Friday, February 27, 2004

Dog Bites Man - Deadly Religious Clashes in Nigeria

Pardon my cynicism, but this sort of thing happens far too often for me to be able to feign shock and surprise.

Suspected Muslim militants armed with guns and bows and arrows killed at least 48 people in an attack on a farming village in central Nigeria. Most of the victims died as they sought refuge in a church, police said.

The latest bout of Muslim-Christian violence in the region occurred Tuesday night in Yelwa, a mainly Christian town in Nigeria's Plateau State, police commissioner Innocent Ilozuoke said.

Army and police reinforcements helped restore calm, Ilozuoke told a news conference yesterday in Jos, the state capital.

The killings appeared to be the latest retaliatory attack in a sporadic conflict that has rocked the central region since an outburst of sectarian violence in 2001, pitting Christians against Muslims in once-peaceful Jos. In the initial outburst in Jos more than 1,000 people died in one week.

Since then, several hundreds more have died as rival Muslim-Christian militias attacked isolated villages and towns.

On February 19, gunmen suspected by the police to belong to a Muslim militia ambushed a patrol car, killing four police officers. The ambush followed an earlier attack by a Christian militia upon a Muslim village that killed 10.

For decades, the majority Christian inhabitants of Plateau and the minority Muslim population - mostly Hausa and Fulani tribespeople with origins farther north - had lived in harmony.

But tensions between the two communities heightened in the past four years as 12 majority Muslim states in the north adopted the strict Sharia, or Islamic, legal codes, perceived by Christians as an expansionist threat.

As you can see, Nigerians are one big happy family. These clashes aren't about Islam as such - who's ever heard of a militant Yoruba muslim? - but about the desire of a feudal oligarchy to perpetuate its rule by any means. In the context of the middle belt, what this means is forced islamization and hausaization. It's a damned shame what's going on in the North, as Jos is a very nice city.