Violence Kills Hundreds In Nigerian City
GUY RAZ, host:
To Nigeria now, where religious violence has erupted again between Christians and Muslims in the central city of Jos. Human rights monitors say several hundred people were killed in just a few days this month. That brings the death toll in that city to 2,500 over the past decade.
NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton visited Jos and sent this story.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Jos, the capital of Plateau State, lies at the heart of Nigeria, where the mainly Muslim north and largely Christian south meet in Africa's most populous nation. This cosmopolitan, yet volatile, city has come to represent both aspirations and conflicts in a mosaic of a country that is home to hundreds of ethnic groups, cultures and religions.
Mr. SHE JOSAMI(ph) (Human Rights Congress): What we have seen in Jos is indescribable. It is a tragedy.
QUIST-ARCTON: Four hundred-plus victims in four days of fighting and counting, say rights campaigners like She Josami. He heads Nigeria's northern-based Human Rights Congress, and was in Jos to document the latest outbreak of violence.
Mr. JOSAMI: It was a clash of Muslims and Christians. It was a killing field. It was madness. It was the breakdown of law and order.
QUIST-ARCTON: Josami's own in-laws were among the victims. He said his wife's mother, father and 18-year-old sister were smoked out of their home, trapped and burned alive.
Mr. JOSAMI: People came out en masse, confronting each other and killing each other using such primitive weapons like knives, cutlasses, axes, sickles, sticks, bows and arrows.
QUIST-ARCTON: Last week, reports emerged of scores of charred corpses being dumped in wells and sewage pits in a majority Muslim village on the outskirts of Jos.
While down below, scores of displaced people are milling around the compound, housing the central mosque in Jos. Here, upstairs, this classroom has been transformed into a temporary hospital ward. It's full of Muslim women and children who survived attacks with varying degrees of wound inflicted, the women say, by Christians.
Can you tell me your name first, please?
Ms. JAMILA GEBRUM(ph): Jamila Gebrum.
QUIST-ARCTON: Describe and explain what happened to you, please, Jamila.
Ms. GEBRUM: (Through translator) The people told them there would be no problem. And the pastor in the area was telling them that there were no problem, they should just stay calm. But when they were attacked, a 5 months old baby was killed in the process.
QUIST-ARCTON: Dr. Salisu Arafat(ph) is helping to treat the wounded.
Dr. SALISU ARAFAT: Weve had so many different kinds of patients, mainly with gunshot injuries. Most of the government hospitals in the areas, they are not accessible to us, the Muslims. So a lot of patients had nowhere to go.
QUIST-ARCTON: Across town, in a government hospital, Christian survivors describe their ordeals, they said, at the hands of Muslims. Lying on a mattress on the floor, Zacharia Dungumaroji(ph) writhed in pain as he turned to show us the entry point of a bullet through his stomach and out the back.
Mr. ZACHARIA DUNGUMAROJI: A woman saw me, and she pitied me. And she called people to come and help me. When you see my blood was rushing like a cow. So I was shouting Jesus, Jesus, God, come and help me. We stayed together with them, the Muslims, but when this thing happened, they turned their backs against us.
QUIST-ARCTON: The director of the League for Human Rights in Jos, Shamaki Gad Peter, blames Nigerian politicians for the recurring violence in the city. It's little more than a year since the last outbreak of fighting. Yet, Shamaki said, despite the creation of government-sponsored committees to investigate the problems after the November, 2008, clashes, the authorities have failed to address deep-seated grievances. These pit the original Jos residents, known as indigenes, against settlers who've lived in Nigeria's Plateau State capital for many, many years.
Mr. SHAMAKI GAD PETER (Jos Director, League for Human Rights): (Through translator) People say that look, I've invested so much in this land, you need to identify me as an indigene of this place. We have the issue of politics, the issue of poverty, the issue of land. And we have jobless youth in our society that when you give them a little money, and you instigate them, they are willing to do anything.
QUIST-ARCTON: The Nigerian government ordered troops into Jos to take over security and keep the fragile peace, but campaigners warn that once the military leaves town, unless the perpetrators of the violence are prosecuted and punished, there will be a repeat of the fighting: today, tomorrow or next year.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Jos, north-central Nigeria.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.