LONG READ: Seven Bloody Days of Summer
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
I n 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 - the only one on the street - like his nephew. But everyone loved him.
“We grew up knowing him as Baba Jos because that’s where he started his life/marriage and he was running a successful photography and lamination business”, his younger sister Sadiya who was fourteen at the time, recalls. “His business was booming so he built his house there; had all his investment there even. Everyone loved going there for holidays 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 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; 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 was John.”
It seemed like help had finally come. The mob agreed to let him go but only on the condition that he recite Psalm 23, a popular chapter in the Bible. 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 civilisation, with their legacy preserved today through their terracotta masks and other carvings in mostly foreign museums. 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 on the one hand as well as 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.
Countdown to Perdition
The seed of discord was first sown in October 1945 when a minor fight between leaders of the Igbo and Hausa trading communities left the latter unconscious. Fellow traders spread the rumour that he had been killed and the Hausas decide to revenge. For two days, they went about destroying everything in sight that was owned by the Igbos. As Leonard Plotnicov, an American anthropology professor who visited Jos between 1960–1962 notes, by the time army and police units were drafted in from nearby Kaduna to quell the crisis, at least two people were dead.
The January 15, 1966 coup left both Sir Tafawa Balewa and Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari, the Prime Minister and commander of 2nd Brigade in Lagos respectively and by extension, the highest-ranking civilian and military personalities from the North at the time, dead. Many Southerners residing in the north also lost their lives, livelihoods and property all of that year.
All of this was bubbling under the surface as many returned in the ‘70s after the war ended. Yakubu Gowon coincidentally from Plateau, declared a ‘no victor, no vanquished’ stance without a committed plan to national reconciliation and reintegration.
In 1967, Gowon split the region into four states. This shifted the political power and majority to Christians as the Plateau Province effectively became Benue-Plateau State, his home state. In time, this became Plateau State and Christian power was consolidated, remaining so for years. The 1992 division of Jos into two local governments (North and South) by the Ibrahim Babangida administration triggered resentment on both sides and further increased underlying political tensions.
Two years later, the first match was unwittingly lit. In his book, Breakdown and Reconstitution: Democracy, the Nation State and Ethnicity in Nigeria, the Sierra Leonean scholar Abu Bakarr Bah writes that in April 1994, members of the Birom, Afizere and Anaguta ethnicities protested peacefully against the appointment of Alhaji Aminu Mato. Mato who was Hausa-Fulani, had been namedcaretaker chairman of Jos North Local Government area, where his people were minorities. He was initially sworn in but eventually the state government at the time caved in to pressure and suspended the process. In anger, his kinsmen slaughtered cows on the highway one day and four people the next. This was almost two full years after the Zango-Kataf crisis in nearby Kaduna between the Atyap and the Hausa-Fulanis.
On June 20, 2001, things worsened when another Hausa-Fulani man, this time an Alhaji Muhktar Muhammed was named coordinator of the National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) in the same Jos North, by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. Bah recalls that Muhammed had earlier been forced to step down as chairman of Jos North LGA for falsifying his credentials. There had also already been accusations against Dr. Frank Tardy, then council chairman, that he had refused to issue certificates of indigeneship to Hausa-Fulani people. Petitions from various stakeholders as well as reports by NGOs were sent to the state and federal government even as provocative leaflets were being distributed by both Muslims and Christians. But the authorities ignored the signs.
Back in 2000, the government of Sani Yerima in Zamfara state had officially implemented the Sharia criminal code which recommended amputation and stoning to death for a variety of crimes. There was a strong outburst in the largely Christian South and trepidation among Christians in the core North as other states moved to adopt the policy. They feared that a grand agenda for the full Islamisation of Nigeria and the execution of all Christians, was now in full swing.
It was only a matter of time before the cup was full and overflowing. Friday 7th September was that day.
The Lamp Hidden Under a Bushel
Okwi Okoh was five when his parents moved to Jos and twenty-one when he moved to Lagos to pursue a career in journalism that saw him end up in Nairobi as a correspondent for Reuters, the popular news agency. For foreign journalists trying to cover current affairs in the country, getting a Nigerian visa was — and remains — akin to squeezing water out of a stone so his bosses back in Kenya were only too happy to send him in for reportage whenever the opportunity came.
