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Nigeria’s Unholy War
Posted on Apr 6, 2010
Jos is surrounded by beautiful hills, the most well known being Shere Hills, about 1,800 meters high. Others are Jarawa Hills, Vom Hills and Gana Wuri Hills. Jos is therefore a favored destination for tourists interested in trekking and hiking. Another attraction is the area’s unspoiled savannas, featuring an abundance of wild animals such as leopards and hippos, waterfalls and curious rock outcroppings.
Jos grew rapidly after the British discovered vast tin deposits in the area. Both tin and columbite were extensively mined in the area up until the 1960s. By 1943, tin mining on the Jos Plateau was at its peak. Up to 1960, Jos was the sixth largest producer of tin in the world and is still often referred to as “Tin City.” Tin mining led to the influx of migrants (Hausas, Igbos, Yorubas and Europeans), who constitute more than half of the population of Jos, making the city one of the most cosmopolitan of Nigeria’s cities. Apart from tin, Jos boasts a buried treasure of unexplored minerals such as sapphire, ruby, topaz, amethyst, tourmaline, aquamarine, garnet and quartz.
By the 1970s, however, the mining industry started to slow down. After the discovery of oil, the Nigerian economy became dominated by the new “liquid gold.” Other export goods like coal, tin, palm oil and cocoa were almost completely neglected. This decline continued until what used to be a prosperous Jos became a civil service town. Those who could not secure civil service jobs became farmers. An unhealthy competition for jobs among the educated and for land among farmers and pastoralists soon developed.
Consequently, tensions started mounting among the various ethnic groups that previously had lived side by side in peace and harmony. This mounting tension reached its peak in September 2001, when over 1000 people were killed in an orgy of violence that rocked the city for about two weeks.
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Since then, Jos has not known peace. About 700 people were killed in 2004 in a similar uprising. More than 300 residents died during another round of riots in 2008. The two attacks this year have claimed more than a thousand lives and displaced several thousand people.
It’s easy to label these clashes as religious uprisings. Jos is populated by distinct ethnic groups such as Tiv, Jukun, Pyem, Kofyar, Berom, Hausa-Fulani and many others. The city is in what is known as the Middle Belt in Nigeria, the dividing line between the Muslim north and the mostly Christian south. Most indigenes of Jos and its environs are Berom Christians, while most settlers are Hausa/Fulani Muslims. The other ethnic groups in Plateau state, who are predominantly Christian, readily identify with the Christian Berom. They collectively see Islam as a threat, especially with the introduction of Shariah law in several northern states, and fear that if the Muslim Hausa/Fulani settlers are not contained, they may Islamize the area and bring the much-dreaded Shariah law to Plateau state. This may be where the religious aspect of the conflict ends.
Professor Kabiru Mato of the University of Abuja says the violence in Jos is a result of a combination of factors including social apathy, economic deprivation and political frustration.
“I don’t see anything religious. Wherein religion could be the difference between the two warring factions, fundamentally it’s a manifestation of economic alienation. Social apathy, political frustration, economic deprivation and so many factors are responsible,” he argues.
According to Mato, “what is happening in Jos is simply an exhibition of the failure of governance in Nigeria; it’s an exhibition of a very serious economic problem that Nigerians find themselves in. It’s a breakdown of law and order.”
Significantly, the area was supposed to be under a dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed by the military in the aftermath of the January attacks. “We were supposed to be under curfew. How did they attack?” asks a bemused Gabriel Gyang, one of the survivors of the violence. How did the attackers manage to evade the military curfew that early Sunday morning?
The northern caucus in the House of Representatives also blamed the recurring crises in Jos, Plateau state and other parts of the region on poverty and frustration.
The chairman of the caucus, Terngu Tsegba of Benue state, who read the group’s resolution on the latest crisis in Jos at a press conference, said that poverty remained the basic problem in Plateau state and other parts of the region.
Commenting on inter-ethnic clashes in Nigeria, a Nigerian Marxist, D.C. Gaye, argues that these clashes are due to the fundamental crisis of underdevelopment. “There is widespread poverty and this gives rise to a scramble for limited resources. In less than a decade, Nigeria has slipped from a middle-income-status nation to a low-income category, and is currently regarded as one of the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa.”
According to Gaye, “most of these communities are no better than slums. Most families find it difficult to feed themselves. There is no potable water, no good roads, no proper medical facilities, no social infrastructures, and no good schools. Environments such as these generate fear, distrust, hatred, frustrations and anger. Under such circumstances, it is easy to believe that if the other ethnic group[s] go away, there will be enough.”
He concludes with an ominous warning: “a specter haunts Nigeria: the specter of ethnic cleansing. It has already signaled its approach. This takes form in ever-increasing acts of violence between diverse ethnic groups.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged acting President Goodluck Jonathan to treat the Jos situation as genocide. In a report signed by HRW Sub-Sahara Africa Rapporteur Sonya Maldar and sent to Jonathan for his “urgent attention,” the organization said the slaughter was nothing less than “ethnic cleansing.”
“It is our humble opinion that the perpetrators of this dastardly act are not faceless, and their sponsors can also be found and made to face the full wrath of the law,” the report stated. “There is a need for you to see this wanton destruction of lives as ethnic cleansing or genocide in its entire dimension and investigate the killings with such in mind.”
Meanwhile, as the latest bodies are stuffed into wells, sewers and unmarked graves, the people of Jos wait in terror for the next round of attacks. No one knows for sure when and where tempers will boil over next, so there is no running away from it.
Well, perhaps only in nearby Shen do people have an idea of what lies ahead. Chief Gabriel Gyang of Shen told the BBC’s “Focus on Africa” program that people in his village feared more attacks.
He said he received text messages from people who claimed responsibility for the March 17 attacks and threatened to return.
Residents of other villages in the area have reportedly been receiving hundreds of daily text messages urging Christians to kill Muslims or urging Muslims to kill Christians.
“I believe this will last a long time,” says an exasperated state police commissioner, Ikechuckwu Aduba.
“It is not over. Where are we heading?” Aduba asks.
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