The 4 Freedoms Library

It takes a nation to protect the nation

Nigeria's Leaders Must Break the Cycle of Violence in Jos

5:45 PM, MARCH 31 2010

Women in black march to protest the slaughter of mainly Christian villagers. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images.

The recent cycle of killings in Jos, followed by civil outcry and request for justice for the victims, followed by arrests, followed by indifference, followed by more killings, has become symptomatic of Nigeria’s democracy. Inaction is the name of the game.

On March 7, about 500 people—most of them women and children—were killed in Dogon Nahowa village. The papers described it as a revenge killing by Fulani Muslims for an earlier massacre, in January, of Muslims by Christians, itself prompted by an even earlier killing. This cycle goes back about ten years.

Jos, Plateau State, is now the most dangerous place to live in Nigeria. It wasn’t always like this. In colonial times, the missionaries made it their headquarters because of its centrality and its mild weather; residents of neighboring regions came for employment in its abundant tin mines; the mainly Muslim Hausas from Kano and other far northern states came as traders; southern retirees and civil servants bought houses there for the weather and the serenity; and then there were the people like me, who came to Jos as students.

I have many pleasant memories from my five years there, but overlaying them, like a bad palimpsest, is another memory, from 2001. I was driving through Jos from Lagos, where I was then working, and right there in front of me was the Terminus Market, burning to the ground. It was said to be the biggest indoor market in West Africa; it was certainly one of the most beautiful. Nine years later, it still has not been rebuilt.

The indigenous Christians accuse the Hausa settlers of pursuing jihadist goals, supported with cash and arms by the larger northern Nigerian Muslim umma. And the sizeable population of Muslim settlers accuse the Christians of monopolizing political power, land, and other resources.

This mutual distrust, and the quest for political dominance, has been a feature of Nigeria’s political culture since colonial times. Yet Nigeria’s diversity has mostly been an asset. Nigerians have learned to coexist, except when they don’t. As in Jos. As in the Biafran war, from 1967–70.

Nigeria is trying to find its democratic feet after about 30 years of military dictatorships. The Jos crisis is a reminder to Nigerians that there is no such thing as half-way democracy. Democracy means freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to live where one wants to live, but above all else it means equal justice.

For too long the political class in Nigeria has gotten away with subversion of justice and even murder.

Nigerians want change. The violence in Jos could give the acting president, Goodluck Jonathan (Christian-Southerner), who has taken over unexpectedly from the ailing president Yar’Adua (Muslim-Northerner), a chance to send a message of change. Find the real sponsors of the violence, not their pawns, and make an example of them. The recurrent crisis in Jos, as well as in other parts of the country, is not a failure of Nigerians to live together; it is a failure of the Nigerian government to protect its citizens.

Helon Habila is the author of Waiting for an AngelMeasuring Time, and the upcoming Oil on Water.

Tags: Break, Cycle, Jos, Leaders, Must, Nigeria's, Violence, in, of, the

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Replies to This Discussion

"The recurrent crisis in Jos, as well as in other parts of the country, is not a failure of Nigerians to live together; it is a failure of the Nigerian government to protect its citizens."

Understandably Mr Helon Habila who is from the muslim north, blames the government, and avoids mentioning islams role in the ongoing jihad. Though he is a christian (Habila is a muslim name) and grew up in Kaltungo, in the Muslim north of the country dominated by the Hausa people, he like most christian intellectuals bury there heads to the fact that islam is the cause of the problems.

The problems is not the failure of Nigerians to live together, it is that muslims refuse to regard themselves as Nigerians, but as muslims, and it is them that refuse to live together with non-muslim Nigerians.

It is for the government to realize that the Northern muslims will never live together with the Southern christians. The North should be separated, and should the muslim North continue its aggression, the the South should hit back, this I believe is the only way that the government can protect Nigerians, because the people in the north are muslim, who put the caliphate before the state of Nigeria.

I do not think that the north should be separated and given to the muslims, this is just surrender of part of your country to islam...if the muslims in north Nigeria don't want to live with non-muslims, it is they who should go elsewhere, the ummah are supposed to look after each other so I'd suggest Niger or Saudi Arabia should re-house them in their countries.

No Anthony, I think it will be a victory for the South, it is the north that doesn't want separation, they want all, especially the oil regions. Parts of the south have already fought one war so as to separate from the north, and disgustingly the world supported the muslims. By separating the two, then the north will lose the benefits of the oil. As it stand to-day the wealth of Nigeria is spread all over, and because of this many in the oil regions live in poverty, cut the north out, and give the wealth to the the southerners.

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