In September 2001, he was in Lagos for one of such assignments when the call came. “I was told to go to Jos because Muslims and Christians were fighting”, Okoh reminisces. “It was strange because I grew up in that city not being bothered about tribe and religion. We just knew people were from different states and had different religions but that was it.”
So Okoh left as part of a three-man team that flew from Lagos to Abuja, then took a vehicle to travel three hours by road to Jos. “We got in late on the second day of the crisis. As we were approaching Jos, we saw soldiers everywhere and it took us a while to convince them that we were members of the press. Things were so heated so they didn’t bother to delay us for long but they gave us an escort into town which is when we realised how serious it was.”
“There were crazy scenes everywhere in Jos. Cars set on fire, bodies on the road, people running all over the place. It was unbelievable because this is where I grew up. I had covered conflicts in the Middle East but this was home. The streets where I used to ride my bike as a teenager were now littered with bodies. My parents were in town but I couldn’t get to them because the part of town where they lived at the time had been cut off. Later, I managed to speak to them briefly on the phone before they lost power and their phones went off. It was insane and soldiers were firing guns in a gun battle but we could not ascertain who was firing back.”
The team and their vehicle managed to dock through the city till they found a free hotel, recoiling with shock on seeing different weapons at the emergency military checkpoints erected across town — machetes, dane guns, clubs with nails driven into them etc. By this time, a dusk-to-dusk curfew was already in place.
The hotel was the popular Hill Station Hotel but it was deserted; the few staff still around had stayed behind only because it was unsafe to go home. They told the pressmen how they had heard that in the places where they lived, neighbours were fighting neighbours, friends had become foes. “It was as if an evil spirit had possessed our people”, one of them told the journalists.
As is the norm in other locations around the world, governments in Nigeria have developed the habit of downplaying death figures either to score cheap political points or prevent further panic. Therefore, there are different estimates of the death toll but the Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a December 2001 report puts it at ‘as many as a thousand people’. Mortuary attendants at both the Jos University Teaching Hospital and the state-owned specialist hospital had to do mass burials because of the sheer number of bodies involved.
Okoh and his colleagues went around hospitals and morgues trying to ascertain the actual number of casualties but does not remember. “We were arrested at that point and only after a lot of pleading and explaining before they let us go. As we were there, people were just bringing dead bodies in.”
On 10th September, the trio eventually left with their video footage which was to be aired on the new TV channel Reuters had just setup. But it was not until the next day that they got into Lagos.
“At that point, you could only file stories from Lagos so I had to make my way back there and to Reuters to do so”, Okoh explains. As he walked into the office, everyone was gathered around a TV screen. Some looked sad, some were perplexed and some may have even been crying. Osama bin Laden, a radical from Saudi Arabia with links to the Taliban in Afghanistan, had just masterminded 9/11, the most high-profile terrorism act in world history in the unlikeliest of places — the United States of America.
“I walked straight to them and saw that they were watching reruns of planes flying into the Twin Towers. From that moment, nobody bothered about my report again. My boss said: “Hey man, I’m sorry you went through hell to get this footage but nobody cares about that anymore.” His face fell.
“I learnt in a deep, painful and haunting way why we must tell our stories and teach history from our perspective”, says Okoh.
At the time, he didn’t have the capacity to make copies of the tape. So Okoh simply followed instructions to send the original by courier to the Reuters office in London where it now lies forgotten in the archives. Two weeks later, he was on his way to Kano to cover the riots that had broken out as Muslims angered by a post-9/11 US strikes in faraway Afghanistan turned on Christians in the city.
Jos had, like the tape about it, been relegated to the corner.
The Running Man
Thank God It’s Friday remains a motivating mantra in most campuses across the world on the last working day of the week. Staff and students eager to regain strength from one draining week before the start of another, cannot wait for the close of business so they can either enjoy time curled up at home or go paint the town red.
