Saturday, November 29, 2008

While the world's been watching Mumbai (Nigeria report)

Crossposted (without the pictures) at Daily Kos.

It looks like even more people have died in clashes in Jos, Nigeria than died in Mumbai. But those people weren't wealthy and weren't western. Most of those killed by terrorists in Mumbai were either wealthy or western. Many were both. So the western media paid more attention to them. Let's look at what's going on in Jos. But first a little background.

Jos is the Capital of Plateau State. It's a colonial town, started around tin mines during the colonial period. It's on a high plateau (as the name of the state implies). Plateau State calls itself "The Home of Peace and Tourism" in Nigeria, and it is unique in Nigeria for many reasons. As an online travel guide says:

Jos is one of the nicest places to visit in Nigeria. It's the capital of the Plateau State and is located at an elevation of 1300 metres above sea level, which means that it is cooler here than anywhere else in the country most of the time.

The main attraction of the town is the Jos Museum Complex, which consists of four separate museums and a zoo. Skip the Railroad and the Tin Mining Museum and head for the Jos National Museum and the Traditional Nigerian Architecture Museum.

If you are spending a few days here you might consider paying a visit to the Rock Brewery. They have guided tours with an all you can drink buffet for reasonable prices.

Jos is surrounded by beautiful hills, the most welknown being the Shere Hills (1800m). Also the Jarawa hills, the Vom Hills and the Gana Wuri. Many tourists choose Jos for trekking and hiking.

Jos is an unusual city in many ways in Nigeria, not just for being a colonial city, when most of Nigeria's cities, except those established as capitals (e.g. Kaduna and Abuja) were already in existence before colonial times. It is perhaps the only predominately Christian city in the heavily Muslim north of Nigeria. The inhabitants of the plateau were largely minority groups chased into the hills by the expansion of first the Bornu Caliphate, then the Hausa states and the Sokoto Caliphate.

All these factors combined to make Jos a city not dominated by any particular ethnic group or religion (despite the preponderance of Christians, they themselves are more divided than Muslims in Nigeria) and people living there tended to adopt a "live and let live" attitude. It was also a very working class city, and one where most people had ties to rural areas elsewhere.

Only very recently has Jos begun having the clashes that other cities in Nigeria, especially in the north of the country, have had in recent years. Jos used to be a place where Nigerians from surrounding states came to take refuge from the violence. No longer is that the case.

Let's see what happened this time:

It's not easy to get accurate reports, and even much of the Nigerian press is either inflammatory or too politically correct to really say what's been going on in this situation. Let's start with the reports that are not much use. Scroll down to the Nigerian press section if you're pressed for time.

The Voice of America says
Gilbert da Costa has been monitoring developments from Abuja and filed this report for VOA.
Translation? "We don't know what's going on ourselves, but we do have someone in a nearby state (actually in the Federal Capital Territory) who's trying to sort out the rumors." It's like covering riots in Baltimore or Philadelphia from DC.

Agence France Press filed from even further away in Lagos, the financial capital of Nigeria. These people do try to get eyewitness accounts, but without actually going there it is difficult to know what's going on. Heck, even with actually going there it is difficult to know what's going on. Without going there it remains impossible. Al Jazeerah doesn't even provide a dateline.
Sheikh Khalid Abubakar, the imam at the mosque, claimed that more than 400 dead bodies were brought to the mosque.

It is also likely that the bodies of Christians killed in the riots were taken elsewhere, making the total number of dead uncertain.

But then neither does the BBC. At least they have good background and links to previous stories, something no other news source does. They even have a video, though without sound, that has scenes of the carnage.

Bloomberg's reporter covering the story is in Paris. :-(

Reports from Jos itself:

Reuters, the AP, and The NYT all have reports datelined Jos itself. Let's take those reports in order.

Reuters carried a report by a Muslim, with death toll figures from the mosque:

Hundreds of bodies were brought to the town's main mosque in preparation for a mass burial.

