Monday, January 25, 2010

Letter from Nigeria (1)

This was forwarded to me by a friend on 20 January 2010. There are two separate authors of this report.

'We are having problems in Jos. There was a lot of fighting in parts of the town yesterday, and we are under dusk to dawn curfew. The army and mobile police are patrolling the streets and there is still a lot of shooting.'

As you know there were a lot of problems there in the summer - (one of my contacts was on his way up to Kaduna last summer before getting a phone call from his employer to turn back immediately or face certain death at the hands of the rioters). I suspect that it has been sparked by the BBC report on Yar Adua's health which has been widely screened and commented upon here. There is a great deal of unease on both sides about the 'Northern Agenda' and the possibility that the presidency will not rotate as it is supposed to do. The press here is pretty robust about Goodluck Jonathan, the VP, and his apparent vaccilations while the 'man on top of the Abuja omnibus' is getting pretty nervous about the forthcoming elections. The first new posters have been pasted up over the weekend here and their are rumours of a stitch up by the elite. No one seems to be talking about a military coup though - there does not seem to be any soldier with sufficient stature.

Sorry about this but a powercut wiped out the some of the message. It is a fact of life here - although we do have water most of the time.

The problems up in Jos have piled up in recent years. This area is basically a Christian area with fertile land producing for the capital. As the north has gradually become more arid, Muslims have moved south and are now competing for the available land. The weather this year has been awful with the rains that should have finished in September going on well into November with the cooling Harmattan being rather weaker than usual too. This has meant that a lot of the crop has simply washed away or rotted in the fields. Storage facilities and greenhouses have collapsed under the weight of water and prices in the market have been incredibly high - a cauliflower in Abuja was selling at 12 quid a go before Xmas.

The moves to adopt Sharia law ever further south has also had its effect. Christian churches here bear no resemblance to those in Europe but are far more 'Evangelical' and unregulated than elsewhere. Pastors depend on their parishioners for their income - tithes are a part of life here - and are more than able to raise tensions when they feel that their incomes and livlihoods might be at risk. Similarly, militant mosques are also a feature.

So far there has not been a spill over into the capital - despite the BBC's attempt to portray a rather feeble routine demo as a serious attempt to destabilise the country. The fact that the Xmas bomber was a Nigerian has also raised tensions somewhat; Nigerians are patriotic, dislike being put on US 'watch lists' and there is inevitably a level of support for Al Queda at street level - but nothing widespread as to make a westerner feel uncomfortable as yet.

Needless to say, no-one is looking forward to an election. And there is a residual longing in some quarters for a return to military rule. Abachi was not universally unpopular here.

This morning I received this news:

"We awoke to hear heavy gunfire in several areas of Jos, and saw a lot of smoke from burning buildings. The gunfire continued for several hours, and sounds like heavy artillery was being used. It is like being at a warfront.

The government has now announced that the Jos area is under 24 hour curfew, so no one can leave their house. At this point the gunfire has quieted down somewhat, but is still sporadic.

"We are receiving terrible news from the village , called Kuru Jenta, on the way to Jos Airport Evidently the village has been set on fire and the Muslims in the village, including our workers some of whom are Muslims, have been surrounded and fear they are about to be executed. We have tried unsuccessfully to reach army and police authorities in Jos. Please, if any of you in Abuja have access to any authorities who can help stop this situation we would very much appreciate it."

"According to reports, all of the Muslim houses in Kuru were burnt, and most of the Muslims were killed. Only a few are still alive. Although the person I spoke with (one of our farm staff) was naturally upset and a bit confused, he told me that he believed that except for himself, the other Muslim members of staff of the farm were all killed, along with many other inhabitants of the village.He along with his wife and children were injured but managed to escape, and at that point (this evening) he was attempting to walk through the bush to get to the Police Staff College, which he felt was the nearest place of refuge where they could be safe.

At Kuru, there was not a fight between groups, as had been the case in Jos. Muslim inhabitants were rounded up and shot or burnt in their houses. As I said, I have yet to see for myself, but I received the same report from both Muslim and Christian staff and have no reason to doubt its veracity. Only that I am not sure of the details of the exact number killed."

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