Violence in Nigeria

Nigeria has gone through a lot — from military dictatorships for much of the country’s independence from Britain to the collapse of their once-booming oil industry. The most recent troubles have been religious clashes between the Christian and Muslim communities. Nigeria is almost evenly split between the two religions. This split between the Muslim and Christian communities creates tension, which is sometimes lead to boil over. Recently, the struggle between the two religious groups has left hundreds dead in villages near the city of Jos.

Jos lies in central Nigeria along what is referred to as the “religious fault line.” The Muslims live to the north and the Christians to the south of the fault line. The most recent attacks saw 200-500 Christians dead, brutally murdered by machete-wielding mobs and buried in mass graves.

The attacks started in the early morning of March 7 and lasted for an hour and a half. Shooting drove residents out of their houses where they were attacked with machetes. The attacks by Muslim groups in the area were made in retaliation to the January 2010 attacks on Muslims by predominantly Christian groups, which left almost 300 dead.

The aftermath of the sectarian violence caused thousands of people to flee and abandon their homes. The makeshift villages are putting a strain on the already overstretched humanitarian aid in the region. The violence is an early test for Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s acting president. Jonathan was appointed in mid February as former president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua left the country for health reasons. The city of Jos and surrounding villages were are under strict curfew and military security has tightened after the attacks in January. The increased security in the area meant that the violence was quickly stopped, but not without damage and loss of lives.

Acting President Jonathan needs to stabilize relations between the two religious groups, while stimulating a suffering economy. The disappearance of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua created political uncertainty and may have prompted both sides to take action against one another.

Both Muslims and Christians feel they are being wronged by the government.

Jonathan closed the borders to the area in order to prevent outsiders from bringing in weapons and provoking further attacks on the villages. A Vatican spokesperson condemned the violence and stated that the focus should be on the economic and social factors rather than the religious ones.

The violence is primarily derived from the country’s financial instability, but because each side is mostly Muslim or mostly Christian, it has the appearance of religious violence. The attacks are a result of economic troubles and the exclusion of some from positions of power.

The abundance of oil in Nigeria has created a huge gap between the lower and upper classes — the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The fighting between the poor over resources is just as problematic — both Muslims and Christians battle over the fertile land in the area. The religious background of each group is just an easy way to identify and label sides. Both religious groups have suffered fatalities.

Humanitarian aid and beefing up security is only part of the solution to the problems that plague Nigeria. The once booming oil industry has stumbled due to Nigeria’s previous military dictatorships. Jonathan’s mission lies in creating peace between the two religious groups, closing the gap between the rich and the poor and therefore reconstructing Nigeria’s oil industry.

Matt Benger is a fourth-year arts student at the U of M.