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Jos voters angry and divided

Motorists pass a destroyed and deserted central market, Jos, Nigeria. 4 April 2007. Muslims and Christians blame each other for the fire that destroyed the market. The trigger for the flare-up was a wrangle between Christians and Muslims after a Christian
(David Hecht/IRIN)

The cool climate high up in the rocky outcrops of central Nigeria made this city a favourite destination for the former British administrators. In the early years after independence it was affluent with tin mining and cosmopolitan as the crossroads between Nigeria's Christian south and Muslim north. But those days are long gone.

Today Jos, capital of Plateau State, is economically depressed, religiously divided and ready to explode.

Tension between Muslims and Christians erupted in riots in 2001 and the violence continued intermittently until 2004 when the federal government declared a state of emergency. Tens of thousands of people have now fled the state, as has industry and investment.

Today Jos's diversity is seen more as a liability, particularly with state and federal elections looming. "I see a high risk of religious violence with these elections," said Shamaki Gad Peter, a programme officer for the Jos-based nongovernmental organisation (NGO) League for Human Rights.

He said the first set of elections on 14 April for governor of Plateau State and house assembly pose a greater risk for violence than elections on 21 April for president and national assembly.

Claims of exclusion

With the tin mine closed and massive corruption diverting what resources the state government gets from the federal government, Muslims and Christians mostly blame each other for their collective impoverishment, although they mostly express their anger as a loss of political power.

"We feel rejected," Ado Ibrahim told IRIN from his office in Jos’s gritty Muslim-dominated neighbourhood, called Congo Russia.

Ibrahim is the national secretary of the Jasawa Development Association, a group representing the interests of the Hausa ethnic group, which makes up the majority of Muslims in Nigeria. "We were excluded from the last state government and we can see already that we are going to be excluded from the next," he said.

The Hausa, one of Nigeria’s three largest ethnic groups, dominate federal government as well as the military, but in Plateau State they are a minority. Most of the powerful political positions there go to Christians. Muslims currently hold only one seat in the state assembly and have not even bothered to field a serious candidate for state governor.

Photo: David Hecht/IRIN
View of Jos from Hill Station, a holiday resort built for British colonial administrators and their families. Now it is in disrepair

Even Christians acknowledge that Muslims are not well represented. “The Hausa feel they have been edged out of politics in the state,” said Caleb Ahima, secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria for the north-central zone, “but I don’t think Plateau State is part of Hausaland.”

That’s the sort of statement that riles Hausa Muslims. “Christians think they can push us out yet they continue to underrate our threat, said Ibrahim. “They need to remember what happened to them last time this town went up in flames.”

The violence

It is hard to say how many people have been killed in religious violence in Jos. New York-based Human Rights Watch says more than 1,000 people were killed in six days of violence in 2001 alone. It said tens of thousands of people have been displaced in the sporadic unrest. The League for Human Rights says tens of thousands of people have been killed over the years.

“We know that one whole Christian community and one whole Muslim community were wiped out,” he said. “And that was just two incidents out of many.”

The killings were committed in many ways, he said. “Some people were beaten to death with clubs, others had their throats slit or were shot. Many were burned to death in their houses or in mosques, churches and clinics where they sought shelter,” he said.

State leaders made matters worse, he added. “On the day it started they did little or nothing to try to restore order. Then the second day they told people it was safe to come out of hiding and that was when many were slaughtered like animals,” he said.

The violence had ripple effects in other cities in the state and elsewhere in the country. In the northern city of Kano Christians were targeted in an uprising in 2003 that was supposedly in retaliation for the killings of Hausa in Jos.

As for Jos, it is increasingly divided. “There is still a bit of a patchwork of Christian and Muslim communities but mostly people have been moving to where they feel safer,” Shamaki said.

Who to blame?

Although the Hausa are a minority in Plateau State, many Christians say they fear that is about to change. “They are moving down from the north to take what is rightly ours,” one Christian resident, who asked not to be named, told IRIN.

The fear has a basis in recent Nigerian history. At the time of independence when the country was divided into just three regions, the Hausa-dominated Northern Region had dominion over Jos and much of what is known as Nigeria’s middle belt. In the late 1960s, the federal government started breaking up the regions into smaller and smaller states, creating Plateau State in 1976. As a result, Christians had a majority, yet even now local Christian political and religious leaders justify the ongoing exclusion of Hausa as the only way to achieve ‘emancipation’.

They also reason in support of the terms ‘indigene’ and ‘settler’ in the state. The two-tier federal system of citizenship in Nigeria leaves the Hausa of Plateau with the status of ‘non-indigenes’ or ‘settlers’. As such, the Hausa are ineligible for many school scholarships and jobs in government and the military.

A 2006 Human Rights Watch report called most Hausa in Plateau State “effectively stateless” as they cannot trace their roots to anywhere else in Nigeria. The Hausa say Jos was founded by their forefathers.

“I was born here and lived here all my life,” said 83-year-old Inuwa Ali ‘Turakin Jos’ who heads Jos’s Hausa community. “In 1967 the state governor appointed me councilman without a thought,” he said. “Today that is no longer possible.”

The notorious governor of Plateau State until recently, Joshua Dariye, inflamed tensions by referring to the Hausa as mere “tenants” of Plateau State. The Christian-dominated ethnic groups are the “landlords” who need to “serve notice” anytime the Hausa become too “unruly”, he said.

The leading candidate for the upcoming gubernatorial elections, Jonah David Jang, seems less confrontational, although when he ran for governor in 2003 he called Hausa demands for their own local governments in Hausa areas of Plateau State unreasonable as the Hausa have no claim to any of the territory of the state. 

Democracy denied 

That the violence exploded in Jos shortly after the military restored democratic rule is no coincidence, according to many observers. “The army kept a tight lid on the simmering tensions,” said Shamaki. But, even more importantly, he alleged, when Governor Dariye took office he incited hatred to divert attention while he looted the state’s coffers.

The extent of Dariye’s financial misdeeds, according to the head of the federal Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Alhaji Nuhu Ribadu, is “mind blowing”. Having reportedly misappropriated at least US$8 million of state funds he was arrested in the United Kingdom in 2004 on a long list of charges, including money laundering and embezzlement. He then jumped bail and fled back to Nigeria where he was impeached by the state assembly and is now in hiding.

Meanwhile, the city is utterly neglected. As Muslims and Christians bicker over who burned down the central market in 2002 no effort is being made to rebuild it. Garbage is not collected, the streets are potholed, and water and electricity are infrequent.

Community leaders say the population is giving up on democracy. “Nobody has gotten anything these last four years so we’ve found it very difficult to mobilise constituents to register to vote,” said Ibrahim. “They don’t see any advantage in it.”

Without representation they are likely to find more violent ways to vet their anger, says Shamaki, yet in the short term he says endemic vote rigging is a likely spark for violence. “Everyone will feel they are not getting what they deserve,” he said. “Fighting may start between supporters of political opponents but then turn into something religious.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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