Page last updated at 07:03 GMT, Monday, 26 April 2010 08:03 UK

'Why I burnt my Nigerian friend's house down'

D-Boy (left) and his friend Vincent
D-Boy (left) has now forgiven Vincent

By Caroline Duffield
BBC News, Jos

The first night of the January riots in the Nigerian city of Jos took Umar D'Adam by surprise and, as the gunfire and burning began, the 20-year-old - known as "D-Boy" - fled.

It was the beginning of a spiral of brutality in central Nigeria that has left hundreds dead.

My mum, she cooked for him. He used to come here to sleep, my mum would give him a key
Umar D'Adam or "D-Boy"

As he sheltered in the army barracks, someone handed D-Boy a phone. It was his close friend, Vincent Alaibe, a Christian.

"I just heard his voice telling me, it's my house, that he's burned it," remembers D-Boy.

"He was shouting. He showed other people my house, and they burned it, including him.

"He thought I was dead. I told him: 'I am alive.'"

Months later, the family home in the Anglo-Jos district is still in ruins: A blackened fridge, the melted remains of a TV, and once-treasured belongings crunch underfoot.

D-Boy's house is still in ruins
Christian men attacked the area with guns, cutlasses and petrol-bombs

"My mum, she cooked for him. He used to come here to sleep, my mum would give him a key," D-Boy says softly.

He has been in contact with Vincent, and offers to take us to meet him.

They know he is my friend. That is why they forced me to do it
Vincent Alaibe

The cycle of killing and revenge has changed the identity of whole neighbourhoods in Jos and arranging a simple meeting is not easy.

The young friends can only meet outside the neighbourhood; there is difficulty talking.

Slight and fresh faced, barely out of their teens, they sit awkwardly, eyes to the ground.

"If I don't do it, they are going to kill me," says Vincent, slowly.


He describes how a gang of ethnic Berom Christian men were attacking the area, armed with guns, cutlasses and petrol-bombs.

Map of Nigeria showing Jos

Vincent - one of few Christian residents - was singled out, and made to go with them, to point out D-Boy's house.

"They know he is my friend. That is why they forced me to do it. They knew that I am a Christian, and he is a Muslim.

"I am looking for forgiveness," he chokes.

D-Boy stares straight ahead, listening.

"Don't do it again," he bursts out.

"If this thing happens again, don't put your hand in it. I know you are a good person."

D-Boy's parents have forgiven Vincent, and would like to see him again at the family home.

But violent threats of revenge, and fear of arrest, have forced him to move away.

"If I enter the area, they will kill me," he says.

Broken pacts

North of the city, people in the tiny Christian enclave of Chwelnyap, in Congo-Russia district, were also taken aback by the riots.

"There was an agreement," insists Chief Ibrahim Choji-Dusu.

His community is surrounded by four almost exclusively ethnic Hausa Muslim neighbourhoods.

Chief Ibrahim Choji-Dusu
Our people are being killed any time they pass in that area
Chief Ibrahim Choji-Dusu

The day before, he sat down with his Muslim neighbours to discuss the hostile mood.

"The agreement was, there should never be anybody from any of the communities that should attack anybody," Chief Choji-Dusu says, again and again.

But on morning of 17 January, 170 homes in Chwelnyap were torched.

Chief Chiji-Dusu and others recognised those they had spoken with the previous day among the attackers.

"We spoke: 'Ah! You! We made an agreement yesterday. Why do you attack us now?'"

"They said: 'No matter how used you are to your chicken, it will not stop you slaughtering it.'

"That is the slogan they use," he says.

The BBC contacted community leaders in those neighbouring areas.

Some said they had never attended the peace meeting on 16 January.

Others claimed that residents of Chwelnyap attacked first, breaking the agreement.

Others admitted that they had lost control of their own youths, as rioting spread elsewhere in the city.

Five people from Chwelnyap were killed - a number Chief Choji-Dusu considers a lucky escape.

'Silent killings'

Three months later, he says the people of Chwelnyap are ready to forgive. But the atmosphere has changed, and there has been virtually no exchange about what happened.

Because of the crisis, the Christians dare not come, and the Muslims are playing poker by themselves
Youth worker Emmanuel Nanle

"Our problem is, how do we come and sit together?" he asks.

"We can't go there. Our people are being killed any time they pass in that area.

"Once you go, you never come back. You will be a missing person."

The police and military continue to recover corpses dumped inside the city limits and in rural villages outside.

Victims of the so-called "silent killings" - both Berom Christians and Hausa Muslims - are being discovered every week.

"Rather than coming together, people are moving apart," observes Emmanuel Nanle, a Christian youth worker.

Beer parlours and Bible sellers

Jos - once a balmy holiday retreat enjoyed by British colonials - is being carved up into exclusive neighbourhoods.

Armoured military vehicles squat on the interfaces.

On the Christian side, beer parlours and Bible-sellers jostle for space.

Deadly riots in 2001, 2008 and 2010
City divided into Christian and Muslim areas
Divisions accentuated by system of classifying people as indigenes and settlers
Hausa-speaking Muslims living in Jos for decades are still classified as settlers
Settlers find it difficult to stand for election
Communities divided along party lines: Christians mostly back the ruling PDP; Muslims generally supporting the opposition ANPP

Women in brightly coloured hijabs and the ornate woven caps common in the north mark out the Hausa Muslim side.

"The whole of this street - Ajayi Street - used to be a poker street," explains Mr Nanle, smiling.

"You would find Christians and Muslims playing poker together, whiling away time after work.

"But now, because of the crisis, the Christians dare not come, and the Muslims are playing poker by themselves."

Areas of Jos that were once ethnically and religiously mixed - Dogon Dutse, Genta Adamu and Nassarawa Gwom - are now becoming exclusive.

Chief Choji-Dusu believes the shifts in geography are barring local discussion of what has happened.

"The truth is, we need to rub minds, and reason," he says.

"We, the Christians, we don't want to fight. But if we are destabilised in Plateau State, it will affect the country. It will shake the country.'"

Print Sponsor


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific