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The Real Tragedy in Nigeria's Violence

Author: Jean Herskovits
August 3, 2009

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Jean Herskovits warns not to look at the recent spate of violence in Nigeria through the lens of radical Islam, but rather as a reaction to the rampant corruption and lack of governance in the country.

Nigeria's latest spate of violence--which began with attacks on police stations in four northern states--is not what it seems. Superficially, the story looks similar to (though it was not connected with) outbreaks of Islamist fanaticism elsewhere in the world: An Islamist sect run amok, threatening a town's security, demanding an end to Western institutions, and seeking to impose a strict religious code. But instead, the clashes are a northern Nigerian version of what is happening in another (mostly Christian) region of the country, the Niger Delta. Both are violent reactions to the flagrant lack of concern on the part of those who govern for the welfare of the governed.

Ten years of supposed democracy have yielded mounting poverty and deprivation of every kind in Nigeria. Young people, undereducated by a collapsed educational system, may "graduate," but only into joblessness. Lives decline, frustration grows, and angry young men are too easily persuaded to pick up readily accessible guns in protest when something sparks their rage. Meanwhile, those in power at all levels ignore the business of governing and instead enrich themselves. Law and order deteriorate. The Nigerian police, which are federal, are called on, but they have grievances of their own. Ill-trained, ill-paid, and housed in squalid barracks, they are feared for their indiscriminate use of force. The military, though more professional, is not prepared for dealing with unrest--and unrest has proliferated more and more.

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