*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Nigeria: a case of too many faultlines

by
29 June 2010

Tribal? Religious? Economic? The causes of the sporadic violence in Nigeria are complex. Jenny Taylor visited Jos to find out more

THREE WEEKS ago, on 26 May, the UN Com­mittee on the Rights of the Child met in Geneva to hear a case involving Ahmed Yerima, a state senator in Zamfara, Nigeria, who is alleged to have married in Egypt the 13-year-old daughter of his driver, after reportedly paying the family $100,000.

Despite the constitutional prohibition of marriage for those under 18 in Nigeria, Mr Yerima, aged 50, reportedly told journalists: “I am only following Prophet Muhammad’s footsteps, who married a nine-year-old girl, Aishatu. I have not done anything that violates sharia.”

What makes this of particular concern is that Mr Yerima was the first state governor to impose sharia law in Nigeria, in 2000. If, as a member of the national legislature, he gives precedence to Islamic law over the national constitution, Christians elsewhere have good reason to be worried.

This anxiety and the inequality of life for Christians in the 12 states in northern Nigeria that have adopted sharia form a backdrop to the increasing intensity of the conflict in Jos, the capital of Plateau state, which has claimed thousands of lives since 1984. Plateau is on the faultline be­tween the majority-Muslim north and the majority-Christian south.

Christians appear to have been responsible for one of the latest eruptions, in January, in which perhaps 200 people were killed. But the provocation is proving irresistible, says the Archbishop of Jos, the Most Revd Benjamin Kwashi. He has warned that the impunity with which Muslims can behave violently towards Chris­tians is forcing people to revert to their tradi­tional warrior behaviour in self-defence. The innocent get caught up in the subsequent fight­ing, and the military shoot and brutalise at ran­dom.

Coverage of the violence in the West has been poor, blaming variously “ethnic rivalry”, and battles over “land and power”, as well as religion. But it is every bit as simplistic to ignore the religious sociology underpinning the events in Jos as to attribute exclusive blame to it.

Coverage of the violence in the West has been poor, blaming variously “ethnic rivalry”, and battles over “land and power”, as well as religion. But it is every bit as simplistic to ignore the religious sociology underpinning the events in Jos as to attribute exclusive blame to it.

AT VILLAGE LEVEL, religion prescribes who has access to water, who is educated, and what parents are allowed to call their children. It means one man can marry four of your girls, but your son cannot marry one of his. It means you are not considered holy enough to touch his holy text.

Humiliation — in the form of dhimmitude, or ritually pre­scribed status for non-Muslims — causes anger, which begets violence. When the violence goes unstopped and unpunished, it pushes the region to the brink of war. The military fails to arrive when the alarm is raised, while permitting the attackers to break the curfew. This year, isolated villages have been attacked for the first time. The diocese says that Dogo Na Hauwa, Zot, Razat, Byei, and Riyom have been changed for ever by the violence, which includes the killing of pregnant women and children, the cutting out of tongues, and the use of automatic weapons against innocent people.

The Riyom local-government chairman, Simon Mwadkon, says: “If the military is polarised along religious lines, then it is the end of Nigeria. We have no option but to rise up and defend ourselves.”

The Riyom local-government chairman, Simon Mwadkon, says: “If the military is polarised along religious lines, then it is the end of Nigeria. We have no option but to rise up and defend ourselves.”

TEMPERATE, lush, and inviting, with comfort­able hotels, a museum, a university, and an immaculate park, it is hard to believe that Jos is the amphitheatre of a bloody ferocity that has flared up every two months so far this year: in January, March, and May.

The British developed what is now Nigeria’s tenth-largest town as a tin-mining hill-station in the 1940s. They created a system of indirect rule in northern Nigeria, which placed even those tribes that were not conquered by the 1804 jihad under the control of the northern Sultan­ate.

The south remained under direct English rule.

With scant regard for religious difference, the British used the Hausas, Muslim converts, as their mediators with Plateau tribes such as the Berom. These tribes are mainly Christian — the state was 80 per cent Christian in 1967 — which has helped it to resist the cultural attri­tion of the more mendicant northerners.

Jos has three main indigenous tribes: the Anaguta, the Jarawa, and the Berom. It also has five main settler tribes, in­clud­ing the Hausa and Fulani: pastoralists from the far north who drive their distinctive long-horned cattle over the unfenced subsistence farms, settling where they can. “Whenever they come, they don’t come in ones, they come in hundreds,” says Jude Owuamanam, the northern bureau chief of Punch, a leading daily news­paper in Nigeria, who is the son of an Ibo cattle-driver who converted to Roman Catholicism.

Some people date the tension between the tribes further back, to Uthman dan Fodio’s jihad in the late-18th century. His use of the sword for religious ends was criticised even then by Muhammad al-Kanemi (d. 1838). Descendants of this jihad pimped for their “masters” — Brit­ish, German, and Nigerian prospectors who built the mines and developed the villages sur­rounding them. Hausas had provided girlfriends and goods, and, in the process, learned to adopt the overbearing attitudes of their employers, it is said.

