Troubling trend? Muslims 'deported' from southern Nigeria

Are Muslim arrests in the Christian south a knee-jerk reaction to Boko Haram attacks? Or first signs of a pogrom?

A version of this post originally appeared on the Africa in Transition blog. The views expressed are the author's own. 

Earlier this week I blogged on the arrest of 320 Muslim traders of northern origin in Rivers state on allegations that they were “Boko Haram.”

According to the media, the traders had lived in Rivers state for many years, traveled to the north to buy vegetables to sell and returned home in a bus convoy because of poor security on the roads. 

Now, in adjacent Imo state, there is a media report that the authorities have sent home to Katsina state in northern Nigeria, 84 Muslim students taking a skills acquisition course at the Imo College of Advanced Professional Studies.

The local branch of the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) had “raised an alarm that they might be Boko Haram insurgents.” According to the media, the authorities sent the students home for their own protection.

Like Rivers, Imo state is mostly Christian, and Boko Haram has never operated there.

However, over the past week in the northern states of Borno and Adamawa, Boko Haram has killed more than 138 people in attacks on churches, according to the media.

This set off a new wave of refugees crossing over to southern Niger and Cameroon. So, sensitivity in the south to Boko Haram killing of Christians is particularly high.

But, all may not be what it seems.

The governor of Imo state, Rochas Okorocha, is in opposition to President Goodluck Jonathan’s PDP. Now that the Independent National Electoral Commission has announced that national presidential elections will take place in February, 2015, the country is rapidly moving into a partisan political mode. It could be that the PDP denunciation of Muslim students from the north is part of a local political struggle.

Nevertheless, the apparent resumption of Boko Haram attacks on Christians in the north, and the singling out of Muslims in the south in Rivers and Imo may be the start of a worrisome trend.

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