Jos, Nigeria: Explosive Situation Needs Defusing

By: Elizabeth Kendal

Around 2:30am on Sunday 7 March 2010 a large contingent of armed, mostly Fulani Muslims slipped into three predominantly Christian ethnic Berom villages on the southern outskirts of Jos, the capital of Plateau State in Nigeria's volatile central belt.


Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 046 | Wed 10 Mar 2010


JOS, NIGERIA: EXPLOSIVE SITUATION NEEDS DEFUSING

Around 2:30am on Sunday 7 March 2010 a large contingent of armed, mostly Fulani Muslims slipped into three predominantly Christian ethnic Berom villages on the southern outskirts of Jos, the capital of Plateau State in Nigeria's volatile central belt. They poured gasoline over the roofs of homes before setting them on fire to shouts of 'Allah Akbar'. As residents woke and fled their burning homes, they were shot and butchered by the waiting Muslim hoards supposedly to avenge the Muslim victims of the January 2010 clash (see RLPB 040, 27 Jan 2010).  Those least able to flee -- the infirm, the elderly, children, mothers caring for children -- were most vulnerable. Around 500 predominantly Christian ethnic Berom were massacred in what can only be described as a premeditated blood-bath. According to reports, local Muslims were absent, having been forewarned of the impending attack. Plateau State Commissioner for Information, Mr Gregory Yenlong, described the attack on the Berom villages as ethnic cleansing (Vanguard, 7 March).

Fulani tribesmen had previously launched a series of 'reprisal' attacks on Berom villages and farms in mid-February. At that time, while the authorities pleaded with the Fulani to end the cycle of violence, they also deployed troops to secure the region and enforce a curfew. The Fulani, however, believed that more Berom blood had to be extracted. Now the region's traumatised Christian-Berom survivors, many carrying horrendous injuries, are wondering where the troops were when they were needed. At a funeral on Monday 8 March, some 30 Berom youths attacked a Muslim journalist, beating him to the ground, kicking and stoning him and breaking his nose. A local official who tried to rescue him was also injured before the police intervened to restore order. The police also prevented Berom youths from staging a protest as they feared it would only escalate the crisis. Will and restraint are needed to prevent the cycle of violence from spiralling out of control.

Nigeria -- which is basically a third world state -- has one of the fastest population growth rates in the world (double the world average) along with a rapid rate of urbanisation. Corruption, megalomania, poor governance, tribalism, intolerance, unemployment and lawlessness are all massive problems. The situation in Jos is extremely serious as several strategic trends have merged to form a highly explosive mix.

For several decades now, drought and the lure of a better lifestyle have been accelerating the southward migration of the predominantly cattle-herding Hausa and Fulani Muslims of the Sahel into sub-Saharan regions populated by settled predominantly Christian tribes. The 'indigenes' (Christian tribes) find themselves competing with 'settlers' (Muslim tribes) for land, resources, jobs and political power. In Jos many 'settlers' found jobs in tin mines which have now closed. Social tensions are exacerbated by cultural differences, many stemming from religion. In particular, the revival of fundamentalist, political, pro-Sharia, pro-jihad Islam, with its doctrine of Muslim supremacy, has added fuel to the fire.

Jos's predicament is not unique. Rather it is common (to varying degrees) to the cities, towns and arable farmlands of Africa's ethnic- religious fault-line that runs from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, through northern Liberia, central Ivory Coast, central Nigeria and Southern Sudan.