"I counted 218 dead bodies at Masalaci Jummaa. There are many other bodies in the streets," said a Red Cross official who asked not to be named.

That death toll did not include hospital figures, victims already buried, or those taken to other places of worship, meaning the final count could be much higher, officials said.
The reporter also spoke to the state government, the Nigerian Army, and "one resident" in compiling the report.

The AP also had a report from a Muslim. (I don't want to imply that these sources are necessarily biased, BTW. After all, in Nigeria almost any source that can write or speak English is either Muslim or Christian. This is just FYI, and in acknowledgment of the fact that we all, [you, me them] have biases.)
Sheikh Khalid Abubakar, the imam at the city's main mosque, said more than 300 dead bodies were brought there on Saturday alone and 183 could be seen laying near the building waiting to be interred.

Those killed in the Christian community would not likely be taken to the city mosque, raising the possibility that the total death toll could be much higher. The city morgue wasn't immediately accessible Saturday.
This reporter also spoke with a police spokesman and gave much important background. The story contained some material (background?) from another reporter in Abuja, the capital.

The New York Times is datelined Jos, but is wire service feed from Reuters, but says "from the Associated Press". Go figure. At least it is a different story from the other two. It seems the international news media is floundering.

What about the Nigeria press?!?!?

OK, OK, I'm getting to that.

The Nigerian press has traditionally been the freest in Africa. During periods of relative repression in Nigeria they have competition for that title, but even then they remain one of the freest presses on the continent of Africa.

But remember that free press only means market regulated press. You didn't find any Nigerian newspapers defending South Africa during the apartheid era, because such newspapers wouldn't have sold. What does sell in Nigeria? Sensationalism, scandal, sports, wild charges (sometimes one wonders if they even have libel laws in Nigeria.) The Nigerian press is generally the kind of press that gives yellow journalism a bad name. William Randolph Hearst could have taken lessons. As a matter of fact, Nigeria had its own W. R. Hearst in the person of Chief M.K.O. Abiola, the Pillar of Sports in Africa and last holder of the cursed title, Are Ona Kakonfa. You may know him as the winner of the June 12 presidential elections in Nigeria, who was placed under house arrest for declaring himself president.

But I digress. Just a little background before delving into the Nigerian press.

This Day actually admits its that reports are unconfirmed. They have two reporters, one in Jos and the other in Abuja. Their names are not clearly Christian or Muslim.
Eyewitnesses said supporters of the All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP) allegedly became violent following speculations that their candidate, whom they said was leading the PDP candidate, was about to be “declared the loser.”
The ANPP protesters said they were not fighting people but fighting government “because of their action.” The results of the elections were still being collated when the crisis broke out.
The ANPP (in Jos at least) is the party of the Muslim Hausa, mostly from farther north, while the PDP is the party of the mostly Christian minority groups. Finally we find out what the clashes are actually about.

The Punch, a popular Lagos paper, has more information also from Jos:

Our correspondent gathered that trouble started when an agent of one of the political parties was killed at Kabong, where all the results for Jos North were being collated. The supporters of the All Nigeria Peoples Party candidate for Jos North Local Government, Mr. Aminu Baba, said they suspected that the election was about to be rigged in favour of the Peoples Democratic Party candidate, Mr. Timothy Buba.

According to the ANPP supporters, their candidate was said to be leading by about 57, 000 votes and the PDP was only expecting 10, 000 votes from the remaining areas where the votes had not been counted. As early as 5.30a.m. the ANPP supporters had allegedly poured into the streets, chanting war songs. In the ensuing confusion, churches were burnt around Sarkin Mangu, close to the old Jos North Local Government secretariat.

Reprisal attacks from the supporters of other political parties then spread to other areas. It first started in Gada Biu, a predominantly Christian settlement.

