Nigeria: A Crisis Akin to Northern Ireland

So Says President of Bishops´ Conference

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LAGOS, Nigeria, SEPT. 17, 2001 ( HREF=»').insertAfter("div.entry-content").css({'display': 'block', 'width' : 'auto', 'height' : 'auto', 'margin-bottom' : '18px', 'text-align' : 'center' }); /* Multiple style */

«Religion is only a pretext for violence; new rules are needed for peaceful coexistence,» said Archbishop Onaiyekan, president of the Nigerian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The agency Fides asked the archbishop about the violence that erupted in Jos on Sept. 7.

Q: What is the present situation in Jos?

Archbishop Onaiyekan: The situation is returning to normal. There are a sufficient number of police in the city to guarantee a return to normality. We have organized convoys of food and other basic necessities from Abuja, which travel from Abuja to Jos under army escort.

Q: What are the causes behind the clashes?

Archbishop Onaiyekan: These cannot truthfully be called religious clashes. The reasons behind them are political, social and economic. There is tension, also, in southern Nigeria, and Muslims are few there. With due distinctions, I would compare the situation to that of Northern Ireland, where the religious factor is a pretext.

Religion is used to emphasize ethnic or social identity. There is a situation of social injustice, remnant of colonial times. At that time, the colonial powers privileged certain tribes, mostly of Muslim religion. Integrated into the system of British colonial rule, these groups were able to dominate over the others. Even after independence, the situation remained the same.

Christianity, which preaches equal rights for all, is seen as a liberating religion. It is obvious that the privileged groups feel threatened by those calling for more justice, Christians, in the first place.

The goal of the introduction of the Shariah in the North is precisely to maintain the dominion of certain groups over others.

Q: How can this situation be addressed?

Archbishop Onaiyekan: To avoid further violence, we would need a forum, open to all the political and social components in Nigeria, charged with the task of identifying new rules for peaceful coexistence. The greater part of Nigerian citizens, Christians and Muslims, all want peace.

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