Nigeria: Exploitation and poverty behind riots

AN INFLAMATORY Nigerian newspaper article connected to the Miss World contest sparked off bloody religious sectarianism in the northern city of Kaduna. The fighting later flared in the capital Abuja leaving 215 people dead, 1,200 injured and 12,000 homeless.

The pageant had already caused controversy when several contestants pulled out in protest at the sentencing to death by a Sharia court of a Nigerian woman, Amina Lawal, for adultery.

The troubles began with a protest by Muslims in Kaduna last Wednesday over a newspaper article they saw as trivialising their objections to the contest. Two years ago over 2,000 people were killed in violent attacks by Muslims and Christians in Kaduna located in one of two federal states that have adopted Islamic laws.

But underlying this religious conflict are more complex, inter-related social factors; not least the grinding poverty in this oil-rich country.

The demands of the working class and poor for jobs, decent wages, education and health services in short, social justice, has been exploited by rich, demagogic politicians. These opportunists have used religious and ethnic allegiances to promote their own interests.

Many atrocities have also been carried out by rampaging soldiers.

Just over a year ago there were serious religious/ethnic disturbances in the city of Kano and before that in Jos, where hundreds were killed. A contributing factor leading to an increase in tensions was the 11 September terrorist attacks and the retaliatory US military action in Afghanistan.

The Democratic Socialist Movement (The Socialist Party’s Nigerian counterpart) had earlier warned of such events.

In particular, they highlighted "the failure of the leaders of the trade unions and workers’ organisations (eg the Nigerian Labour Congress) to provide an independent working-class alternative to the terrorism and archaic ideas of the Islamic fundamentalist groups and the warmongering of the US and other imperialist powers."

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November 2002