I’ve just spent seven days under the hot African sun in Jos, Nigeria, and returned to freezing England inspired, angry and with tears in my eyes. What I saw no one should see and what I saw everyone should see.
Facilitated by inspirational 73-year-old humanitarian campaigner Baroness Caroline Cox and invited by the courageous charismatic Archbishop of Jos, Dr Ben Kwashi (picture left), I experienced a week of emotional highs and lows that fortunately was fragranced throughout by the agreeable aroma of Nigerian hospitality and warmth.
Jos is the predominantly Christian city in Plateau State, central Nigeria, where Christian south meets Muslim north. The influx of Hausa-Fulani settlers from the north into the Jos region has created tensions rooted in tribal and land issues. But they are also rooted in politico-religious divisions caused primarily by resurgent Islam as reflected in the belligerently Islamic stance taken by the dozen northern states that since 2000 have unconstitutionally introduced strict Sharia law. The dozen include Kaduna, Bauchi and Gombe States that are immediately north of and adjacent to Plateau.
The first Sharia amputation for theft took place in Zamfara State on 22nd March 2000 when Belio Buba Jangebe had his right hand cut off (here). In 2002 there was an international outcry when Safiya Husseini of Sokoto State (here) and Amina Lawal from Katsina State (here) were sentenced to death by stoning for adultery by Sharia courts. Former Governor and current Federal Senator for Zamfara State, Ahmad Yerima, is currently under investigation for marrying a 13 year old girl in contravention of Nigeria’s Child Rights Act (here); he is 50 and claims that Sharia law derived from the example of Islam’s prophet Muhammad (who was 51 and his third wife Aisha 6 when they wed, the marriage being consummated 3 years later) is superior to Nigerian law.
Christians in Jos view such barbaric developments with justifiable concern; they are taking place on their northern doorstep and it is reasonable to assume that leaders of the increasingly assertive Hausa-Fulani settlers in Jos have a similar Sharia game plan for Plateau State over the long term.
There has been ethno-religious conflict in the northern states ever since the fanatical Maitatsine Islamic sect slaughtered 4,000 Christians and burnt churches in Kano State in December 1980 (here). But by contrast Jos has been seen as Nigeria’s idyllic city at the heart of an agriculturally fertile region, with a temperate climate and an ethnically diverse population who rubbed along well together. The state motto ‘The home of peace and tourism’ was well deserved.
But no more, not since lunchtime on Friday 7th Sept 2001 when a Christian woman, Rhoda Haruna Nyam, was prevented from returning to work from her home near a mosque in the Congo-Russia district of Jos because by doing so, worshippers claimed, she was disturbing their Juma’at prayers and disrespecting Islam (here). Five days of riots and deaths ensued. I was taken to the house, viewed the mosque and walked round the Congo-Russia district.
I was also taken to Dogo Na Hauwa, a village community of some 5,000 just outside Jos where, in the early hours of Sunday 7th March this year, there was a mass slaughter of the mainly Christian, indigenous Berom population by Hausa-Fulani men (here). I went to the place where the pastor of the village church found first his wife and then his young daughter lying dead from gun shots. I met a woman who lost her husband and all her children in the attack and who still bears the marks of machete wounds on her body. I was shown the mass grave where over 200 bodies were buried, marked simply by a low mound of red earth and scrub (photo below). I looked across the bush to two nearby villages, Rasat and Zot, which received similar and coordinated murderous attacks on the same night. It was all indescribably awful.
It’s estimated that over 4,000 people have been butchered during inter-communal conflicts in the state since the 2001 Congo-Russia confrontation, so when I met a young Muslim convert to Christianity who is now an ordained church minister but still has strong family links with his former community, I asked him when the terror and violence will stop.
“When the Muslims want it to stop,” was his considered reply.