Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What really caused the February riots in Nigeria?

Much has been said elsewhere and on this blog (here, here, here, here, and here) about the causes and conditions leading to the riots of late February that took over 100 lives.

The two leading theories are that (1) the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet set off the riots in the Muslim North, followed by retaliatory violence in the Christian South, or (2) blame is laid at the feet of what could in some sense be called non-religious, political friction between Northern and Southern interests -- explicitly, the friction over the 3rd-term agenda of Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The former -- that the riots were caused by religious tensions -- was the media favorite, stoked by a press release by Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola saying, "may we at this stage remind our Muslim brothers that they do not have the monopoly of violence in this nation" and that the "[Christian Association of Nigeria] may no longer be able to contain our restive youths should this ugly trend continue." Akinola's press statement brought requests from various foreign volunteer groups operating in Nigeria that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, censure Akinola for stoking the Christian-on-Muslim "retaliatory" violence in the southeastern city of Onitsha that followed his statement. Akinola was not censured (in fact, Williams appears to have defended Akinola in an interview the Guardian of London), and he later called for a 2-day period of national mourning, which conspicuously left out any mention of the deaths of Muslims at the hands of Christians which followed his statement.

An odd and sordid tale, to be sure, but it is not all that it appears to be.

According to The Financial Times, as reported yesterday, pro-3rd-term interests submitted constitutional revisions to the Nigerian Senate that would make a 3rd term for President Obasanjo constitutionally permissible (currently, a 3rd term would violate Sections 135 and 137 of their constitution):

The pro-third-term camp argues that the president needs an extra term to consolidate anti-corruptoin and free market reforms.

There are fears that widespread opposition to the third-term bid, particularly from Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, could spark a fresh round of political unrest in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and its largest oil producer. The Vice-President recently announced that he would stand in the 2007 polls and has complained his supporters have been purged from the the ruling People’s Democratic Party leadership by Obasanjo.

Earlier this year, hearings by the committee drawing up the amendments sparked riots in northern Nigeria, contributing to a wave of tit-for-tat violence in which 130 people died.


There had been plenty of hearings on constitutional amendments before and after the riots -- this is the first I have heard that the riots were sparked by anger over Obasanjo's now declared 3rd-term agenda.

On February 24 (the last day of the rioting in the southern, predominantly Christian city of Onitsha), the Financial Times reported (LexisNexis) the following [emphasis mine]:
The violence has occurred at a time of heightened political tensions in Nigeria, whose population of130m people is roughly divided equally between Christians and Muslims, as it heads towards elections next year.

The violence has increased fears of reprisal killings across many of Nigeria's 36 states, where local politicians are jostling for prominence ahead of the poll.

Tension was already high following protests over Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

But many northerners are also angry that President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian southerner, has not dispelled rumours that he will try to run for a third term. He is due to step down next year.

Constitutional hearings began on Wednesday [Feb 22, the day after Akinola's press release] that could result in Mr Obasanjo pursuing another term. The hearings have already led to protests. The violence has coincided with increasing instability in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger delta.
It's particularly odd that, despite the obvious unease among Nigerian Muslims over Obasanjo's bid for a 3rd term, Akinola does not mention it in his press release during the violence, nor does he mention it in his call for a 2-day period of national mourning. In fact, both explicitly blame the entire incident on the Danish cartoons. In the press release, Akinola says:
That an incident in far away Denmark which does not claim to be representing Christianity could elicit such an unfortunate reaction here in Nigeria, leading to the destruction of Christian Churches, is not only embarrassing, but also disturbing and unfortunate.

It is no longer a hidden fact that a long standing agenda to make this Nigeria an Islamic nation is being surreptitiously pursued. The willingness of Muslim Youth to descend with violence on the innocent Christians from time to time is from all intents and purposes a design to actualize their dream.

And in his call for mourning -- as I mentioned before -- he makes no mention of the violence in the south:
We have watched with sadness and utter dismay the recent crises in some States in Northern part of this country where many Christians were ruthlessly killed, and Churches and other property wantonly destroyed by some criminals – murderers and arsonists hiding under the guise of religion.
And let's not forget the Archbishop's only public statement on a 3rd term. I think it's time we begin to treat the Anglican Primate of Nigeria, Archbishop Akinola, as just another establishment figure.


Göran Koch-Swahne said...


Jim Naughton said...

And don't forget, Akinola and a travelling party left the country during the two days of mourning to meet with conservatives in the Episcopal Church.