Explosions Greet Nigerian President's New Term

  • Analysis by Sam Olukoya (lagos)
  • Inter Press Service

Jonathan will not have needed a violent reminder of widening insecurity in Africa's most populous country. More than 800 people died in post-election clashes across northern Nigeria in April. The new president has appointed a panel to investigate, but observers are sceptical it will accomplish much.

Kafanchan, a town in the northern state of Kaduna, where there was strong support for both Jonathan and his main rival, retired general Muhmmadu Buhari, was one of the worst affected by the post election violence.

'In Kafanchan and neighbouring towns, people don’t sleep well because every day they are conscious of the fact that somebody might slit their throat. This is not right,' Pastor Emmanuel Nuhu Kure, head of the Christian group, Throneroom Ministry, told IPS from his town 200 kms from the capital, Abuja.

Following presidential election results that showed Jonathan who hails from the Niger Delta in the southeast, had beaten Buhari, a former military ruler from northern Nigeria, Buhari's supporters protested alleged rigging of the poll.

Buhari's party, the Congress for Progressive Change, has filed a petition before the Court of Appeal Tribunal in the capital Abuja asking for the nullification of the presidential election results in 24 of Nigeria’s 36 states due to alleged electoral malpractice. The party says it has clear evidence that Jonathan did not win the election.

'There is no economic activity in Kafanchan now: houses were brought down, the market was burnt down and flattened. Most of the Christian houses are burnt, the whole economy was washed down, and they will need to restart from scratch.'

Speaking from the other side of the town's religious divide, Alhaji Saleh Jema'a, secretary of the group Jama'a Indigenous Muslim Ummah, said it was Christians who went on the rampage. 'Muslims were randomly attacked and massacred and their property vandalized,' he told a press conference.

Both sides accuse the police of failing to intervene quickly to end violence that included the use of high calibre weapons.

Kure, who has witnessed several rounds of violence between Christians and Muslims in the town he was born in, says the cause has remained the same through the years.

'Religion and politics are over mixed. The crisis is a reflection of religion and politics. On the one hand you hear the people saying they are fighting for religious leverage, on the other hand in the same voice they say they are fighting for political power, so you see the interplay there of religion and politics.'

Managing competing claims in this diverse country will be among President Jonathan's biggest challenges over the next four years.

Nigeria is almost evenly split between a predominantly Christian south and a predominantly Muslim north, with both sides struggling for political power at the national level. The contest for control at the local level is equally fierce, in north central cities like Kafanchan and Jos, where there are large populations of both Christians and Muslims. All too often this rivalry ends up in sectarian clashes.

Between 1999 and 2009, more than 14,000 people died in ethnic and religious clashes in the West African nation, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. Most of the deaths occurred in the north.

Kure lost two of his church members during the post-election violence in April. He says he has grown tired of praying for families that have lost loved ones. 'Can my people trust the government to protect them or should they begin to prepare for the worst? And preparing for the worst means they need to begin to get their own arms, and fight back,' he said.

This same feeling is being expressed in other parts of the country - especially among southerners who are beginning to threaten reprisal attacks on northerners living in the south.

Patrick Nagbaaton, a campaigner against the proliferation and unregulated use of small arms says the large quantity of arms coming into the country is another thing to worry about. 'These arms are the major tools in the hands of the killers, the president will have to tackle this, but it will be a major task,' he told IPS.

Arms have been coming into Nigeria through its numerous porous borders, says Sylvester Odion-Akhaine, head of the Lagos based Centre for Constitutionalism and Demilitarization. 'Some of these must have been imported by politicians who take election as a do or die affair, they are determined to outgun their opponents,' he told IPS.

Restoring Nigerians' confidence that they are free to live anywhere in the country without fearing for their lives, will be one of President Jonathan's top priorities. The president has set up a panel to investigate the most recent violence, including identifying the source of the weapons used. The panel is also tasked with making recommendations on how to prevent future violence.

But some groups, like the Nigerian Coalition for the International Criminal Court, have described the government's action as an exercise in futility. 'Legally the panel does not have the power to compel people to come and testify, which means they have set it up to give the false impression that something is being done,' Chino Obiagwu chairman of the Coalition told IPS.

The panel is not the first one set up to investigate sectarian or political clashes. 'It is the usual government response of giving the world the impression that we are doing something when they are not, it is a way of sweeping things under the carpet, especially when it is clear that the rioters were incited by prominent people,' said Obiagwu.

Many Nigerians believe that the government has failed to take action against those behind violence in the past because it was cautious about hurting the powerful people behind them. This, Obiagwu says, has only encouraged them to instigate more violence.

'Once conflict is not resolved and people punished, there is always a circle of violence,' he says. 'We need to show seriousness in investigating these crimes otherwise it will continue because people know they can get away with it especially the political class.'

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service