Page last updated at 14:24 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

Ethnic fires still smoulder in Nigeria

By Rob Walker
BBC World Service

Aminu Mohamed, 14, is still suffering from nightmares, two months after a Christian mob burnt down his school in the central Nigerian city of Jos.

Dozens of dead bodies killed during the civil unrest lay on the floor of Jos Central Mosque
The clashes between Christian and Muslims cost hundreds of lives
“At night, I still feel they are coming back again, that someone will come and kill me and I don’t think there’ll be peace," he said.

The mob that arrived at Al-Bayan school at first threw stones into the compound, but then came the petrol bombs.

Shuaibu Abubakar, one of the teachers, told the youngest students to stay inside their dormitory.

“Before I realised it, the mob had opened the gates," he said.

"We were surrounded, they shot one of the students in his stomach and I saw someone trying to shoot me with an arrow."

She told us to come out of the dormitory and we heard them saying they were going to cut us up
Aminu Mohamed
By now, the mosque and the school library were on fire.

However, the mob had not come to destroy the buildings, they had come for the children.

“There was a woman, one of our neighbours leading the mob," said Aminu.

"She told us to come out of the dormitory and we heard them saying they were going to cut us up,” he added.

When the children refused to come out, the woman threw burning rags into the building.

Aminu escaped through a window but his younger brother Omar,was cut down by the mob as he ran from the dormitory, and his body was set on fire.

He was one of six students killed in the attack.


Across the city, hundreds were reportedly killed within the space of 48 hours - Christians, as well as Muslims.

A similar round of sectarian violence back in 2001 cost up to 1,000 lives.

The remains of a burnt pharmacy smolder following days of clashes in Jos
Many buildings were burnt to the ground in the clashes
Jos is at a crossroads between the predominantly Muslim north of Nigeria and the mainly Christian south.

The latest violence followed a disputed local election in which a Christian candidate defeated a Muslim.

Most of the clashes have been between members of the Hausa-Fulani community – the biggest ethnic group in northern Nigeria - and local ethnic groups, that are mainly Christian.

However, many feel that the conflict is not about religion but about who should be seen as the rightful owners of the city.

Members of the Hausa-Fulani community say they are discriminated against because the government of Plateau State sees them as “settlers”.

“I’m left hanging just like a stateless citizen,” said lawyer Awal Abduallahi.

He feels that he was denied a job with the State Civil Service because he is not recognised as “indigenous” to Jos.

“I was born here, my father was born here and my grandfather was born here - I don’t know any other place than Jos."

Equal rights

Many local governments in Nigeria operate policies that give preferential rights to communities that are judged to be the original inhabitants of an area.

They want us evicted, so that the Hausa person will dominate here
Nanreh Dauda

In Jos, there are three ethnic groups - all predominantly Christian - which are recognised as indigenous.

“Access to education and employment have come to depend on whether one is an indigene or a settler, and therefore people who are non-indigenes cannot have the same opportunities that indigenes have,” said Ogoh Alubo, professor of sociology at the University of Jos.

Tensions between indigenes and settlers occur across Nigeria and as the population has grown, competition between them for land, jobs and education has intensified.

However in Jos, the friction between settlers and indigenes coincides with religious and ethnic divisions.

Hausa-Fulani politicians say their community must now be given equal rights but some among the indigenous groups oppose that.

Officials of the Nigerian Red Cross attend to injured victims of the civil unrest at Jos
Many feel that the conflict is not about religion but about who owns the city

“The major tribes would take all for themselves, to the exclusion of the minorities," said Davou Dung Nyam, a youth leader among the Berom ethnic group.

"Those from outside will take over land from those that are indigenous.”

The control of local authorities is seen as crucial to controlling which ethnic groups can be classified as indigenous - that is the why last November’s election in Jos was so hotly contested.

The problem is politicians on both sides are accused of stoking up tensions, to mobilise support and maximise their chances of getting elected.

Preventing future clashes

Two months on, tensions are still high and many of those chased from their homes do not feel safe to return.

“They want us evicted, so that the Hausa person will dominate here,” said Nanreh Dauda, a Christian whose house was first burnt in 2001, and then again in the latest riots.

As long as there is injustice in any sector of administration or government, you don’t expect peace

Ahmed Garba
Council of Ulama

She feels that Jos is now more segregated than ever.

“If you are Christian, you have to be where Christians are and if you’re a Muslim, you have to be where Muslims are, and that is not civilisation."

For now an uneasy peace prevails but there are very different views on how to prevent further violence.

Some leaders among the groups that see themselves as indigenous, say Hausa politicians should stop standing for election in Jos.

“They should stop laying claim to land that does not belong to them," said Dan Manjang, media adviser to the Plateau State governor.

Unless the Hausa community recognise there are no-go areas for them the violence will continue," he added.

The Hausa leaders say that the violence is unlikely to end unless, what they describe as discrimination against their community ends.

“As long as there is injustice in any sector of administration or government, you don’t expect peace,” said Ahmed Garba of the Council of Ulama in Plateau State.

Assignment is broadcast on BBC World Service on Thursday at 1006 GMT, 1506 GMT, 2006 GMT and repeated on Friday at 0006 GMT, Saturday at 0606 GMT and Sunday at 1306 GMT.

You can also listen to Assignment onlineor download the podcast.

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