Saturday 24th September 2011 at 3pm prompt I was at KICC, 468 Hoe Street, Walthamstow, London E17 9AH. I was responding to the conference publicity which said,
'Attacks on Christians and Churches in Northern and Central Nigeria have intensified. Jos in Plateau state, Maiduguri, Borno, Bauchi, Katsina, Kano, Yobe, Adamawa, Jigawa, Niger, Yobe, Zamfara and other areas have such gruesome violence almost impossible to recount. These disturbing religious and sectarian violence predate the recent presidential elections. They have only worsened as the terror continues unabated with lives and property lost in fresh bomb, gun and machete attacks. Many communities are crying out for help.
The key objectives of this far reaching conference are to explore opportunities for advocacy, reconciliation and how practical help might be offered to victims of persecution. The conference will not support violent retributions, nor would we engage in speech likely to inflame passions on either side of the Christian / Muslim divide. Enough blood has been shed on both sides already and enough is simply enough.
LoveJos is a new UK-based group of Christians who pray for peace and advocate freedom of religion for all. Join this movement to bring succor to the suffering and practical help to the afflicted.'
This was my first visit to Kingsway International Christian Centre, Walthamstow, Britain's largest local church congregation of 12,000 people. They cannot possibly pack even one tenth of that number into the old cinema where they meet. They kindly hosted he conference and their pastor, Matthew Ashimolowo who hails from Kaduna addressed the conference with an impressive passion He said that the CIA predicts Nigeria splitting into two countries within five years. To prevent this Christians must act now for the Jos Plateau is the front line of the confrontation with political Islam in Nigeria.
Mrs Esther Ibanga from Jos gave a brief history of recent troubles in and around the city starting in 1991 when on Christian was beaten to death. 1992 saw a similar murder by Muslims. In 1994 16 died in riots after local elections 2001, 2002 and 2003 all saw disturbances when the dead were counted in hundreds. In 2008 as many as 1648 families may have lost and 71 churches destroyed. December 2009 saw Christians burned to death in a Yelwa church over 100 miles south of Jos and subsequently over a hundred deaths in the city followed by more trouble in January when over 500 ( a figure which other sources say is inflated) mainly women and children were butchered in Dogon Nahawa, a village near Jos. This marked the start of mutilation of bodies and targeting of the vulnerable in Plateau villages. Allegations are made that Hausa/Fulani have attacked from Bauchi State with the army at best failing to protect Christians and at worst, complicit in massacres which are continuing with increased frequency with whole families being killed and farms destroyed. In response Christian women have marched in protest. They fear the army is divided and incapable of protecting them. ( I believe the figures given may be Christian dead and Muslim numbers are not recorded here).
We were shown two videos of the present situation. Both had footage of mutilated bodies so it was no surprise to hear the only TV to broadcast these was KICC's own channel. They are not suitable viewing for children and would never be on mainstream TV channels. They are too horrific.
Mark Lipdo lives in Jos. He is from Langtang south of Jos where we lived 1975 to 1978. I had never met him before but his in laws have been our friends for over 40 years. He works for Stefanos Fellowship and gave a helpful presentation of the historic origins of the troubles going back to Muslim attitudes to independence in 1960. They wanted to rule all of newly independent Nigeria and knew they must dominate the Middle Belt. Time constrained a more comprehensive historical overview which has to start with Hausa/Fulani Muslim jihad under Usman Dan Fodio in the 18th century when Muslim cavalry could not subjugate hill tribes. Then from 1900 and the colonisation of the North, Islam got its big helping hand from Pax Britannica which kept Christian missions from evangelising Muslims but allowed Is lam to spread peacefully where it had failed to dominate by the sword. Now Hausa/Fulani are attacking Berom villages on the Plateau as well as Jos Christians many of whom are from southern states. Since elections earlier this year 764 northern church buildings have been destroyed.
Baroness Caroline Cox our doughty fighter on behalf of oppressed believers told us that Jos is at the front line of the confrontation with Islam. She showed pictures of her visit to Jos and Bauchi telling of local hero, Archbishop Ben Kwashi. The Anglican leader when away from home had his wife sexual assault by some say by Islamists looking to murder him. Others say the criminals were not Islamists but more likely Christian thugs hired by the (Christian) political establishment who were mad with Ben for saying that he would rather be ruled by an honest Muslim than a dishonest Christian. He says, 'If we have a faith worth living for we have a faith worth dying for. Don't you compromise the faith that we are living and dying for........ If you do not resist (Islam) now your grandchildren are going to have to fight a battle you do not have courage to fight.
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali gave a message of encouragement and support on video. The conference also had the practical help and support of Christian Concern For The Nation.
David Hill of Release International spoke of his visit to Jos and Maiduguri and asked for financial aid to be sent through any of the organisations represented at the conference.
We over ran our finishing time by at least an hour. We were definitely on Nigerian time. KICC kindly provided refreshments afterwards so there was a time to meet attendees. I met a lady from Langtang who identified herself as daughter of the former chief of the Tarok and the sister of Nigeria's former foreign minister. LoveJos video interviewed me and I sent my message of encouragement to Plateau Christians in Hausa. I am surprised I can still manage it unrehearsed. I only spoke it for 11 years ending 29 years ago.