Tit-for-tat killings between Muslims and Christians of northern Nigeria have renewed but local elders are trying to resolve the differences as the government is playing a fencesitter role.
Jos, NIGERIA — Christian Onuoha is currently stuck indoors, observing another 24-hour curfew imposed in Jos, north-central Nigeria.
For two weeks, his once peaceful city of Jos has oscillated between 12 or 24-hour curfews — triggered by the latest ethnoreligious conflicts that have killed at least 60 people in the town.
The latest bouts of attacks started early in August. An indigene Christian community allegedly killed about 22 Muslims travelling for burial in the southwestern state of Ondo. The killings, according to locals, are in response to massacres of minority Christian indigenes by Islamic herders in May.
“The people [Christian indigene dwellers ] made their grievance known to the government, but it fell on deaf ears,” Onuoha told TRT World. “As a result, it left them with no choice but to take matters into their own hands, leading to the recent unrest and killings.”
The latest episode of the Jos crisis is traced back to the summer of 2001. While the world’s attention turned to the 9/11 attack in the United States, ethnoreligious conflicts between Christians and Muslims claimed the lives of 1000 people. It’s also a more significant part of the settler-indigene conflicts, which continued in 2004, 2008, 2010 and 2015, spilling into other north-central cities like Kaduna.
Human Rights Watch reported that more than 13,000 people in Nigeria had been killed in separate interreligious attacks since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999.
A separate report adds that fears of religious domination, unfair allocation of resources and political power and electoral competition fueled the Jos crises in the intervening years after 2001.
Sadly, the same reasons haunt the northern city today.
The reasons for the persistence of these challenges are many, Confidence MacHarry, a geopolitical security analyst at Lagos-based SBM Intelligence, told TRT World.
“In the first place, it started after the settlers (Fulanis) began to demand equal access to opportunity in the state as the indigenes. What we have seen over the years are various attempts by the government to manage the conflict without properly putting a stop to it,” Macharry said.
Before now, the indigenous Christian tribes in Jos, the Berom, Fizere, and Anaguta controlled local politics between the 1970s and 1990s, but as Hausa settlers arrived in 1999, electoral power favoured the Hausa Muslims more than the indigenes.
Consequently, local politicians took advantage of the differences in religion to instigate violence against indigenous Christian communities and promote nepotism.
Olatunji Alao, a scholar who studied the effect of the Jos crisis and its spread to other cities like Kaduna, noted that politics and religion exacerbated the ethnoreligious conflicts in north-central Nigeria.
However, Mallam Sani Mudi, the Jama’atu Nasri Islam (JNI) publicity secretary (an umbrella group for the Nigerian Muslim community), disagrees.
“Some people are aggrieved at how political power is shared and how they’ve been marginalized," Mudi said. “But the current administration has been fair enough in allocating political appointments justly.”
Onuoha was nine when the crisis first broke out between Christian and Muslim communities some 20 years ago in Jos. His family trekked 5km, fleeing the city’s chaos and eventually sought solace in a military barrack.
For Onuoha, since 2001 till date, there’s existential mistrust between both religions. He blames the state government for shirking its responsibility to manage it effectively.
Furthermore, religious leaders have incited ethnoreligious violence from both ends of the spectrum in the past. Muslim leaders have called for their faithful to see the other religion as an enemy. Christian leaders have publicly encouraged their adherents to carry arms and defend themselves.
The latest wave of killings, however, saw a slight shift in narrative. Muslim leaders, aware of the aftermath of the newest spell of infightings, vowed publicly to protect churches and Christians in Muslim dominated areas.
“We have confidence that our people will listen to our directives to maintain peace,” said Malam Sani Mudi, the publicity secretary of the Jama’atu Nasri Islam (JNI), an umbrella group for the Nigerian Muslim community.
However, his call for peace barely lasted 48 hours. Unknown shooters identified as Muslims allegedly defied curfews and resumed killings in Christian communities.
“It does not appear that both sides trust each other with peace agreements,” said MacHarry.
“Even when agreements for mutual coexistence are signed, some hold outs break the deal for various reasons, and the violence resumes, especially in Christian dominated areas.”
Justice and peace
In the past 20 years, serious efforts have been made at uniting both religions through peace talks. Nevertheless, what has been missing is serving justice to the aggrieved party at the receiving end of the conflicts.
“Justice is never served. It’s a national phenomenon," said Mudi. “Attacks have been both ways, but we hardly see arrest and prosecution served both ways, too.”
However, justice is a more potent tool to achieving peace, said Onuoha. When attackers are arrested and prosecuted, it serves as a deterrent to crime and a culture of impunity.
“If justice is served for all killings suffered either by the indigenes or by the Fulanis, it will go a long way in restoring the peace between the two religions,” Onuoha said matter-of-factly.