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Sep 7 The Jos Riots


Today we travel to central Nigeria where in the city of Jos terrible riots began today between Christians and Muslims. They were to last nearly two weeks, killing more than a 1000 people. The riots were triggered by the appointment of a Muslim politician, Alhaji Mukhtar Mohammed, as the local coordinator of the federal poverty alleviation program. The fighting quickly spread through various Jos neighbourhoods and to surrounding communities. Religious tensions had simmered in Jos for generations mainly due to the city's position in the Central Belt of Nigeria, as a particular pressured spot between the Muslim north of the Country and the Christian South.


 

According to a working paper, commissioned in light of the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, the riots were described as an ethno-religious conflict and had to be understood as part of a protracted communal conflict affecting most parts of the Plateau State. Jos was the capital of Plateau State, and this was the first major riot in more than three decades. The report described an explosive mix of fear of religious domination, contested land rights and the allocation of resources which came to a head in electoral competition. The report stated that understood in a wider context at least 4,000 and possibly as many as 7,000 people had been killed in communal violence since the riots exploded, and that only the heavy presence of military and police forces ensured a fragile calm in the city. In an eerie echo of what happened for a long time in Northern Ireland – but at a interreligious level rather than a sectarian level - clashes between Muslim and Christian Youths rocked the city of Jos again in 2008, killing at least 700 and again in 2010 with more than 1,000 lives lost. As various neighbourhoods become religiously segregated, ‘no-go areas’ altered patterns of residency, business, transportation, and trade.

Jos lies in the centre of Nigeria, between the predominantly Muslim north and the mostly Christian south. The city had been established around tin mining activities during colonial times. It attracted migrants from all parts of Nigeria to work in the mines. The colonial legacy of indirect rule initially relied on northern emirate structures. Later, political power was transferred to the ‘native’ tribes of the Plateau. Among these, the Berom were one of the largest tribes and predominantly Christian but Hausa migrants from the Muslim north constituted by the most numerous group in early Jos. Today, the ownership of Jos and claims to ‘indigene’ or indigenous status are fiercely contested between the native tribes and the Hausa. The root causes of the conflict are understood but there has been a lack of political will to address the situation. Christians are aware of and anxious about continued discrimination against fellow Christians in northern, predominantly Muslim states. Top-level religious leaders have preached peace and tolerance, but the report felt that message had not trickled down fully as more mid-level religious leaders felt under pressure to protect their communities . This had a corrosive effect of making people suspicious of inter-religious and rebuilding trust initiatives. The Catholic Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama as President of the Nigerian Bishops, criticized the government for its failure to adequately protect Christians and other religious minorities from Islamist fundamentalist terrorists, such as Boko Haram. With a spate of kidnappings of children, now used to raise money for activities, often with tragic results.


In June 2001 the federal government appointed a Hausa Muslim politician, Alhaji Muktar Mohammed, as local coordinator of the federal poverty alleviation program, with many Christians protesting his appointment. Tensions turned violent on 7 September 2001, when a Christian woman attempted to cross a barricaded street outside a mosque during Friday prayers. It led to a conflict between her and a group of Muslims and the fight eventually spread to other parts of the city. Christian leaders reported that Muslims spontaneously attacked Christians and burned churches, including three churches of the Church of Christ in Nigeria (presently known as, 'Church of Christ in Nations' COCIN), the main Assemblies of God church, and a Jos Apostolic Church. The military was eventually deployed and stopped the violence.