In the early morning of March 7, between 200
and 500 Nigerian Christians, mostly women and children, were butchered in
the villages of Dogo Nahawa, Zot and Ratsat, which lie about 10 kilometres
south of Jos, the capital of Plateau State. The corpses were buried in mass
graves. A shocked world has compared the deaths it to the genocide in
Yugoslavia. However, labelling this conflict as a religious one – Muslims
versus Christians – is simplistic.
The ghastly tragedy at Jos, a city of half
a million on the fault line between the Muslim North and the largely Christian
South, is a sordid example of how Nigeria’s dodgy political elite manipulates
ethnic and religious sentiments to selfishly usurp the soul
of the nation. While superficially the Jos conundrum is painted in religious
hues, the fact is that it was ethnic, economic and political tensions which set
the once peaceful and beautiful city ablaze.
Politics in Nigeria, a country with 150
million people and 250 ethnic groups, is a murky affair. The Afizeres, Anagutas and
Beroms – predominantly Christians – are the ‘indigenes’ of Jos. But ‘settlers’,
newcomers like the Hausa-Fulani (mostly Muslims), Igbos and Yorubas, have been moving
into the region for over a century. Conflicts have arisen — mostly between the
indigenes and the Hausa-Fulani. These two groups, among other things, both
claim the chair of a local government area: Jos North, the political and
commercial centre of the city. While the indigenes are bitter about the domineering
‘born to rule’ tendencies of the Hausa-Fulani, the settlers also wish to assert
their rights to leadership in a municipal council where they work and pay
taxes. This is a right recognised by Nigeria’s constitution.
Nigeria, local government areas (LGA) determine who is an indigene or not. Only
officially certified indigenes can vie for and vote in local elections. An
American scholar who has studied the situation in Jos, Phillip
Ositien, has asserted that, in the final analysis, this is what much of the
fighting is about. It’s hard to disagree.
political complications were accentuated by the 1991 split of Jos LGA into northern
and southern regions by former military dictator Ibrahim Babangida (a northern
Nupe Muslim). This reorganisation was perceived as illogical and viewed as a ruse
by the Hausa-Fulani to gain political leverage in Jos politics. Furious protests
by indigenes and settlers, egged on by sinister politicians, have created a
deadly tit-rot-tat massacres in Jos.
constitution does not help matters. On one hand, it guarantees rights to move
freely within Nigeria and to reside and own property anywhere. However, the
same statute sets down that federal appointments should reflect a ‘federal
character’ . It confers indigeneship only on persons whose lineage can be
traced down to their parents or great grandparents.
the hard part. The Hausa-Fulani are not the only settlers in Jos. Unlike the
Igbos and Yorubas who probably came before them, however, the Hausa Fulani are
the only ones seeking elective posts. This curious twist is made more complex
by the Hausa-Fulani propensity to violence.
notes Ostien, “widespread illiteracy, unemployment, a
growing population of rootles and jobless young men, availability of arms,
coupled with venal, petty-minded and short-sighted politicians” are fodder for
ethno-religious trouble. Incompetent and unaccountable public officials are
wont to use violence to win elections makes it difficult to unravel this conflict.
sides in the conflict have a fair share of blame for the bloodshed in Jos. No one has been punished since September 2001 when this violence claimed
about 1,000 in Jos; three years later in Yelwa as many as
700 died. Another 700 died in Jos in
November 2008. In
January, perhaps a hundred died, in riots between Muslim and Christian gangs. Both the state and federal government have politicised the matter
and the crisis remains unresolved. Since there has been no justice – no one has
ever been tried for any of the killings — a revengeful vortex ensues.
Patently corrupt and incompetent leadership
has failed to provide employment for locals. That’s the economic angle to
this disaster, since government remains the highest employer of labour in
Nigeria. Also the security outfits – both police and military
– have dirty hands. Why was a crisis in the nearby Bauchi State when an
Islamist group, Boko Haram ran amok, efficiently controlled while Jos was left to
boil for many days? News reports have supported suspicions that some prominent
Nigerians actually sponsored
the Hausa-Fulani are Muslim and indigenes are largely Christian, this is not
clash of civilisations. As the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Onaiyekan affirms, neither is it a religious war. Unfortunately pictures of mass graves
easily project as a jihad or pogrom,
depending on one’s ethnic or religious affiliation. The truth of the matter is that it is squarely a
leadership problem. The Nigerian political class – both Christian and Muslim – are
interested only in filling their pockets. Their insatiable appetite for milking
the public till continues to drive them to whip up ethnic and religious
absurdities to further their diabolic desires. Sadly, the division of ‘them’ against ‘us’
will continue until people who want to serve
the public occupy public office in Nigeria.