Al Jazeera Blogs


Africa

Religious violence engulfs Nigeria’s Kaduna

The fear is that Sunday's church attacks could signal a rebirth of the violence once common in the northern state.
Last modified: 17 Jun 2012 23:24
Photo: AFP

Yet another Sabbath interrupted by religious violence in Nigeria;  the third successive Sunday on which I have had to report bombings, blasts and suicide attacks on churches.

At the time of writing at least three churches have come under attack in northern Kaduna state, and reports are coming in of attacks on two more.

The death toll from this round of violence is unknown, as is the number of those maimed.

An attack on one church here evokes public anger and condemnation. An attack on three or four, maybe even five, has the potential to spawn even worse violence, as it appears to have done in this instance.

Reports that more than a dozen Muslims have been killed by angry Christian youths in retaliatory attacks have come in. The level of tension in Kaduna is such that a 24-hour curfew has been imposed. This is rare, even for Nigeria.

Knowing Nigeria, and its capacity to kind of just soldier on in spite of mayhem and chaos, zero-tolerance security measures in Kaduna state will likely dissipate the tension, and normality will return by early next week.

The Nigerian mentality is that life must go on.

Deep down some wonder, however, whether the attacks today in Kaduna will open a once-sealed Pandora's Box of violence.

Restive past

Kaduna state is special and symbolic to Nigerians because it sits on what is popularly described as the dividing line between Nigeria's predominately Muslim populated northern states and its predominately Christian southern states.

This location means that an authentic mix of Muslim and Christian communities live in Kaduna, and makes it the tinderbox for any religious violence in Africa's most-populous nation.

In fact, Kaduna was the site of religious violence and tension between Muslims and Christians in the 1990s and early 2000s, before the violence shifted to places like Jos, in Plateau state, where most sectarian violence happens today.

The fear is that Sunday's events in Kaduna could signal a rebirth of the religious violence once common there. The hopes and prayers are that it won't, that those days are in the past for the area's local communities.

Responsibilty questioned

Meanwhile, the question of whom or what is behind these church attacks looms in everyone's mind.

On the face of it, the attacks look like the work of the Boko Haram sect, which wants a strict form of Islamic law imposed across Nigeria. Boko Haram has been behind countless attacks on churches across northern Nigeria over the last two years.

For many Nigerians, however, the antecedents of the Boko Haram ideology don't exist and have no place in Nigeria's history.

Islam and Christianity have peacefully co-existed here for centuries. How does Boko Haram intend to obliterate Christian teaching throughout a nation of over 150 million people, and in states, towns and villages where Islam is virtually non-existent?

Even achieving this "goal" in the predominately Muslim north would entail the mass murder or extermination of fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and cousins - because of the strong presence of minority Christian communities in northern states and inter-marriage between Christians and Muslims throughout the region.

Which lends to the question: Is Boko Haram really behind this attack?

Could it be another group agitating through violence for some kind of political reform or change in the Nigeria's politics?