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Xenophobic violence in Nigeria

19 March 2010

There have been media reports about violence in Nigeria, which is usually presented as interreligious violence between Muslims and Christians. Some have been quick to pounce on this, and use it as evidence for their contention that religion is the cause of most, if not all the violence in the world. White racists gleefully parade these reports as evidence that black Africans are uncivilized, and that this sort of thing would never happen if they were ruled by whites (just don’t look at how many people have been killed by white violence in Iraq).

So kudos to the BBC for giving some useful background information to the recent events: BBC News – Nigeria violence in Jos: Q&A:

Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed in Nigeria’s Plateau State in clashes between Muslims and Christians. The latest violence is apparently revenge for similar clashes in January.

What is the fighting about?

More than 2,000 people have been killed in communal violence in Plateau State since 2001. They are usually reported as clashes between religious groups but the underlying issues are political and economic. Religious, ethnic, political and economic divisions in Plateau State overlap and reinforce each other.

Muslims are generally from the Hausa- or Fulani-speaking communities. They are often nomadic people who live from rearing animals or petty trade. In Plateau State, they are seen as supporters of the opposition All Nigeria People’s Party.

The mainly Christian Berom, Anaguta and Afisare groups have traditionally been farmers and generally back the People’s Democratic Party – which is currently in power at both state and national level. Some Christian farmers feel they are under threat, as Hausa-speaking Muslims come down from the north looking for pasture for their animals.

Nigerians objected that they were being portrayed as violent in the satirical science-fiction film District 9, though the film was satirising both violence and the portrayal. A couple of years ago there was a lot of xenophobic violence in South Africa, and some of the victims were Nigerians. The violence in Nigeria can also be seen as xenophobic, however, as the BBC web site points out — BBC News – Nigeria violence in Jos: Q&A:

The situation is exacerbated by Nigeria’s system of classifying its citizens as ‘indigenes’ and ‘settlers’.This system is nationwide but in Plateau State it perpetuates the local divisions.

The Hausa-speaking Muslims are classified as ‘settlers’ even if they have lived there for generations and have no knowledge of their ‘home’ region.

‘Settlers’ are banned from taking some positions in state government and the state does not pay for their education, meaning these groups feel discriminated against.

While some people may feel the only way they can change the situation is to use violence, the Christian groups in power may stop at nothing to to retain the advantages they enjoy.

Now that I didn’t know, and suddenly I feel I’ve been through this movie before. “Indigenes” and “Settlers”? Really? Can anyone remember “homelands”? And “influx control”? Those things that we abolished as relics of the hated apartheid system? And here I am learning that Nigeria has that system, countrywide! We abolished apartheid over 15 years ago, yet Nigeria still has it.

And the media bias is not absent, of course, as the BBC cannot resist getting in a sly little dig at Christians in the last sentence. The basic causes of the conflict are not religious, of course, but, well, we still have to remind people that they need to think that it is religious after all.

And we went through that movie before as well, in the 1990s, in the wars of the Yugoslav succession, which, we were told by the media, were all about religion. But let the white racists note that those were white people fighting in Yugoslavia.

But, sly media digs aside, wherever the violence is taking place — in Nigeria, Yugoslavia, Iraq, or South Africa — Christians are called to be peacemakers.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 19 March 2010 11:46 am

    I was talking to a Nigerian friend in church the other day about the recent violence in Jos and across the region. As you said he confirmed that is a very complex collection of causes and that just viewing it as a ‘religious’ issue is so wrong.

    And that reminds me that I still need to see District 9!

  2. tebza permalink
    20 March 2010 11:25 am

    They are such hypocrites this Nigerians, when the so called xenophobic violence took place in SA they were hauling all sorts of insults at South Africans. Now they are slaughtering each other over trivial issues and sudenly they are quite, more like chickens coming hope to roost, and we hope this does not trigger a further influx of all sorts of characters to SA. We get enough problems from a million of these ‘asylum seekers’ already.

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