Explosions. Mass kidnappings. Nigeria is no stranger to international news these days, making the region seem like a train wreck that the world can’t help but gawk at. Most recently we’ve landed in the spotlight for the two bomb blasts in my own hometown, Jos.
From the kidnappings of over 200 young girls to this most recent act of terror, it’s easy to look at Nigeria and imagine a country descending into violent chaos. Don’t misunderstand. Nigeria faces many challenges, ranging from violent extremism to corruption and poverty, and it is crucial for the media to share these stories with the rest of the world. But this is only one side of the picture.
First, let’s address the bombings in the city of Jos. The first car bomb exploded around 3:00 p.m. at the busy Terminus market. The same market where my family and I have purchased our food and goods for generations. A second bomb exploded 20 minutes later. Estimates put the death toll at 118 people, with countless other injuries. Bombings of civilians in public spaces are clearly designed to terrorize the population. Although no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, the pattern of the blasts is similar to those carried out by the terrorist group Boko Haram. The same group currently holding over 200 school girls as hostages, detonated two bombs last month in Kanos, killing dozens of Nigerians.
Jos remains a target of Boko Haram attacks because it has historically been at the center of tension between Muslim and Christian communities in Northern Nigeria. The blasts in the market have the potential to reignite tension and refuel animosity between the different religious and ethnic groups in the city at a time when so much cooperation between the people has been achieved. A security official reported to Search for Common Ground that on Tuesday evening, some youth attacked motorists and traders after the blasts. This is exactly what the bombers want. However, in the aftermath of these bombs we have also seen the police and security forces working to reduce tensions and prevent agitation that could result in further violence. Muslim and Christian Nigerians have also come together following these attacks to show support and solidarity. People across Nigeria and the world have shown that they want peace, not violence.
To be sure, Nigeria has work to do. As my colleague Lantana Abdullahi recently noted in her testimony in front of the U.S. Senate, we must work to consolidate the gains in peacebuilding in Nigeria, improve human security, monitor human rights abuses, work to reduce poverty and corruption that drive extremism, and support a regional effort to prevent Boko Haram from growing.
Despite these horrific events, this attack will not divide us. Rather, it must serve to strengthen our resolve to live together in peace. At Search for Common Ground, we work with inspiring Nigerians every day who are coming together to push for peace, including community, traditional, religious, women, and youth leaders, as well as state and local government officials. We are highlighting their voices through a participatory Early Warning System that collects information on tensions, rumors, and violent incidents and shares reports with security and civil society groups. We also run two radio programs that promote Nigerian messages of peace: “Voices of Peace” airs messages twice daily from government and security authorities calling for calm, and “Our Children Are Talking” allows children and youth to discuss the ways that they are impacted by conflict. These people are the future of Nigeria, not violent extremists.
So while we send our thoughts and prayers to those affected by violence in Nigeria, let us also celebrate the Nigerians who have already come together to show support in the aftermath of these attacks and who are working to build peace in their country. We invite all Nigerians and the global community to show their solidarity and with the people of Jos and faith in a brighter future on social media using the hashtag #plateauwillarise!. We at Search will continue to highlight voices for peace, because we know that these bombings and acts of violence will not deter the work that so many Nigerians are doing to make their country a better place with a brighter future.
Bagu is country director for Search for Common Ground Nigeria.