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Africa Inside Line: Nigeria Riots Overshadow 50th-Anniversary Celebrations

New EA correspondent Seth Kikuni Masudi files his first report:

Nigeria is preparing to celebrate 50 years of independence and sovereignty on 1 October this year. Any expectations, however, have been dampened by recent rioting in the city of Jos between Muslim and Christian gangs.

Religious conflicts have always been an important issue for the Federal Republic, with Muslims prevalent in the northern part of the country and Christians in the south. Jos, with its central location, has always been a battleground for the two communities. There were similar conflicts in 2001, 2004, and 2008, killing more than 2000 people and displacing many others.

The main cause of these clashes remains, according to the local population, provocation and manipulation by religious leaders. Those leaders, on the other hand, claim no responsibility and associate the trouble with poverty and unsolved tribal issues.

In the absence of President Umaru Yar’adua, who has reportedly been in hospital in Saudi Arabia since November 2009, interim leader Goodluck Jonathan ordered the deployment of the army and imposed a curfew on Jos, apparently restoring calm.

The wider issues, which include but are far beyond the headline arrest of the young Nigerian militant Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab for his alleged attempt to blow up a US-bound airliner on Christmas Day, remain. "Terrorism" and religious conflicts are likely to dampen the 50th-anniversary excitement for some time to come.

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"Those leaders, on the other hand, claim no responsibility and associate the trouble with poverty and unsolved tribal issues."


But religious allegiances coincide with tribal, ethnic and geographical loyalties. Some groups are solidly Christian (Igbo) or Muslim (Hausa), and others are split down the middle (Yoruban). The case of Biafra in the late 60s is a textbook example of Muslim-Christian rivalry in a complex tribalist web. The Christian east wanted to secede from the country, but they were also up against the Nigerian military, which had a significant number of Christians.

The aftermath of the Islam in Africa conference (funded by M.E. states in 1989) can still be felt. Just a decade ago, when the evangelical Christian Obasanjo was elected, the Muslim political elites instituted Sharia law in their areas (whole or in part). They did this out of fear (previous federal governments in the 80s and 90s were ruled by Muslims). When Sharia was imposed in those northern states in Nigeria, life became very difficult for the minority Christians living there. Even though we have to look at the two religions in the prism of a complex tribalist society (as I mentioned in the beginning), I think we do see the two religions jockeying for influence in the central area (Jos). Unlike the Catholic and Protestant demography in Northern Ireland, we can draw a line geographically between Nigeria's Christian population and its Muslim population -- Muslim North and Christian East/South).

January 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave

I believe the car in the picture is a Peugeot 404.

January 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave

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