Nigerian Conflict Tied More to Money and Politics Than Religion

June 1, 2004

Source: TIME Europe,13005,901040531-641105,00.html

On June 1, 2004 TIME Europe ran a feature article examining the roots of conflict between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria: "Many Nigerians argue that the real reason for the violence is not ethnic or religious division — most Nigerians have peacefully coexisted for centuries — but the scramble for scarce resources and political clout. Though Nigeria produces some 2.4 million barrels of oil a day, most Nigerians live in poverty. The average person earns $290 a year. Because the money from oil exports trickles down only through a corrupt system of patronage, those in office hold huge power. To gain that power, politicians manipulate religious and ethnic differences. At the center of the web is the all-powerful central government in Abuja. Nigerians have long called for a national debate on the way the country is governed. Many want greater autonomy for the states and a fairer distribution of the oil wealth. Obasanjo, a retired general and born-again southern Christian who was re-elected for a second term last year, has repeatedly rejected such a discussion, because, says another Western diplomat, 'it would just be a long-drawn-out exercise of Nigerians complaining about the obvious instead of getting on with fixing the country.' But with the government struggling to bring economic growth, the clamor for change continues. On May 15, protesters marched in the southern city of Lagos. 'The protest was to try and check the dictatorial tendencies of this regime,' said Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, who helped organize the march and was briefly detained by police who broke it up. 'When dialogue is missing, you have monologue.'"