Unending jihad in Plateau State
by Masara Kim
The nearly daily attacks on Christian communities taking place in Nigeria’s Plateau State today cannot be understood in isolation from a much longer history. They are part of a tradition of jihad that has long pitted Nigeria’s Fulani Muslim states and armed movements against its indigenous non-Muslim peoples, and which today threatens the future of all of Nigeria.
The foundation of this seemingly unending jihad was laid in the 18th century, when Sheikh Shehu Usman Danfodio led an armed campaign against non-Muslims in present-day northern Nigeria.
Thousands of people, many from people groups who would later become the first recipients of Christ’s gospel in Plateau State, were killed and displaced during that offensive. Usman’s conquest forced the Birom, Ron, Fyem, Fyer, Mupun and Kulere tribes to migrate from Gobir, the headquarters of the Fulani jihad in present-day Sokoto State, to what today is Plateau State.
The jihad was said to have terminated after Usman, hunting for the displaced groups in their new Plateau home, captured two kingdoms in the southern part of the state – Kanam and Wase. But over a century later, another Islamic jihadist followed in his footsteps. Mohammed Marwa, also known as Maitatsine, the leader of a movement called Yan Tatsine, came after the Plateau Christians in the late 1970s and early 1980s, after killing many in Gombe, Borno, Kaduna, Adamawa and other parts of the north.
Marwa was killed in crossfire with military forces in December 1980, and his close disciple, Musa Makaniki took over the leadership of Yan Tatsine. His militant followers later retreated to Cameroon after killing tens of thousands, but the mission never ended.
The killings in Jos
The jihad was revived in 2001 in Jos, the capital of Plateau State. After a fanatical Muslim, Muktar Muhammed, was appointed as coordinator of a federal poverty alleviation programme in the Jos North Local Government Area, local Christians led a peaceful protest against his appointment. The protest was organized by Dan Manjang, a theology student and the son of a pastor, along with a Christian woman leader, Naomi Jugu. In response, Islamic clerics started spreading jihad sermons in their mosques and streets.
Shortly after, on 7 September 2001, a Christian woman attempted to cross a barricaded street near a mosque during Friday prayers. Muslims reacted with violence, chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ as they marched from street to street, house to house, church to church, killing Christians and burning their properties. Over two weeks, an estimated 1,000 Christians were killed, with many others displaced.
Dan Manjang’s father, then a pastor with Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN), was later assassinated by the jihadists, and several relations of Jugu were killed, but that did not satisfy them. On 4 February 2004, armed Muslim jihadists attacked Christians in Yelwan Shendam, in the southern part of the state, killing nearly 100 people, including at least 48 worshippers in the compound of what is the now the COCIN Regional Church Council (RCC) headquarters. Among those killed in the church compound was an aged pastor, Bogoro Elisha, the father of Prof. Suleiman Bogoro, the current executive secretary of Nigeria’s Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), and Rachael Dingis, the London-based founder of an international missionary outfit, the Bread of Life Foundation Ministry. He was beheaded while on his knees praying.
Jos: the Fulani join the fight
The killing resumed in 2008. On 28 November of that year, local government election results for Jos North were suspended due to malpractice and violence against electoral officials in Muslim communities. An interim administrator was appointed by the then-Governor of Plateau State, Jonah David Jang. Within five hours of the announcement, the Muslims resumed attacks on Christians.
To prevent further killings and destruction, Jang, a retired military officer and pastor, imposed a 24-hour curfew in Jos. But on 29 November 2008, the Muslims reported that soldiers killed 300 in a mosque, on the orders of Jang. Islamic preachers, including Sheikh Isa Pantami, Nigeria’s current minister of communication and digital economy, openly preached war against Christians in Plateau State. In particular, Pantami said in one of his recorded sermons that he would lead an army as “commander” to come and kill Christians in Plateau.
The so-called video evidence of the alleged Jang-directed massacre which the Muslims circulated in the media was later found to have been uploaded on the internet two days before the curfew, during which they claimed the crime was committed. A 2009 judicial commission of inquiry headed by a former federal chief judge, Justice Bola Ajibola, quashed the charges against Jang on that basis, but on 19 January 2010, fresh killings started after Muslim youths playing football on church premises during Sunday service were advised to relocate.
Despite the efforts of the federal Peace Panel headed by Solomon Lar, a former governor of Plateau State, in February 2010, a group of Muslim Fulani herders reportedly met in Jos and resolved to join the jihad. Shortly after, on 5 March 2010, an estimated 500 Christians were killed by Muslim Fulani jihadists in five rural communities in Jos South area, with Dogo Nahawa having the highest casualty figure. Previously, the jihad had been carried out mostly by Hausa Muslims, and was restricted to towns and cities. The entry of the Fulani thus opened a new front in the jihad.
Armed attacks on Christian Plateau communities have been recurring ever since. The presence of the Special Military Task Force (STF) has not helped in any way. Rather, it has encouraged the crimes. Most often, the STF, which is often headed or managed by fanatical Muslims, does not respond to distress calls until attacks in Christian communities are completed.
