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Slaughter in Jos

March 12, 2010
Before last weekend’s violence, I was aware of the divisions in the Nigerian government following the long illness of President Umaru Yar’Adua and the instability it has caused.  Goodluck Jonathan was recognised as acting president a month ago.  In fact instability in Nigeria has been a feature for hundreds of years – a country formed by colonialism and ravaged by it’s effects ever since.  Despite active and ingenious groups working towards achieving basic human rights for women, the situation is still far from good.

Image used with permission: photo © Ed Kashi 2010

Media reports show a horrific massacre of hundreds of Nigerians – women, men and children – last weekend, and these reports on the whole talk about religious riots where Muslims killed Christians, with the occasional article using the term ‘tribal violence’.  For example, the Guardian published two articles on Monday , one at 19:30 which  was subtitled ‘Calling the killings in Jos sectarian is wrong. Resources, not religion, are the cause – made worse by bad government’ which followed an earlier article quoting Sunday’s article subtitled ‘clashes between Islamist pastoralists and Christian villagers’.  Yesterday’s article on Jos and the arrests of 49 men also focuses on ‘sectarian killings’.

After doing some more reading it’s obvious that the situation is caused by a lot more than the sectarian violence reported in the main.  Corruption and poverty and to some extent the effects of land grab by non Nigerian corporations and oil are major factors.  USIP have said:

Close to 500 people were killed the week of March 8 in villages near Jos in Plateau State. Most of the victims were local Christians and the attackers were Hausa/Fulani Muslims. The attack was most likely in retaliation for attacks in Jos in January when most of those killed were Muslims.

Over the past decade, several thousands have been killed in Plateau State when Muslims and Christians have attacked each other.

While most accounts of this violence are couched in religious terms, the motives are much more complex than simply religious differences. Ethnic differences, competition for political power and economic advantage, land ownership and who should be considered indigenous to the area are all factors.

These lines of division happen to overlap with religious divisions and so religion comes into play. The principal sources of this conflict are competition for resources and political power rather than theological differences.

While the police have said the number killed is closer to 100, with the truth probably being somewhere in the middle. The Red Cross and IHRC are on the ground and are treating the hundreds injured and displaced by this new violence.  This is not an isolated incident, or a purely religiously motivated hate crime (when is it ever?):

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has stated that the tension is simply not rooted in racial or religious tradition. He believes that the cause of such bitter hatred is rooted in the socio-economic factors facing the country.

“If there are job opportunities in an area, and persons believe they are indigenous to that area, and (are) not getting enough out of the jobs that are available, they will fight those who are getting the jobs,” Obasanjo stated. He also added that he is persuaded religion does not play a role in the violence because the conflict is not rooted in it as evidenced by the fact that religious leaders, both the Muslim north and the Christian south, have been working together on the problems in Jos.

Global Voices Online have reported (and link to a blog which has posted pictures of children killed by machetes):

In Jos, conflict seems to recur in ever-narrowing cycles: deadly riots rocked the city in 1994, 2001, 2008 and –not even two months ago– in January 2010. The current conflict is said to have started in reprisal for the destruction that occurred in January — there have been reports of children and the elderly being particularly targeted by roving gangs armed with guns and machetes.

Like the previous riots, the current conflict in Jos has been fought along sectarian lines – Jos lies on the border between Nigeria’s Muslim-majority North and Christian-majority South. Access to land and resources is often determined by whether one is a native, or “indigene”, of the historically Christian city, or a “settler” from elsewhere (“settlers” are most often Muslims from the North; see a Human Rights Watch report on the subject here for more on the subject). [The HRW report is very interesting and examines the ‘indigene’ discrimination rife within society]

Whilst the UN have taken the religious aspect as the key to criticise the Nigerian government, several hundred Nigerian women are protesting for more government security. 

The reporting of this latest massacre is worthy of note in a region where Islamic extremism is now under public focus following Uman Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempted terrorist attack in America.  An example is this conference – ‘Is Nigeria a Hotbed of Islamic Extremism?, Public Workshop on Islamic Extremism in Nigeria’.  It is also worth noting that Baroness Cox has written to the Times with a version of events that I haven’t seen verified anywhere else which is strange and disturbing.

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