Cell phones have transformed Nigeria. It was previously too expensive to obtain a landline from the government owned NITEL, which lacked the capacity to service the growing population. Cellphones have thus become a more efficient and affordable means of communication, not to mention the fact that unlike landlines, they are mobile. Additionally, their texting functionality enables even cheaper communication across wide distances, making them a blessing for most. However, this blessing has proven to be a curse for the people of Jos who recently experienced another devastating round of religious violence that left over 300 dead.
According to the BBC, a series of text messages, some sent to Christians, others sent to Muslims, played a role in creating the recent Jos fighting that began on January 17th. One such message went as follows -
"War, war, war. Stand up... and defend yourselves. Kill before they kill you. Slaughter before they slaughter you. Dump them in a pit before they dump you."Such an inflammatory message seemingly compelled violence in Jos, but much more than that was necessary to trigger the violence that in the days since has seen bodies found in wells, burnt beyond recognition. More than just text messages are the realities of poverty and the fight for resources in a region of Nigeria where religion is used to stoke fires and encourage intolerance. That was the case in November 2008 when political disagreements and manipulations soon took on a religious slant resulting in at least 300 deaths. This poverty and a growing lack of hope that is spreading across the country, is likely a contributing factor in the violence sparked by Islamic sects such as Boko Haram and Kato Kalo whose actions reveal the weakness of the state to prevent religious violence and protect or adequately provide for innocent citizens affected by the resulting chaos.
Shortly after the last outbreak of violence in 2008, President Yar'Adua stated, via a spokesperson, that he was "on top of the situation having been fully briefed on the phone by the governor." he then summoned the governor for a discussion. Now that Yar'Adua is not around due to his illness and the power vacuum in Aso Rock, exactly who should be held accountable for the constant failures to prevent such violence from occurring and spreading. If the President cannot be held accountable for the unnecessary loss of life, who will be held accountable?
IMPROVE LIVING CONDITIONS TO STEM A REPEAT
What is beyond confusion is the fact that steps must be taken to improve living conditions for the residents of Jos and indeed citizens the nation over. From better healthcare to education which is struggling with Nigerians fleeing to the UK and elsewhere for the purpose of learning. There is a need for consistent electricity supply which will have an exponential impact on various industries and thus, lead to job creation.
Besides, the revelation that there are 10 million child beggars, predominantly in northern Nigeria, raises the stakes on the future viability of peace in areas like Jos. It is therefore imperative that all stakeholders - government, private organizations and individuals, remedy the poverty situation. If not, religion will continue to be used by political opportunists to divide the people and the results will be even worse death and destruction. And now, that a North African Al Qaeda group has publicly offered to "train Muslim Nigerians to fight against Nigerian Christians", the stakes are higher than ever.
UPDATE (02/07/10): The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs has formally rejected the offer from the North African Al Qaeda group. Also, 108 suspects have been arraigned for their alleged part in contributing to the recent Jos violence. Finally, the Vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, set up a committee to review the causes of the violence and create a map for lasting peace.
From the Archives:
- Jos: The Power of Texts & Poverty
- Boko Haram: Questions Remain
- Aftermathof Northern Islamist Attacks
- Nigeria-List of Intolerant Nations
- Religious & Political Violence in Jos
- How To Shoot Yourself In The Foot With Al-Qaeda
- Nigeria's 10MN Child Beggars