Friday, April 22, 2011

Unity and Faith, Part 2

We started looking at the situation in Nigeria in Part 1. Considering the post-election violence there, and some things I see about the situation in Nigeria that remind me of other recent events in Africa, we will look a little deeper.

In a pre-election paper entitled Key Issues in Nigeria's 2011 Elections, dated March 29, 2011, author Sola Tayo makes the following observation about politics in Nigeria this election cycle:

Engaging young people

The political parties will also have to make greater efforts to engage the younger electorate. There is a gulf between Nigeria's leaders and the younger population. While still retaining the country's leaning towards social conservatism, young people are increasingly being influenced by other cultures. It could be argued that this is the nature of the power of information-sharing in the world today, but there is a danger in Nigeria of disengagement from mainstream politics in favour of extreme religious affiliations or material gains. Re-engaging young people with national political issues will take time, but could create an appetite in this generation not just to ask questions but actually to challenge the clique of a relatively few 'Big Men' who still dominate Nigerian political life.

If social conservatism means religion, then the danger that Nigeria's young people could be drawn to religious extremism is great indeed.

In recent years, money from the Middle East has gone to revitalize Islam around the world - building mosques, training mullahs - and the brand of Islam that has been spread is "true" Islam - very militant, mainly petrodollar-funded Saudi Wahhabism. At its core, Islam mandates that Islamic law be supreme; other cultures must be subjugated in a subservient status called dhimmitude, designed to make adhering to another religion so painful as to compel submission to Islam, even though Islam's apologists tirelessly repeat that there is no compulsion in religion.

Is the spread of this kind of ideology among Nigeria's Muslims - who comprise slightly more than half the population - a factor?

Tayo points out that today's world is characterized by information-sharing. This explains how Islamic militancy could be propagated, even in the absence of overt foreign involvement. It would only take a small minority of Muslims to adopt these kinds of beliefs and begin to capitalize on or steer unrest in a way that is advantageous. History is replete with examples of unrest that led to revolutionary change which was then hijacked by a small group of highly-motivated and well-organized people.

This question of influence from outside Nigeria is of interest. We now examine another excerpt from Key Issues in Nigeria's 2011 Elections (though we will get to the part dealing with outside interference in a subsequent post):

Internal security and outside interference

There are three main ongoing problems relating to security, all (currently) relatively localized: Niger delta militant groups in the south, Islamist groups in the northeast, and the social and religious flare-ups in Jos and Nigeria's middle belt. In the past, the violence has tended to be contained within local communities, which gives the impression that it is relatively easy to deal with by enforcing martial law, conducting large-scale police operations and through cooperation between the police and intelligence services. However, the 50th Anniversary Independence Day bombs in Abuja, on 1 October 2010, which for the first time targeted a national celebration attended by high-level international dignitaries, indicate that the containment of violence may be becoming a thing of the past.

These bomb attacks were claimed by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a militant group based in the oil-producing south. MEND and other groups in the region are notorious for their acts of violence. These are mostly targeted at oil companies which they blame for polluting their environment and destroying their livelihoods while depriving local people of a fair share of oil revenues. Militant activity in the Niger Delta usually consists of attacks on oil pipelines and the kidnapping for ransom of employees of oil companies (foreign and local) and the families of local government officials. MEND has threatened in the past to take its attacks outside the Niger Delta, to Abuja and Lagos. The Independence Day bombs were a powerful reminder that once localized disputes can and will spread beyond their previous confines.

Security has been prioritized since the October bombings, but violent attacks have continued in the run-up to the elections. Worryingly, the use of bombs, previously unusual in Nigeria, has continued, and expanded to other disputes. In December 2010 at least 80 people were killed in a series of church bombings in Jos. Four people were killed in a similar attack in Abuja a week later. MEND had claimed responsibility for the October bombs, but Boko Haram, a northern-based militant Islamist group with an increasingly violent track record, has claimed responsibility for the Jos attacks. The human rights organization Amnesty International, in a recent report (Loss of Life, Insecurity and Impunity in the Run up to Nigeria's Elections) has warned of an escalation in pre-election violence.

Of course, the pre-election report warned of an escalation of pre-election violence. But, most of the election activity is over (there are still some regional elections coming up shortly). The dynamic, however, is largely the same. Since the election results returned an incumbent southerner from the ruling PDP to power, the northern factions may feel they have something to complain about.

