Last Sunday, deadly violence erupted in the central region of Nigeria, near the city of Jos in the Plateau State. This comes just over a year after Christians and Muslims clashed; the government moved in security forces to restore order, 700 people were eventually killed. The Nigerian Government held an inquiry into the incident but failed to address the military's role in approximately over 100 killings of civilians. A Nigerian court has also given cabinet ministers 14 days to decide if the country's President, who has been absent and ill, to decide whether he is fit to lead the country. There is much political unrest - since 1999 sectarian and ethnic clashes have been claiming lives throughout the country.
According to the BBC news, on January 23, 2010, 150 bodies have been found stuffed inside wells and sewage pits, and another 60 are still reported missing. The actual death toll has not been made official, but aid workers estimate around 300 have met their demise recently. The elderly were said to have been hiding in some wells, while another several thousand have been forced to flee their homes. Some of the victims were burned alive and others were shot or hacked to death. A humanitarian crisis looms as thousands are displaced. Ethnic unrest has spread to surrounding villages because rumours and widespead anger are inciting gangs to revenge attacks. The government has again sent in troops in response to the conflict. Given the military's bloody record, there is much to be feared by the ordinary citizen.
Human Rights Watch is an independent organization dedicated to defending human rights, specifically focused on international issues. They have advocated extensively in an effort to persuade the Nigerian government to address the undue use of force and killings. HRW has called on Nigerian Security Forces to abide by UN principles on the use of force and to utilize restraint and non violence whereever possible. Shooting on sight and mass murdering of civilians goes against these principles. HRW has also called on the government to change the policies that foster the division and on oing power struggle between groups. Violence seems to beget only more violence.
The city of Jos is heavily divided between Christian and Muslim areas. At the very centre of the conflict are direct governmental policies that facilitate the tension and discrimination amongst the two groups. Inter-communal violence is due to standards and practices that discriminate against "non-indignes," people who cannot trace their ancestry to original inhabitants. This group faces barriers in almost every aspect of life, including jobs, education and even academic scholarships. Hausa speaking Muslims are still considered settlers, even though they have resided in Nigeria for multiple generations. Many of the settlers feel they are pushed out of the democratic process and find it difficult to stand for election. This latest outbreak of violence is not because of religion, but for a struggle for ethnic and political superiority. The government must find a way to end the cycle of violence and the countless retaliations and uprisings. It also must start with its own military and prevent the military from committing mass killings during these conflicts.
There are several countries around the world that succumb to this same form of sectarian and religious division, the results usually being terrorism and civil war. The casualities from these deadly conflicts lead to mounting death tolls, torture and untold suffering. There are blood stains on both hands, and neither side can agree who cast the first stone. Groups and factions have resorted to war and violence in attempts to attain and retain power. With international pressure from the United Nations and other countries on Nigeria to develop a national strategy to end ethnic violence, it is possible to level the political playing field so that each side has a stake in the democratic process. It begins with the Nigerian Government taking decisive action on its discriminatory policies and cleaning up its military corruption. The power struggle from within Nigeria will continue until the political climate changes and the will to enact peace is pursued. For the people of the Plateau, this can't happen soon enough.Africa, Discrimination, Human Rights, International Conflict, Nigeria, Sectarian Violence, United Nations