From September 7 to 13, 2001, Jos, the capital of Plateau State in central Nigeria, became the scene of mass killing and destruction for the first time in its recent history. Hundreds of people were killed and tens of thousands displaced in less than one week. Violence suddenly erupted between Christians and Muslims in a city where diverse communities had coexisted peacefully for years and which had prided itself on avoiding the inter-communal violence that had plagued neighboring states. Three months later, the inhabitants of Jos are still counting their dead and assessing the massive damage done to their homes and property. While the total number of victims is not yet confirmed, initial figures compiled by local human rights groups, religious communities and other organizations indicate that more than 1,000 people were killed in just six days.
Human Rights Watch researchers visited Jos less than one month after the violence. The town was still reeling from the devastation. The violence had shocked people deeply. One man told Human Rights Watch: "People never dreamed this could happen in Jos." Another said: "If this can happen in Jos, nowhere is safe anymore." At a superficial level, a semblance of normality had returned to parts of the city and commercial and other daily activities were gradually resuming. However, some villages on the outskirts of Jos had been almost completely destroyed; they lay abandoned and empty. In the center of town too, extensive damage to mosques, churches, schools, shops, homes, and vehicles was clearly visible.
The violence in Jos coincided with the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington in the United States. International coverage of the situation in Jos was inevitably overshadowed by these events. What little coverage there was prior to September 11 had tended to portray the violence in Jos as a religious conflict, with Christians and Muslims attacking each other because of their faith. In reality, the conflict was more political and economic than religious. It stemmed from a longstanding battle for control of political power and economic rivalry between different ethnic groups and between those labeled "indigenous" or "non-indigenous" inhabitants of the area. As grievances built up over time, appeal to religious sentiments was used by both sides to manipulate popular emotions and eventually to inflame the situation to a level where it could no longer be controlled. Christians and Muslims, "indigenes" and "non-indigenes," became both perpetrators and victims.
Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed Muslim and Christian survivors and eye-witnesses of the violence-many of whom were still displaced and living in camps after their homes were destroyed-as well as a range of other individuals and organizations in Jos, including human rights activists, members of other non-governmental organizations, religious leaders, journalists, students, and academics. Many were still waiting for news of their family members, friends or colleagues, having lost trace of them during the violence, not knowing whether they had been killed or whether they were among the thousands of displaced people who had fled the area and not yet returned.
Opinions about who was primarily to blame for the outbreak of violence varied and were sometimes highly polarized. However, all those interviewed by Human Rights Watch agreed on one conclusion: that the violence could have been foreseen but that government authorities failed to take action to prevent it. The state government adopted a passive attitude and appeared not to take seriously the numerous, explicit threats issued by both "indigenous" and "non-indigenous" groups in Jos in the weeks leading up to the crisis. All those interviewed also deplored the lack of police presence and intervention during the crisis and the failure of the police to ensure protection and security for the population. Eventually-but only after many lives had been lost-it was the military, not the police, who intervened to restore law and order. Human Rights Watch made repeated attempts to meet state government authorities and senior police officers in Jos to seek their accounts of events; however, they were not available to meet us. In November 2001, as this report is being prepared, two commissions of inquiry, one appointed by the federal government and the other by the Plateau state government, have recently begun their investigations into what occurred.
This report does not attempt to document in an exhaustive way the events that took place in Jos between September 7 and 13. Rather it provides an overview of the crisis and identifies some of its principal causes. It is based primarily on research carried out by Human Rights Watch in Jos in early October 2001 and on telephone interviews with sources in Jos at the time of the violence, from early September onwards.