Sectarian violence in Jos

Sunday, March 7, 2010

JOS, Nigeria (Reuters) - Clashes between Islamic pastoralists and Christian villagers killed more than 100 people near the central Nigerian city of Jos Sunday, where sectarian violence left hundreds dead in January, witnesses said.

The latest unrest in volatile central Nigeria comes at a difficult time, with acting President Goodluck Jonathan trying to assert his authority and the oil producing country's ailing leader Umaru Yar'Adua too sick to govern.

Villagers in Dogo Nahawa, just south of Jos, said Hausa-Fulani pastoralists from the surrounding hills attacked at about 3 a.m. (9 p.m. EST), shooting into the air before slashing those who came out of their homes with machetes.

"The shooting was just meant to bring people from their houses and then when people came out they started cutting them with machetes," said Dogo Nahawa resident Peter Jang, women crying behind him.

A Reuters witness who visited the village counted around 100 bodies piled in the open air. Pam Dantong, medical director of Plateau State Hospital in Jos, showed reporters 18 corpses that had been brought from the village, some of them charred.

Officials said other bodies had been taken to a second hospital in the state capital.

Gregory Yenlong, spokesman for Plateau State Governor Jonah Jang, said as many as 500 people may have been killed but there was no independent confirmation of this.

Four days of sectarian clashes in January between mobs armed with guns, knives and machetes killed hundreds of people in Jos, the capital of Plateau state, which lies at the crossroads of Nigeria's Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.

Jonathan deployed hundreds of troops and police to quell January's unrest, in which community leaders put the death toll at more than 400. Official police figures estimated the death toll from the clashes two months ago at 326.

Yenlong said the state government may consider extending a dusk-to-dawn curfew still in place after January's unrest.


It was not immediately clear what triggered the latest unrest, but thousands have died in religious and ethnic violence in central Nigeria over the past 10 years.

"This is an act of inhumanity," said Da Buba Gyang, the traditional ruler of the Christian Berom ethnic group in Jos.

The tension is rooted in decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands with migrants and settlers from the Hausa-speaking Muslim north.

The instability underscores the fragility of Africa's most populous nation as it approaches the campaign period for 2011 elections with uncertainty over who is in charge.

Yar'Adua returned from three months in a Saudi hospital, where he was being treated for a heart condition, a week and a half ago but has still not been seen in public. Presidency sources say he remains in a mobile intensive care unit.

Fears of a debilitating power struggle between Yar'Adua's inner circle, keen to maintain its grip on power, and Jonathan sprang up in the OPEC member state of 140 million people when the 58-year-old leader was brought back late at night.

Jonathan has moved quickly to reassert his authority, chairing his first cabinet meeting since Yar'Adua's return.

Jos: From Tin City to Massacre City

By Taiwo Olawale

Once again, Jos, the Plateau State capital, is up in flames. This is the second time in as many months that the town would be engulfed in deadly ethno-religious strife since the beginning of this year. The once popular tin city is fast becoming Nigeria’s riot city. But it was not always like this.

Jos used to be one of the most peaceful and tourism friendly cities in Nigeria. The city used to be the model of ethno-religious tolerance in the country. These days, however, it is becoming one of the weakest links in the country’s fragile ethno-religious balance. Though most people would trace the genesis of the problems to the April 12, 1994 riots that all but tore the Plateau State capital apart, some believe the genesis lies in the 1991 creation of Jos North Local Government Area by military President Ibrahim Babangida.

One thing that is certain, however, is that the reasons for the present crisis are traceable to the January 2010 riots. These are themselves traceable to the 2008, 2001 and 1994 riots. And, the underlying reason for all ‘the reasons’ “that may be given is that Jos is in the lethal grip of desperate ‘power mongers” who are bent on seizing control of the political future of the city.

These “power mongers” hide under religion and ethnicity to kill and maim fellow Nigerians. And, as usual with such scenarios, they have ready tools in the army of hungry and frustrated citizens living in the slums of the city. They also have co-conspirators in high places as well as in all segments of society who see what is happening as a war between “us and them.”

The First Riots
The April 12, 1994 riot was the first deadly one witnessed in Jos. The remote and immediate causes of the riots have remained the same ever since. According to the Whitepaper on the Hon. Justice J. Aribiton Fiberesima Commission of Enquiry set up to investigate the crisis, the most discernable cause of the riot was the “Recurrent friction for many years between the Berom, Anaguta, and Afizere tribes on the one hand, and the Hausa-Fulani tribes on the other hand.”

The report noted that, “Each part lays claim to Jos.  The Berom, Anaguta, and Afizere claim that they are the indisputable indigenous people of Jos, that the Hausa-Fulani are settlers, strangers, who migrated into Jos for various reasons which include commerce, employment and repair of fortune.  But the Hausa-Fulani contend that they, as owners of Jos, had had the privilege of producing the rulers of the town since way back in 1902.”
The appointment of a council boss became the tinder box that lit up the city of Jos in a 12 hour orgy of violence on the 12th of April.

Then, September 2001
An uneasy calm reigned until September 7th 2001 when violence erupted again. The same tension that existed before 1994 was the remote cause. This time round, however, the riots took a more frightening dimension as religion crept onto the agenda and the orgy of violence continued for five terrifying days.

November 2008 Riots 
The immediate cause, as in 1994, had to do with local government politics. There were disputes over council elections and for two days from November 28, Jos was on fire. Lives and properties were destroyed in the senseless orgy of violence.
January 2010
Riots broke out again on Sunday, January 17. This time around, the immediate cause arose directly from the 2008 riots. A man who had returned to rebuild his home was said to have been attacked and the madness began all over.

Now, another Riot
Just yesterday, another riot broke out. Women and children are among the casualties. In fact, a traditional ruler was quoted as saying the latest riots are evidence of man’s inhumanity to man. But, even while a federal government commission of enquiry is still trying to unravel the causes of the 2008 riots, Jos has witnessed two fresh riots.

When the dust clears after yesterday’s unrest, the remote and immediate causes would, no doubt, be traced to the same reasons identified after the 1994 riots. There would be a lot of blame-sharing and finger-pointing. But would this be the last riot? Will those who should take action do so? When would the madness on the Plateau end, soon?
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