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Sectarian rivalry divides Nigerian city

JOS, Nigeria: Rows of dozens of blackened and roofless houses and stalls stand empty in Bukuru, a mainly Christian satellite town just south of Jos which was swept by sectarian bloodshed in January. Elsewhere, in a predominantly Muslim district in the north of Jos, large rocks lined up across portions of the streets pass for …


JOS, Nigeria: Rows of dozens of blackened and roofless houses and stalls stand empty in Bukuru, a mainly Christian satellite town just south of Jos which was swept by sectarian bloodshed in January.

Elsewhere, in a predominantly Muslim district in the north of Jos, large rocks lined up across portions of the streets pass for security barricades, in the wake of waves of reprisal attacks that flared up three months later.

Jos is split into two main factions — Muslim and Christian. One’s faith is generally associated with ethnicity — Beroms are normally seen as Christians while Hausa and Fulani are usually considered as Muslims.

Movement in the central Nigerian city is accordingly limited.

"In Jos we know our boundaries. We know where we are supposed to be and where we are not supposed to be. You just can’t go anywhere, anyhow," Olivia Milaha, a legal rights activist said.

"We are almost getting to the stage of Lebanon – divided," she said, in reference to the conflicts of the 1970s to the 1990s in the Middle East country.

Abdul Yusuf, a Hausa Muslim fruit vendor in Bukuru, complains that business has been slow since the January violence that left hundreds dead — mainly Muslims.

"Nobody is coming … to buy anymore, people are afraid," said Yusuf, at a sprawling market in Bukuru, amid torched buildings.

Yusuf sums up the mood in Jos, the fractured capital of Nigeria’s central Plateau state, the centre of ethno-religious violence in a country whose 150 million-strong population is divided almost equally between Christians and Muslims.

"You have no-go areas for Christians and no-go areas for Muslims," said Ahmed Garba, a lawyer. "This is one of the major impacts on the relationships of people and it’s most unfortunate."

Some people are not even comfortable engaging lawyers of a different faith from theirs, he said.

More than 1,500 people have been killed in several rounds of ethno-religious and inter-communal clashes in and around Jos since the start of the year.

Human and civil rights lobbyists warn that urgent action has to be taken to avert a recurrence of unrest in the restive region.

"Unless something credible is done very soon, Jos could witness another crisis with mass killings and violations on a scale not seen before," said Chidi Odinkalu, of the Open Society Justice Initiative, a member of a coalition of civil and rights groups after a recent fact-finding mission to Jos.

"Jos is clearly a prevention of genocide situation," he said.

Francis Deng, the UN Special Adviser to the Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide had been slated to visit Nigeria in March, but the visit was called off.

Jos, a city of roughly under a million people — which acts as a buffer between the predominantly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south — has long been a hotspot of ethnic and religious friction in Nigeria.

"The people of Jos need urgent help to rebuild trust in government and intercommunity co-existence," said Odinkalu.

Hausa-Fulani herdsmen in March launched a wave of attacks on five Christian Berom villages, slaughtering more than 500 people according to state officials.

Beroms, who were the original natives of Jos, see Hausa as settlers. Hausas moved into the tin-mining area mainly as migrant labourers more than a century ago, according to Jonah Madugu, a traditional Berom elder and historian.

Christian and Muslim leaders in Plateau have both said the unrest owed more to the failure of political leaders to address ethnic tensions than to inter-faith rivalries.

"Some of us were born here and have never seen this. We lived with these people for years (when) even circumcision was carried out by Muslims," said the Reverend Yakubu Pam, head of the Christian Association of Nigeria in the region.

Circumcision of boys is a common practice in Nigeria irrespective of their religion.

A Muslim cleric in Bukuru, Alhaji Ali Mohammed, says "it will take just a week to resolve these differences only if government plays its role to build confidence".

The inter-faith animosity has deepened to the point of even interfering with burial rites.

Muslims claim to have been barred from accessing a local cemetery, forcing them to take their dead to nearby Bauchi State.

"One of the painful things is that even if one of us dies, we can’t bury them here," said Danlami Maianugwa, a community leader in Bukuru.

 

 

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