I am a Nigerian from Plateau State in the Middle Belt of Nigeria—a focus of Eliza Griswold’s piece, “God’s Country” (March Atlantic)—and my wife comes from Qua’an Pan Local Government Area, where Yelwa is situated. My wife’s grandmother had her house and a modest hotel in Yelwa burnt by arsonists during the events Ms. Griswold reports on.
Though the divisions between the Hausa-Fulani traders and the communities that mainly practiced subsistence agriculture have religious elements, I maintain that the problems between the groups are due to ethnic struggles for influence and power rather than religion. In many instances, Christian girls were ostracized for being “bought” by wealthy Hausa-Fulani Muslims. But in the Shendam and Qua’an Pan Local Government areas of Plateau State, many aborigines have peacefully and voluntarily converted to Islam. In fact, it is often easier for a Catholic girl to marry a Muslim than a Protestant. There is a very large Yoruba Muslim community in Jos, which settled there in colonial times to serve the tin-mining industry and to carry on trade. There has never been a clash between them and the people they have settled among.
The fundamental issue is a struggle for political dominance. Quite often, the flash point is a land dispute that rapidly consumes communities divided over identity. An example is the 1999 violence that engulfed the city of Jos and the surrounding areas dominated by the Berom ethnic group in response to perceived usurpations by Hausa-Fulani settlers. This was reprised in 2001 on an even larger scale between the same central protagonists, with other ethnic groups pitching in against the Muslim Hausa-Fulani. Jos is now divided de facto into “Christian” and “Muslim” neighborhoods, although Muslims who are not Hausa-Fulani feel secure staying in Christian areas.
Eliza Griswold replies:
I am grateful for James Bot’s thoughtful reflection, and for his reminder that it is religious identity, rather than religion itself, that has become a dominant factor in conflicts over land, resources, and politics in contemporary Nigeria. Identity is a matter of how we imagine ourselves and why. This is about power, not faith.
The paper “Women’s Increasing Wage Penalties From Being Overweight and Obese” (Primary Sources, March Atlantic) should not have been identified as a Bureau of Labor Statistics paper. It was selected as a Bureau of Labor Statistics Working Paper because it cited data from the BLS, but its author is not an employee of the BLS. We regret the error.