In some cases, armed attacks have been carried out in collaboration with Muslim STF personnel. In other instances, when Christians carry clubs, den guns and machetes to protect their homes from attacks by well-armed Fulani herdsmen, military personnel arrest them for illegal possession of deadly weapons. Often, when this happens, the arrested are sent to jail without trial, or killed in custody. Most officers who have tried to defend Christian communities during invasions have been redeployed to deadly missions and/or sanctioned.
For instance, in June 2018, when then-STF Commander Maj. Gen. Anthony Atolagbe, a Christian, started investigating the murder of nearly 300 Christians in Barkin Ladi in two days of sustained attacks, he was redeployed. This was less than 12 months after he assumed his duties, despite the traditional 24-month tenure for STF commanders. Two other officers under him who defied an initial order to withhold support during the invasions were arrested and sanctioned.
Earlier, during the 2010 Dogo Nahawa attacks, the then-acting commander of the Task Force, Maj. General Saleh Maina, who is a Muslim, did not respond to distress calls from then-Governor Jang. Maina, who doubled as the general officer commanding 3rd Armoured Division, Jos, was soon replaced by another Muslim officer, Maj. General Hassan Umaru.
Under Umaru, Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacks increased in scale and severity. When evidence emerged indicating military culpability in the attacks, several protest groups called for the replacement of the Army with mobile policemen. Thus, Governor Jang was forced to set up a state-owned security outfit, which still exists as Operation Rainbow.Umaru was replaced in February 2012 by another fanatical Muslim, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Ibrahim, under whom another 500 Christians were killed in one night by Army personnel in southern Plateau. It was also during Gen. Ibrahim’s leadership of the STF that Boko Haram in February 2012 bombed the COCIN headquarters in Jos.
A programme of jihad
Today, jihadists have killed, displaced and taken over 60 Plateau Christian communities, with daily plans for more. Their objective has been to kill everyone that believes in Christ, to steal, as is evident in the looting and land grab that follows each incident of violence, and ultimately to destroy Christianity in Nigeria.
This was part of a resolution reached at a 1989 conference of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC, today called the Organization of Islamic Cooperation). The conference held in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, from 24 to 28 November 1989, resolved to “eradicate in all its forms and ramifications all non-Muslim religions in member nations (such religions shall include Christianity, Ahmadiyya and other tribal forms of worship unacceptable to Muslims)”. The communiqué from that meeting, which has been edited on the internet to cover the fundamental objective, has the word “Christianity” underlined.
The meeting also resolved, among other objectives, to ensure that only Muslims occupy strategic positions in all member countries. This perhaps explains the violent Islamic reaction to the Christian protest against Muktar Muhammed’s appointment in Jos North in 2001. The Jos North LGA was created in 1989 by Nigeria’s military ruler Ibrahim Babangida, who has also been implicated in many killings in Jos. Babangida is said to have created the LGA with a majority Muslim population to give Muslims political power in the state.
During a meeting organised in 2015 by Simon Lalong (shortly before his election as governor of Plateau State), Muslim Fulani leaders said armed attacks on Christian communities would continue until the Muslims in the state, most of whom are recent migrants, were given equal political rights and opportunities. A similar statement was made in December 2019 during a meeting with Mercy Corps officials in Jos.
Decimating and dominating Christian Plateau villages is a systematic way of building a totally Muslim-controlled political future in the affected areas. With large demographics, Muslims will be able to elect their preferred political leaders and influence government policies, including determining how Christianity should be practised, if at all.
The dire situation in Plateau State today is even more worrisome given the man who is president of Nigeria today. Muhammadu Buhari ruled Nigeria as a military dictator from 1983 to 1985, and it was he who submitted Nigeria’s application for full membership in the OIC. (Nigeria’s membership became official in 1986 under the rule of General Babangida, who overthrew Buhari).
Since becoming president as a civilian in 2015, Buhari has hosted a major international Islamic conference in Abuja, signed pacts with the OIC for the facilitation of various projects in the northeastern region, and approved and consolidated Nigeria’s membership in the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Against Terrorism, in the Eight Developing Islamic Countries (D8) group, and in the Islamic Development Bank (IDB). Although Nigeria is constitutionally a secular country, these actions show an intention on Buhari’s part to bring it steadily further under the influence of the Islamic world.
While these memberships were still being contested in court, a bill to amend the current 1999 constitution of Nigeria to include Sharia Law was sponsored by one of the President’s Muslim loyalists. Similarly, under Buhari’s watch, Nasir el Rufai, the Muslim governor of Kaduna State and one of the President’s closest allies, signed a law banning public sermons in the state. Furthermore, under Buhari, the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) scrapped Christian Religious Studies (CRS) from the primary school curriculum.
All of this, added to the president’s lopsided appointments, his low interest in the growing attacks and killings of Christians, and most recently, his defence of Minister Pantami after his past comments supporting Islamic terrorism came to light, suggest that the social, political and economic future of Christians, and the general survival of Christianity in Nigeria, Plateau State included, is already under serious threat.
Muslim jihadists attacking and forcefully occupying Christian communities in Plateau State, therefore, calls for global Christian solidarity. This is because there is no guarantee that after conquering Plateau, they will not expand to other states and even other countries. The growing threats in Nigeria’s hitherto impenetrable southwestern and southeastern regions are warning enough.
Masara Kim is a journalist from Jos, Plateau State