Back in September 2001, Sadiq Nasir was a law freshman at the University of Jos and naturally chose the latter option. All week long, everyone had been going on about the mother of all raves to happen that night in town; as ‘happening guys’, he and his friends were certain to be there.
Nasir who was 20 then, remembers being excited. “We couldn’t wait for night to come. I was not taking any chances so I had already dropped my outfit for the night at my friend Shehu’s house, which was in-between school and Pamooda Hotel. I had all the money I would need in my pockets already so there would be no foul-up that day.” One of the friends also living in Shehu’s house was Paul Okeugo, who would later co-found the Chocolate City Music Group.
Just before noon, Nasir went to the office of his mom, a professor in the faculty to check on her since she was battling a cold. Eventually, he convinced her to go home and headed to the social centre for a cigarette. There he met three female friends who looked up to him as a big brother; their names were Lily, Uren and Dooshima. They cracked a few jokes together, then he asked them to go home and get ready to party hard that night, so they left.
As he stood chatting with his friends Benson, Jude, Semshak and his late cousin Kefas about their plans for the big night, a shirtless guy jumped over the school fence near where they were standing. He was dark skinned, quite stocky and he was bleeding from his head. A lot.
At the turn of the millennium, cultism was still a big deal even though many students had become numb to rival cult clashes. Nasir explains: “Many of us had been around it enough to have become somewhat jaded. However, whoever attacked this person really wanted to kill him. He had an open bleeding gash from the top of his forehead, running diagonally over his nose and stopped just short of his mouth. We saw him, we made the requisite “oohhs and aahhs” and left the area. That was how things were back then. You didn’t get involved unless you were ready to be involved.”
The boys made their way towards the school gate with the sole purpose of going to chill at the nearby Semshak Hotel or the even closer Fidash Bar just across from the school gate. At the gate, there were curiously no security men on duty. As they stepped outside the school premises onto the usually busy Bauchi Road, they also noticed that the streets were empty. A shiver raced down their spines simultaneously.
Till date, Bauchi Road remains one of the busiest in the Jos metropolis. During the day, there is a buzzing orchestra of okadas, hawkers, taxis, beggars and more. By night, students and other night crawlers gather at the Bauchi Park further down the road to buy bread and eggs or noodles and eggs from roadside vendors, the Mai Shayi (Hausa for tea seller or literally tea man). Or roast chicken and suya from their comrades, the Mai Suya. All sorts of activities go on into wee hours of the night so it is never quiet, let alone empty.
“Stepping onto this road and finding it so bare that there wasn’t a stray dog, chicken or errant child running about was for us more frightening than anything we could have previously imagined. We stood there in silence. Each person was struggling to rationalize this, this thing that we were seeing but could not understand.”
Then they heard shouts coming from further down the road. A mutual friend of theirs, Femi, was running in their direction with a girl in his arms and blood in his clothes. He ran straight into Semshak Hotel screaming “Lock the gate!! Lock the gate!!!” The security men did so quickly. Having lost their target, the crowd turned to Nasir and others who had gathered outside the gate but the latter found their feet first, ran back into the university and locked those gates as well.
Femi had been in another part of town when he noticed some Muslims with their dagger at the throat of a young girl, blood already dripping slowly from an incision on her neck. Knowing that he could not talk his way into saving her life, he swooped in like a hawk, picked her and began to run towards the school. As soon as he ran into Semshak, her life and his were saved.
The Bauchi road campus of the University is located in a relatively Muslim dominated area, so eventually the school was also attacked. Students like Nasir and his friends protected the school and staff with all they had. They managed to move the staff from the campus to the University Quarters despite strong resistance from the Muslim youths who would have lynched them. Armed robbers who lived in predominantly Christian neighbourhoods and cultists on campus defending their home turf, brought out their weapons to fight.
