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Religious Tolerance logo

Religiously motivated violence

Nigeria: Year 2000 to now

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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 denominations.

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." 9

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:
bulletprohibits the consumption of alcohol, 
bulletallows caning, amputation of limbs, and beheading as punishment for certain crimes, 
bulletrequires girls and boys to be educated separately, 
bulletrequires 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:

bulletChristians and Muslims are almost equal in number in the state.
bulletThere are tribal divisions which mirror the religious differences.
bulletSome groups fear and oppose the new democratically elected government. 3

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 had been 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 nation."

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.

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Year 2000: Subsequent developments:

bullet2000-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.
bullet2000-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 (PFN), blamed 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."
bullet2000-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 suicide."
bullet2000-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.
bullet2000-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.

However, some 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.

bullet2000-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." 3

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."

bullet2000-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.
bullet2000-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
bullet2000-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."
bullet2000-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."
bullet2000-AUG-1: The Nigerian state of Katsina has become the fifth northern state to formally adopt Islamic law or Sharia this year.
bullet2000-AUG-24: Borno state has become the seventh northern state to adopt Sharia.

Events in 2002:

bullet2002-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." 5
bullet2002-NOV-12: Some 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
bullet2002-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:

bulletDan Isaacs of BBC News wrote that:

"In the first four years following Nigeria's return to democratic rule in 1999, at least 10,000 people were killed in communal violence across the country, but in recent years, these clashes have been notably less frequent." 9

bulletAccording to Global Security.org:

"Plateau State has the highest number of displaced people as a result of clashes between Christians and Muslim communities there. The predominantly Christian Tarok farmers consider the mostly Muslim Hausa cattle herders as outsiders, and accuse them of stealing land and trying to usurp political power. These had led to the burning down of 72 villages over between 2002 and the end of 2003." 10

bulletDuring April and May, rival ethnic militias in central Plateau State resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people. Muslim Nigerian leaders estimated that more than 200 people were killed and more than 100 others were missing. The Red Cross estimated as many as 600 people died. Many tens of thousands were displaced.
bulletOne source estimated more than 1,000 persons were killed as a result of Muslim-Christian violence during 2004. 13

Events in 2005:

bulletAccording 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." 11

AI urges that individuals write letters to the Nigerian Federal government demanding accountability for human rights violations in the Niger Delta.

Events in 2006:

bullet2006-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:

bullet2008-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:

bullet2009-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 destroyed. 12
bullet2009-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


  1. 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/ 
  2. 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: eni@eni.ch. Their web site is at http://www.eni.ch
  3. "Crisis in Nigeria," ACNS news service, Anglican Communion Office, London UK. Report 2077, 2000-MAR-19
  4. "Nigeria Christians propose splitting state," Newsroom, 2000-JUN-15. Available at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000614e.htm
  5. "Sharia compromise for Nigerian state," BBC News, 2002-NOV-2, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/
  6. "Plea to stop Nigeria pageant protest," BBC News, 2002-NOV-12, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/
  7. "Nigeria calls off Miss World show," BBC News, 2002-NOV-23, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/ 
  8. "40 die in sectarian violence in northern Nigeria," Radio Netherlands, 2009-DEC-29, at: http://www.rnw.nl/
  9. Dan Isaacs, "Analysis: Behind Nigeria's violence," BBC News, 2004-MAY-05, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/
  10. "Nigerian Christian / Muslim Conflict," Gobal Security, undated, at http://www.globalsecurity.org/
  11. "Nigeria: Oil, poverty and violence," Amnesty International, 2006-JUL-31, at: http://www.amnesty.org/
  12. "Nine Christians Killed as Violence Erupts in Northern Nigeria," Barnabas Fund, 2009-FEB-28, at: http://barnabasfund.org/
  13. Craig Timberg, "Christians Turn on Muslims In Nigeria; More Than 30 Die," Washington Post, 2006-FEB-23, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/

Site navigation: Home page > Religious hate & intolerance > here

Copyright © 2000 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-FEB-27
Latest update: 2009-DEC-29
Author: B.A. Robinson

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