Nigeria election riots: How leaders stoke Muslim-Christian violence
Scores have been killed in Muslim-Christian violence after this weekend's relatively clean presidential election, highlighting that the age of 'do-or-die' politics and 'thugs-for-hire' networks is not dead in Nigeria.
Kano and Jos, Nigeria
In anticipation of the results of Nigeria's remarkably smooth presidential vote over the weekend, angry young men took to the streets across the country's mainly Muslim north on Monday with knives and clubs.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Nigeria election turmoil
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Despite the fact that international and domestic observers said this was the first relatively free and fair election since the tumultuous country moved beyond military rule 12 years ago, someone had convinced the mobs that the election had been rigged in favor of incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian.
Protests soon turned deadly, with churches, mosques, homes, and businesses set ablaze in the northern cities of Kaduna and Kano. In Kaduna on Tuesday, Christian neighborhoods were targeted, and known supporters of Mr. Jonathan's ruling People's Democratic Party were burned alive and hacked with machetes. Reprisal attacks by Christians quickly followed. More than 200 have been killed, according to one local rights group.
The Muslim-Christian violence underscores a bitter reality: The age of "do-or-die" politics and "thugs-for-hire" patronage networks is not dead in Nigeria. And although Nigerian politicians do have the power to tamp down local rivalries that quickly morph into brutal religious violence, more often than not, these leaders do the opposite.
On Tuesday after his official defeat in the presidential race, after dozens of people had been killed and more than 10,000 displaced, popular opposition leader Muhammadu Buhari characterized the violence as "sad, unfortunate, and totally unwarranted," but issued no direct appeal for calm. "We have commenced consultations at the highest levels to recover your stolen mandate," Mr. Buhari said Wednesday.
For his part, Mr. Jonathan told CNN on Tuesday that the violence was "not spontaneous" and thus was a planned disruption, though the president said he didn't want to accuse anybody. Jonathan also said the "crisis" was linked to the festering problem of jobless, hopeless young masses in both northern and southern Nigeria.
How religious violence pops off
In such an environment, the often intense divide between deeply religious Muslim and Christian citizens, and the always high-stakes nature of politics and power, means that political violence frequently becomes religious.
Given the "ready army" made up of thousands of discontented youth, this violence frequently escalates, with politicians using the chaos and bloodshed as leverage as they jockey for influence and a greater share of the oil-rich country's immense economic spoils.
Aside from the latest wave of violence in the north, the country's Middle Belt region – where the mainly Muslim north meets the predominately Christian south – has become a case study in how Nigerian politicians fuel religious violence.
Muslim and Christians in the Middle Belt's unofficial capital, Jos, in Plateau state, now live cheek by jowl in what many residents call a religious apartheid.