I went to Jos last weekend and deliberately didn’t tell any of my family members. Everyone that knew I was going warned me not to; apparently for fear that I might be killed in one of the city’s unpredictable planned killings.
I went anyway for my friend’s traditional wedding. Being a reporter, I had no fear of going to Jos like most people do. Firstly, I have visited many crises zones and found life as normal as it were in places that had never had chronic widespread killings like Jos, Maiduguri, or even Kabul in Afghanistan.
Secondly, I just do not fear death.
Having lived a good part of my life in the South, the road to Jos was free. Yes, free! Between Abuja and Jos, I counted seven check points – the number you will ordinarily find in 10km if you were driving in the south. The checkpoints were mostly manned by soldiers who were very courteous and disciplined.
“Good day sir,” they will greet. “What do you have in your boots? Can we see it? Open the bags. Open your burnet” they will demand if they sense a need to.
Rather than harass you, like the police at checkpoints in southern Nigeria, they will size you up psychologically as if hoping terrorists will give in to their cordial but stern scrutiny.
Life in Jos was warm, for a visitor like me, but it isn’t all that for the residents.
I came into Jos on a Friday afternoon and the roads were free of traffic jams. The first time I went to Jos was in 2006 and on a Friday afternoon too. That day, there was heavy traffic. At a point, we had to park and wait for about five minutes for the Friday Muslim prayers to end before the roads were opened again.
Between then and now, a lot has changed. Many have moved south to safer states leaving back only the resilient few. Life seemed normal for the few that were left – enjoying scarce government infrastructure. Shops were open. Bars were selling and banks were giving and receiving payments.
Night came and I found that shop keepers hardly stay long enough to see the darkness that comes after 7.00pm and so was the wedding. However, the fun loving group didn’t go to bed that early. Bars were open and bubbling. Clubs were filled with fun seekers and club hopping wasn’t a problem – nobody seemed to be restricting movements at night.
“The insecurity in Jos is a media creation,” one of my guides told me. “The whole thing is politics; Jos isn’t exactly as bad as the media paints it.”
On the surface, Jos is cool and luring. It still had its beautiful whether and the clean blue sky. There are only little scars of war to blot its beautiful stone formations and pockets of soldiers here and there to give you that feeling of post war. But the MC at the wedding gave an off-the-cuff jocular warning that shows the depth of the crises in Jos.
The MC told guest at the wedding to unwrap their gifts to the newlyweds so they the family will be sure there are no bombs hidden in the gift packs.
In Jos, every other resident is weary of the other attacking and killing her. It’s worse across religious lines. They live in security clusters and mutual distrust. Residency in the city has been divided along religious beliefs; people with similar religious beliefs tend to settle together in a particular location creating visible border line – war fronts.
The Christian community put down roots in the southern part of the city while the Muslims settle in the north. The government area and the business district lie in-between both divide and serves as the buffer zone.
Each segment forms its network of intelligence and security and puts forward an army in the face of any attack from the other side. Residents say only a few “well planed” attacks like the recent drive-through-and-throw-in bombing of a bar in West of Mines, close to the buffer zone, beat their local security but none goes un-retaliated.
Since its first major crises in 2001, the city of Jos has nurtured a deep rooted crisis leading to organised killing and a never ending ping pong of retaliatory attacks majorly between dominantly Christian natives and long settling Muslim merchants from the north.
Thousands of residents have been killed and a couple government enquiries have been conducted but the government lacks the political to implement the recommendations of the panels and the people of Jos live daily, hustling and merrymaking, but almost certain of the next attack and hoping to survive it.