Religious violence in Nigeria
- This article is for a generalized timeline of Religious violence in Nigeria. For more information on the current uprising (post-2009), see Boko Haram insurgency.
Religious violence in Nigeria refers to Christian-Muslim strife in modern Nigeria, which can be traced back to 1953. Today, religious violence in Nigeria is dominated by the Boko Haram insurgency, which aims to impose Sharia on the entire nation.
Nigeria was amalgamated in 1914, only about a decade after the defeat of the Sokoto Caliphate and other Islamic states by the British which were to constitute much of Northern Nigeria. The aftermath of the First World War saw Germany lose its colonies, one of which was Cameroon, to French, Belgian and British mandates. Cameroon was divided in French and British parts, the latter of which was further subdivided into southern and northern parts. Following a plebiscite in 1961, the Southern Cameroons elected to rejoin French Cameroon, while the Northern Cameroons opted to join Nigeria, a move which added to Nigeria's already large Northern Muslim population. The territory comprised much of what is now Northeastern Nigeria, and a large part of the areas affected by the present and past insurgencies.
Following the return of democratic government in 1999, the Muslim-dominated northern Nigerian states have introduced Sharia law, including punishments against blasphemy and apostasy. Several incidents have occurred whereby people have been killed for or in response to perceived insults to Islam.
Religious conflict in Nigeria goes as far back as 1953, and in the case of the town of Tafawa Balewa, to 1948. The Igbo massacre of 1966 in the North that followed the counter-coup of the same year had as a dual cause the Igbo officers' coup and pre-existing (sectarian) tensions between the Igbos and the local Muslims. This was a major factor in the Biafran secession and the resulting civil war.
The 1980s saw an upsurge in violence due to death of Mohammed Marwa ("Maitatsine") (see below). In the same decade the erstwhile military ruler of Nigeria, General Ibrahim Babangida enrolled Nigeria in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. This was a move which aggravated religious tensions in the country, particularly among the Christian community. In response, some in the Muslim community pointed out that certain other African member states have smaller proportions of Muslims, as well as Nigeria's diplomatic relations with the Holy See.
Since the return of democracy to Nigeria in 1999, Sharia has been instituted as a main body of civil and criminal law in 9 Muslim-majority and in some parts of 3 Muslim-plurality states, when then-Zamfara State governor Ahmad Rufai Sani began the push for the institution of Sharia at the state level of government.
In the 1980s, serious outbreaks between Christians and Muslims occurred in Kafanchan in southern Kaduna State in a border area between the two religions, propagated by extreme leaders who were able to rally a young, educated group of individuals who were feared that the nation would not be able to protect their religious group. The leaders were able to polarize their followers through speeches and public demonstrations.
The activities of some of these sects has in recent times led to the loss of lives and properties as they move about destroying government facilities which they see as legacies or replica of western cultures in their various communities. These religious campaigns has seen an increase in gun battles between the members of these sects and security forces with loss of lives witnessed on both sides. Although direct conflicts between Christians and Muslims were rare, tensions did flare between the two groups as each group radicalised. There were clashes in October 1982 when Muslim zealots in Kano were able to enforce their power in order to keep the Anglican House Church from expanding its size and power base. They saw it as a threat to the nearby Mosque, even though the Anglican House Church had been there forty years prior to the building of the Mosque. Additionally, there were two student groups in Nigeria who came into contestation, the Fellowship of Christian Students and the Muslim Student Society. In one instance there was an evangelical campaign organised by the FCS and brought into question why one sect should dominate the campus of the Kafanchan college of education. This quarrel accelerated to the point where the Muslim students organised protests around the city and culminated in the burning of a Mosque at the college. The Christian majority at the college retaliated on March 9. Twelve people died, several Mosques were burnt and a climate of fear was created. The retaliation was pre-planned.
Exploitation of the media used to propagate the ideas of the conflict, thereby radicalising each force even more. Media was biased on each side so while places like the Federal Radio Corporation discussed the idea of defending Islam during this brief moment of terror, it did not report the deaths and damage caused by Muslims, galvanising the Muslim population. Similarly, the Christian papers did not report the damage and deaths caused by Christians but rather focused on the Islamic terror. Other individuals leading these religious movements use the media to spread messages which gradually became more intolerant of other religions, and because of these religious divisions radical Islam continues to be a problem in Nigeria today.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a major Islamic uprising led by Maitatsine and his followers, Yan Tatsine that led to several thousand deaths. After Maitatsine's death in 1980, the movement continued some five years more.
Since the restoration of democracy in 1999, Christian governments have dominated the country at the federal level, while the Muslim-dominated Northern Nigerian states have implemented strict Sharia law. Religious conflict between Muslims and Christians has erupted several times since 2000 for various reasons, often causing riots with several thousands of victims on both sides. Since 2009, the Islamist movement Boko Haram has fought an armed rebellion against the Nigerian military, sacking villages and towns and taking thousands of lives in battles and massacres against Christians, students and others deemed enemies of Islam.
The events of Abuja in 2000 and Jos in 2001 were riots between Christians and Muslims in Jos, Nigeria about the appointment of a Muslim politician, Alhaji Muktar Mohammed, as local coordinator of the federal programme to fight poverty. Another such riot killed over 100 people in October 2001 in Kano State.
In 2002, the Nigerian journalist Isioma Daniel wrote an article that led to the demonstrations and violence that caused the deaths of over 200 in Kaduna, as well as a fatwa placed on her life. The 2002 Miss World contest was moved from Abuja to London as a result. The rest of the 2000s decade would see inter-religious violence continue in Jos and Kaduna.
The reaction to the Mohammed cartoons brought about a series of violent protests in Nigeria. Clashes between rioters and police claimed several lives, with estimates ranging from 16 to more than a hundred. This led to reprisal attacks in the south of the country, particularly in Onitsha. More than a hundred lost their lives.
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