  “The Hausa will try to dominate by impos­ing his language on you,” Mr Owuamanam says. “He will try to make you forget your identity. He will give outside names to your place and to your children. The indigenes will sell land to them and move into the hinterland to continue to farm. Gradually, they real­ise they have lost the city centre to the Hausa set­tlers.”

  The Revd Yunusa Nmadu, a former Muslim who heads a Christian NGO based in Kaduna, supports this view. In a speech to ordinands at the Jos Evangelical Church of West Africa Theological Seminary, he said: “In some cases in the 12 Islamic states, they are trying Christians according to sharia law. In a village with a solar-powered borehole, sunk by the World Bank, Christians are not allowed to go for water. They have to wait for Muslims to fetch the water and sell it to them.”

There were communities where children had to adopt Muslim names to secure education, he said. “Last year in Kano, we were told of some students driven from school because they discovered that they were actually Christians even though they have changed their names. They were just about to take exams.”

There were communities where children had to adopt Muslim names to secure education, he said. “Last year in Kano, we were told of some students driven from school because they discovered that they were actually Christians even though they have changed their names. They were just about to take exams.”

WHAT grieves Christians is that Muslim settlers are demanding full citizens’ rights accorded in the constitution to the indigenous tribes, despite a lack of reciprocity anywhere else in the north. The Christians say that their easygoing accommodation has been exploited before, and that “enough is enough.”

The tradition among the indigenous tribes is to make room for settlers. “If a nomadic person needs a place to stay, we give them a place,” said a woman in Kuru Kurama. Tragically for them, the place they gave one Muslim nomad, Dambaturi, became the arsenal for the battle on 17 January. Automatic weapons that only the military are licensed to use were stored there. We saw the giveaway pock-marks of machine-gun bullets in mud-brick walls.

We asked the woman to describe what happened. “There were rumours of an attack. There was a formal meeting so there would not be any fighting. Reverend Yohanna from COCIN [Church of Christ in Nigeria] appealed; so there was no need for any fight. The Muslim youths were from here and said: there has to be a fight; so they all moved to this side of town chanting ‘Allahu akhbar’ [God is Great]. They had machetes, guns from the armoury here.” She pointed to a large house next to the vicarage and church.

The general secretary of the Christian Asso­cia­tion of Nigeria, Samuel Salifu, speaking in Abuja, says: “It takes a lot to motivate Christians to violence.” None the less, the Mus­lims in Kuru Kurama came off worse. It is reported that 150 Muslims were killed. A Chan­nel 4 documentary filmed Christians in this village who admitted that they had killed Mus­lims. Here, mosques were burned down, while churches were not. The village hub, where Mus­lims plied their business and where the main battle was joined, was devastated. It is reported that three van­loads of Christians from outside the village, with faces painted and carrying knives and machetes, arrived, carried out the carnage, and then left.

The general secretary of the Christian Asso­cia­tion of Nigeria, Samuel Salifu, speaking in Abuja, says: “It takes a lot to motivate Christians to violence.” None the less, the Mus­lims in Kuru Kurama came off worse. It is reported that 150 Muslims were killed. A Chan­nel 4 documentary filmed Christians in this village who admitted that they had killed Mus­lims. Here, mosques were burned down, while churches were not. The village hub, where Mus­lims plied their business and where the main battle was joined, was devastated. It is reported that three van­loads of Christians from outside the village, with faces painted and carrying knives and machetes, arrived, carried out the carnage, and then left.

A CONTRASTING example came from Dogo Na Hauwa. Here, Hausa Muslims, having heard what befell Muslims in Kuru Kurama, asked for safe passage out of the village in January. The headman, Daniel Jik, escorted them all to safety. He had lived with some of them for 50 years.

Now, he can barely raise his head to talk. Some of those same Muslim neighbours re­turned with guns at 3 a.m. on the morning of 7 March, to carry out an attack on the Christians in the village, directed by mobile phone to houses whose occupants they knew. Terrified villagers fled the shooting into the fields in the darkness, only to be hacked to death by youths waiting for them.

Footage of the aftermath, now on YouTube, shows that the majority of the victims were women and children. Many bear scars from the attack. Some had fingers chopped off, some were reportedly beheaded. Others survived by feigning death.

Mr Jik lost two sons, a daughter-in-law, and eight grandchildren. Yet he told me: “I must forgive. It is the law of God.” We stand, incredu­lous, in the sunshine, by the mass grave where 371 men, women, and children now lie buried.

According to Peter Osborne for Channel 4, this massacre was merely a Muslim retaliation for the Christian attack on Kuru Kurama. What the report missed was more complex. Mallam Idi Inusa, the last Hausa Muslim in the village, refused to leave when the other Hausas left — including his own mother — and refuses still.

Old and thin, he emerges into the village clearing and is beckoned over to join us. He sits between women with machete scars and mutilated hands. Why did he stay, I ask. As he continues to smile, the translator explains: “Because he has had a very good relationship with the people here. He had never been in a fracas or any problem between him and them. Before and after this incident, no one has ever asked him not to practise his religion — so he still does.” This seemed to me to speak volumes.