“See, this thing was going to happen on Bauchi Road one day”, Nasir narrates. “For over 2–3 decades, the extremely poor inhabitants of Unguwar Rogo, Gada Biyu etc would watch wistfully as students of ‘big men’ would speed past them in cars and splash water on them; they would lose family members to a stray bullet or two from a cult clash; drunk students would run them over with a car, hit their cars or bikes. They had no recourse because the police would never be on their side. Cult boys were regularly taking their okadas from them forcefully and using them for their own purposes. So this pot of slow brewing animosity and hatred for us had been boiling for a very long time.”
The Molehill Becomes a Mountain
For a monthly salary of two thousand naira only, a teenage Rhoda Haruna Nyam spent the summer of 2001 working at a bookshop on Bauchi Road. She had just passed her certificate exams at Government Secondary School Laranto, Jos and the job was keeping her away from sitting idly at home till she secured university admission. Called MD Bookstores, it was setup by one Mr Oni, a retired librarian at the University of Jos. The shop sold textbooks for primary and secondary schools as well as novels for young children.
The house that Nyam lived in was about five minutes away. One of three buildings situated side-by-side - all owned by her businessman father - it housed him, his three wives and their fifteen children. She was the eleventh in the sequence. Her boss was gracious enough to allow her go home between 1 and 2pm daily to grab lunch and return quickly to man the shop.
On the afternoon of September 7, she prepared to repeat the routine. “Mr Oni wanted to go into town that day so he told me to hurry and come back that day”, Nyam remembers. “I went home to eat acha and gote, a traditional Birom delicacy.”
Right on the path home was a small mosque just before the road branched into Congo-Russia, the joint name for the Congo and Russia residential areas. In reality, it is a small parlour between two residential houses and actually just a prayer room for the Friday Jumat. “Both buildings belong to one Alhaji Tijani who watched me grow”, says Nyam. “He would come to our house to visit my father when I was small; we would go to fetch water in that very compound.”
During prayers, the Muslims would block the road to the mosque and pedestrians would pass the culvert beside it endlessly. That Friday, Nyam passed beside it and was on her way back around 1:45pm with a full belly and smiling face. “If I didn’t take that path, I would have had to go through Angwa Rukuba on the left or the COCIN church on the right and use either route to go back to Bauchi road. Each would take me almost an hour.”
The Muslims were about to pray, mats spread across the entrance to the shops like they had done for years. Then two young boys stepped menacingly in front of Nyam.
“You passed here before and you are passing here again”, one told her. “Go back.
“For what?” she challenged him.
“You pass here all the time. Go back”
At this point, an elderly Muslim came out of the mosque to hold her hand and take her home. His name was Alankwasa; he too, had watched young Rhoda grow up. “He took my hand and said “Baba’s daughter, come let me take you.” To this, one of the boys retorted, “you’re even begging her, let her try to pass so we slaughter her into pieces.”
The elderly man ignored them and took her home but the boys followed behind, with some others in tow. One picked a pestle that one of her brother’s wives had used it to cook and had left lying carelessly around. “Eventually, my father and elder brother came out to know what was wrong.”
She pointed at the boys and her father asked them what the issue was. The elder Nyam had hardly finished talking before a shiny piece of gravel hit him right in the forehead and blood began dripping on his jalabiya. Plop!
“The people in the mosque came out and started shouting Allahu Akbar! Next thing, someone set fire to our houses. That was how a crisis started out of nothing. It was like the Muslims had been waiting for an opportunity to fight.”
No one knows exactly how the fight spread to the rest of Jos but for the Muslims, it was a killing spree all Friday long. The Christians mostly joined on Saturday. While the prevailing belief is that the Muslims were probably incited by their Mallams, there were so many contradictory accounts and incoherent stories that lies began to resemble the truth and facts seemed like fiction.
“We escaped to COCIN church and other people came to join us, bringing different rumours with them”, Nyam continues. “One said a young girl had passed Angwar Rogo (a devout Muslim community) with a mini skirt and they killed her. Many rumours.”
By the end of the crisis, Nyam who had been smuggled out to her uncle’s house in Abuja, appeared before a commission of enquiry to state her side of the story. Alankwasa and Alhaji Tijani testified that she had been innocent in the matter and soon after, they all returned to their old homes to live in awkward silence. Nyam remembers that the commission discovered that there had been isolated incidents across Jos leading to the crisis. Because she was the only ‘culprit’ involved who had appeared before it, foreign researchers identified her for their interviews, making it seem like she triggered it all.
