Thursday, April 19, 2007


It has been reported that a small army of ca. 300 Muslim fundamentalists have attacked a police station in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, killing 12 in retaliation for the assassination of a Muslim cleric there. In response the Nigerian Army counter-attacked and killed 20 of them. This an area in north central Nigeria where there have been regular conflicts between Muslims and Christians. One of the causes of conflict has been the introduction of Sharia law into the predominantly Muslim States of Northern Nigeria, which nevertheless have a significant Christian population.
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with 140 million people (the population of African countries is often smaller than expected because of the poor sanitation, lack of medical services and inadequate food and water supplies). The north of the country consists mainly of the Muslim Hausa and Fulani tribes. They were converted to Islam quite early on after Berber tribes of North Africa fled south across the Sahara desert to escape the invading Arab armies. The Berbers included many Jews who had settled amongst them and together they formed one of the first organized civilizations in West Africa. So there is some Jewish blood in northern Nigeria. The Arabs pursued them south and conquered them and the surrounding indigenous peoples and converted them to Islam.
In the south the tribes along the coast were conquered by the British and converted to Christianity. This includes the Ibo tribe in the south east of Nigeria, the region that tried to become independent as Biafra in the 1967-70 war. When we were in Cambridge we became friendly with an Ibo couple, who asked me to be the Godfather of their son, so somewhere in Nigeria I have a Godson.
In the west of Nigeria the Yoruba tribe has remained more or less pagan. So Nigeria is divided into three main regions (compare Iraq). Yet, they have adhered together as a unitary state. Nevertheless, the pressure of Muslim extremism from the north has caused many conflicts, including thousands of deaths and requiring the mobilization of the Nigerian army to put down civil strife, and this can be expected to worsen in the future.
Another area of conflict in Nigeria is the estuary of the Niger River near Port Harcourt. The local people are contesting the exploitation of the oil fields there that have given them little or no income, all the money goes to the Government and into the pockets of politicians. There will be more fighting there until something changes. Nigeria is a potentially rich country, where corruption is endemic and progress is arctic.


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