Broady speaking, much of the violence in Nigeria is associated with a southern group, known as MEND. But, narrowing in on topics relevant to the post-election violence, Boko Haram is also mentioned as responsible for violence in Jos. The name "Jos" itself is interesting; according to some sources, the city is so named as an acronym for "Jesus Our Savior". Located right on the border between the Christian-dominated south, and the Muslim-dominated north, Jos has become a battlefield more than once in recent years.

Regarding violence in Jos early last year, an article entited What's behind Christian-Muslim fighting in Nigeria? dated January 19, 2010, had this to say:

Sectarian violence continued for a third day in the Nigerian city of Jos, and appeared to be spreading to surrounding suburbs, as the state government announced a 24-hour curfew to bring Christian-Muslim fighting to a halt.

Officials at Jos's Central Mosque, where most of the Muslim dead have been brought to be buried, say that 139 bodies have been found thus far, but other reports say that the death toll may be much higher, perhaps beyond 200. Residents told human rights workers that gunfire continued throughout the day, even after the Nigerian Army was called in to help police to rein in the violence.

"The cycle of violence is explained by the fact that both the two communities, Muslim and Christian, share many of the same problems, including lack of economic opportunities," says Corinne Dufka, an Africa researcher with Human Rights Watch, based in Dakar, Senegal.

Frustration among the young is often a tool in the hands of ambitious politicians, she adds, and even after courts are presented with evidence that violence is often orchestrated or manipulated, "nobody is held accountable."

Ms. Dufka says that calling in the Army could be a very positive step, "if the Army uses minimal force, such as tear gas to clear the streets," but the long-term solution will come only when the government is seen to be fair by both communities, and when "the choreographers of the violence, the ones who incite violence, are held accountable."

Claims that the violence is "choreographed", "orchestrated", "manipulated"... and no one is held accountable.

Nigeria has a north-south political split, as pointed out in Part 1. Skipping down in What's behind Christian-Muslim fighting in Nigeria? the de facto agreement to alternate between a northerner and a southerner as president is explained as alternating between a Muslim and a Christian; it should be noted that this excerpt is from a time when Goodluck Jonathan was vice president, and when the president was sick (see Part 1):

It is unclear how much the rioting in Jos is affected by national politics, but a political crisis in which the Muslim president Umaru Yar'Adua has spent the last two months in a hospital in Saudi Arabia, refusing to cede official power to his Christian vice president Goodluck Jonathan, cannot have helped relations between Christians and Muslims.

Many Muslim politicians say they would refuse to allow power to shift, even temporarily, to Vice President Jonathan, calling instead for a fresh round of elections in which only Muslim candidates could run. In order to keep peace, for many years there's been an unofficial agreement to alternate the presidency between Christians and Muslims.

It is likely the current violence, being painted in much of the mainstream media as a north/south issue, is, at its roots, a Muslim/Christian issue, and "north/south" is PC-speak for this religious problem.

The Jos rioting of 2010 resumed in March; at the time, the governor of Plateau State, where Jos is located, was Christian, as were many of the members of the security forces.

However, religion was only part of the cultural rift at the base of the rioting; from Nigeria violence: Muslim-Christian clashes kill hundreds, dated March 8, 2010:

The central city of Jos is on high alert after Sunday's violence in Nigeria in which a late-night attack by herdsmen killed up to 500 people from nearby farming villages. The attack has been seen as a reprisal for attacks in January, in which about 300 herdsmen were killed by youths from the farming community.

The town of Jos is all too often a focal point for competition over the use of arable land in central and northern Nigeria, where climate change has dried up pasture lands and forced animal herders closer and closer to farming communities, where their herds can destroy crops.

Jos is also right on the de facto fault line separating Nigeria's mainly Muslim north from its mainly Christian south. The farming community in Jos is primarily Christian of the Berom ethnic group, while the herders are ethnic Fulanis who practice Islam.

"Land is central to the conflict in Jos," says Ugar Ukandi Odey, a Jos-based news reporter for the Nigerian newspaper NEXT. Mr. Odey has been covering the attacks and the tense aftermath. "The Beroms are the original people of Jos, and the Fulanis are nomads moving around with cattle who have settled in amongst the Berom people. But it becomes ethnic and religious, because there are Christians on one side, and the Fulanis are Muslims on the other side."

Skipping down:

Working to keep violence from spreading Jonathan and state officials will have to work fast to keep the violence from spreading. The attacks were brutal, with mobs of young men passing through two villages outside Jos and hacking to death anyone they caught – women, the elderly, and even toddlers – with machetes. Some firebrand Christian leaders from Jos are condemning the Army for moving too slowly, and calling the attack on their parishioners a jihad against Christians.

Uh-oh: the j-word.

More to follow...

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