Nigeria's Violence Not a Simple Christian-Muslim Clash

Missionary Points to Unemployment and Fanaticism

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KADUNA, Nigeria, NOV. 24, 2002 ( Sister Semira Carrozzo has her own ideas about the turmoil in Nigeria.

«It is important to start dividing the inhabitants of this land into ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ instead of into Muslims and Christians,» the Mother Superior of the Oblates Community of Nazareth in Kaduna, capital of the northern state of the same name, told the Misna agency.

Sister Carrozzo has been living in Nigeria for 16 years. Five years ago, she moved from Lagos to Kaduna, site of high tension and ethnic-religious clashes between Muslims and Christians.

«The violence arrived just as a summer storm, at a moment that everybody more or less expected,» the religious said. «Over the last few months there were only talks about peace and living together pacifically. Then all of a sudden, pandemonium» broke out.

At least 1 million people live in Kaduna, and both religious groups claim to be in the majority.

In an interview with Misna, Sister Carrozzo explained the scenario in which the violence broke out. A crowd of Muslim militants in Kaduna triggered violent clashes in protest against the Miss World beauty pageant, to be held in December in Abuja.

«We have been living in Kaduna already for some years, where we have set up an educational program, a nursery and primary school in which we house, educate and give a meal to 500 children every day — Christian and Muslim children,» Sister Carrozzo explained.

«We have a close relation with the Muslims who attend our school,» she added. «It is important that this be understood by those who see the matter from outside and are not aware of this reality. The people, the inhabitants — Muslim and Christian — live and work close to one another.

«My Muslim friends were among the first to call to ask about how I was doing. However, the fanatics then went into action. They are on both sides and when they come out into the open, everything becomes difficult.»

The state of Kaduna experienced grave tensions between the two communities in the past. In three crises — in 1987, 1992 and 2000 — violent clashes disrupted the entire northern region of Nigeria, claiming at least 2,000 lives.

«Those responsible for this tragedy are just poor youngsters, many of whom are unemployed, between the ages of 17 and 18, all ready to sell themselves for 100 naira,» Sister Carrozzo said. «Kaduna is not one of the poorest areas in the country, but despite the fact that it refers to an industrial dimension, misery is just around the corner.»

She continued: «The youngsters are those who live in the worst conditions, most of them are unemployed. How much time do you think is needed to manipulate them? Once the initial surprise passed, the Christians reacted with the same ferocity and the spiral closed. As always, the innocent are the ones who suffer most from the violent acts of the fanatics, which is carried out on behalf of both sides.

«The results are evident. There are many dead. The hospitals have been filled with the injured, and a trail of hatred and resentment has been left behind, the effects of which will be felt for a long time.»

«The authorities will discuss and call for peace,» the religious added. «But the poor who have lost their homes, the little possessions they had or perhaps a relative or just a friend, will bear the anger and the wounds which such episodes leave inside a person. Those who always pay are the weak.»

«Father Gemisi Iyere, a Nigerian diocesan priest, has been hospitalized and lies in critical condition,» Sister Carrozzo said. «He was beaten up and his house was set afire. There are many dead and injured. I spoke to other religious around the city and everybody is busy with burying people. It is total madness!»

«At the moment the situation is calm, the streets of the city are crowded with police and military soldiers, while the population are barricaded in their houses due to the curfew imposed,» she told Misna.

Gangs of youngsters took to the streets, attacking people and property, leaving behind 215 dead and hundreds of injured, the Red Cross reported today. The violence continued until late Saturday, the Associated Press said.

The mother superior confirmed that the demonstrators also attacked several religious buildings as well as Christian shrines. Misna was told that the parish churches of St. Augustine and the Holy Cross were also set ablaze. A fire also destroyed the offices of the Catholic Secretariat of Kaduna.

Hundreds of Muslim fundamentalists — some sources claimed there were 5,000 — marched on the center of Kaduna, chanting «Allah is great» and vandalizing property. The day before, a group of Muslim fundamentalists set fire to the local offices of the independent newspaper This Day.

The paper had published an article claiming the prophet Mohammed would have happily married a Miss World contestant. The paper later apologized for the statements, which many Muslims considered to be blasphemous.

Amid the violence, the Miss World beauty pageant was transferred to London. The pageant will be held Dec. 7, a date established in Nigeria for the end of the period of Ramadan, at the explicit request of the Muslim community.

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