Religious Riots

The U.S.-led strikes on Afghanistan provided the backdrop for a weekend of violence in the northern Nigerian city of Kano in mid-October, with estimates of up to 200 people killed.

Kano, northern Nigeria’s largest city, is the capital of Kano state, one of several states that have adopted the Islamic legal code Sharia in the past two years. In that time, conflict between Christian and Muslim communities has been periodic, with 2,000 deaths from religious unrest in, February 2000, and a further 500 in September 2001.

October’s violence was apparently spurred by an anti-American protest rally on Oct. 12. Though it started peacefully, the Muslim-led rally became chaotic. “Chanting youths burned down a Toyota Hiace bus belonging to the Peoples Democratic Party and a police vehicle,” reported Abuja’s conservative Islamic-oriented Daily Trust (Oct. 15).

The intensity of the violence mounted over the weekend, as rioters burned down five churches, two mosques, and several newspaper offices, including those of the liberal, independent Lagos-based Vanguard. On Saturday, the state government imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew, giving police orders to shoot any violators on sight.

Local politicians and religious leaders expressed dismay. “I…feel ashamed as a Nigerian that such a thing is happening,” said Dayo Adeyeye, spokesman for the socio-political group Afenifere, in an interview with Lagos’ independent Guardian (Oct. 15). “Although we are generally concerned about the issue of terrorism, why should Nigerians become victims of attack by fellow Nigerians?” Other commentators linked the surge in religious fundamentalism with poverty and unemployment. “A lot of tension has to do with local conditions which show no signs of improving,” said Kabiru Yusuf, editor in chief of the Daily Trust, in an interview with the multinational Web site (Oct. 16). “God knows how many youths are unemployed and unemployable.”

“If you look at what is happening now, you will find Bin Laden’s portraits all over the place,” political scientist Hudu Ayuba was quoted as saying by Kaduna’s conservative Islamic-oriented Weekly Trust (Oct. 12). The Oct. 12 rally, organized by the Nigerian Youths Muslim Congress, was attended by prominent Muslim clerics. “The demonstrators…chanting ‘We will answer your call, Osama,’ accused Jews of masterminding the Sept. 11 attack,” reported Lagos’ independent This Day (Oct. 14).

But the Bush administration, perhaps reluctant to add another country to its growing list of problem nations, denied a link between the anti-American protests and the violence. “Our people on the ground say the demonstration ended and peacefully broke up,” said an unnamed official at the U.S. State Department, quoted on (Oct. 16). “They see this as yet another outbreak of sectarian violence.”