Tuesday, July 27, 2010

We must pray for the peace of Nigeria.

From 1970 to 1982 my wife and I were missionaries in central Nigeria. Three out of our four children were born there. We lived mainly on or near the Jos Plateau. At over 4300 feet above sea level it was the hill station area to which expatriates came on holiday. It was a peaseful place even though we arrived just after the end of the civil war in ‘Biafra’. The north of Nigeria became a British colony in 1900, and part of the newly independent Nigeria in 1960. The 19th century was one of peace. Before it there was jihad with Islam offering conversion , slavery or death. Pax Brittanica ended the last two and encouraged the first as Muslim traders were now at liberty to peacefully spread their religion and Christian missions were banned except in areas like the plateau which were judged not to heve been subjugated by the Muslim emirs .

But Riots in 2001 between Christians and Muslims in Jos killed perhaps 1000 people. Estimates vary. In 2008 rioting led to the death of over 381 people in central Nigeria in only two days of clashing, and several homes, mosques, churches and a seminary were damaged or burned by mobs. The 2010 Jos riots were clashes between Muslim and Christian ethnic groups in central Nigeria near the city of Jos. The first spate of violence of 2010 started on 17 January and lasted at least four days. Houses, churches, mosques and vehicles were set ablaze during the fighting. At least 200 people were killed.
Hundreds of people died in fresh clashes in March 2010. Slaughtered villagers were mostly Christians, slain by machete attacks from the Hausa-Fulani, a group of Muslim herdsmen. Hundreds more left the scene of the attack in case the perpetrators returned.

Jos is the capital of Plateau State, in the middle of the divide between the predominantly Muslim north of Nigeria and the predominately Christian south. More than 5,000 people have been displaced in the latest violence. Reports on the catalyst vary. According to the state police commissioner, skirmishes began after Muslim youths set a Catholic church, filled with worshippers, on fire. Other community leaders say it began with an argument over the rebuilding of a Muslim home in a predominantly Christian neighborhood that had been destroyed in the November 2008 riots
Before dawn on 7 March 2010, more than one hundred Christian villagers were killed by Muslim Hausa-Fulani herders in Dogo-Nahawa village near Jos. The attacks went on for four hours, and nearby villages were also targeted. Guns were fired by the perpetrators to cause panic and led to villagers running towards them to be chopped up by machetes. The villagers were mainly Berom Christians. Buildings were also set alight. Most of the dead were women and children. The death toll was later updated to more than 300 and later 500. Hundreds more left the village in case the attackers returned.According to a local paper, attackers yelled "Allahu Akhbar" before burning down churches and homes.. The Plateau State Christian Elders Consultative Forum said that the attack was "yet another jihad and provocation".

The significance of religious differences has been questioned with the roles of social, economic, and tribal differences also considered. An ethnic rivalry between the Hausa and Berom peoples may be a factor in the violence. However, this simplistic assertion is challenged because most ethnic groups in Plateau, who are predominantly Christian share the same sentiments with the Berom, and collectively see an Islamic threat in their own lands. The archbishop of the capital Abuja said that it was "a classic conflict between pastoralists and farmers, except that all the Fulani are Muslims and all the Berom are Christians." The Beroms and other Plateau natives are predominantly farmers and have had to experience their lands taken away and degraded by tin mining. I believe the conflict is, like in Northern Ireland, not fundamentally religious but political. In both places it happens that an ethnic divide is also a religious one.

There is also the issue of discrimination against the mainly Muslim "settlers" of Jos, even if they have been living in the city for decades. This further accentuates divisions in the city. While the mainly Christian indigenous population are classified as "indigenes," the mainly Muslim immigrants to Jos are classified as "settlers" and find it difficult to stand for election- among other things. But this is the case in all of Nigeria. The law allows preferential treatment of indiginees over settlers whose familie may have livd in the locality for thre generations or more. Only in Plateau do the settlers riot.

Why have these riots been only in the 21st century not the 20th. I believe the answer is that post 9/11 Islamist violence has flourished.

I am concerned at the under-reporting of these conflicts in the West and the pro-Muslim bias shown, especially by the BBC. Only the bad news is reported, never the good news of Christians and Muslims working for peace and protecting one another amidst death and destruction.

We must pray for the peace of Nigeria. Pray that Christians show love and never instigate violence nor reprisals.

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