Losing everything in the Jos anarchy
The first inkling I got of something terribly wrong going on was when a friend, also based in Abuja, called me, Sunday evening. He said he had tried to get to me but my phone had been switched off since morning. He asked me if I knew what had been happening in my area in Jos, if I knew there was another outbreak of violence.
That morning, my phone’s battery had bleepd a warning, demanding to be charged. I did not bother because I wanted to sleep and as I did, the phone went off. My family in Jos had been desperately trying to reach me without success. When I woke up late in the day I charged the phone and put it on. That was when that call came.
Jos had once been Nigeria’s home of peace and tourism. In the last decade, it had infamously transformed into Nigeria’s ring of fire and knowing the propensity of Jos to erupt into violence at any moment, I became worried and tried to reach my family. The network was congested and it took a while. I was relieved when I eventually got my brother. He confirmed that Jos was burning yet again and that the riots had started just three streets away from where we lived in Dutse Uku. He confirmed also that he had immediately left the area and I was relieved. He had suffered a terrible ordeal during the last riots when he and some others had been ‘apprehended’ by security men while putting out the fire rioters had set on a neighbour’s house. He was unlawfully ‘detained’ for three months without trial and later released.
I asked him about his house and he told me it seemed it had been razed down but he could not immediately confirm it. What he knew for certain was that the Dutse Uku area had been on fire all day. People have been slaughtered in cold blood, shops have been looted and houses torched – all in the name of God.
Dutse Uku, where I had spent my later childhood and all of my adult life had been one of the few areas in Jos where Christians and Muslims still lived in relative close proximity. The increasing polarisation of Jos along religious lines had not fully taken effect there but there was a clear line. The Muslims lived on the lower regions of the area, vastly outnumbered and outflanked by their neighbours. The two distinct communities had lived together for ages. We had eaten from each other’s pots, shared jokes, congratulated each other on births and grieved over deaths; until the madness started in 2001. The intensity of violence in the area grew with every crisis. Knowing the geography, one could conclude from the November 2008 crises that the area would be a major theatre of war should the crises occur again.
All immediate members of my family were displaced, leaving behind all possessions at the mercy of a blood-thirsty mob. I asked my brother about security and he scoffed and said, “As usual.”
During previous riots, security operatives delighted in killing wantonly, aiding in the carnage rather than curbing it. We knew, from experience, there was no trusting any uniformed man and he confirmed that they had taken side, shooting down people in cold including the aged and minors, chasing residents out of their homes while a mob came after them, torching houses and killing or maiming anyone they could find. In some instance, security operatives have been witnessed setting fire to houses and places of worships.
“What is the reason for this madness?” I asked.
He told me how a mob had pelted construction workers at Alhaji Kabiru NEPA’a house while he was renovating. That was how everyone in the area called him, Kabiru NEPA. I know the place well. We had played in those streets as children. The house in question had been razed down during the November 2008 riots and the mob said they did not want people of his faith in the area, my brother confirmed.
My house was just behind my brother’s and he could not give me any information about it so I called a relative staying in the house. His voice was alarmed. He was crying as he told me the house was on fire and he was battling to put out the fire. He was distracted. I did not immediately think of my entire possession in that house. I was worried about the safety of everyone. Having witnessed all the violence that had rocked the once peaceful capital, I knew how vicious things could be. He told me other houses in the area have been burnt already, just a few left. I asked him to leave the neighbourhood for his own safety.
He eventually put out the fire with assistance from some neighbours and immediately left. His life was more important than all the belongings there.
But as the violence continued unabated the next day, my home, having survived the first wave of attack stood out like a sore thumb. The mob returned. A neighbour witnessed as they hacked down my door and made away with what was of interest to them before setting the house ablaze. They were people I had known for years, youths we had played football with on Sunday mornings at a back street field. Some of them had come to my home not too long ago.
There was desperation; I was continuously recharging my phone to keep abreast with the situation at home, calling friends and family members. Getting through to them was a challenge. MTN network was at its worst, as it had been during the last crises. Ironic. Other networks seemed fine. Thankfully, family and friends seemed fine but they all needed recharge cards which were not obtainable in Jos at the time. I kept sending and loading my phone, kept calling to ensure everyone was still alright.
Tales of atrocities kept echoing back from every corner of Jos, of neighbours slaughtering neighbours, of places of worship burning, houses burning, bonds severed – some permanently.
For days family members could not reach our burnt down houses to recover anything. When they eventually did, there was hardly anything left, just the burnt down remains of a TV stand, my mother reported. Everything else was gone, all my certificates including my brothers’. All the books that had shaped my persona, all my manuscripts dating back two decades and other things of immense sentimental values, all lost to looters and the fire they had set in the name of God.
The pain of the loss was compounded by media reports that grossly misrepresented facts, irresponsible journalism that lacked professionalism. Anyone with the knowledge of the Dutse Uku, Nasarawa areas would know that some of the reports are outrightly spectacular.
Then there is the pain of knowing that the state government had shown little commitments to reconciling the various people of Jos after previous crises and was at best non-committal about the security of lives and property. The manner in which government officials, acting on behalf of the government have openly taken sides in the dispute has gone a long way in eroding public confidence.
After the dead are buried, there will be inconsequential talks of compensations; there hasn’t been any since Jos began its descent into anarchy almost a decade ago. So everything that is lost is lost. Only God can replenish.
nonetheless, one cannot help but linger over a lifetime’s effort blown away in a cloud of smoke overnight by people once called friends. Some of the painful loses would be the innocence we had once breathed in the Jos air and the mementos of childhood in the Tin City, recollection of which will be buried somewhere, deep in the graveyard of memories.