On Monday March 8, 2010, the world woke up to the news that hundreds of Nigerians had been massacred in the Foron district of the city of Jos in the Plateau State.
The killings in the three-hour orgy of murders and mutilation started at 3:30 am when gun fire was heard around the villages of Dogo-Nahawa, Ratsat and Zot just south of Jos.
Villagers were then set upon in the wee hours by attackers who were wielding crude weapons and in some areas carrying guns killing and hacking to death hundreds including the elderly and sick, women and infants who were mercilessly butchered.
Churches and homes were burned down. Reports on the death toll differed, with some placing it at about 200 and others reporting 528 killed and thousands injured.
Dan Manjang, an advisor to the state governor, said on Monday that 500 people had been killed and 95 arrests had been made “over this heinous act... by Fulani herdsmen.” Many of those who were massacred were from the ethnic Berom who are predominantly Christians.
On January 20, 2010, intertribal clashes that were characterized as religious fighting broke out in Jos leaving at least 492 killed of whom 364 were Muslims.
The police command in the state said that there were 326 deaths and 313 arrests. According to local police, skirmishes began after Muslim youths set a Catholic Church, filled with worshippers, on fire.
In November 2008, about 381 were killed and over 400 people were injured in two days of ethnic clashes in Jos over results of local elections which were rumoured to have been won by Timothy Gyang Buba the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) favoured by the Christians over the candidate for the All Nigerian Peoples Party supported by the Muslim Hausa-Fulani.
Between September 7 and 17, 2001 over 1000 people were killed in Jos allegedly over the appointment of a Muslim politician, Muktar Mohammed, as local coordinator of the Federal government efforts to fight poverty.
In addition to the loss of human lives, many houses, mosques, churches, shops and cars were destroyed or burned. In the infamous Yelwa massacres of 2004 in Yelwa, another town in Plateau State many innocent civilians were massacred.
When Kaduna State tried to impose Shari’a law in 2000 there were confrontations which led to the partitioning of Kaduna state. Muslims in Kaduna state rioted in November 2002 over comments in a newspaper article about Nigeria’s hosting of the Miss World pageant causing the death of an estimated 105 men, women, and children with a further 521 injured.
Nigeria is not any country in Africa: it is reported that, one out of every four Africans is Nigerian; it is the eighth most populous nation in the world; more than 20% of the world’s black population lives in Nigeria; by 2006, 42.3% of Nigerians were between under the age of 15 years while 54.6% was between 15–65; it is the 12th largest producer of petroleum in the world, the 8th largest exporter of crude oil, and has the 10th largest proven oil reserves; it has more than 250 ethnic groups and 521 languages.
What goes on in Nigeria has impact in the region and Africa as a whole. According to Plateau State police commissioner, Ikechukwu Aduba, “Jos is a mini-Nigeria. All segments of Nigeria are here”. The pattern of violence in Jos therefore should not be seen as isolated incidents of “interreligious and African tribal violence” but jostling for power by influential politicians and groups who are using violence to reach political gains.
There have been many misleading comments about the massacres; with some commentators suggesting that they are religious conflicts and others blaming the massacres on herders-agriculturalists differences.
They have been characterized as “religious violence”, but Hausa-Fulani and Nigerians in general have not made any new discovery about their religion or that of their neighbours because they have co-existed for centuries, occasional ethnic clashes notwithstanding.
Many news media published reports such as “the slaughtered villagers were, Yoruba mostly Christians, slain by machete attacks from the group of Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen”, the attack was “yet another ‘jihad’ and provocation”, “a classic conflict between pastoralists and farmers, except that all the Fulani are Muslims and all the Berom are Christians,” “the Berom who form the majority in the area, resent the economic success of the mainly Muslim settlers, especially those settlers who buy land”.
“Anytime there is an election, it is the Hausas that win. It is difficult for locals to win elections,” said a member of Parliament from Plateau state, complaining that out of the local government councils in the state, none is led by a Berom.
Intertribal and ethnic massacres in Africa or anywhere do not simply happen without elite political mobilizers and financers in the shadows.
When the genocide began in Rwanda, many pundits dismissed the planned killings as “massacres uncommon in that part of the world”.
The people of Oriental province in DR Congo did not discover their differences in the late 1990s but politicians made them kill their neighbours because they were Lendu or Hema. Since the end of the “bigger war” in the DR Congo the “small” ethnic war ended and villagers have lived together since.
The people of Kenya, particularly the rift valley region, did not wake up and felt like massacring their neighbours after the contested presidential elections of 2008, politicians felt it was a way to retain or get power.
The same applies to many parts of Africa where innocent villagers are massacred to create political statements.
It takes a lot of organization to mobilize hundreds of killers and weapons without Federal and State agencies getting wind of it, however corrupt and inefficient they may be.
It was reported that prior to the massacres, text messages such as “Kill them before they kill you” were sent with the addresses of mosques and churches. Survivors said attackers asked people “Who are you?’’ in Fulani, and killed those who did not answer in Fulani.
It was reported that some attackers like Interahamwe in Rwanda had been paid by organizers to commit the killings.
Unfortunately, there is little talk of peace and reconciliation but of more revenge and pre-emptive attacks.
One Fulani leader was quoted as saying that “My people have an instinct for survival,” and are prepared while a Berom leader was quoted as saying that, “They want to inherit the land.
They want to wipe us out to inherit the land to graze their animals.” Such talk on part of leaders does not augur well for the future of the neighbouring communities.
It will not be long before another round of violence erupts in Plateau state unless the state and federal gather the strength and resolve to pursue the planners and instigators of the massacres, bring them to justice and set precedence.
But with the health of the federal president remaining an issue of speculation, the threat of a military intervention and possible coup by an army seen by many in Nigeria to be dominated by Muslims from the north, the prospects of a strong reaction by the federal government are minimal. We can be sure we have not heard the last of the heart wrenching news in Jos.