Only days before 9/11, a weeklong episode of bloodletting began in the central Nigerian city of Jos as Christians and Muslims, neighbours for decades, fought to the death. But what exactly happened?
By Eromo Egbejule
The Valley of The Shadow of Death
In the summer of 2001, *Abdulkareem, a lanky 20-year old who had just concluded his National Diploma in Accounting at Federal Polytechnic, Idah in Kogi State, began a six-month industrial training placement at the headquarters of the biscuit manufacturing giant, Nasco in Jos, the Plateau state capital. The young man wasted no time getting accustomed to the life in the city. Light-skinned, smart, quick to learn and fluent in Hausa, Yoruba and English, he was easily a favourite with his superiors and the girls in the city – who loved his beard. Thanks to money saved by living with an uncle and his family, he also had disposable cash at hand from his pocket allowance and meagre internship wages combined. Life was, as the oft-quoted cliché goes, good.
All that was soon to change. In the afternoon of Friday, September 7, just after the usual midday prayer, he saw people running in the street and screaming “An fara, an fara“, the Hausa phrase for “they have started, they have started”. Muslims and Christians were simultaneously killing each other in the city, the young man immediately dashed out of the office like his colleagues and was soon headed for his uncle’s house on Langtang Street, a Christian-dominated residential area in the city centre. Baba Jos, as Abdulkareem and his siblings called him was a Muslim like his nephew, and the only one on the street. But everyone loved him.
“We grew up knowing him as Baba Jos because that’s where he started his life/marriage and was running a successful photography and lamination business”, his younger sister Sadiya who was fourteen at the time, recalls. “His business was booming built his house there all his investment. Everyone loved going there for holiday because Jos was cool. That year, my big bro was doing his IT at Nasco and my little bro in his early teens was there for school holiday.”
On his way home, Abdulkareem ran into a mob of angry youths approaching, chanting Christian victory songs and baying for blood, with different menacing weapons in their hands. He turned around and was looking for where to hide but strong hands lifted him and brought him to the centre of the road; he had the complexion of a Fulani man, was wearing a kaftan and had a stereotypical long beard to boot, so it was easy to pick him out as a Muslim. Someone within the mob started pouring kerosene which had materialized from nowhere on him and someone else began to look for matches. The boy looked to the heavens for help and tears began to trickle down his face. His death seemed certain.
“At this point, a lady passing by who recognized him from his short stay in the neighbourhood saw that he was the one and started screaming – John!” Sadia continues. “She told the guys that she knew my brother, that he was a Christian and his name is John.”
It seemed like help had finally come. But the mob agreed to let him go only on the condition that he say the Lord’s Prayer first. His heart quavered first, then his body joined.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,
He leadeth me beside the still waters, he restoreth my soul,
Ye though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…
Home of Peace and Tourism
Some of the earliest known Nigerians lived during a time now known affectionately as the Nok civilization, with their legacy preserved today through their terracotta masks and other carvings in foreign museums mostly. The area they lived in is what is known as present-day Jos, capital of Plateau state. As the story goes, colonial administrators in the old Plateau Province mispronounced the old name Gwosh as Jos and it stuck.
Plateau was named for its distinct elevated topography and famed for its stunning natural assets including Rim River, Pandam Game Reserve, Assop waterfall and the Shere Hills which is the highest point of the plateau at an elevation of over 6,000ft. The Kaduna, Gongola, Yobe and Hadejia rivers all have their source within the Jos plateau. Little wonder then that the state’s official slogan is Home of Peace and Tourism.
There are over twenty indigenous – and mostly Christian – Northern tribes living around the foot of the plateau and as many associated languages. However, Hausa the lingua franca of the far North is still the main language spoken in the state.
Tin and columbite have been mined on an industrial scale in the area for years, peaking around the 70s just before the oil boom effectively rendered it dormant. Inevitably, settlers began to move in and settle in Jos; these were the predominantly Christian Igbos, Urhobos, and Yorubas; Hausas and Fulanis who were mostly Muslims. There was also the constant influx of foreign missionaries who especially feel at home in the cool weather of Jos which averages temperatures of 20-22 degrees Celsius and is suitable for growing strawberries. It was a melting pot and as is the case in such societies, inter-ethnic marriages were a-plenty.
In the early days, the state lived up to its slogan. “In those days before the first crisis, I could walk from one end of Jos to the other alone at night”, reminisces rapper MI Abaga who was born and bred in the city. “The only thing I would be afraid of was what my parents would say when I got home so late.”
But all good things eventually come to an end.
Eromo Egbejule prepared this story with the support of the 2017 BudgIT Media Fellowship.
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