Religiously motivated violence
Nigeria: Year 2000 to now
Nigeria is approximately 50% Muslim and 40% Christian. The remaining 10% follow Aboriginal and other faiths. Muslims are
concentrated in the northern part of the country; Christians and Aboriginals form the majority in the south.
Many different traditions of Islam coexist in Nigeria. These include the
Qadriyya, Tijaniyya, Tariqa, Malikiya, Ahmadiya, Islamiya, Da?awa, Shiits
and Ixala. There are also many Christian denominations present: the Anglican
communion, Roman Catholicism, many Pentecostal and other Protestant
The 120 million people of Nigeria are divided among about 250 different
ethnic groups. Dan Isaacs of BBC News wrote:
"The broad characterization of a Muslim Hausa-speaking north, and a
Christian south made up of two dominant tribes - the Yoruba in the south-west
and the Ibo in the south-east - is a vast over-simplification. In some
states across central Nigeria, for example, it is possible to drive down a
road, stopping at each tiny settlement, encountering a different language
spoken in every single one. And to further complicate this ethnic mix,
over the decades and even centuries, people have moved around what is now
modern day Nigeria."
The country had been ruled by a military
dictatorship until 1999-MAY, when Olusegun Obasajno became the country's
first democratically elected leader in two decades. Certain military
leaders and their supporters have become disgruntled. These elements may
be at least partly responsible for ethnic and religious violence which has
plagued the country since democracy was established.
Even though Section
10 of the federal constitution requires that Nigeria remain a secular country, the
state of Xamfara adopted Sharia (Muslim law) in 1999-OCT. Seven additional states
then started the process of adopting Sharia; these were Bauchi, Niger, Kaduna, Kano, Kebbi, Sokoto, and
Yobe. By 2004, 11 states had passed laws adopting at least some parts of the
Shari'a criminal code. All are in the northern section of the country.
Some of the
practical effects of Sharia are that it:
||prohibits the consumption of alcohol,
||allows caning, amputation of limbs, and beheading as punishment for certain crimes,
girls and boys to be educated separately,
||requires separate public
transportation for men and women.
2000: Riots in Kaduna state:
Riots broke out on 2000-FEB-21. The conflict appears to be
motivated by three factors:
||Christians and Muslims are almost equal in number in the state.
||There are tribal divisions which mirror the religious differences.
Some groups fear and oppose the new democratically elected
Muslims had completed several days of joyous demonstrations in favor of
Sharia. Later, Christian demonstrators had completed a peaceful
demonstration at the Kaduna government house, in which they protested the
imposition of Sharia. But when the Christians were returning home, they
were stopped at a barricade installed by some Muslim youths. A fight broke
out which expanded to a full scale riot. Churches, mosques and commercial
establishments were incinerated. The army and police were able to restore
order. But killings continued at a slower pace. By 2000- FEB-24, 50 deaths
reported; the estimate appears to have been low. 1
The supreme head of Muslims in Nigeria, the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu
Maccido, issued a statement on FEB-21 warning that violence could
spread elsewhere in the country. He said that the incident was "a
dangerous and a very serious threat to peace and unity of this great
Although the imposition of Sharia violates the secular, national
constitution, there was initially no move by the national government to
overrule its implementation. The conservative Christian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, said that he expected that "the issue
will die off soon." Human Rights Law Service, a
leading human rights group, filed a lawsuit
to stop the implementation of Sharia in Zamfara. A second suit has
been filed in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria.
Year 2000: Subsequent developments:
2000-FEB-26: The Zenit news service reported that the death toll in Kaduna in
Northern Nigeria had reached 400. ENI reported on MAR-1 that "many
mosques and at least 36 churches were destroyed, and more than 200,000
people were forced to flee" from Kaduna. 2 Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo
denounced the application of "Sharia" as unconstitutional.
2000-FEB-28: Newsroom reported that riots in
Nigeria has spread to Onitsha, Aba, and Owerri, all towns in southeastern
Nigeria. At least 30 deaths were reported there. Bishop Mike Okonkwo, president of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria
the loss of life on "discredited military apologists operating
under religious cover." He asked that the national government
appoint a commission to determine the cause of the riots. He said that
"By identifying these unpatriotic elements within the ranks of
politicians, military apologists, and religious charlatans, the government
would be able to nip subsequent orgies of violence in the bud."
2000-FEB-29: Archbishop John Onaiyekan, vice president of the the Catholic
Bishops Conference of Nigeria issued an eight-paragraph statement
which linked the Kaduna riot to the spread of Sharia. He stated: "It
is the duty of government to ensure law and order, not only by arresting
disorder, but above all by taking steps in time to prevent it breaking out.
