Nigeria: Religion still a blindfold for violence

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The State of Jos in Nigeria has proven to be a hot spot for religious violence, for the umpteenth time. Christians and Muslims have failed to resolve their differences by civil means, or compete fairly within the capacity of diplomacy. Factions of Muslim and Christian militias have often taken up arms and gone amok over competition for resources, and for political power.

The past four days have claimed the lives of over 150 people in a repeated violence between Christian and Muslim gangs. The conflict broke out on Sunday and has continued since, with reports of gunfire, burning buildings and cars. Some 3,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.

In 2008, about 200 people were killed when Muslims and Christians clashed in the city of Jos. 1000 were killed in a similar clash in 2001. Contrary to what these religions claim to uphold in their innermost caucuses, the ideals of peace, tolerance and love is thrown to the dogs when competition for power and resources presents itself, especially in Jos, Nigeria.

Jos is split into a Christian south and a Muslim north; further divided by the classification of the people as indigenes and settlers. According to the historical records, Hausa-speaking Muslims have been living in Jos for many decades but are still classified as settlers, meaning it is difficult for them to stand for election.

According to Reuters the recent bout of violence was sparked by an argument over the rebuilding of homes destroyed in the 2008 clashes. Residents told IRIN the clashes followed a dispute over a Muslim resident’s reconstruction of his home that had been burned down in February 2008, in which according to Human Rights Watch 133 people died.

But some unconfirmed sources have said the cause of this recent clash was as trivial as football. Some experts however, blame the clashes on sectarianism, but poverty and access to resources such as land often play a strong role in analyzing this violence.

Nonetheless, the violence has spread beyond the city boundaries of Jos, to neighboring areas.

Head of the Central Mosque in Jos, told reporters that he had counted 192 bodies since Sunday: “On Sunday evening we buried 19 corpses, and 52 yesterday. As of right now, there are 78 at the mosque yet to be buried,” the Mosque leader was quoted on Tuesday.

A 24-hour curfew has been enforced in the area, which has seen several bouts of deadly violence in recent years. The death toll has not been confirmed and it is not known how many Christians have been killed.

The Red Cross estimates that 102 people were admitted to five hospitals in the city with gunshot wounds, while others with less severe injuries had been treated and discharged.

“We are not keen on issuing statistics at the moment because our preoccupation is in providing humanitarian assistance to the living that are in dire need of aid,” a Red Cross official said.

The Christians and Muslims in Jos are also divided along political party lines with Christians mostly backing the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and Muslims generally supporting the opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).

The incessant clashes have often been over resources and political power in Jos. In Nigeria, political office means access to resources, thus ethnicities, and religions have clashed over this right to loot.

The NRC is coordinating its response with the Nigerian government’s National Emergency Management Agency and has appealed to the International Committee of the Red Cross for support.

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