Thus our fable goes to sea, and he who will smell its perfume first, will go to heaven.”
From September 7 to 13, 2001, Jos, the capital of Plateau State in central Nigeria, was the scene of mass killing and destruction, the meanest in her recent history. Hundreds of people were killed and tens of thousands displaced in less than one week. Violence suddenly erupted between Christians and Muslims in a city where diverse communities had coexisted peacefully for years and which had prided herself on avoiding the inter-communal violence that had plagued neighbouring states.
Till date, the exact figures would never be known, some say more than 1,000 people were killed in just six days, no one would ever know the exact figures.
The specific incident that sparked off the violence occurred outside a mosque in the area of Jos known as Congo Russia. On Friday, September 7, a young Christian woman tried to cross the road through a congregation of Muslims outside the mosque. She was asked to wait until prayers had finished or to choose another route, but she refused and an argument developed between her and some members of the congregation. Within minutes, the argument had unleashed a violent battle between groups of Christians who appeared at the scene and Muslims who had been praying at the mosque or who happened to be in the neighbourhood.
The real stories have root causes, and more, but like they say in most stories, it depends on who’s side, which version, and the truth and who’s truth, what interests and more. The stories of Jos, have never been straight forward, and never cease to be complex.
In reality, the conflict was more political and economic than religious. It stemmed from a longstanding battle for control of political power and economic rivalry between different ethnic groups and between those labelled “indigenous” or “non-indigenous” inhabitants of the area. As grievances built up over time, both sides to manipulate popular emotions and eventually to inflame the situation to a level where it could no longer be controlled appealed to religious sentiments. Christians and Muslims, “indigenes” and “non-indigenes,” became both perpetrators and victims.
Opinions about who was primarily to blame for the outbreak of violence varied and have remained highly polarized. Fact though is also that the violence could have been foreseen but government authorities failed to take action to prevent it. The state government adopted a passive attitude and appeared not to take seriously the numerous, explicit threats issued by both “indigenous” and “non-indigenous” groups in Jos in the weeks leading up to the crisis.
It is 19 years today, and as my friend Dr. Chris Kwaja puts it, “we are still battling the “single factor narrative” about the Jos crisis, which has its origin deeply embedded in ethnicity rather than religion…Today, we are all guilty of embracing a religion causality, which creates these divisions along religious lines, which in fact, is made possible because of the way it was amplified and sustained.”
In Africa, the traditional art of storytelling is still very significant. It is a priceless form of mediation and cultural preservation.
Most of us remember the days when our parents or grandparents told us entertaining stories from the ancient times. So what really is the Jos story, it is the Plateau story and it is the Nigerian story.
The story of Jos, is the story of divided cities, the story of Kwararafa Cinema, with nostalgia, very few Christians would go there today, and the story of Terminus market, many would say bombed, or burnt depending on who is telling the story. It is the story of Jesus Our Saviour and Islamization, ‘us and them, we and their’, stories of poisoned apples, injected oranges and contaminated water.
The Plateau Peace Practitioners Network (PPPN) seeks to tell a new story, the true story, changing the narrative, the project “Stand with Humanity a brainchild of Displaced Women and Children Foundation, partnering with Believers Without Dichotomy BELWIDIC, through the sponsored of the Local Action Fund of PeaceDirect, and technical support courtesy of The Tatttaaunawa Roundtable Initiative TRICentre is pushing this.
With over 100 NGOs, peace practitioners, coming together to say “NEVER AGAIN”, The likes of Elder Salis Abdulsalam, the Jacob Pwakim led YIAVHA, the entire Mugu Zaka Bako led PPPN, and amiable secretary OJ Afwanks, are in the lead. Dr. Emmanuel Ande and his New Era Foundation and Hajiya Fati Sulieman of ICIN; Ambassador Justina Ngwobia, Barrister Adamu, Ladi Madaki, Prof. Maren all pulled muscles.
The wonderful people at the Plateau Peacebuilding Agency PPBA and her DG. Also Rev Dr. Daniel Abbah, Sani Ibn Salihu, and Madam Helen Haggai are part of many hands rewriting the story of Jos by standing for humanity.
I deliberately chose to say the thank you, the problem with name-calling is that you miss out on some names, and this is not intentional, but a BIG thank you to the men and women that speak peace and act peace, the groups, the ethnic, faith and diverse affiliations that seek respect from each other not tolerance, if we see an interdependent Plateau, we will see a united Kaduna, a blessed Katsina, a productive Ebonyi, and a great Nigeria.
For every group that is part of the PPPN, you are a voice that must tell new stories of Kwararafa Cinema, the standing with humanity walk; must teach that Sadiq can walk with Jerusa and that Bridget and Aisha can march with the aim of making peace a relation to the present. To speak and see peace as what emerges from faith in the present moment.
The Jos story has not exactly found closure because we drift out of peace; we loose touch with the present moment. We forget that peace is a generative relation to difference. Difference without tune is discordant conflictual noisy brittle and anxious. The difference with the tune is harmony. A new story that thinks humanity must be in tune with respect for each other.
Harmony comes from intently listening to our companions, colleagues, listening to indigenes and non-indigenes, to settlers, to the ruling party and opposition, appreciating all sides, all faiths, hearing all sides and making subtle adjustments to our own self-expressions.
Understanding that harmony as a need for interdependence, respect and not just verbal, or cosmetic peace narratives.
Standing with humanity in relation to the Jos Story, is that we know there’s more harmony available when our sense of companionship, rather than our divided cities encompasses more, when our kinship includes more, when we feel ourselves alongside people who are not related to us as family or have our shared faith.
As Peace Practitioners walk, work, and march exercising the peace muscle within, making peaceful relations with our different parts, let us remember that Jos is still a divided city, with rats, with crabs, and cats, we are tolerating each other, this miniature Nigeria, needs to embrace respect, interdependence, and respect.
We walk for humanity, from Zamfara, to Sokoto, from Katsina to Taraba, from parts of Kaduna to Borno, from Yobe to Adamawa, from the South to the North, we need to collectively tell new stories, we need to hold our peace and listen to each other…or else—Time will tell