Jos: A Repeat of Rwanda?

by Bayo Olupohunda

The United Nations, international community and the International Criminal Court (ICC) must know that Nigeria is in the midst of genocide in the proportions of Rwanda in 1994. The frightening scale of death and destruction in Jos and the criminal negligence and inaction of the Nigerian government and its law enforcement agencies at all levels which have led to the massacre of hundreds of defenseless children, men and women bear horrifying scenario to the Rwanda genocide which was the worst form of ethnic cleansing to occur in the 20th century.

The Rwanda genocide taking place in 1994, hundreds of thousands of Tutsis (a Rwandan ethnic class) were killed in the small African country. With machetes, machine guns and clubs, Hutu extremists on their murderous rampage killed nearly a million people in just 100 days. It was perhaps the fastest genocide in history, and yet the international community would not call it genocide until May 1994, a month after it started.

And just like the Jos killings, since 2003, the genocidal conflict in Darfur has devastated millions of non-combatant civilians and resulted in the death of at least 200,000 people. In 2009, Sudan continues to direct its troops and proxy Janjaweed militias to systematically destroy the livelihoods of Darfuris by bombing and burning villages, looting economic resources, and murdering, raping and torturing non-combatants civilians.

The Darfur conflict has displaced over 2.7 million people within Sudan, with an additional 250,000 crossing the border into Chad. The actions of the Sudanese government particularly the expulsion of 13 international aid groups in March 2009 continue to affect those who have sought safety in towns and displaced persons camps.Just like Rwanda and Darfur, and aided by government’s divisive politics, the Hausa-Fulani population and the Birom who have co-existed for more than a century have suddenly become lethal enemies.

Attacks from both ethnic communities have left hundreds dead. In recent clashes another round of killings erupted which also led to killings of unarmed civilians, women, the old and even babies, not to talk of properties destroyed. Never in the history of Nigeria that a conflict as such was ever regarded as genocide except the recent Jos killings. In the latest attacks, the attackers were Muslim Hausa-Fulani herders while the victims were mainly from the Birom community, a predominantly Christian ethnic group.

At dusk on Sunday March 7, 2010, hundreds of Fulani herdsmen invaded three Christian villages – Dogo Nahawa, Ratsat and Zot – all in the outskirts of Jos. Arriving at and in a carefully planned attack they fired guns and set fire on houses to scare out their victims who upon running out were mercilessly butchered with machetes, axes and daggers. Women and children woken from sleep and unable to make a run for it were similarly cut to pieces and their houses set ablaze. Even babies were not spared. The carnage continued for more than three hours even into daylight. When the final death toll was counted, human rights groups put the figure at 500.

It was not immediately clear what triggered the latest unrest, but it was believed those four days of sectarian clashes in January between mobs armed with guns, knives and machetes that left hundreds of the ethnic Fulani dead in Jos, which lies at the crossroads of Nigeria’s Muslim north and predominantly Christian south, triggered a reprisal attack on March 7. The tension appears rooted in resentment between indigenous, mostly Christian groups, and migrants and settlers from the Hausa- Fulani speaking Muslim North, all vying for control of fertile farmlands.

Sixteen years after Rwanda, genocide is unfolding again while the world watches and refuses to say its name. The failure of the United States and the international community to act in Rwanda sixteen years ago cost 800,000 lives. Now more than half a million people face a similar fate in Jos, as a result of an ongoing campaign to destroy a portion of its population by a negligent and criminally culpable government. What is happening in Jos is genocide, and must be called that and it should invoke clear international obligations.

Yet, as horrifying reports continue to emerge from the killing fields of Jos and as distrust and inaction of government grow, there is no indication that the United Nations and the international community apart from mere condemnations of the killings are prepared to intervene–despite promises of “never again” and explicit obligations under the 1948 Convention on Genocide applied in Rwanda and Darfur.

Since the beginning of this crisis, the Nigerian government has continued to pay lip service to the decimation of its citizens. The Bola Ajibola panel of Inquiry into the crisis in 2009 has concluded its sitting but the content and recommendations have not been implemented nor made public. In recent crisis, the Federal and Plateau governments have continued to engage in blame game while another fighting broke out on March 7.

The crisis in Jos presents a defining moral challenge to the world. Ten years ago, the world’s powers were struggling to decide whether Rwanda’s massacres were genocide or war. In reality, they already knew but did not want to get involved. In an interview with the Aljazeerah News Network that I monitored in Lagos on Sunday March 14, Ibrahim Mantu, a two-term senator from Plateau state blamed the TV network and the international community and aids workers for exaggerating the crisis in Jos!

The typical blame-others-but –us reaction by Mantu highlight’s the hypocrisy among politicians on one hand and federal and state governments that has led to the escalation and non-resolution of the crisis. Just like crisis in Rwanda which was between the Hutus and Tutsis and the Christian South and Muslim North in Darfur, the crisis in Jos also a macro picture of a long distrust between the Christian south and the largely Muslim North in Nigeria has the possibility of consuming the whole country if not handled with the right leadership.

It is really frightening to hear of allegations of bias towards an ethnic group from the Nigeria Army and the government of Jonah Jang. Appeal to ethnic myth, economic and social frustration, hate propaganda, marginalization of moderates and inaction by government to prosecute alleged perpetrators of past crimes which are all fertile conditions that can trigger a full blown genocide are present in the Jos crisis. We need leaders who will rise above these ethnic sentiments so Jos can pull through the crisis and to avert future crisis.

There is no doubt that the painful memory of the 800,000 victims of the Genocide in Rwanda will live with us forever. For many years to come the world will continue to unearth the remains of children, women and men hacked to death in one of the most frenzied, planned and organized massacres ever witnessed by the world. This same goes for the victims of the Jos killings.

The Rwanda and Darfur genocides are two African tragedies that resonated around the globe. The international community and United Nations must pay urgent attention to the Jos crisis because it has the potential of becoming another African tragedy. The Human Rights community and the government both at the federal and state level must now begin to document the list of the perpetrators of the Jos killings and many others for possible prosecutions at the law courts and if possible at the International Criminal Courts at the Hague. We must all say to these killings, NEVER AGAIN.

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1 comment

Shallom Ufforth March 23, 2010 - 8:18 am

Reading through your piece reminds me of the various inhuman treatments meted out to minority groups in life. The Nigeria tragedy is such that any conscious, sensitive and God-fearing society shoud not treat with kids glove. We all claim to know, love and obey God, but the same God does not live in us. What a shame! If there is no religious tolerance among us, how can we convert the other person (infidels) to the supposedly accepted and acceptable religion -Islam or Christianity? Must we kill for God? Did God send us to destroy lives? Whatever a man sows, that shall he reap!


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