Nigerians have reacted to Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s call on the Nigerian state to split on religions lines following the conflicts between Christians and Muslims in the middlebelt city of Jos that began in 2001. The Libyan leader blamed the problem on the British and cited India and Pakistan as an example of a religious split that has saved many lives.
“Splitting Nigeria would stop the bloodshed and burning of places of worship,” Col. Gaddafi was quoted by state news agency Jana as saying. But many, mostly inter-mingled Nigerians, feel the Libyan leader is seeking to spread the religious strife that has only affected a few areas of the country’s middlebelt, including Jos, Bauchi and Jigawa, to a national level.
Although recent clashes [[There have been deadly riots in 2001, 2008 and 2010]] have tended to tarnish Nigeria’s rich history of ethno-religious amity, despite the country being roughly split between its largely Muslim north and a Christian-dominated south, the co-habitation of the two monolithic and mutually hostile groups has been commendable. Nigeria also counts 250 ethnic groups and some 500 living languages.
In the volatile city of Jos where almost all the recent clashes have occurred
[[Since January, hundreds of people have died in communal violence in villages around the central Nigerian city of Jos]], most of the people considered to be indigenous are Berom Christians, while those regarded settlers are mostly Hausa Muslims. The Christians believe Hausa Muslim settlers seek to seize political control and impose Sharia law. They fear an extremist Islamist agenda and jihad. On the other hand, the Muslims believe the Plateau State government wishes to drive them out of certain areas.
However, the violence in Nigeria between Muslim and Christian communities has been reportedly fueled by political, social and economic grievances with the Muslim and Christian communities divided along party lines — Christians mostly back the ruling PDP; Muslims generally support the opposition ANPP. Nigeria’s military has also come under fire for their role in perpetuating the violence. It is widely believed that a political solution is needed to deal with what is considered a systemic fissure.
The sphere of violence, the appearance of vigilante groups and organized militia, the suspicion of the military within the Christian community and the lack of a political framework for talks, blur any view of an end to this ideological conflict.
And Col Gaddafi’s characterization of the intermittent religious violence suffered in the country as a deep conflict of religious nature caused by the federal state, “which was made and imposed by the British in spite of the people’s resistance to it,” has been branded as extreme and irrational by some analysts.
The Punch, a Nigerian daily, has quoted a prominent figure of The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, as saying “We believe in one Nigeria and not the division of the country… there are strong Christians in northern Nigeria… The solution to the bloodletting will come when we learn to respect the rights of everyone to freedom of worship.” A former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Prince Bola Ajibola, has also said that “Gaddafi is wrong. The problem in the North and particularly in Jos is not intrinsically caused by religion.”
According to Gaddafi, the partition of India (India-Pakistan) is a historic, radical solution which saved the lives of millions of Hindus and Muslims. This comes in the backdrop of historical evidence which shows that the Indian split in 1947 ushered in a total breakdown of law and order that claimed at least 200,000 to one million lives, and displaced over 12 million people, while an endeavor by the Igbo people of south-eastern Nigeria to break away in 1967 sparked a civil war which cost more than one million lives.
The outspoken and controversial leader as seen by many is not a novice in proffering irrational solutions to national issues. Last year, he called for Switzerland to be abolished and for its land to be divided between Italy, Germany and France. He also recently called for a jihad against Switzerland, among others.