August 8, 2009

Ethno-religious crisis: The north and the rest of Nigeria

By Umar Yusuf

Yola – IT is estimated that over one hundred thousand Nigerians    have lost their lives in ethno-religious crisis that have engulfed the country since the enthronement of democracy in 1979. The number of those injured triples the dead, while those displaced are put at millions.

The Maitatsine crisis in Kano in the early 80’s masterminded by late Mohammadu Marwa claimed the lives of thousands of Nigerians both Christians and Muslims and from different parts of the country and even beyond her shores. My friend and colleague, late Tunde Amao of the defunct Daily Times, was shot in the chest with the poisonous arrow of the Maitatsine group close to their enclave while he was attempting to capture the latest of the uprising. All these are now history.

Not quite five years after the Maitatsine riot which was purely religious, another uprising enveloped the ancient city of Kano, precisely in 1985 or thereafter.

*Victims of the Boko Haram crisis

*Victims of the Boko Haram crisis

This time around it was the Akaluka riot. Akaluka, who hailed from the Eastern part of the country, was then accused of toying with the Holy Qu’ran, either in his business place or residence. The Muslims around him felt slighted and demanded for his death. The suspect was arrested and thrown straight into prison to allow nerves to cool down. While in custody, Muslim fanatics broke into the prison, over powered the guards and Akaluka was gruesomely murdered.

Not satisfied with his death, the fanatics took to the streets attacking non Muslims and hoodlums took over burning and looting business places perceived to be owned by non Muslims.  The number of the dead was uncountable even as the loss in terms of property was unquantifiable.  This time around, the Kano riot was greeted by reappraisal attacks across the country, especially in Christian dominated states.

And in the late 80s, one of the ugliest religious crisis engulfed Kano and its environs. It was then the Reinhard Bonke uprising. This time around, places of worship on both the side as Muslims and Christians were wantonly destroyed, many lives were lost, business places burnt or looted and complete anarchy loomed in the entire North and Kano in particular. This time around again there were repraisal attacks in the South-East, South-South, parts of North Central and the South West.

While peace has been restored in Kano, Kaduna and Plateau is in the process of following suit, its immediate neighbour Bauchi State has joined the league of religious melting points in the country.

Even when religious riots were rampant in Kano and Kaduna, there were strong indications then that Bauchi is another hot spot for religious intolerance going by the mood of fanatical behaviour of both Muslims and Christians. Bauchi erupted penultimate Sunday, July 26, 2009 with a religious crisis tagged “Boko Haram” meaning Westernization is a sin.

Even before the Boko Haram crisis, Bauchi State has witnessed scores of religious crisis, but was easily put under control by security agents before they assumed national calamity. Boko Haram, al Sunnah Wal Jamma translated as Western education is forbidden and followers of Muhammed (peace be upon him) teachings was founded in 2002 in Maiduguri Borno State. The group has branches in almost all the northern states and neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad, and northern Cameroun among others.

Now that the Boko Haram has been quelled and put under control, security agent are still keeping vigil in the states effected, of what benefit is it to the master minders of the uprising?  Their clamour for all round sharia system of government is not realizable even in the North.

Or is it the number of the deaths that is the benefit of the riot? While people are still recovering from the shocks of the Boko Haram skirmishes, analysts have continued to ask what has been responsible to series of ethno-religious crisis in Nigeria, especially in the northern states, even as previous commissions of inquiry set-up to unravel circumstances behind such crisis have not come-up with clear-cut statements or reasons behind such mayhem.

Poverty, ignorance, injustice, politics, over zealous religious leaders and fanaticism are some of the reasons adduced by analysts to be responsible for the spate of civil disturbances that have continued to rear its ugly head across the northern states. Religious leaders of both Muslims and Christians hold sway to the array of riots that have continued to bedevil this most populous Black nation on earth for their inability to control their congregations when it comes to religious sentiment and other volatile issues regarding religion.

Extra judicial killings

The charge from Human Rights Watch
After the Jos, 2008 disturbances, Human Rights Watch carried out an investigation and it came out charging the Police of extra-judicial killings.  Here is a summary of that report.

ON November 28-29, 2008, deadly clashes between Muslim and Christian mobs and the excessive use of force by security forces left hundreds dead in Jos, Plateau State. Muslim and Christian authorities have collectively documented the deaths of more than 700 people in the two days of violence.

In responding to the inter-communal violence, the Nigerian police and military were implicated in more than 130 arbitrary killings, mostly of young Muslim men from the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group. Human Rights Watch documented 133 of these killings but believes that the actual number of arbitrary killings by security forces may be substantially higher than these figures.

While most of the inter-communal violence took place on November 28, the vast majority of the killings by the police and military came on November 29, the same day that Plateau State governor, Jonah Jang issued a “shoot-on-sight” order to security forces.

Human Rights Watch researchers documented 15 separate incidents of arbitrary killings by the police during which at least 74 men and boys, all but two of them Muslims, were killed.

The vast majority of police killings were perpetrated by the anti-riot Police Mobile Force, commonly referred to as the MOPOLs. Human Rights Watch also documented eight incidents involving the arbitrary killing of 59 men by the military. According to witnesses, all of these victims were Muslim men, most were young, and nearly all were unarmed at the time they were killed.

Extensive research
In December 2008 and February 2009, Human Rights Watch carried out 18 days of on-the-ground research in Jos. Human Rights Watch researchers conducted 151 interviews with Muslim and Christian witnesses, victims, and perpetrators of the violence, human rights activists, religious leaders, local and international journalists, businessmen, Red Cross officials, lawyers, police and military authorities, Plateau State government officials, members of political parties, and electoral officials. Human Rights Watch has in addition conducted extensive research into government discrimination against “non-indigenes” in Nigeria and the causes and context of violence in Plateau State, including the major outbreaks of sectarian violence in Jos in 2001 and Yelwa in 2004.

Human Rights Watch urges these investigative bodies to investigate the allegations of widespread killings by security forces as well as the circumstances surrounding, and consequences of, Governor Jang’s shoot-on-sight order. These investigative bodies should ensure that their findings are made public and call on government authorities to prosecute without delay those responsible for the killings and destruction of property, irrespective of which side of the conflict they are on.

Human Rights Watch further urges these investigative bodies to call on the federal government to address the root causes of the violence, including passing nationwide legislation banning all forms of discrimination against “non-indigenes” with respect to any matter not directly related to traditional leadership institutions or other purely cultural matters.