World Press Review Update

Violence in Nigeria

October saw an escalation in Nigeria’s continuing inter-ethnic violence, as the government’s 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 army’s 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 military’s 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 Lagos’s 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, Kaduna’s 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 religious tensions.

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.