A Glimpse at Nigeria

By Mufutau Adewole Olaleye
Source: http://www.islam-online.net/English/ArtCulture/2004/05/article07.shtml

Abuja Central Mosque

The Giant of Africa, as it is called, was formerly known as Niger-Area and later Nigeria. In fact, much has been said and written about this wonderful place, including its people and culture, economy and politics, that sheds light on the tremendous potential of this African Giant. However, little is known to the outside world about the many exciting attractions available in Nigeria: historic sites nestled amid rivers and rain forests, breathtaking mountain vistas, remote creek villages, miles of pristine beaches, and exotic national wildlife reserves. There are also museums, festivals, music and dance, a rich cultural heritage right down to everyday traditional markets. Understanding the current situation is strongly related to knowing much more about the historical and cultural background of this country.

Nigeria has the largest population of any country in Africa (about 125 million), and the greatest diversity of cultures, ways of life, cities, and terrain. With a total land area of 923,768 km2 (356,668 sq. mi.), it is the 14th largest country in Africa. Its coastline on the Gulf of Guinea stretches 774 km (480 mi.). Nigeria shares its international border of 4,470 km (2513 mi.) with four neighbors: Chad, Cameroon, Benin, and Niger. Until 1989 the capital was Lagos, with a population of about 2,500,000, but the government recently moved the capital to Abuja.

Climate: Dry and Wet

Nigeria lies entirely within the tropics, yet there are wide climactic variations. In general, there are two seasons throughout Nigeria: wet and dry. Near the coast, the seasons are less sharply defined. Temperatures of over 32ฐ C (90ฐ F) are common in the north, but near the coast, where the humidity is higher, temperatures seldom climb above that mark. Inland, around the two great rivers, the wet season lasts from April to October and the dry season is from November to March. Temperatures are the highest from February to April in the south, and March to June in the north. They are the lowest in July and August throughout most of the country.


Virtually all the native races of Africa are represented in Nigeria; hence the great diversity of her people and culture. It was in Nigeria that the Bantu and Semi-Bantu, migrating from southern and central Africa, intermingled with the Sudanese. Later, other groups such as Shuwa-Arabs, the Tuaregs, and the Fulanis, who are concentrated in the far north, entered northern Nigeria in migratory waves across the Sahara Desert. The earliest occupants of Nigeria settled in the forest belt and in the Niger Delta region. Today there are estimated to be more than 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria. While no single group enjoys an absolute numeric majority, four major groups constitute 60% of the population: Hausa-Fulani in the north, Yoruba in the west, and Igbo in the east. Other groups include Kanuri, Binis, Ibibio, Ijaw, Itsekiri, Efik, Nupe, Tiv, and Jukun.

Islamic Culture in Nigeria    

Durbar has become a festival celebrated in honor of visiting heads of state and at the culmination of the two great Muslim festivals of `Eid Al-Fitr and `Eid Al-Adha. Of all the modern day durbar festivals, Katsina Durbar is the most magnificent and spectacular `Eid Al-Kabir, or Sallah Day. The Ojude Oba festival in Ijebu-Ode, a city in the southwest of Nigeria, is also a modified durbar festival. Music like Apala, Waka, Ajiwere or Fuji is part of Nigerian music that originated from the Islamic celebrations of `Eid Al-Fitr and `Eid Al-Adha in festivals in the southwest of Nigeria.

The Argungu Fishing Festival is another tourist attraction. This colorful annual event takes place in Arugungu, a riverside town in Kebbi State, about 103 km (64 mi) from Sokoto. The leading tourist attraction in the area, the festival originated in August 1934 when the late Sultan Dan Mu’azu made a historic visit. In tribute, a grand fishing festival was organized. Since then, it has become a celebrated yearly event held between February and March.

Sokoto State occupies a unique place in the history of Nigeria because the 1804 jihad led by Uthman Dan Fodio was launched, introducing Islam to most of northern Nigeria. To date, it remains the seat of the caliphate, where the citing of the new moon of Ramadan is announced.

Understanding the Conflict 

One of the major problems facing Nigeria is the continual series of ethnic and religious conflicts whose roots, until now, have not been completely traced. A critical look at this dilemma makes one realize the complicated nature of the problem that has claimed so many lives. The oft-quoted figure of 10,000 dead in President Olusegun Obasango’s first four-year term, which began at the end of military rule in 1999, is generally accepted and is even described as “very conservative” by Red Cross officials. The problem goes beyond religious differences and territorial boundaries.

Some of these problems are ethno-religious, as seen in the latest Yelwa crisis where ethnic tension was running high weeks before rioting began over the appointment of a Muslim politician, Alhaji Muktar Mohammed, as local coordinator of the Federal Poverty Alleviation Program. Christians were disturbed by political policies, claiming that these policies deprived them of religious freedom. They viewed Mohammed’s appointment in a predominantly Christian community as an attempt to dominate them both politically and religiously. A Muslim leader and emir of Zauzau, Alhaji Idris revealed that factors such as indigenousness, land administration, chieftaincy matters, mutual suspicion, and other disagreements arising from social interaction between the communities were more likely causes of the conflict.

