Over last weekend and continuing into Monday, there was horrific bloodshed around Jos in Plateau state in central Nigeria. The dead, who may number in the hundreds, include two state-level political figures; a third survived apparently by chance. Most of the victims were Christians according to press reports. Even though there is a state of emergency, the authorities appear unable to establish order. Boko Haram is claiming responsibility for the massacres. The police, however, are questioning its involvement.
The area around Jos has become a miasma of uncontrolled violence largely ignored by the Western media. The struggle is between Muslim Hausa-Fulani herdsmen and Christian Berom farmers. Climate change and desertification is probably playing a role, forcing the Fulani to move south in search of pastures as the Sahara advances, forcing collisions with agriculturalists. The conflict is also bedeviled by the distinction between "indigenes" and "settlers." The former are the Christian farmers, the latter the Fulani herdsmen. The thumb on the political scale favors indigenes, and the governor of Plateau is a Christian. Both sides conduct “ethnic cleansing” and retaliatory murder.
What may be new is Boko Haram’s claim of responsibility for the most recent round of massacres. The alleged Boko Haram spokesman, Abu Qaqa, used triumphalist rhetoric about the murder of Christians and government officials: “(Boko Haram) wants to inform the world of its delight over the success of the attacks we launched…in Plateau State on Christians and security operatives, including members of the National Assembly. We will continue to hunt government officials wherever they are; they will have no peace again.”
Whether Boko Haram was actually involved or not, Abu Qaqa’s rhetoric looks, indeed, like he is trying to incite all-out religious war. Perhaps aware of that danger, the police are downplaying Boko Haram involvement and are placing the massacres in the more traditional context of ethnic violence and land use. One anonymous police spokesman is reported by the press as saying that Boko Haram would only have been present if it had been invited in by the Fulani.
If the Fulani did invite in Boko Haram, that would be a very bad omen for peace and security in the Middle Belt, where Nigeria’s predominately Christian and Muslim populations meet. Over the past months, there has been a shift of emphasis in Boko Haram’s rhetoric toward murderous hostility toward Christians. Earlier, Boko Haram had focused more on government personnel and those Muslims that it regarded as renegade.