Will Nigeria's Boko Haram add fuel to Jos fires?
- 2 July 2012
- From the section Africa
The Nigerian city of Jos has become synonymous for the bloody violence which occasionally breaks out between its Christian and Muslim communities. The BBC's Will Ross asks whether bombings by the Islamist group Boko Haram will further inflame tensions.
Looking at the rubble of what was once "God's Chosen Church" it is staggering that only two people died; one member of the congregation and the suicide bomber who drove the car up to the building in this largely Christian part of Jos city.
Lying on a hospital bed, 11-year-old Sharon Shade writhes in pain from the deep cut on her leg.
She was with her mother and brother in the church on the morning of 10 June.
"The pastor wanted to preach about unity and when he started explaining I heard 'boom'.
"Then I saw blood pouring from my leg and the next thing I knew I found myself in hospital," said Sharon before tearfully asking: "Why did this have to happen to me?"
The Islamist group popularly known as Boko Haram later said it was behind the attack.
What happened immediately after the blast is deeply worrying for Nigeria.
An angry mob of young men took over the street and set upon people they believed to be Muslim.
An emergency worker said that because of the violence it had been impossible to get his vehicle close to the church and when he walked the last few hundred metres he saw several dead bodies on the road.
The arrival of the military and police prevented the retaliatory violence from escalating to the level recently witnessed in Kaduna City where up to 100 lives were lost.
"You only need to study the reprisals in Jos and Kaduna and you'll see that the young people are getting out of control," says the Archbishop of Jos, Benjamin Kwashi.
"The young people are learning that if Boko Haram is getting away with evil, with crime and criminality, then why shouldn't they?
"After all what have they got to lose? They are jobless, they are unemployable, they are hungry, they are angry and it may spiral into anything.
"The way the politicians are approaching these life and death issues gives me no reason to be optimistic."
In Jos and the surrounding Plateau State, the bombings threaten to reignite a long-running conflict that has left thousands dead in recent decades.
Different ethnic groups are in dispute over who are the rightful inhabitants of this part of the country, and that ethnic fault line happens to pit Christians on one side against Muslims on the other.
Some areas of the city are completely off limits if you are perceived to be from the "wrong" religion.
It seems likely that the spate of Boko Haram bomb attacks is intended to fuel inter-religious violence, possibly in an effort to make the country ungovernable.
President Goodluck Jonathan recently warned that Boko Haram could also start targeting mosques in order to instigate attacks by Muslim youths on Christians.
On Fridays ahead of Muslim prayers and for the Sunday church services, roads are blocked off, checkpoints are increased and the tension in Jos is palpable.
Boko Haram has been so active across northern Nigeria people are not asking if there will be an attack, they are wondering where the bombers will strike next.
"The situation is terrifying. In a society where people's security is not guaranteed it is terrible," said Mohammed Tanku, standing in a long line outside the central mosque, waiting to be frisked.
"From the government we need social justice.
"We need practical steps to bring an end to this," he said as a military helicopter circled above the city.
In a large hall in the mosque several hundred Muslim women came together for hours of special peace prayers.
"Both the Christians and the Muslims, we are praying to Almighty God that whoever is planting the bombs - may God make them to be known and may God disgrace them," said one of the organisers of the event, Zainab Mustapha, who condemned all the violence.
"If they stop and they repent, God should forgive them.
"If they do not, may God make them regret their lives because there is no Bible and no Koran that says one should kill somebody," she said.
Following Friday prayers, the commander of the Special Task Force for Jos arrived for a peace-building meeting, accompanied by masked soldiers.
"We are meeting with all sides of the divide here to ensure the youths are kept in check... to ensure they don't jump on the bandwagon of any kind of reprisal attacks," said Major General Henry Ayoola.
"We should pretty soon be seeing the end of the whole matter."
But that faith in the system is not shared by everyone in the region.
"Unless the politicians change, the violence will continue," said Salihu Onnana Mohammed, who mends watches.
"They are the ones fuelling the conflict in order to enrich themselves.
"If there is no crisis they can't steal as much," he said pointing out that vast security budgets are allocated but no-one knows how the money is spent.