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Jos, Nigeria: Local Election Sparks Religious Rioting which Kills Hundreds

1 December 2008

Hundreds of people were killed and an estimated 7,000 – 10,000 fled their homes in two days of rioting last week between mainly Muslim Hausa people and mainly Christian Berom people in Jos, the capital of Plateau State, Nigeria.   Senior Christian leaders in the state believe that the riots were coordinated and planned, and that the political events were used as a pretext for anti-Christian violence.

The rioting began at 2.00 a.m. on Friday, 28th November, following local elections on Thursday 27th.  A police spokesman said that the clashes were triggered by a rumour that the All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP) had lost the election to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).  In the midst of the violence, the election results were announced, confirming that the PDP had won all 17 local government areas, including the Jos North local government area where the violence was centred.  In Jos the ANPP is considered to be a predominantly Muslim party, whereas the PDP is perceived to be mainly Christian. 

A curfew was enforced and troops deployed with orders to shoot curfew-breakers on sight.  By Sunday calm had been restored.  Most estimates of the death toll suggest that 200 to 400 people were killed.  Both churches and mosques have been burnt. 

Coordinated and planned

The Archbishop of Jos, Rt Rev. Ben Kwashi, issued an urgent plea for prayer on the first day of violence.  “Please pray for us in Jos, we are being attacked by Muslims.” Mentioning the link with the local elections, he added, “Why Christians must pay for this I do not know.”   On Saturday, he reported, “The Muslims are attacking and burning this morning.  It looks well coordinated.  They are well armed with AK47 and pump machine guns.  This morning they have been at Dogonduste.  Quite a number of Christian homes have been burnt.  We do not know how many have been killed.”

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has denied allegations that its group started the attack, and appealed to all the people of the state to be calm.  Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama, the chairman of CAN in Plateau State, commented, “We were taken aback by the turn of events in Jos.  We thought it was political, but from all indications it is not so.   We were surprised at the way some of our churches and property were attacked and some of our faithful and clergy killed.  The attacks were carefully planned and executed.  The questions that bog our minds are why were churches and clergy attacked and killed?  Why were politicians and political party offices not attacked if it were a political conflict?  Why were the business premises and property of innocent civilians destroyed?  We strongly feel that it was not political but pre-meditated act under the guise of elections.”

Part of a pattern

Plateau State lies in Nigeria’s troubled “Middle Belt” where Christians and Muslims are in roughly equal numbers and there is a history of large-scale sectarian rioting.   These riots often appear to be pre-planned attacks, with young people being paid tiny sums to participate in the violence and promised heavenly rewards for killing people.  The Berom ethnic group is indigenous to Plateau State, whereas the Hausas are settlers; there have been tensions for decades between the indigenous minority groups and the Hausa settlers. 

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, comments: “The apparently pre-planned anti-Christian violence in Jos would be shocking enough if it were a single incident on its own, but is far worse given that it forms part of a pattern of repeated rioting in Nigeria, usually started by Muslims against Christians.  It is tragic when Christians respond with violence, as seems to have happened this time.  Please pray that Christian leaders in Nigeria will be able to help the Christian population to react in a Christ-like way to such provocation.”

Can you help?

Barnabas Fund is sending assistance to the Christian victims of the riots in Jos.  Thousands of displaced people need clothes and food. Those sleeping in the open air need shelter. Christian homes have been burnt, and people have lost all their possessions. Church buildings have also been burnt. There are urgent needs of the injured and bereaved. Please click to donate online using our secure server (Please quote project reference 39-772).

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