It is our strong conviction that the present tragedy could have been
avoided if government had heeded our warning as contained in our memo to
it as early as October 1999. Even now, it is not yet too late for [the]
government to take vigorous action to halt this mad rush to national
2000-FEB-29: Nigeria's National Council of States
voted to suspend the adoption of Islamic law (Sharia) in northern
Nigeria. The council is composed of President Olusegun Obasanjo and
the governors of all of Nigeria's 36 states; all were present for the
meeting. Nigeria's Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a Muslim, stated that:
"To restore normalcy and to create confidence among all
communities, the Council of State decided that as far as Sharia is
concerned the nation will return to status quo."
2000-MAR-1: President Obasanjo called for reconciliation between Christians and
Muslims. He called the action by the National Council of States
"a triumph of maturity and sustenance of security of the nation
and preservation of our corporate existence." He said that "There
can be no winners in the destruction...All Nigerians are losers. And in
peace and cessation of destruction all Nigerians are winners...Let us move
forward to enjoy the fundamental rights enshrined in our constitution and
to develop our country politically, economically, and socially. Let our
motto be reconciliation for development."
leaders in the northern Zamfara and Kano states deny that an agreement was
made at the meeting to suspend Sharia. Zamfara Governor Sani Ahmed said:
"The Federal government cannot suspend the implementation of
Sharia in any state, because it has no constitutional powers to do so...All
we agreed at the meeting was that we should all go back to our various
states and meet with Christian leaders and other non-Muslims and see how
we could find solution to the raging crisis over the adoption of Sharia."
State officials from Kano announced on MAR-1 that they had signed Sharia
into law. Governor Abdulahi Kure of Niger state returned from the meeting,
telling his constituents that Sharia had been suspended in the best
interest of the country.
2000-MAR-19: ACNS reported that "Much of
the infrastructure of the city of Kaduna has been destroyed; churches,
mosques, homes and businesses have been burnt. 80,000 people have been
made homeless, and hundreds have been killed. 'Our people are being shot,
butchered and roasted', said Bishop Josiah Fearon, Bishop of Kaduna."
ACNS has reported some glimmers of hope. "The
Bishop of Kaduna and Imam Asafa, a local Muslim cleric, have called on
people not just to tolerate each other, but to be prepared to rebuild
together. Since then, Bishop Josiah and Imam Asaf have announced plans for
joint Muslim/Christian projects to rebuild the city."
2000-MAR-20: This week, a Sharia court in northern Nigeria ordered the
amputation of the right hand of a man convicted of stealing a cow. The
sentence was carried out, in violation of the agreement to suspend Sharia
law in Zamfara, one of eight northern Nigeria states. According to Newsroom,
Archbishop Sunday Makinde, chairman of the Christian Association of
Nigeria in the federal capital of Abuja, called the incident the most
disgraceful act of the 21st century.
2000-JUN-15: A committee of the House of Assembly in Kaduna voted
to proceed with the implementation of Sharia in the state. Nuhu Adamu,
chairman of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), said that "The
only permanent solution to the Kaduna state lingering problem is to split
the state into two. Enough is enough." Dividing the state into
northern and southern sections would effectively isolate most Christians
from most Muslims. According to Newsroom: Mohammed Aruna, a Muslim senator
from Kaduna state, opposes splitting the state on religious grounds...
Powerful divisions remain among Nigeria 's 250 ethnic groups, not one of
which is entirely Christian or Muslim, he noted. "If you want a new
state from the present Kaduna, where would you place a town like Wusasa (in
the Muslim north) that is predominantly Christian?" he asked.
"It is just not possible to create states or regions on a religious
basis, especially in a heterogeneous community like Nigeria." 4
2000-JUN-21: The northern state of Kano has adopted sharia
law, but has delayed its implementation to the beginning of the month
of Ramadan on NOV-26. According to Reuters, "Kano has
the biggst Muslim population of any of Nigeria's 36 states. Some 90%
of its 8 million inhabitants are Muslims."
2000-JUL-3: "...President Olusegun Obasanjo has formally
protested the adoption of Sharia. Although the country's constitution
permits Sharia law in domestic matters, such as marriage and
inheritance, the northern Muslim state of Kano will implement it
fully, including for criminal law. President Obasanjo asked the
governor of Kano to follow the National Council of States'
decision to suspend the implementation of Sharia within the country.
Alhaji Abdulkarim Olala Kasum, coordinator of the Odua People's
Congress, predicted that: "Sharia has set a dangerous
example that is bound to precipitate the final disintegration of the
fragile nation of Nigeria."
2000-AUG-1: The Nigerian state of Katsina has become the
fifth northern state to formally adopt Islamic law or Sharia this
2000-AUG-24: Borno state has become the seventh northern
state to adopt Sharia.
Events in 2002:
2002-NOV-2: The Northern state of Kaduna introduced a
modified version of Sharia law, in an attempt to meet most of the
wishes of the Muslim majority and Christian minority. It will apply
only to Muslims; Christians will be processed through the customary
court system. Islamic punishments will not be incorporated into the
criminal code. "The Anglican Archbishop of Kaduna, Benjamin
Achigili, told AFP that Christians would object to Islamic law if it
affected them but would accept it it were only to affect Muslims."
