Jos is a city of about half a million people. It’s situated in the center of Nigeria, where the Christian south of that country meets the Moslem north. The name of the city is said to have been supplied by missionaries, using an abbreviation of the words “Jesus Our Saviour”. That may or may not be true, but a passionate interest in religion among the locals is evident from the frequency of violence between Christians and Moslem. In the most recent riots in 2002, dozens were killed.
When I lived and worked in the coastal city of Lagos, Nigeria, I enjoyed visiting Jos even though it was over 500 miles away inland. Lagos is so humid, particularly in May and June, just before the arrival of the rains. I once mistakenly left my squash racquet on top of my car for a few hours. By the time I retrieved it, it was as curved as a boomerang. That’s what the wet heat of Lagos can do. It was not for nothing that this coast was known as “the white man’s grave”. That, of course, referred to a time before air conditioning and before medication was able to resist the malaria, so busily spread by mosquitoes. Because of the climate, Europeans working on this part of the West African coast retired at 55 or earlier and took long leaves in Europe between short tours of duty. It was not by accident that there were no white settlers in Nigeria. The headstones in old European cemeteries in Lagos record the deaths, from climate related causes, of many young men in their twenties. So it was great to escape from Lagos to Jos.
Jos has a climate unlike anything else in Nigeria, because it sits on a plateau 4000 feet above sea level. Therefore it is cooler than anywhere else in Nigeria. Open cast tin mining has inflicted serious environmental damage on the grasslands which cover the area. The plateau reminds one of a beautiful woman, whose face has suffered in a bad car crash. Local people had always extracted tin from riverbeds, but in 1904 the British arrived and began tin mining in a big way. The area became littered with dumps and polluted ponds created by the open cast mining process. Many of the dumps were as much as 30 feet high. When I last visited Jos in 1962, tin mining operations were drawing to a close. Today the emphasis is once again on agriculture. Yet, without tin mining, the plateau would not have developed in the way that it has. No wealth would have been generated to pay for railways, roads, hospitals, universities, housing and all the manufacturing activity that developed alongside the tin mining industry. The environmental damage is a price that was paid to jump-start the plateau economically. Hopefully that damage can be repaired. Jos is surrounded by spectacular hills, the most famous of which are the Shere Hills rising to nearly 6000 feet above sea level. These hills are full of streams, lakes and waterfalls. The area is made for rock climbing, hiking and swimming. Unlike much of Africa, the plateau is free of the tsetse fly, whose bite is fatal to most animals and doesn’t do much good for humans either.
For much of the year, the temperature on the plateau is in the mid-seventies, which is very different from the rest of Nigeria. Jos is also much less humid than the rest of the country, but it does have a rainy season between June and August. Another time to avoid is the December and January, when the Harmattan wind is blowing. That’s a dry wind, full of sand and dust, that comes out of the Sahara desert and makes its way southwards towards the ocean. Jos is close enough to the Sahara to be affected by the Harmattan, which causes fog dense enough to lead to flight cancellations by airlines. Yet, for most of the year, this little corner of Africa is the place to be. All that is now needed is for the Christians and Moslems to concentrate on obliterating the polluted ponds and dumps, instead of obliterating each other. Bob