a Human Rights Watch report on the politics of “Settler/indigene” in Nigeria, with a section on Plateau State, and the Human Rights Watch report on the Military abuses during the 2008 crisis, which have no doubt been continued during this crisis.

The situation is particularly complex because the minority groups in the Plateau do have legitimate fears about being dominated by political and cultural forces further north. From what I have seen in Kano, there is much ongoing rhetoric about what sorts of behaviours should be allowed in a shari’a state–which often leads to discrimination against those who do not fit the conservative ideal. I have heard stories from my minority Christian friends here in Kano on how they have been actively discriminated against–one girl not being allowed to take an exam at a College of Education because she was not wearing a hijab. Another on how she heard a preacher on campus attacking Christians (an experience that could be easily reversed further south). A whole group of friends whose church was looted and torn down by neighbors. Muslims, as well, whose lifestyles do not fit conservative notions of those in power, have suffered, as can be seen in the ongoing conflict between the Kano State Censorship Board and writers, filmmakers, and singers.  These are things that have happened, and they are the sorts of things that worry Christians further south. But unfortunately, legitimate desires by Plateau “indigenes” to maintain their culture and heritage have turned into a particularly toxic ethnic/”religious” chauvinism accompanied by violent rhetoric and a disregard/lack of human sympathy for Hausa neighbors with whom they have lived in peace for generations. Ironically, Hausas from Jos who are engaged in the film industry in Kano are often accused of bringing foreign and corrupting influences into Hausa culture; when they go back to Jos, they are told they do not belong there either.  (Of course, although the harshest voices tend to be the loudest, there is also an intense creative engagement with these events by Northern and middlebelt artists. Interestingly, in the past two years, I have read novel drafts by three writer friends of mine from the middlebelt. All three of their novels deal with issues of political/ethnic/religious crisis in the middle belt and the north, engaging and challenging the rhetoric used on both sides. The actors, writers, and singers I know in Kano are full of lamenting songs and calls for mutual cooperation across ethnic and religious lines.)

Monday when I returned to Kano, I signed onto Facebook and realized that it was Martin Luther King day when I read part of this quote posted by one of my friends

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.

The excerpt comes from Martin Luther King Jr.s 1957 sermon “Loving Your Enemies.” [Update 20 February 2010, I later discovered that the original link I had posted to the sermon seems to have been abridged. Here is the link to the sermon on mlkonline.net. ]It seems to me that it is exactly this sort of insight we need right now. While the 2008 crisis was kickstarted by politics, it seems, at the moment, as if this latest crisis is the results of simmering resentments and a desire for revenge. If neighborhoods continue to split apart and separate into more and more homogenous groupings so that Christians no longer know and interact and visit Muslims and Hausas no longer know and interact and visit Burims, I fear for Jos. I fear for Nigeria.

But where I see hope, I see it in these young artists I speak with. Nigeria is teeming with youth, and perhaps the majority are guided by the mistakes of their elders. But if the artists can somehow inspire a passion for change, for cooperation, for alternative kinds of employment, for a love of country based on new values, love and forgiveness among youth of various faiths who have grown up together… there must be hope somewhere here.  Surely…