Nigeria: Religious Violence Revived

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January 21, 2010:  Less than a week of  tribal/religious violence in the central Nigerian city of Jos has left nearly 500 dead, and thousands wounded. This is nothing new. Similar violence broke out 14 months ago, leaving over 700 dead. Thousands of soldiers and police were required to restore order. The current mayhem arose, in part, out of disputes over how rebuilding was done in some neighborhoods (as in putting a new mosque in a Christian neighborhood.) This time, some 10,000 people have fled their homes to avoid the violence.

The religious violence in the area (Plateau State) goes back to ancient tribal conflicts  between the Fulani tribes from the north, who are largely herders and Moslem, and other tribes from the south, who have come into contact with the Fulani, but are farmers and largely Christian. Christians are also angry over the use of Islamic law in northern, largely Moslem, states. This religious law is being imposed on non-Moslems, despite protests from the federal government and the non-Moslems involved. Islamic radicalism also adds to the tensions, as the Moslems tend to be the be more aggressive in dealing with real, or imagined, insults to their religion.

Vigorous government intervention five years ago halted three years of violence that left over 50,000 dead (17,459 children, 17,397 women and 18,931 men). This sort of conflict is common the world over. During the late 19th century, the United States suffered several local outbreaks ("Range Wars") between groups of farmers and ranchers. Religion (between Protestants and Catholics) was sometimes a minor factor, but it was mostly about land and water rights, and economic issues in general. Tribal and religious animosities in Nigeria only make the Range Wars there more deadly.

January 18, 2010: The four kidnapped foreign oil workers were suddenly released. It's unclear if ransom was paid.

January 15, 2010: Violence broke out in city of Jos, with religion based gangs of young men battling each other in Christian neighborhoods.

January 14, 2010: The kidnappers of four foreign oil workers (three Brits and a Colombian) are demanding a ransom of $2 million. This is the first major (foreigner) kidnapping in the Niger Delta oil region since last Summer, and is apparently just criminal, not political.

In the capital, a court ruled that vice president Goofluck Jonathan could take over the presidential powers, seven weeks after president Yar'Adua went to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. Yar'Adua did not implement any transfer of power when he left, and the government has been increasingly adrift because of this. Yar'Adua survived his medical treatment and says he will return to work as soon as possible. But no date was set. Yar'Adua did not officially turn over power to his vice president because the two men are at odds, and the president feared what Mr. Jonathan might do with presidential powers.

 

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