“It’s an episode I want to wipe away from my brain and not remember”, she reiterates. “When I got married and gave birth, these Muslims came for my wedding and to see me in hospital. I didn’t look for trouble or cause any fight and they know it.”
Wild Wild West
The 24-hour curfew imposed by the state government calmed nerves for a second but it quickly became clear that the military’s presence was feeble and that enforcing that curfew would be impossible except on major streets. Everyone was left to their own devices, literally.
Violence spread outside Jos after the first day, taking different dimensions. Bukuru, 16km south of the city had a Hausa monarch at the time; members of his family were killed and the story was that there were so many bodies in the street that cars had to roll over them like speed bumps, just like in the movie Hotel Rwanda.
26-year-old Amina Shehu remembers that Sunday 9th September was four days away from her tenth birthday. She and her two siblings, aged 6 and 18, were the product of a marriage between her Muslim dad and her Christian mum who had fallen in love twelve years earlier. For years, the couple had lived peacefully in the Tudun Wada Ring Road among those of her mother’s faith.
In the thick of the crisis, a gang of Christian youths marched angrily to their house to kill her father who had been hiding in the ceiling for days. His life was spared because an elderly Christian neighbour pleaded with them for hours. When peace returned to the town, the family moved to Rayfield, another area of town.
Jonathan Eigege, now 24 and a Masters’ degree candidate in African Studies at John Hopkins University, witnessed the pogrom as a seven-year-old. A group of armed men — suspected Muslims — invaded his predominantly Christian neighbourhood, burning churches first and then going into houses to loot household items. There were about forty of them holed up in his parents’ bedroom and bathroom.
“As the sound of shattering glass picked up, and as feet thudded as men armed to kill jumped the fence into our neighborhood, I remember pulling the blanket over my eyes”, he remembers. “I did not want to see the person who would kill me. I do not remember what happened next. My next memory is waking up, alone in the room and walking out to see a massive clean-up process already underway. Thankfully everyone was alive and well.”
Ten minutes into the siege, a group of armed indigenes from neighbouring villages in the state had come into town bent on inflicting harm on Muslims. It was they who repelled the attackers. The Eigege family packed a few bags and drove to the safer part of town to stay with friends.
”That drive is still the most scary experience of my life till date. We hit several road blocks, where we were asked if we were Christians or Muslims. When we answered Christian, we were asked to recite staple Bible verses such as Psalm 23 or John 3:16.”
“At these roadblocks, there were burnt cars and what I have now come to realise was the stench of burning corpses in the air…people who had failed the “Sunday School” test. At the last roadblock, my mother mustered the courage to ask the youth why they were committing these atrocities.”
“One of them retorted, “Mama, ba’a abun da muna yi a nan da Hausa wan nan ba su yi ma mutanen mu ba” — (loosely translated, “Mama, there’s nothing we’ve done here that hasn’t been done to our people by these Hausas).”
There is a hill in the Gwarandok area, from which it is easy to see an expanse of the city including Millionaire’s Quarters, Rikkos, Water Board, British America. Some people stayed there for days, including Emeka (last name withheld).
“From the hilltop, I saw for the first time in my life, that bullets moved like fire”, he recalls. “When the army moved into Rikkos, it was crazy. The kind of gunshots you hear sounded like you’re listening to an audio device with bass.”
The situation was as chaotic as MI Abaga would describe it almost a decade later on Wild Wild West, off his sophomore album, MI2.
Blood on her street, smoke in her sky,
Can’t feel her heartbeat no hope in her eye
Orphans, coffins, bastards, caskets, mass burials,
how we gonna move past this?…
Better get your gun,
Better get your vest,
Cos in J town it’s the Wild Wild West,
Down here everyone curse, no one bless
MI Abaga, Wild Wild West (2011)
The Hotspot That Keeps Connecting
According to a US government memo obtained from Wikileaks, American citizens in town including the missionaries were not hurt. Essentially, it was neighbour- fighting-neighbour, Nigerian-duelling-Nigerian, one black man against the other.
