Over the weekend, as reports rolled in concerning the violence that erupted in Jos, Nigeria, media reports indicated that the riots were the result of disputed election results as Muslim supporters of the All Nigerian Peoples Party began attacking Christians who typically support the ruling People’s Democratic Party. At first, I was hesitant to call this violence persecution, particularly when I read of Muslims being killed and mosques being burned. I still condemn this response by anyone who claims to be a Christian, as do most Nigerian church leaders.
However, I began to have second thoughts after reading the following press release (dated December 1, 1008) by UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide, one of our partners in the Religious Liberty Partnership:
CHRISTIAN SOLIDARITY WORLDWIDE
For Immediate Release
1 December 2008
JOS, NIGERIA – ‘INACCURATE REPORTING’ CAUSES RESENTMENT AMONG CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
Although tension has eased in Jos, Plateau State, following a weekend of deadly violence, there is increasing resentment in the Christian community at “biased and inaccurate reporting of events” by the international media.
Several international news agencies have reported that the violence was triggered by the results of a local government election. However, sources in Jos point out that voting passed off peacefully and the violence broke out in the early hours of Friday 28 November before electoral results had even been announced. Moreover, instead of targeting political institutions, rioters armed with guns, spears, machetes and other weapons immediately attacked Christian businesses, churches and the homes of clergymen. A local source informed Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW): “As usual they took Jos by surprise, and are now hiding behind election results to launch and excuse their mayhem.”
Of even greater concern are reports that appeared to suggest that Christians had killed 300 Muslims over the weekend, whose bodies were deposited at a central mosque. In reality, the men died while obeying orders from a mosque in the Dilimi area, which was using its loudspeakers to instruct all Muslims to defy the authorities, participate in the “jihad”, loot properties for money and then burn them. Local security sources insist the rioters were shot while defying a night-time curfew and launching fresh attacks, including an unsuccessful large-scale assault on police barracks. Commenting on these deaths the General Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Engineer Salifu said: “It was not Christians who killed them; it was their own unfortunate attitude”. He also articulated local concern that such inaccurate reporting could fuel further violence against Christians elsewhere.
While a final Christian death toll has yet to be determined, Engineer Salifu informed CSW that so far more than 16 churches are known to have been burnt down and at least four pastors are confirmed to have been killed, including a pastor from the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) who was shot dead in the suburb of Congo-Russia, and another from the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA), killed in the Rikkos area. “From all indications, the final death toll will not be less than 100”.
There is also growing evidence that the weekend’s violence may have been planned in advance. So far 500 Muslim rioters have been arrested, some of whom were dressed in fake police and military uniforms. Two hundred are now known to be citizens of the neighbouring Republic of Niger, while 300 are from the northern Nigerian states of Kano, Katsina and Sokoto. Some of the rioters informed police that they arrived in Jos three days prior to the violence. “They had weapons, many weapons” said another source, “they were ready, very ready”.
Commenting on the weekend’s violence, Rt. Rev Dr. Benjamin Kwashi, Anglican Archbishop of Jos told CSW: “This crisis is a wake up call to state and federal authorities to undertake a serious appraisal of all the previous crises in Jos and elsewhere that have affected the church in northern Nigeria, and to ensure that truth is told, truth is maintained and justice is done. We have become a convenient scapegoat and target for those with grievances about events both at home and abroad. The Church in northern Nigeria needs urgent national and international protection. We have suffered this violence for over 20 years and it is now becoming unbearable”.
CSW’s Advocacy Director Tina Lambert said:” We are deeply saddened by the horrific violence that has taken place against the Christian Community in Jos state. It is to a grave indictment of the international media that they failed report accurately on such terrible events. We echo Rt. Rev Dr. Benjamin Kwashi’s call for urgent national and international protection for the Christian church in Northern Nigeria. We stand with our Christian brothers and sisters in Jos state as they face the aftermath of religiously motivated violence within their community, and we call on the world’s media to ensure they publish accurate and balanced reports of this situation forthwith”.