Olajide Omojarabi: Dear Jos, We Still Remember

When the tension and trauma that trailed the Jos crisis began to subside, people started sharing stories of how they had managed to outlive death. In the house where we first lived when we moved to Jos, the story had been that the entire block of apartments had been thrown into disarray the night the crisis started, forcing frailed, old men and women and the young to scale fences and jump ridges of farmlands behind the house as the marauders who helped fueled the pandemonium stormed houses owned by Muslims with machetes and knives in retaliation of what they heard were been done to their fellow Christians who owned houses in the Muslim-dominated areas.

It was a time when people lived in Jos without any delineation of residential areas across religious and tribal divides. That same night, the landlord of the previous house we lived in, Baba, went missing and never returned. Three days later, his body was found, washed up by the riverbank, reeking a fusty smell that seem to assail my nostrils right now as I recollect.

The story of Jos, like that of any happy town once blessed with steady calm then shattered by the ruins of violence, is of mixed feelings. Home of peace. A community of people who lived and pursued the happiness of life without sticking their noses into the affairs of others. You could worship the sun and no one would care a hoot; and people only mimicked your Hausa or English when it was heavily accented by the mother tongue.

They didn’t want to know why you spoke it. It was a way of life that was not truncated by one’s state of origin or the religion you professed. Hence, there was no need to ask which area had the highest number of churches or mosques before you rented an apartment. You did not have to think that a people who didn’t even want to know where you came from would overnight turn wild wolves that would make you flee the comfort of your home with frayed mind into the dark night.

Burnt cars and half-razed houses still litter some streets in Jos today. The atmosphere is peaceful and calm, created by an air of tolerance that seemed to have been forcefully accepted because of the daily hustles for a descent living. You’d not fail to notice how the slightest irritation could trigger an altercation; by the jingles trailing the radio stations advocating for peaceful co-existence; by the careful selection of the markets you patronize and the areas you visit.

The town, sometimes paraded by armed soldiers, is bustling but shrouded with fear because people are aware of the fact that we all still remember.

We move on quickly as Nigerians. And it’s amazing how. Some perceive this as an unusual strength, while others see it as just being trauma fatigued. We are either so used to being plagued with trauma that we tend to have settled in for it as a norm; or we just don’t see any sense in wasting time gathering sensible, sentiment-free information to truly find out why a people who lived together for years suddenly turned monsters that feared each other.

And this is why soon, too soon, after an incident occurs, just before we catch our breath from it ruins, another sways in. We cover the fire with the ash, forgetting that the ash is also the remains of the fire. We just have to move on, our Nigerian clock seemed to be reminding; after all, funerals should only be depressing when they are your own, how odd when we tend to believe this.

Come September 7, it would be exactly thirteen years since Jos was plunged into a mindless ethno-religious crises that scooped thousands of lives away, spanning almost a decade. The date resounds for me who didn’t lose anyone or property, and it makes me think of those who did. The family of Baba, our former landlord, keeps a visible memory of him.

Some of them are his pictures. In one them, the 70’s type of picture you refer to as ‘old school’, he wears a cone-shaped dashiki, smiling softly with anticipation. He had the photograph taken in front of the house he first built only after a few years that he arrived Jos. In another, he stands behind Mama, his only wife, seated on a wooden chair, the glow of a newlyweds clearly etched on their young faces. Together, they must have envisaged a rewarding future that could only be achieved as Nigerians, in Nigeria. I also think of a distant neighbour whose father had gone out, during the time when the crisis would suddenly resurge, after a period of rescission, not to come back again. The family, I am sure, still hopes he walks home someday.

I think of relatives who sold their houses in a hurry just to relocate and start a new life, and are still finding it difficult to pick the pieces of their former life in their new settlement. And I wonder if we have truly moved on. Chances are that when we forcefully move on as a people from trauma just because our lives depend on moving, and not because we need to avoid reoccurrence, we might be pulled back to the spot where it all started to clean the mess we left behind.

Here was a crisis that left indelible marks on a state for a disturbing long period of time, and we think memories will be forgotten? We need to understand that true healing and forgiveness only occurs when the hurting have seen reasons to heal, not when soldiers are sent to the streets to avoid grieving people climbing on each other. The soldier and the state, we fail to remember, are seldom in good terms. We must move on, yes! But we can’t afford to leave the senseless cause that initially stalled our movement behind without properly smashing its ugly head.

For if we fail to do that, that ugly head may re-surface and scare us back to our initial spot.

May all the lost souls of the Jos crisis find peace wherever they may be.


Olajide Omojarabi is a final year student of International Studies at ABU, Zaria. My twitter handle is @olaomojarabi.


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