In Jos, however, this kind of rela­tion­ship has largely broken down. The military are accused of raping even the daughters of families on whom they are billeted. There are, it is said, thousands of disappearances. On the Wednes­day of the week I was there, Muslim youths hit out against soft Christian targets in frustration at the government’s latest crack­down.

In order to be seen taking some kind of action, the police are demobilising the trouble-makers by forcibly confiscating all okadas, the scooter-taxis that have been used in armed robbery, kidnap, and village attacks. The okada-drivers are largely Muslims. But the heavy-handed round-up, combined with a failure to provide alternative livelihoods, has enraged their owners, some of whom smashed church win­dows in protest.

That Friday, all Muslim businesses in Jos closed in protest. The campaign that week cost the lives of three policemen and eight civilians caught up in the crossfire.

That Friday, all Muslim businesses in Jos closed in protest. The campaign that week cost the lives of three policemen and eight civilians caught up in the crossfire.

NEWSPAPER reports on 1 May that two con­sign­ments of weapons and military uniforms were seized by customs officers in Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, on Turkish and Saudi planes, are not reassuring for those who hope for peace. Also, there was a Ukrainian flight, packed with ordnance, which landed in Kano in the night on 17 June last year.

There are indications that military hardware — and possibly members of the military — have already been involved in the attacks. Military attire and spent cartridges from guns licensed only to the military were re­covered after the massacres of Christians at Dogo Na Hauwa and Byei.

Archbishop Kwashi calls for any investment by the former colonial power to be conditional upon improvements in justice. “There’s a total lack of help. You bring us mosquito nets and bandages, but the key issue that must be ad­dressed for any nation to be a nation is the ability to provide justice for all the people.”

The government has made no further com­ment about the seizures, but the press surmises that gun-running, linked with politicians, has begun in preparation for the 2011 elections.

POLITICS, then, must be added to the causes of the community strife, along with tribalism, religion, and general social dysfunction. Representational issues are significant, especially when linked with religion. The local-government chairman in Jos North is always a Hausa. “The Christians want to be head of the local authority, even though they don’t have the population in this area any longer,” Mr Owuamanam reported. “If I have the economic power, I must have the political power.”

Land tenure is another crucial element. Nigeria does not have a system of tenure written into law, which makes mining, migration, and, ultimately, development problematic. This lack of security is felt keenly in a culture where land and identity are closely entwined. “If you separate a man from his land, you will have trouble,” the Revd Yunusa Nmadu explains.

A more immediate catalyst for the violence is the matter of impunity after an earlier attack. It could be argued that the deeper causes can be set aside as, quite simply, violence begets violence.

On the Friday I was there, the Muslim areas were eerily deserted. An ominous text message had been circulating among Christians: “Halleluyah! We hear de moslems are readi 4 a showdown 2day. Christians & all good citizens of Plateau arise and defend urselves, homes, churches, & businesses. Do not fear. There must b an end 2 dis inpunity [sic]. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Pls snd around.”

Archbishop Kwashi points back to the lack of arrests after the unrest in Kano on 12 March 1987, when 11 churches were destroyed, Christian businesses were looted, and at least 16 people were killed. It is a real root of bitterness, he says: now, the killing of Christians “has assumed an almost ritualistic dimension” in Kano.

This would be inflammatory talk were it not that he refuses to apportion blame for the attack on Gloria, his wife, in 2008, in which her sight was damaged and she was violated with a broken whisky bottle. His secretary, Susan Essam, sponsored by the Church Mission Society, was also attacked and wounded.

“They came at five a.m., so it was dark. Gloria was hit on the head and was blinded. She could only remember they spoke in Hausa; so she couldn’t tell definitely whether they were Muslims, because Christians speak Hausa, too. We just want the truth. Even if I speculate, it is still not the truth.”

He refuses to indulge in religious point-scoring, even though a fourth assassination attempt was made on him as recently as last year. “Living with Muslims has been a blessing for me. I would want to be living with them for ever. They are helping me to be the Christian I ought to be.”

THE worker from the Department for Inter­national Development whom I met at Abuja airport was “helping to do governance training”. Yet again, he put the violence in Jos down to “economics and ethnicity”. Such a simplistic explanation seems to define the problem as a little local difficulty.

But Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, the London University student bomber who boarded a plane last Christmas bound for the United States, was not an obscurantist from a tribal backwater. He was the son of a respected banker from the capital of Kano State. He grew up in an atmosphere where the extrajudicial killing of a young Christian for allegedly tearing a page out of the Qur’an was considered normal. The desecration was unproven; the executioners were never charged.

Post-colonial inertia and religious illiteracy are blinding people in the West to forces that may have more far-reaching consequences than they imagine.

Dr Jenny Taylor is founder director of Lapido Media. Read more at www.lapidomedia.com/blog. For YouTube footage of the violence see Merciful1Nigeria.

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)