Wiebe Boer was one of three Fulbright scholars working at the University of Jos and living in the city centre, in a house next to a mansion belonging to Adamu Muazu’u, ex-governor of nearby Bauchi. Boer had been born in the city to missionaries and was back to do a doctoral research in African history.
“There was no social media and mobile phones weren’t that common”, he remembers. Just a few people had emails so very little information was known. The ambassador would call periodically to check on us in the house since I was the only one with a landline. I was technically their responsibility so they reached out to us to check if we were safe.”
“We closed the cybercafé we were running near the post office and told our customers to run home. As at Sunday, indigenes were going through the GRA (Government Reserved Area) targeting Muslim houses. They attacked Muazu’s mansion and came to our gate. That was when it came close to home for me; we had no weapons.”
As they prepared to break our gate down and continue their destruction, it suddenly began to rain. “It was so strange, rain in September. But it made them leave.”
By Thursday, 13th September, over a thousand people had died and the remaining embers of the war had been extinguished but Jos would never remain the same. Things reached a crescendo in May 2004, when president Olusegun finally declared a state of emergency, temporarily replacing the state governor Joshua Dariye with a military administrator. Perhaps if that week in 2001 had not been overshadowed by the overwhelming coverage of 9/11 on local and international media channels, it would have been remembered as a week of sorrow.
Army tanks came out every Friday to forestall future episodes. Two commissions of inquiry also came into place, one appointed by the federal government and the other by the Plateau state government, each submitting reports that were never implemented.
Have any lessons been learnt? “There was never a concerted effort to heal, no community participation or truth and reconciliatory commission”, says Okoh. “It’s like a wound still open that no one is making any efforts to stitch or to heal.”
His hypothesis is that the transition from military to democratic system of governance unwittingly hurt the status quo. “Pandora’s box opened over the land with the allocation of resources and political positions as democracy came in 1999. Abacha was no longer there to keep a lid on things with his iron fist so underlying tensions and rivalries that could not erupt under military rule, came to the fore. That year, we were running all the time. If it wasn’t Kano, Kaduna, Lagos. Democracy had become demon-crazy.”
Has democracy been an enabler of violence? The jury remains out on that; in the meantime, there have been repeat episodes of the crisis in 2002, 2008 and 2010. The trauma remains for survivors and their families even as the Middle Belt remains a potential hotspot for violence. Even more scary is the fact that both indigenes and settlers used weapons they kept in their possession from the first crisis — and those tools of trade remain dormant but ready.
“There is an imaginary — but very real — line that broadly bifurcates Nigeria in many ways: culturally, socio-economically, religiously, and even by perceptions of what Nigeria is and should be”, says Eigege.
“Most Nigerians, on both sides of this divide, are not aware of it, and many they can afford such ignorance. The people of Nigeria’s Middle Belt cannot afford such ignorance. Moreso, the inhabitants of the city of Jos, which sits squarely on that line has in many ways since September 2001 come to mirror the Nigerian condition, with two different lived realities bifurcated by an arbitrary, but very tangible demarcation.”
As one of those straddling the line, Abdulkareem was saved by the same double identity that almost condemned him to an early death. While growing up in Lagos, he and his two siblings had attended Catholic schools so it was easy for him to recite the psalm in question. He went home with the lady who had saved him and she hid him for days until it was safe to come out. Farouk, his younger brother ran to the motor park and joined other strangers who escaped to Abuja. His uncle’s house and business premises were razed down and the man ran to Lokoja; all that remained of his several decades of labour were ashes.
A week later, Abdulkareem was on his way to his native Kogi with a few clothes and a chin shaved clean, to the comfort of his mother’s embrace and the safety of his father’s compound; everything else was left behind in the city he once called home. Neither he nor any member of his extended family has stepped in Jos since.
An initial version of this story, supported by the BudgIT 2017 Media Fellowship, was initially published on YNaija.com