David Smock, vice president of USIP's Center for Mediation and Conflict Resolution, discusses religious tensions and recent events in Nigeria, and examines the outlook for Africa's most populous nation.
On Christmas, an explosion ruined a church in Jos in Plateau State, Nigeria. A total of 38 people were killed in the Jos vicinity over the Christmas holidays. This is but the latest chapter of fighting between Christians and Muslims in Plateau State. Many other factors besides religion lie behind the fighting, but the fault line between Christians and Muslims is a recurring source of tension.
USIP has been supporting mediation between Christian and Muslim leaders in Plateau State since 2004 through its partnership with the Inter-Faith Mediation Centre. In 2004-2005, this mediation ended conflict in one part of Plateau State where the fighting, up to that time, had been the most intense. USIP sponsored a film on this effort entitled “The Imam and the Pastor.”
In the Niger Delta, rebels reduced the level of sabotage and kidnapping when the Nigerian government declared an amnesty for rebels in 2009. Working with the Africa Center for Corporate Responsibility, USIP is helping to reintegrate rebels in the Niger Delta back into their home communities. But the amnesty has had only limited success and the level of violence has increased recently, including attacks by Nigeria’s army on rebel strongholds.
All of Nigeria is focused on the national and state elections scheduled for April 2011. Past elections have lacked credibility but the federal government has given assurances that the 2011 elections will be different. Violence relating to elections is always a threat in Nigeria. USIP recently published a Special Report entitled “Breaking the Cycle of Electoral Violence in Nigeria” to assess this threat.