While the whole world was mourning and grieving the loss of lives and property in earthquake-hit Haiti, human premeditated violence struck the city of Jos. The capital of Plateau State in North Central Nigeria, Jos was thrown into another round of violence when unsuspecting church goers were attacked by unprovoked Muslim youth. "Muslim youths on Sunday [January 17] attacked Christian worshipers unprovoked," said Plateau State Commissioner of Police Gregory Ayankiang.
The students of ECWA Theological Seminary Jos (JETS), who had just returned from their Christmas break to start the semester, were thrown into confusion. They had finished their registration a week ago, and every one of them was excited and thrilled to start the semester. Lecturers who had been preparing to teach also came to school on Monday to begin the new semester in earnest.
All that changed. Monday classes had to be cancelled when we learned that the Muslim youth shot one of our undergraduate students, Shem Daniel, on his way back from church on Sunday. He was rushed to one of the hospitals in town unconscious. He eventually died from his wounds on Monday morning.
In the midst of the confusion, some Muslims who usually pass through the seminary compound to their irrigation farm came and wanted to pass to the farm. But our students sent them back because of the tension that was mounting. If it were Christians who went into a Muslim community in such a volatile situation, the Muslims would have killed them.
To encourage each other after the devastating news of our student's passing on to glory, the school management decided that we should have chapel. During the chapel worship, Provost Bulus Galadima read from Psalm 23:1-6 and Isaiah 40:1-29. He reminded us, "Our emotions are not trustworthy." In times of crisis, the Bible should be our sole guide. He emphasized that the Word of God is the greatest comfort we have in times like these. "God is still in control," Galadima reassured the JETS community.
Prayers were said on behalf of those whose loved ones have been killed or wounded. Toward Monday evening, the situation seemed to be under the security operatives' control. JETS management even decided that we could proceed with classes on Tuesday. But Tuesday morning things took a turn for the worse. After their morning prayer, the Muslims went wild, massacring innocent people. Jos has again been turned into a battle field.
January 19, 2010, Tuesday, the fighting started at 7:10 a.m. From my house on the seminary campus, I could hear frequent gunshots. The gunshots were accompanied by the burning of used tires, cars, houses, churches, business premises, and worse still—human remains.
At 10 a.m. the tension was overwhelming, to the extent that the state government had to impose a 24-hour curfew on Jos city and the neighboring town of Bukuru.
Despite the curfew, the fighting persisted. At noon the smoke from all the burning hovered over the city, creating an ecological hazard. People are stranded in their houses without food and water. Some are without shelter. "The refugees are without food, water, and blankets," said the Director of Global Relief and Emergency Response Mission in Jos. Worse still, with this crisis, there may be no end to the food crisis in Jos.
We had to cancel classes again on Tuesday. I was standing with several students when some strayed bullets started flying into our seminary campus. We immediately dispersed the students back to their hostels for safety.
The parents of our late student wanted to come and pick up the remains of their son on Tuesday. But due to the high tension, they were advised not to come for the corpse. Besides Shem Daniel, many other people have lost their lives in the violence, and over 4,000 people have been displaced. As in any violence of this magnitude, many people are looking for their missing loved ones.
No one ever thought that barely one year after the violence that hit Jos metropolis and environs on November 28, 2008, the city would again be attacked by people who do not want to give peace a chance. This upraising, along with others that took place in Maiduguri and Bauchi in 2009, culminating in the Boko Haram and Kalakuta sectarian violence, is an indicator of the failed state of social and religious structures in Nigeria. The Catholic Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama, expressed dismay at the use of violence to resolve social and communal differences. "We condemn in totality the use of firearms to resolve social matters," said Kaigama, who also serves as chairman of the Plateau State Inter-Religious Council for Peace and Harmony.
In spite of these challenges, I hope Plateau State will rise to claim its title of being a home of peace, beauty, and tourism. Both Muslims and Christians on the Plateau need to understand that "peace is that calm of mind that is not ruffled by adversity, overclouded by a remorseful conscience, or disturbed by fear." May we be able to sing with Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace!
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
Oh, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life!
Dialogue breaks down not because it doesn't work but because one of the parties insists on having things done their own way. As Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman has said, "The safest place in the world is in the center of God's will. But it may be unsettling, and our fear of that may keep us from hearing God. Thank God that he is merciful and relentless."
Lord Jesus, have mercy on the Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. Those among them who do not have sight cannot follow your will. Give them their sight so that they may see that the way to peace is dialogue.
Sunday B. Agang is Academic Dean of ECWA Theological Seminary in Jos, Nigeria, and a John Stott Ministries-Langham scholar.
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See today's related article, "The Truth About the Religious Violence in Jos, Nigeria," by Craig Keener.
Recent coverage of the Jos riots include:
460 Killed in Jos Crisis (Daily Champion, Nigeria)
Previous articles by Sunday Agang include:
Who's Afraid of Witches? | Among African Christians, too many of us are. (Sept. 15, 2009)
Diagnosing Jos | Political problems don't always have political solutions. (December 23, 2008)
Violence Smothers Jos in Smoke | Peace eludes us. (December 3, 2008)
More coverage of Nigeria, including articles on past violence, is available in our full coverage area.