Nigeria is home to over 250 tribes and 140 million people of various religious leanings. Over the years, sectarian violence has broken out between Muslims and Christians, especially in the northern part of the country. The last few years have been relatively free of significant violence but all that changed on Thursday, November 27th.
As the world renowned Dalai Lama gave a speech about religious tolerance in Lagos, the northern city of Jos, in
Fighting was initially sparked by supporters of two political parties, the ANPP and PDP, as they awaited local government election results. The chaos soon took a religious tinge resulting in the death of at least 300 citizens.
The Arewa Consultative Forum, a northern interest group, appealed to citizens to stop the violence: "Differences in ethnicity, of faiths and in party platforms or ideology are facts of this nation's reality. What is required of every law-abiding citizen is for him/her to accept the reality of one united Nigeria in diversity: love it and make the most of the diversity's possible good," At the Vatican, Pope Benedict prayed about the situation on Sunday and urged the world to express "horror and disapproval" at the senseless violence.
A spokesperson for President Yar'Adua said that the President was "on top of the situation having been fully briefed on the phone by the governor." He has since summoned the governor of Plateau State.
It continues to be mind boggling how politics can be used as a trigger for the violent destruction of lives and property. To imagine that this latest sectarian violence was triggered by a mere local government election illustrates the tense nature of Nigerian politics and the means by which it can become a trigger for tribal conflict.
While it is wonderful to see that Yar'Adua responded quickly and is apparently taking steps to remedy the situation, I wonder whether the political parties and the politicians on whose behalf so much destruction was wrought will take the appropriate steps to strike a note of peace, encourage the forgiveness that will be necessary for Jos to heal and take moral responsibility for the chaos.
As the world mourns with the residents and victims of the recent Mumbai terror attack, it is disheartening that in Jos, Nigerians are turning against each other instead of working together. In Mumbai, Indians demand accountability and answers from their government over the failure to prevent the carnage. I, in turn, must ask how we let this situation get out of hand so quickly. This is not the first time that such violence has been sparked by politics and in fact, it is well known that some politicians will use young men to bully citizens into voting for them or staying away form the polls all together. How is it that those who use young men to mete out violence and destruction for their personal political objectives, walk the streets without any fear of consequences? What were the political candidates, for whom blood was eventually shed, doing while the city of Jos became a center of sectarian violence? Additionally, what steps are in place to prevent a repeat of this in Jos and any other part of the country?
As calm returns to Jos and as it is now clear that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won all 17 local government elections, it must take the first step in dousing the flames that this election started. That, plus a conscious effort by all to limit and discourage political and religious tensions will be necessary for Jos, and indeed the entire nation, to prevent a repeat of such carnage.
When the election violence broke out in Kenya earlier this year, the following was my message/warning to Nigeria's political elite. I think it is worth repeating given the recent events in Jos.
"I hope that Yardy and the other Big Boys are paying attention to how quickly corruption and mago-mago democracy (false democracy) can cause a ticking time bomb to explode. There are many reasons why Kenya is in chaos, but let us not forget that the intersection of dashed dreams, poverty, corruption, and a shoddy democratic system can cause an eruption in many a country. If that, God forbid, were to happen in
If the recent violence in Jos is not a warning to be heeded particularly for future local and national elections, I don’t know what is.
By Solomon Sydelle