Nigeria: IRIN Focus on tension in Kaduna

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
KADUNA, 21 March (IRIN) - A curfew remains in force in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna, one month after bloody religious clashes between Muslims and Christians over the proposed introduction of Sharia (Islamic) law left hundreds dead.

An uneasy calm prevails in the city, broken by reports that police had shot two men on Monday in a skirmish that took place after law enforcers tried to arrest a small group of Muslim men alleged to have supplied weapons used in February's riots.

Kaduna used to be a cosmopolitan city, roughly evenly divided between Muslims and Christians, but Christian southerners, mostly Igbos who lost homes and businesses in the three days of violence, are leaving. Those that remain are relocating across the Kaduna river into the southern suburbs, while Hausa Muslims are moving north.

Positions are hardening, residents told IRIN. "Even the market is now demarcated. Christians only buy from Christians and Muslims only from Muslims. We are seeing a Bantustanisation of the state and the trust has gone," one man, who asked not to be named, said. "There is a balance of forces and a balance of terror here."

The physical destruction, in what amounted to ethnic cleansing, is all too apparent in Kaduna's low-income districts. IRIN toured shops, houses, mosques and churches gutted as a result of the 21-23 February mayhem.

But the impact of the carnage went much further than Kaduna. As the corpses of Igbos were returned home to the southeast, retaliatory violence erupted in Aba and two other Igbo towns in which Hausas and Muslims were hunted down.

The shock of the killings has, at least temporarily, served to take Sharia off the political agenda. President Olusegun Obasanjo called a meeting of northern governors on 29 February at which a pledge was made to halt the growing Sharia movement - seemingly in violation of Nigeria's secular constitution - in the Muslim north.

Kaduna is not an archetypal northern city. It was created by the British colonial authorities as a railway junction and garrison town. Its industrial growth attracted people from across the country, with Igbos in particular dominating aspects of the retail trade. Kaduna, which has had its fair share of religious and ethnic disturbances in the past, is the last place in the north where Sharia could be introduced without expecting a backlash.

"The ethnic and religious configuration in Kaduna is very dangerous because no religious persuasion or ethnic group dominates Kaduna metropolis," Kaduna-based human rights lawyer Festus Okoye told IRIN. "It was very clear that if Sharia is introduced into any part of the country, Kaduna would be the last battleground."

However, the mass appeal of Sharia in the core northern state of Zamfara when it was introduced on 27 January apparently proved politically irresistible for other northern governors. The slide towards confrontation in Kaduna began when the state assembly announced it would examine the imposition of Sharia. "Some governors latched on to Sharia because they couldn't deliver," Okoye said. "They are trying to clothe themselves in a religious garb and present themselves as Islamic reformers rather than political leaders."

But according to Kaduna Imam Alhaji Mohammed Sani, "a knowledgeable Muslim will look at Sharia as part and parcel of his religion". He said those governors who didn't promise Sharia during their election campaigns were now answering the yearning of their electorate because there was now democracy in Nigeria.

Muslims in Kaduna repeatedly told IRIN that Sharia would only affect them, and not Christians. But according to Okoye, "the picture from Zamfara was different". The ban on alchohol sales, the gender segregation on public and private transport, and even schools, all impacted on non-Muslims.

In the aftermath of the violence in Kaduna, only brought to a halt when the army finally intervened on the evening of the third day, a healing process of sorts is underway. It involves dialogue between community leaders.

Although Sani believes that the violence in Kaduna was due to the "religious intolerance of Christians", he said he intended to invite members of the clergy to his mosque as part of a reconciliation process. "The trust between the communities is very weak, but I don't think it is totally broken," he told IRIN. "Both Hausas and Igbos were the losers."

But according to Okoye, "the problem is that neighbours killed their neighbours, and that has never happened before".


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