No sooner than this happened that the riot assumed a sectarian dimension as churches and mosques were being torched all over the city. Indeed, no fewer than five churches and five mosques were burnt in the ensuing melee, according to the police. Sporadic shots rented the air as street urchins, a.k.a almajiri, took over major streets.
Almajiri (singular, the plural is almajirai) are street youths who beg for a living. Technically they are supposed to be studying in Qur'anic schools, but the system has been much abused in recent decades, and many of them are only being exploited by their teachers, who live off the proceeds of their begging. The situation of these almajirai became really desperate under the Abacha government, but became much approved since democratic government has returned.

The Guardian, one of Nigeria's more respectable newspapers, also has two reporters contributing, one in Jos and another in Abuja. Like other Nigerian papers it is careful to point out that its sources remain questionable. It even quotes the international wire service reports above. But its more important information may be the actual words of the state governor imposing curfew:
Meanwhile, the Governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang, while imposing the curfew in his broadcast, said:

"A few hours after close of election, a group of thugs took the law into their hands by attacking residences and destroying houses and property in some parts of Jos.

"The state security council met this morning and directed the police to respond accordingly.

"Unfortunately, reports got to me early this morning regarding the eruption of violence emanating from Ali Kazaure Street of Jos. I want all to note that this problem is restricted to Jos City only.
"I immediately summoned a Security Council meeting again this morning to appraise the situation. Preliminary reports indicated that the crisis was pre-planned, particularly as election results have not been announced."

He added: "Government, therefore, wishes to warn that any further disruption of the peace will be met with drastic action. The security details are under instruction to return fire- for-fire from any person/group disrupting the peace. Government will not allow a repeat of the disruption of peace witnessed in the state some years back.

"All law abiding citizens are assured that government is on top of the situation and should go about their normal lives.

"Government is, therefore, imposing a curfew in Jos, Bukuru and environs from 6 pm to 6 am. Government wishes to advise against any further attempt to test its will to maintain peace on the Plateau."

The Vanguard, another important Nigerian newspaper, has a four page story with comments below.
Two serving army generals, Maj. Gen. U. J. Uwuigbe and Nick Agbogun escaped death by the whiskers as they were shot by hoodlums while returning from Chief of Army Staff conference in Bauchi.

They were injured along with the driver of the Bauchi State Government vehicle detailed to take them to the Jos Airport and were rushed to the Jos University Teaching Hospital for treatment.

The Saturday Tribune carries a story from a reporter in Jos with an obviously Christian name (Nigerian names are often ambiguous.)
THE crisis over the local government election in Plateau state has assumed a religious dimension with several places of worship burnt down by protesters, including personal houses and vehicles while over thirty people were allegedly killed, including one policeman and a soldier.
Meanwhile, the state government has appealed for calm and imposed a curfew in Jos, Bukuru and environs from 6am to 6pm.

The unfortunate crisis started in the early hour of Friday when information filtered out that a particular political party had won in Jos North local government contrary to the expectation of supporters of opposing party.

It was learnt that as early as 5: 30 AM on Friday the inhabitants of the local government mobilised and trooped to the streets to protest the election accusing the state government and the State Independent Electoral Commission of rigging the election in favour of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The protest suddenly turned violent at about 7:30 when the protesters armed with dangerous weapons started smashing vehicles, setting houses ablaze.

At about 9.30am, the crisis had engulfed the whole city of Jos and assumed religious dimension with reprisal attacks in various parts of the city. As at the last count, no fewer than 10 places of worship had been razed in various parts of Jos.
More details are in the article.

Let me know what else you can find out. I have friends in Jos and I am following this story in part because I am worried about them.


Bobwilliams said...

The terrorist attack on Mumbai is really horrible, more than 150 innocent people have killed in this attack. Both foreign and local people were killed by terrorist. This was a real execution, terrorist made a huge plan and made this as team work, mainly they had entered in the taj hotel and made their attacks.


Les Publica said...

Surprisingly good article in the Atlantic about the Nigerian middle belt:

Surprisingly bad article about Nigeria from an earlier issue:

Anonymous said...

Thanks alot for the great post
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