Muslim groups in the country opposed the Miss World contest, for a variety of
reasons. They consider the exposure of so much flesh by women to be
immoral. The contest is scheduled to occur during the lunar month of
Ramadan -- the holiest month of the Muslim year. "An official of one
Muslim group in the city of Gusau said protesters were planning 'black
prayers' and a 'spread of plagues of curses and bad luck on the Miss World
organizers and participants'." Organizers have said participants would not
attend any function in the Muslim north of the country." 6
2002-NOV-23: The "This Day"
daily national newspaper published a controversial article. It suggested
that if the Prophet Mohammed were alive today and had viewed the Miss
World pageant, he would have probably chosen to marry one of the
contestants. The newspaper later published a retraction and apology.
However, the original article triggered three days of rioting. "...protesters
armed with sticks. daggers and knives set fire to vehicles and attacked
anyone they suspected of being Christian." At least 100 people
died and 500 were injured. Many Christian churches were burned to the
ground. The officials of the Miss World pageant changed the venue to
London England. Christian mobs counter-attacked. 7
Status in 2004:
Events in 2005:
According to Amnesty International (AI), during 2005-FEB:
"... soldiers fired on protesters at Chevron's Escravos oil terminal on the
coast of the western Niger Delta killing one man and injuring at least 30
others. The protestors were from Ugborodo, an Itsekiri community located
within sight of the oil terminal. No thorough or independent inquiry into the
incident has been carried out either by the government or by Chevron Nigeria."
AI urges that individuals write letters to the Nigerian Federal government
demanding accountability for human rights violations in the Niger Delta.
Events in 2006:
2006-FEB-18: Riots broke out six months after the publishing of cartoons
of the prophet Muhammad by a Danish newspaper. This provoked a backlash by
Christians. Muslim mobs destroyed 30 Christian churches and killed 18 people
in Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria. In another northern Muslim city, 25 died.
Christian mobs attacked Muslims in Onitsha, leaving more than 30 dead and two
mosques destroyed. 13
Events in 2008:
2008-NOV: A local government election was held in Jos, the capital of
Plateau State in north-central Nigeria on NOV-27. Following the vote, rioting
broke out between Christians and Muslims. This eventually resulted in the
death of about 400 people.
Events in 2009:
2009-FEB-20: A dispute between the congregations of a mosque and church
erupted into three days of violence. At least 11 people died, mostly
Christians. Between 6 and 13 churches, three mosques and over 200 houses were
2009-DEC-29: Muslims in the city of Bauchi in the state of
Bauchi were concerned about open-air preaching by the Kala Kato Islamic group.
Such preaching had been banned in Nigeria after a rebellion by another Muslim
group Boko Haram earlier in 2009. The military was called in. Violence between
the Nigerian military and members of the group left 40 persons dead. 8
Reported by Newsroom, a service of Worldwide Newsroom Inc.
Their articles are written by "a network of journalists, scholars and
other professional contacts in country." You can subscribe to
their free service from their website at http://www.newsroom.org/
Ecumenical News International (ENI) in Geneva Switzerland
distributes news free religious news highlights to subscribers. They
can be contacted at PO Box 2100, CH - 1211, Geneva 2, Switzerland.
Telephone: (41-22) 791 6087/6515. Fax: (41-22) 788 7244 Email: [email protected].
Their web site is at http://www.eni.ch
"Crisis in Nigeria," ACNS news service, Anglican
Communion Office, London UK. Report 2077, 2000-MAR-19
"Nigeria Christians propose splitting state,"
Newsroom, 2000-JUN-15. Available at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000614e.htm
"Sharia compromise for Nigerian state," BBC News, 2002-NOV-2,
"Plea to stop Nigeria pageant protest," BBC News, 2002-NOV-12,
"Nigeria calls off Miss World show," BBC News, 2002-NOV-23, at:
"40 die in sectarian violence in northern Nigeria," Radio
Netherlands, 2009-DEC-29, at:
Dan Isaacs, "Analysis: Behind Nigeria's violence,"
BBC News, 2004-MAY-05, at:
"Nigerian Christian / Muslim Conflict," Gobal Security, undated, at
"Nigeria: Oil, poverty and violence," Amnesty International, 2006-JUL-31,
"Nine Christians Killed as Violence Erupts in Northern Nigeria," Barnabas
Fund, 2009-FEB-28, at:
Craig Timberg, "Christians Turn on Muslims In Nigeria; More Than 30 Die,"
Washington Post, 2006-FEB-23, at:
Copyright © 2000 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2000-FEB-27
Latest update: 2009-DEC-29
Author: B.A. Robinson