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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.

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Theory vs. practice

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"The Nigeria Constitution absolutely forbids any discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, and circumstances of your birth ... that is in theory," says Sule Kwasau, a lawyer in private practice in Jos. "In practice, some of these absurdities [related to the "indigene" concept] are not only prevalent in Plateau state, they are prevalent all over Nigeria."

Since Governor Jang's election in 2007, the crisis in the Middle Belt has worsened. With each new, major wave of violence – notably in 2008 and 2010 – resentment between Muslim and Christians over the killings has increased, until finally reaching its current apartheid-like state in the city of Jos.

"Fighting is no good," says a waiter in a Jos restaurant, who says his mother is Christian and his father is a Muslim. "We have to learn to live together again."

Running for re-election in the April 26 elections with the campaign slogan of "REDEMPTION 2011," the current governor is not publicly seen as taking the initiative to embrace the Muslim community who he views as "settlers," despite their two century-long history in his state.

Some long-time Jos residents who did not want to be quoted publicly say that Jang has benefited from the ongoing crisis in his state. Last year's crisis resulted in additional federal government funds being allocated to Jang for bosltering security. Jang has also used the tense situation to rally Christians behind him, cultivating a savior-like image during his gubernatorial campaign.

Meanwhile, the Muslim community is busy rallying its own support base, largely behind opposition candidate Pauline Tellen – the current deputy governor who has fallen out with Jang over the crisis.

"The real problem is bad governance, says Hadjiya Khadija Hawaya, a local Muslim women's leader, detailing the discrimination her community has suffered under the indigene policy pushed by the current governor.

There is no doubt among Muslims and Christians alike that the local government must play a crucial role in the resolution of the crisis.

"All efforts boil down to the government in power," said Ishaq, the lawyer at the Muslim council, voicing a familiar refrain of his community.

Catholic Archbishop Kaigama criticized the state government for perpetuating the myth of a one-dimensional religious crisis, saying that the government's "failure to address other problems" such as poverty, underdevelopment, and youth unemployment is an important reason why the conflict persists.

"The way the leadership responds to these issues goes a long way toward knowing if the conflict will be resolved peacefully," said Chris Kwaja, a professor at the Centre for Conflict Management and Peace Studies at the University of Jos.

Until then, Jos may well remain a city divided, with citizens living in fear and half-charred homes and bombed-out churches and mosques standing as living memorials to the ongoing tragedy stoked by the politicians in power.


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