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January 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 1)
Press Review Update
Violence in Nigeria
World Press Review contributing editor
October saw an
escalation in Nigerias continuing inter-ethnic violence,
as the governments mediation of a tribal conflict turned
sinister. On Oct. 22, government troops carried out a brutal
attack to avenge the killing of 19 of its soldiers by tribal
militiamen [see Interethnic
Conflict, Regional Reports, September 2001].
The conflict began on Oct. 10, when government soldiers were
sent to the town of Zaki-Biam in northern Benue State to quell
ongoing violence between two tribal groups, the Tivs and the
Jukuns. The armys mission went awry when 19 soldiers were
abducted by a Tiv militia group and murdered, apparently because
the Tivs believed that the soldiers were disguised Jukun tribesmen.
This explains why their bodies were mutilated and some
of their hands taken away, wrote Akintola Akinjide, Lawrence
Adenipekun, and Emeka Ibemere Makurdi in Lagos Tempo
(Nov. 5). Clearly inflamed by the violence inflicted on their
colleagues, Nigerian soldiers stormed Zaki-Biam on Oct. 22 and
began shooting at citizens and launching rocket-propelled grenades
at buildings. The attacks left at least 200 dead.
The reprisal killings, which targeted civilians as well as Tiv
militia, were widely condemned. It is surely not an exciting
deal to bury 19 soldiers in a day, but it is more horrifying
to sit back and watch defenseless civilians face the outrage
of a mutinous army, wrote Dele Oyewale in Tempo
(Nov. 5). When President Olusegun Obasanjo reacted by supporting
the militarys actions, the press wasted no time firing
back at him. According to [Obasanjo], people who shoot
soldiers are asking for trouble, wrote Dele Shobowale
in Lagoss Vanguard (Nov. 4). In fact we can
tell the president that people need not kill a soldier for the
armed gang he leads as commander-in-chief to commit murder.
Meanwhile, Christian-Muslim tensions continued to simmer in
the northern state of Kaduna after the state signed into law
a modified version of the Islamic Sharia legal system on Nov.
2 [see Religious Riots,
Regional Reports, December 2001]. Unlike the Sharia systems
instituted in other northern Nigerian states, Kadunas
version gives Christians exemption from using Sharia courts.
The compromise came about after moves to introduce a full Sharia
system in Kaduna last February resulted in religious riots that
caused over 2,000 deaths. But the modified law still inflamed
On Nov. 2 and 3, violence erupted in the predominantly Christian
town of Gwantu after Muslims protested the relocation of a government
council office to a site near their neighborhoods. The violence
claimed at least 10 lives.