Violence Smothers Jos in Smoke
On Friday, November 28, I walked listening to two songs on the radio. The first was a Christmas song:
O my Lord, you sent your Son to save us
O my Lord, so that sin will not enslave us
O my Lord, so that love once more may reign
The second song was by a popular African musician. The lyrics of the song emphasized the need for all African people to allow peace to reign. It goes like this:
African people, allow peace to reign
Whoever you are, give peace a chance
Whatever you say, allow peace to reign
In your home, give peace a chance
Whatever you do, allow peace to reign
African leaders, allow peace to reign
African youth, allow peace to reign
African religious groups, allow peace to reign
African adults, children, women, and men give peace a chance
Whatever you learn, allow peace to reign
Whatever you think, give peace a chance.
The songs stressed justice, love, and peace on a morning when Jos, the capital of Plateau State, Nigeria, was awakened by gunshots.
Jos elections were held Thursday, November 27. Election observers announced on the radio that the election was generally peaceful. Plateau State is generally acknowledged to be a state dominated by Christians. However, the Muslim community in one of the local government areas, Jos North, claimed to be the majority. They complained of the late arrival of election materials to their polling sites. Given the late arrival, they suspected the election results, though not yet announced at the time, to not be in their favor. The community complained of being politically sidelined by the non-Muslims in the state.
Muslim youth, enraged by that assumption, went on a rampage at 1 a.m. on Friday. They burned old automobile tires on the streets and main roads; set churches, schools, and houses on fire; and disrupted classes, travel, businesses, and commercial activities. In the early morning, they started murdering, maiming, and setting ablaze the corpses of children, women, men, and anybody that they knew was not a Muslim.
The non-Muslim youth, in so-called self-defense, counteracted. They too started murdering and maiming Muslims and setting their mosques and houses on fire. The police could not control the situation until soldiers were sent in around 11 a.m.
From 5 a.m., when the counterattack started, to 4 p.m. on Friday, the sun and the sky were darkened by smoke from burning houses, churches, mosques, schools, vehicles, gas stations, and corpses. The whole atmosphere at Evangelical Churches of West Africa Theological Seminary, Jos (JETS), where I teach, was filled with a thick, black smoke. People in JETS and the surrounding areas could hardly breathe because of the smoke.
Besides the pollution, the destruction of property also aggravated the food crisis, economic meltdown, and other hardships already burdening the country. The banks are still not yet opened. The prices of essential commodities are very high. In the few opened markets, some essential foods are not available.
I had scheduled a make-up graduate class that fateful morning, but only four students out of 11 made it to class. Without the tension, I would not have minded holding class with only four students, but the whole atmosphere was so tense that I cancelled the class indefinitely.
As I was writing the above, I heard nonstop gunshots. I went out of my study room and saw our students standing in groups, watching the cloud of smoke that stretched as far as the eyes could see. I saw a young man running helter-skelter. Suspecting him to be a Muslim, some of our students pursued him and caught up with him, only to discover that he was one of our neighbors. He told us he had been at a nearby scene where many people were killed, burned, and maimed by both Muslim and non-Muslim youth.