Why Hundreds Were Killed in Nigeria

Over resources, or religion?

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Over the weekend, hundreds were hacked to death in Nigeria, near Jos. The attack is being classified in the media as "ethnic violence"--the victims were mainly Christian and of a single ethnic group, and the attackers were Muslim herders. Already, though, debate has erupted about the true cause of the violence. Some angrily accuse the media of reluctance to acknowledge the religious basis of the conflict. Others, including journalists with a background in the region, say religion is merely a superficial factor in a struggle that is actually about resources.

About Religion

  • 'I Would Call This a Jihadi Pogrom' writes The Spectator's Melanie Phillips, who objects to international media using the word "riots." While the event is seen as retaliation for an attack on Muslims back in January, she argues that that attack in turn was "Christian retaliation against Muslim aggression--in particular on that occasion an attack on a church--which has been going on for years." A blogger at The Jawa Report feels similarly, calling the notion that the attacks were not religiously motivated "propaganda."
  • 'We Need to Make It Stop'  Seeing these as "eye for an eye" religious killings, Paul Shepard at BlackVoices says "black-on-black violence worldwide needs to stop."
  • 'Why Secularism Matters'  Dave Osler at Liberal Conspiracy realizes there are other forces at work, but says "at the very least, religion is once again seen to be perpetuating divisions that would be sooner healed without its baleful influence complicating the Nigerian political process." The attack is also a powerful refutation of those calling "secular fundamentalists ... the new totalitarians":
The victims were Christians, those who hacked them to pieces with machetes were Muslims, and it’s a safe bet that none of them had even heard of Richard Dawkins.

Not Just About Religion

  • Local Politicans Would Have You Believe this Religious  "In fact," argues the BBC's Caroline Duffield from Lagos, "it is a struggle between ethnic groups for fertile land and resources in the region known as Nigeria's Middle Belt."
  • Resource Scarcity, Poor Government  Religion is a factor, says the Guardian's Peter Cunliffe-Jones, a former AFP bureau chief in West Africa--but religion is not the main factor. The real cause, he agrees, is "the struggle for resources," and "the reason these conflicts turn deadly in Nigeria" is not religion but "poor government: one that fails to send in troops early enough to quell trouble when it flares and never jails those responsible when it is over."
  • A Complex Conflict  In a March 2008 story for the Atlantic, Eliza Griswold gives a lengthy analysis of the longstanding tension between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. She notes that resources play a large role in fueling competition and conflict. She also explores the importance of religion in a country where riches and resources are scarce, and those that can be obtained remain insecure due to disorder. One example she describes is the Pentecostal movement, which combines Christianity with a gospel of wealth. She quotes Archbishop Josiah Idowu Fearon, Anglican bishop of Kaduna: "we all know that, scratch the surface and it’s got nothing to do with religion. It's power."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.