Christian-Muslim identity tags in Nigerian struggle for land

March 11, 2010
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A funeral of victims in Dogo Nahawa village near Jos in central Nigeria, March 8, 2010/Akintunde Akinleye

Bloody clashes between Christian and Muslim gangs in Nigeria have led to media headlines¬†about “religious violence” that leave readers wondering just what role faith plays in this conflict. As our copy from Nigeria points out, the terms Christian, Muslim and animist are often used to identify the groups in this conflict, but they are¬†not fighting over the divine nature of Jesus, prophethood of Mohammad or sacredness of a tree or rock. They are mostly struggling for land in the fertile central region of the country.

Nigeria has more than 250 ethnic groups and several different languages, but its population is divided almost equally between Muslims and Christians.

Here’s an excerpt from our latest assessment of political risks facing Nigeria:

ETHNIC OR RELIGIOUS UNREST

Clashes between Christian and Muslim gangs in central Nigeria, the country’s main ethnic and religious fault line, have killed hundreds of people since the start of the year.

The violence is rooted in decades of resentment between Christian villagers and Muslim settlers from the north, who compete fiercely for control of fertile farmlands as well as economic and political power.

But the region is seen as a microcosm of the wider country, highlighting how sensitive it is to shifts in the balance of power between its main ethnic and religious groups.

The government has come under criticism for failing to address the root causes of the unrest — poverty and discrimination — and for failing to prevent violence from continuing despite the deployment of the military in January.

What to watch:

  • Further outbreaks of violence. Many Nigerians believe that such clashes are engineered by politicians. The last thing Acting President Goodluck Jonathan needs as he steers government through a difficult period is major bloodshed at the heart of the nation.
  • Increased use of the military. As much as three-quarters of the rank-and-file in the Nigerian army are from the “Middle Belt”, the border region between the Muslim north and the Christian south, and deployments in the region are highly sensitive, with the potential to expose internal divisions in the military.
Burial of victims Dogo Nahawa village near Jos in central Nigeria, March 8, 2010/Akintunde Akinleye

Burial of victims Dogo Nahawa village near Jos in central Nigeria, March 8, 2010/Akintunde Akinleye

Among our latest reports from Nigeria are:

Retaliation fears stalk Nigeria city after clashes

Nigeria urged to end impunity after village massacre

Villagers bury their dead after Nigeria clashes

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