A Bloody Month in Nigeria

Muslim-Christian Strife Condemned by Both Sides

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By Paul De Maeyer

ROME, SEPT. 6, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The central Nigerian city of Jos was the site of violent Christian-Muslim clashes as Ramadan drew to a close last week.

Fighting Aug. 29 left some 20 dead and some 50 wounded; the next day, another 10 were killed. And dozens of cars, homes and businesses were destroyed and set on fire.

Although the particulars of the incidents are unknown, according to the local media, including the daily The Vanguard, pandemonium broke out after a dispute between groups of young Christians and Muslims. «There was a disagreement between a group of Muslims who were heading toward a particular area, and another group of young Christians who went to pray in the same area. A discussion over who owned the area broke out,» Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Jos told the Fides agency. He added, however, that he did not have all the details.

During the whole month of August, in fact, interreligious tension was very high in the state of Plateau. According to an Aug. 28 report from Compass Direct News, at least 24 Christians were killed in several villages. Between Aug. 11 and Aug. 15, six Christians were killed in the village of Ratsa Foron and 10 in the village of Heipang, nine of whom were members of the same family. Another six Christian victims were reported on Aug. 21 in the localities of Kwi, Loton and Jwol.

According to witnesses, Muslim extremists were helped by soldiers of the Special Task Force, deployed in the region precisely to protect the people. «They were in army uniform. I even know some of them; they came along with the Muslims to attack us,» said Nnaji John, a woman who lost her family in one of the attacks. «I can swear to God Almighty that the attack was carried out with the support of the soldiers; I saw them.»

Also the governor of the state, Jonah Jang, pointed a finger at the army and requested its immediate withdrawal. «I am convinced that the armed forces are being polluted with the religious crisis in the country,» said Jang. «Before now, the military personnel used to stay in the barracks, but today the armed forces have started taking sides in this religious crisis, and if they are not called to order it will be dangerous for the country.»

Peace no more

The situation in the state of Plateau and, in particular, in the city of Jos — once known as the «city of peace» because of peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims, but which for close to 10 years now has been the scene of interreligious and inter-ethnic clashes — reflects the growing level of insecurity faced by the most populous African country.

The violence has not even spared Abuja, the federal capital, shaken several days ago by a suicide bomber who attacked the U.N. offices. The Aug. 26 attack killed 23 and caused more than 80 wounded. A local extremist group, Boko Haram, claimed responsibility.

Five days before that attack, authorities arrested two members of Boko Haram. Then on Aug. 31, five days after the attack, a third suspect was accused of collaborating with these two in masterminding the violence at the United Nations.

A communiqué reported by the BBC noted that «the investigation has revealed that one Mamman Nur, a notorious Boko Haram element with al-Qaeda links — who returned recently from Somalia — working in concert with two (arrested) suspects masterminded the attack on the United Nations building in Abuja.»

What remains

It is not the first time that the group, described as the «Taliban of Nigeria,» strikes in the heart of the Nigerian capital. In June, it was responsible for the attack on the central headquarters of the federal police, in which nearly a dozen people died.

To silence the fundamentalist group, authorities launched an attack as early as July 2009 against the group’s stronghold in Maiduguri, the capital of the northern state of Borno, killing its head, Mohammed Yusuf, and about 780 of his followers. This bloody offensive did not dissuade the group; in fact, it «only reinforced its virulence and dangerousness,» as SlateAfrique observed. The groups’ militants, who established links with Al Qaeda in the Muslim Maghreb and with the notorious Somali movement of the al-Shabaab, are now capable of striking the Nigerian state everywhere, even in the very heart of Abuja.

According to academic Tunde Fatunde, part of the elite of the Muslim North supports the movement in «a hidden way,» because they have not yet accepted the victory of Goodluck Jonathan — a Christian of the South — in the presidential elections of last April. That the old North-South opposition, already at the origin of the war of Biafra (1967-1970), is still palpable in Nigeria is demonstrated by the words of Musa Bello, a top official of the state of Kano. «The southerners already have the economic power. If we also give them the political power, what remains for us?» he said to SlateAfrique.

United condemnation

For Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, the last attack in Abuja was «a very sad event, which causes deep concern.»

«We do not know what these people intend to do and I ask myself which forces are behind these events,» he told Fides. «We also expect an appropriate response from the government to stop this violence.»

The sultan of Sokoto, Sa’adu Abubakar III, also rejected the violence. «We seriously condemn this act,» he said in a message to the «ummah,» or Muslim community of Nigeria, The Vanguard reported Aug. 31. «We, therefore, call upon all those involved in this nefarious act, to fear God and desist from committing this grievous act.»

He also condemned «vehemently» the new violence in Jos. «It is high time for the government to prevent any future recurrence of such acts of violence in this country,» said the highest authority of Islam in the nation.

He was echoed by the archbishop of Jos. «It is really depressing and even embarrassing to receive daily reports of attacks caused by bombs and violence in different parts of the country. All this is quite alarming,» Archbishop Ayau Kaigama told Fides on Aug. 30. «This situation involves first of all civil authorities who must ensure safety.»

«Nigerians also feel sad and feel a sense of shame for the continuing violence. As bishops, we continue to direct appeals to the authorities to do their duty and the population to adopt dialogue as a way to resolve disputes,» he added.

In a communiqué published Aug. 31, Archbishop Kaigami pointed to the Fifth Commandment. «Thou shalt not kill is a command valid in both Christianity and Islam,» said the prelate. He added that «knives, bows and arrows, guns, explosives and bombs will never bring about the desired resolution; rather, they only heighten mutual hatred which culminates in a harvest of unfortunate deaths and misery.»

Even more

As if man’s violence was not enough, bad weather has also scourged Nigeria. The intense rains that for days have been falling on southwestern areas of the «giant of Africa,» as Nigeria is also called, have caused at least 102 victims according to an Aug. 31 report from the BBC.

«The rain was so abundant that many houses collapsed and many people died,» Archbishop Felix Alaba Adeosin Job of Ibadan told Vatican Radio last Thursday. «The government is trying to help those who lost their dwellings because of the disaster and we are doing everything possible to help those stricken by this grave event.»

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