Eye for an Eye for an Eye

Are Nigeria's deadly religious riots really about religion?

Nigeria's Muslims over the weekend celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Sokoto Caliphate, sub-Sahara's largest Islamic empire. But for many Nigerians, the memories of religious war are weeks, not centuries, old.

Saying that vengeance is theirs, Christian militiamen in Nigeria last month attacked Muslims in central Yelwa, Nigeria. The Plateau State government puts the death toll in the May 2 attack at 65. Media reports, however, claim about 350 deaths occurred.

Later in May, Nigeria's Christian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, declared a state of emergency in Yelwa, sacking the governor and dissolving the legislature. Before he was deposed, Governor Joshua Dariye linked the mayhem to the killing of Christians in Yelwa in February. Eight pastors and hundreds of Christians have died in attacks by Muslims in recent months.

On May 11, Muslim mobs in the northern city of Kano trapped Christians in their homes, setting some on fire. Police said 30 people died and another 300 were injured. Thousands were displaced from their homes. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) now claims that 3,000 Christians have died in the recent violence.

While estimates cannot always be verified, more than 10,000 have died in Christian- Muslim violence nationwide since 1999. Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the Anglican archbishop of Kaduna, said northern Nigeria has been embroiled in religious conflicts for more than 15 years.

Others blame land disputes. "Farmers and herders are divided along ethnic as well as religious lines," The New York Times explained last week. "The farmers call themselves natives of the land, and they are overwhelmingly Christian. The herders are ethnic Fulani who range across the region in search of pasture for their herds, and they are ...

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Eye for an Eye for an Eye
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July 2004

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