Killings in Jos reopen barely-healed communal wounds

On Sunday 24 July, news of violence in Jos, Plateau state, filtered to social media platforms through news report and shared personal stories. There were attacks in multiple places in the city. Buses damaged, people killed, and whole communities thrown into disarray. The incidents on Sunday were reportedly reprisal attacks for the killing of mourners in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area (LGA), Plateau State, on Saturday 23 July.

Pat Chollom, a cleric at the Church of Christ In Nations (COCIN) Regional Church Council (RCC) in the LGA, had told Premium Times that suspected armed herdsmen had attacked mourners attending the burial of a member of the church. He said the member, Late Jakawa, was a committed member, so his funeral was well attended. “The armed Fulanis ambushed the sympathisers on their way back from the burial, attacked and killed 34 persons from Nekan village, 39 others from Kufang, and 47 people from Ruku village,” he said. “As we speak with you, many others are still missing in the bushes.”

Security forces were deployed to repeal the attacks, but it appears the affected communities weren’t ready to wait for the often slow-acting hands of the Nigerian state. So they took the law into their hands. The violence spread from Barkin Ladi LGA to Jos South LGA and the state government finally placed dawn-to-dawn curfews on three LGAs to staunch the attacks. “The Plateau State government has imposed curfew in Riyom, Barkin Ladi and Jos South to avert a breakdown of law and order,” said Rufus Butare, Secretary to the Plateau State government. “Movement is restricted from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., except those on essential duties.”

Jos, perhaps more than any city in Nigeria in the past decade, is very familiar with curfews. Even before the current crisis, to move around the city is to see residual effects of curfews. Shops rarely open beyond 8pm, even in moments of absolute peace, and there are barely large youth gatherings in a city filled with young people. The 2000s were years of recurrent religious crisis in the city, and the effect of those can still be seen in burnt buildings that around major centers, a geography that has been completely rewritten as areas have become clearly majority christian and majority muslim, and the people are constantly aware of the placements of these imaginary demarcations that have real implications.

There are few cities more beautiful than Jos in Nigeria. Its temperate climate made it a preferred destination for expatriates as far back as the colonial times, and the hills and waterfalls in and around it has drawn people from around the country to it, even as news of recurrent violence continue to dog its potential for tourism.

The Barkin Ladi killings are just the tip of the iceberg. The response of the youth in the area is a reaction to various news reports of violence that have gone underreported and ignored by the Muhammadu-Buhari-led government that has earned itself a reputation for ignoring security concerns until they become full-blown crisis. On Sunday, young people blocked the new Mangu-Mamaraban Foron-Busa-Buji road and Mangu-Barkin-Ladi road in protest.

Gayus Dapul, of the Mwaghavul Youth Movement (MYM), one of the protesting groups, told This Day Newspapers that “The protest is to send a message to the stakeholders in Plateau that the youths and the people of Mangu are not happy with the security situation in the area. It is our way of expressing our dismay over the bad state of security in Mangu LGA, because we have discovered that each passing day our people are being killed.”

The patterns have now become familiar. What begins as a minor crisis, in this case with news of violence by the cult group Sarasuka, becomes part of a larger security concern with the alleged herdsmen killings. The two separate but similar incidents then become part of  a larger wave, which spurs reprisals. The government intervenes using the military as the actions of the police is often deemed inadequate to address these attacks. Then the circle becomes complete as the security forces become accused of heavy-handedness. In Jos, soldiers involved in the Operation Safe Haven, which was deployed back in 2010 in response to ethno-religious crisis, reportedly killed Aminu Umar, a teenage boy.

Soon the country will try to count casualties and come up with inconsistent numbers. There will be partisan blame-sharing and then in a week or two, the nation will move on to the next crisis, the next sensational news. Yet, Jos is proof that the effects of these violent incidents do not leave with our flimsy attention. They remain, clouding the human, social and economic lives of the people who live in these communities.