A sense of normality has returned to the city of Jos, in Nigeria’s central Plateau State, after an eruption of inter-religious violence claimed at least three lives on 14 September.
One of them was Jerry Binkur, a final-year student at the University of Jos, who was a member of the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN).
Several others were injured in attacks by a mob. One of them died from his wounds in the hospital, but his name is yet to be confirmed.
Professor Timothy O. Oyetunde, Dean of the School of Postgraduate Studies, was another of those attacked, at about 6.30pm.
According to his statement, the Christian professor was about to leave the university, when suddenly some Muslim youths armed with machetes, daggers, and other weapons surrounded his car. They first shattered the windscreen using large stones. Someone in the passenger seat, not yet identified, was stabbed in the chest, while Professor Ema Ema, sitting directly behind Professor Oyetunde, was stabbed in the head. Professor Oyetunde escaped with minor injuries, narrowly avoiding a machete which instead shattered the window glass. His car was later set ablaze.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been killed in ethnic and religious clashes in Plateau in recent years.
This week a dusk-to-dawn curfew, imposed by the governor last Thursday (14 September), has been relaxed to 10pm to 6am. Still, heavily armed soldiers and police remain on patrol at flashpoints such as Terminus Roundabout (in the city centre), Kataka Market (which acts as a boundary between Muslim and Christian communities), Chobe Junction (a settlement dominated by Christians from the ethnic Igbo people) and Bauchi Road (dominated by Hausa Muslims).
On Sunday (17 September) security was beefed up in churches for fear of attacks. At Living Faith Church, on Recard Road, heavily armed soldiers, police and members of the Nigeria Civil Defence were deployed to prevent violence.
At Faithway Bible Church in the neighbouring city of Bukuru, the congregation prayed for total restoration of peace in Plateau State and across Nigeria. Pastor Theophilus Akaniro, who led the prayers, also prayed for Nigeria’s upcoming Independence Day on 1 October.
But in general there was low turnout in local churches last Sunday, perhaps for fear of attacks.
This week, across the city, shops have re-opened, life has resumed, and traffic has returned to the busy Ahmadu Bello Way. Shop owners have expressed relief that normality has been restored.
What triggered the violence?
Thursday’s violence in Jos was triggered by the activism of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a predominantly Igbo group in southeast Nigeria, responsible for killing members of the Muslim Hausa community in the south in pursuit of its agenda.
The ‘Biafran War’ (1967-70) was fought to stop the south-east of Nigeria breaking away, soon after Nigeria’s independence from the British. Now it seems that this cause has re-ignited in the past few years.
IPOB militants and their leader, Nnamdi Kanu, think the Igbos have been marginalised by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. They have repeatedly requested to break away from Nigeria, which the federal government has vehemently resisted.
Last week, the federal government deployed the Nigerian Army (Operation Python Dance) to counter IPOB protests, which had turned violent.
This deployment snowballed into violent confrontation between IPOB militants and the Army, leading to the death of many IPOB members.
This further led to IPOB members attacking the Hausa/Fulani Muslims living in the south-east of Nigeria (Port Harcourt and Umuahia States, in particular) because the IPOB consider Hausa Muslims to be President Buhari’s kinsmen.
Some Hausa Muslims were killed in this violence. This has then led to reprisal attacks across northern states, and in Plateau. (One youth movement, Arewa Youth, in northern Nigeria had in June reiterated its wish for Igbos to be expelled from northern states, giving a three-month deadline, 1 October.)
Why Plateau State matters
Nigeria, the most populous African country, is divided along ethnic and religious lines. The central state of Plateau is located on the fault line between the mainly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south. Some analysts think the Jos attack has the potential to upset the relative calm that has recently prevailed in Plateau, with potential consequences reaching far beyond.
Jos is seen almost as a miniature Nigeria, comprising almost all ethnic groups, but actually dominated by three predominantly Christian tribes (with the headquarters of many Nigerian Churches in Jos); a disruption to the peace in Jos could in turn affect the entire nation, and especially the Christian community in Nigeria.
Before the latest Jos violence, northern youths had previously issued other notices, demanding that all Igbos be kicked out of the northern states. They said that since the Igbos want their own country, they would force them to leave the north.
Some even suspect that that the reprisal attack in Jos against the Igbos was actually orchestrated from the far north because Nigerians would normally expect such attacks to take place in the predominantly Muslim northern cities like Kano, Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara, but not in Jos.
It also shows that the recent peace in Plateau is still a very fragile one, and one that could collapse with a little provocation. The massacre of about 20 Christians by Fulani herdsmen, on 7 September, is an illustration.
The violence was unanimously condemned by Christian and Muslim leaders.
“The peace of the State is the peace of the Church and society,” wrote Rev Soja Bewarang, chairman of the Plateau chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), in a statement. “Let us all wise up and work collectively to frustrate the designs of criminals in our midst. Information on social media must be verified with security agencies and nobody should take the law into their hands; enough of this madness.”
CAN also called on Igbos in Plateau to remain calm, assuring them that nobody had the right to ask them to leave the state – as some Muslim youths had suggested.
Meanwhile, the Plateau State chapter of Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) appealed to members of the Muslim community and the general public to shun acts capable of disrupting the hard-earned peace in the state.
“JNI finds it necessary and of utmost importance to remind us that we in Plateau State had just in the last few years emerged from a decade-long ethno-religious conflict, which left us with unbearable socio-economic and political consequences,” read a statement signed by Sani Mudi, Director of Publicity of the JNI in Plateau.
It continued: “The sad saga of disruption of peace and lawlessness in some parts of the country is not worth our response, except in the exhibition of [a] mature and civil way, trusting that appropriate authorities are capable of responding as the situation warrants. We should therefore cherish our peaceful co-existence and do all within our power to sustain it, regardless of the provocation, as peace is priceless.”
The governor of Plateau, Simon Lalong, last Thursday met with community and religious leaders, and reaffirmed his determination to ensure security for all.
“I want to tell all citizens that their security and welfare as the primary concern of government is assured by the Rescue Administration. I am therefore enjoining all citizens to go about their business with the assurance that their safety is guaranteed,” he said.