from Africa in Transition

Nigeria: Religious Violence in Jos

August 31, 2011

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Sub-Saharan Africa


Wars and Conflict

A signboard welcoming visitors is seen at the main entrance of Nigeria's central city of Jos. (Joseph Penney/Courtesy Reuters)

On August 28 in Jos there was a new outbreak of violence, ostensibly between Muslims and Christians. The Nigerian press reports that members of the Muslim Izala sect were walking to a prayer ground to celebrate the Eid el-Fitir Sallah. On the way, they were challenged by a Christian mob who accused Muslims of spoiling their Christmas last year by bombing their homes. Estimates are that at least ten persons from both sides were killed before the military restored order.

International attention with respect to Nigeria at present is focused on Boko Haram, a radical Islamic movement that may be responsible for the suicide bombing of the UN Nigeria headquarters building in Abuja on August 26. Though Boko Haram and Izala both look to the establishment of a pure Islamic state based on Sharia, I doubt that the latest episode in Jos has anything to do with the former. The latest episode in Jos appears to be part of a local cycle of revenge killings that is, indeed, acquiring an increased religious coloration, but is likely unrelated to the UN building bombing in Abuja or Boko Haram instigated violence.

In Plateau state, of which Jos is the capital, religious, ethnic and economic boundaries tend to coincide. Violence, usually attributed to ethnicity and religion though often rooted in disputes over water or land use, has marred Jos and its environs for several years. Religious and ethnic communities are increasingly segregated with the practice of “ethnic cleansing” on both sides in formerly mixed areas. Trust between the two major religious and ethnic groups appears to have broken down almost entirely. Our Security Tracker estimates that between May 30 and August 30 thirty-seven to forty-seven people have been killed in the community. This may be an under-estimate: an NGO representative has said to me that official casualty estimates should be multiplied by five.