While it captures only episodic media attention, NGO personnel and others report ongoing ethnic and religious violence in the Middle Belt state of Plateau in the center of Nigeria, especially around the state capital, Jos. However, the murder of at least thirty Christians over Christmas in Jos, and the likely unrelated church attacks with loss of life in Maiduguri in Borno state in the far north, will once again focus international media attention on religious and ethnic bloodshed in Nigeria, not the least because the violence has been denounced by the Pope.
In Plateau state, Muslims and Christians are each about half of the population, and religious, ethnic and economic boundaries and rivalries frequently coincide, making the state particularly volatile. Maiduguri, unlike Jos, is an ancient center of sub-Saharan Islam and is overwhelmingly Muslim. It is also a center of radical Islamic sects, notably Boko Haram, which stage periodic bloody uprisings against state authority, and has experienced anti-Christian pogroms.
Election periods in Nigeria are often the occasion for violence. As of now, there is insufficient evidence to link the upsurge of religious and ethnic violence in Jos and Maiduguri to the upcoming April 2011 presidential elections. Nevertheless, there is anecdotal evidence that rival candidates are appealing for support on the basis of shared ethnic and religious identities that is likely to foment tension. The fact that the elites in the Middle Belt and the North are apparently divided over the upcoming elections may also encourage an upsurge of local, non-elite bloodshed and score-settling.
(Photo: Tony Gentile/courtesy Reuters)