Cause of Nigerian conflict still in question

On Sunday, an ongoing conflict between Muslim and Christian ethnic groups in Nigeria made international news when 500 people, many of whom were Christian women and children, were brutally murdered near the city of Jos.

Jos is the capital of Plateau State, a state in Nigeria that holds the title of “The Home of Peace and Tourism,” and serves as a dividing line between the Muslim north and Christian south, according to the BBC.

According to The New York Times, at about 4 a.m. on March 7, assailants armed with machetes raided three villages, massacred women and children in their homes and then slaughtered men who tried to flee.

There seem to be numerous factors contributing to this progressing pattern of animosity, anger and destructiveness around Jos. It’s difficult to distinguish which problems are actually causing the violence, as opposed to those that promote disagreement between the two groups but aren’t directly related to the serious conflict.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Nigerian government continues to implement policies that make a crippling distinction between its citizens, forcing its major ethnic groups to remain divided. Muslim groups are classified as “settlers,” even if they have lived in Nigeria for decades, whereas Christian groups are called, “indigenes,” according to the BBC. The two groups support opposing political parties and “settlers” have a difficult time running for elections.

This practice has had devastating consequences for the people in Nigeria, and while the elimination of this distinction would definitely have an excellent long-term effect, it’s not clear whether it would promote peace any time soon.

As is the case with many countries in Africa, Nigeria also suffers from a shortage of land and resources. This has undoubtedly increased the tension between the two groups, as each of them has different ideas about how the land and resources should be used, according to the BBC.

What appears to be another obvious motivating factor is the religious divide facing the two groups.

Yet, Benjamin Kwashi, the Anglican Archbishop of Jos, disagrees with this presumption.

“What seems to be a recurring decimal is that over time, those who have in the past used violence to settle political issues … or any issue for that matter, now continue to use that same path of violence and cover it up with religion,” Kwashi wrote in a Christianity Today column in January.

But survivors of the recent onslaught told The Times that some of the attackers were chanting “Allahu Ackbar,” which appears to discredit the claim that religion is only being made an issue to “cover up” what the real reasons are for the violence. It’s not clear how significant of a role the religious differences between the groups play in the ongoing conflict, but it’s clear that there is a religious component.

Jos is going to remain a city embedded in turmoil until the problems facing Nigerians are completely and accurately identified. I hope the problems facing this country will attract more attention and perhaps peace will finally be able to emerge from the horizon.

Reach Austin at acyost@asu.edu


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