Violence in Nigeria

Religious violence in Nigeria is becoming as visible as the government’s inability to control it. On Sunday, ethnic violence ravaged the southern city of Jos. Men armed with machetes wreaked havoc on southern villages in retaliation for the violence that claimed 200 lives in January.

Outbursts of religious violence are not unknown to Nigeria. Riots and violence between Muslims and Christians have claimed over 2,000 lives between September 2001 and 2008. In July 2009, Boko Haram, members of an Islamic extremist sect, launched multiple attacks in Northern Nigerian states that left 700 dead. And in the past few days, at least 370 have died, including a four-day old infant, in the latest round of sectarian violence. The attacks on Sunday are said to be in reprisal for the violence last January where dozens of Muslims were killed in and around Jos.

The latest round of violence ripples through a Nigeria that is still caught in political limbo, between supporters of the ailing elected president Umaru Musa Yar’adua, who recently returned from Saudi Arabia but remains in seclusion for health reasons, and acting president Goodluck Jonathan. As Nigeria grapples with its political future, including rumors of a coup, insecurity increases. So far, Jonathan has sacked his national security advisor, Major-General Sarki Mukhtar, and ordered security agencies to intercept arms and fighters bound for the centers of violence.

Addressing reporters on March 8, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that “The Nigerian government should ensure that the perpetrators of acts of violence are brought to justice.”

Yet, justice requires a stable, democratic platform, basic security, and functioning judicial institutions. Those essentials appear increasingly elusive and uncertain in a country where a crisis among the political elites, unease in the military and the middle classes, and rising religious and ethnic tensions threaten the governability and economic stability of this teetering West African giant. What’s more, the instability looms as a major headache for the architects of the Obama Administration’s Africa policy.