The Kaduna riot is the first major incident that occurred in response to the introduction of Shari`ah (Islamic Law) in the northern part of the country. Zamfara state governor Ahmed Sanni introduced Shari`ah in his state in October. At least seven of Nigeria’s 36 states, all of them in the north, have nearly completed the process of implementing Shari`ah. The Christian and Muslim populations in Kaduna state are almost even, but the problem does not necessarily lie in the religious differences between the people so much as their understanding of the religion and their adherence to it.

Some politically conscious people see the issue from varying perspectives. Implementing Shari`ah has become the battle cry of vocal northern political elite who are using Islam to advance their own political ambitions. Belonging mainly to the Hausa ethnic group, they have pushed religion and ethnic issues to the forefront since President Obasango was elected as president last May. Similar ethnic-based political movements have arisen in the south and west of Nigeria, with groups like the Oodua People’s Congress calling for self-determination for the Yoruba, and the emergence of Ijaw, Ogoni, and other movements in the Delta region who are experiencing conflict until now. This uproar has claimed many lives in the Niger Delta.

Hunger and Anger 

Kano Central Mosque

Since civilian rule was restored, there have been a series of ethnic conflicts. In July 1999, clashes between Hausas and local Yorubas in Shagamu, north of Lagos, resulted in around 60 deaths. In the southwestern state of Ondo, fighting between Ijaw and Ilages in July and again in September last year led to many deaths. It is important to note that quite often the exact number of deaths is exaggerated for political reasons and in order to win international sympathy. The way of settling disputes varies in different parts of the country. Some people are able to solve their differences amicably, while others resort to feuding and retaliation and therefore suffer from a lack of insight.

In October 2003 there were clashes between Ijaw and Yoruba youths in Lagos with around a dozen reported deaths. In November 2003, troops were deployed in Bayelsa state in the Delta region, in which hundreds died at the hands of the army. Again in November there were conflicts between Hausa traders and Yoruba at Mile 12 market in the Ketu district of Lagos, which led to some 30 deaths.

Another major factor behind this conflict is the alarming growth of poverty and unemployment which is reflected in the proverb “A hungry man is an angry man.” In spite of Nigeria’s huge oil wealth, there have been shortages of fuel and rationing of power, and in rural areas there is insufficient clean drinking water. The per capita income in 1998 of $345 was a third of that in the boom year of 1980. In a recent interview Obasango claimed that “things were moving” in relation to the Nigerian economy that would tackle the poverty issue that is giving rise to ethnic clashes. However, apart from the benefits to western investors, his pro-IMF privatization policies have only increased unemployment levels. This further adds fuel to the fire of unrest on the grass-roots level of society, as people grapple for land, opportunity, and relief from a multitude of problems.

Mainstream Media Manipulation 

In addition, particularly in the north where violence is more recurrent, the absence of tolerance among people who lack education and awareness of broader issues is a significant factor in this issue, as most of the religious or ethnic conflicts start or worsen in this area. Many conflicts elsewhere are settled amicably, and therefore do not make it to the mainstream media. But whenever an issue can be exaggerated and manipulated to represent a conflict based on religious adherence, it is highlighted in the media and portrayed as the major cause of discontent and conflict in the region.

This is not to say that conflicts between followers of the two religions do not occur, as can be seen in the issue of the Yelwa conflict, where senior retired army officers from the Christian community of Langtang launched the attack in order to put an end to the Muslim settlement “once and for all.” What began as a fight over land has now escalated to a larger scale sectarian battle between adherents of the two faiths.

Adding to concern is that even religious leaders in Langtang have joined in this madness, saying that the area should be exclusively preserved for Christians.

Previously, in March 2004, 49 members of Yelwa’s Christian minority were killed by Fulani raiders in a church, indicating that the invasion of Yelwa in which more than 630 people were killed came as retaliation to the March offensive.

Justice Abdul Qadir Orire, secretary general of the Jana’atu Nasril Islam, described the killings in the remote farming town as “genocide” and said they took the death toll from three months of ethnic violence to at least 700 to 800 people. Orire said that the Christian militia used machine guns in the attacks, which left most of Yelwa’s buildings, including a mosque, destroyed, and criticized the Plateau state government for apparently inciting violence.

He said that police stationed in Yelwa had been withdrawn four days before the attack, despite complaints from local Muslims that they were surrounded by Taroks who are Christians and that tensions were rising.

“It seems the governor is supporting the move. We heard that the government said non-indigenes should move out of the area,” said the Muslim leader.

This multi-sided conflict started with competing claims over the fertile farmlands in the heart of Africa’s most populated nation, and it is fuelled by religious and ethnic differences between the groups. The conflict is considered to be religious because the people involved are the Christian Taroks and the Fulani Muslims. The religious flavor of the conflict has made the issue attract more international attention and is manipulated by political groups to incite each ethnic religious group against the other in a bid to gain political maneuvers.

In conclusion, the crisis in northern Nigeria proves that ethnic, religious, and tribal relationships need to be improved. We do not want a situation where intolerance leads to riots and consequent deaths, as has already occurred in parts of the north. This area especially is in need of a public awareness program in order to erase hatred and rancor and promote understanding on how to live together in peace and harmony. If education and awareness spread throughout the general population and people throw off violent habits and grudges, the ability to manipulate politicians to attain worldly ambitions will decrease and a new-found tolerance and flexibility will be developed.


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