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Nigerian violence fed by ethnic, economic issues, ex-president says

March 11th, 2010
03:10 PM ET

By Toms Evans; Sr. Writer, AMANPOUR.

(CNN) - Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo insisted Wednesday that this week's explosion of violence that claimed at least 200 lives is not driven by religious tensions between Christians and Muslims - but by ethnic, social, and economic problems.

In Sunday's violence near the central city of Jos, Christian villagers said a mob armed with guns, knives and machetes killed and burned at will, leaving a trail of death and destruction. The attack came in the same area that 150 Muslims were killed in January.

In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Obasanjo said, "If you have one group or a community that has land that's been encroached upon by another community or even by itinerant cattle farmers, then the people who lay claim to the land will fight back."

"If there are job opportunities in an area, and persons believe they are indigenous to that area, and (are) not getting enough out of the jobs that are available, they will fight those who are getting the jobs," Obasanjo said.

Obasanjo said he's convinced the conflict in the oil-rich nation does not have religious roots, because Nigerian religious leaders have come together and deliberated on the problems in Jos, which lies on a faith-based fault-line between Muslim-dominated northern Nigeria and the mainly Christian south.

The former president also said it will be very dangerous if the acting president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, fails to implement reforms quickly because that country - Africa's most populous - is full of expectations for change.

Thousands of Nigerians Wednesday protested in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, demanding urgent action from the government on a host of issues ranging from corruption to unemployment.

CNN's Christiane Purefoy, reporting from the scene, said there was a lot of tension between police and the protesters, who believe that local governors are trying to get away with as much as they can because there's no one in charge at the top.

Acting President Jonathan continues to hold the reins of power, even though ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua has returned to Nigeria after three months treatment for an unspecified medical condition in Saudi Arabia.

Purefoy reported that Jonathan hardly ever makes any public appearances, and seems to be acting president in name only, without exercising real power.

Obasanjo said the whole episode with Yar'Adua is unusual. "I think ... the way it was handled by his handlers and the way it's been couched in secrecy and shrouded in mystery is strange. Somebody said it can only happen in 'wonderland' Nigeria."

Nigerian Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka told Amanpour the Nigerian people are demanding a sovereign national conference to empower the right people to restructure and reform the country.

He said next year's general election will be crucial to the future of the nation. "Right now we're running a constitution that has been imposed on the people themselves," he added.

Soyinka said the political system in Nigeria has been handed down first by the colonial past, and then by what he called "the internal colonial past," which is the military.

Amanpour also spoke with another Nobel Prize laureate on the program, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who has always preached reconciliation over the urge for revenge.

Tutu has written a new book "Made for Goodness" with his daughter, the Rev. Mpho Tutu. The book says that people are inherently good and there is inherent goodness on the earth.

"All of history has demonstrated the truth that evil people, evil systems, don't last forever. They bite the dust," Archbishop Tutu said.

"The fact of the matter is that evil is really an aberration. After God creates, God says, it is not just good, it's very good... and God rubs both hands and says 'ha, ha.'"

Archbishop Tutu was chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa that tried to heal the wounds in the country after decades of apartheid.

Reports from Nigeria say lawmakers in the parliament there are proposing their own Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to end the distrust that has fueled the violence in the center of the country.


Filed under:  1 • Nigeria
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Lateef raji

    Largely commentaries have actually been centered on describing the Jos violence as religious but this fact has been debunked by the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria. Jos is a beautiful place and there are many interest pulling at it from different directions. The issue of indigene and settler still continue to play a divisive role and the solution rests in the postulation of Professor Soyinka but the problem lies further in the ideas of statesmen like Obasanjo who does not believe in the idea of the people's power to decide their fate by calling for a sovereign national conference where everybody would set terms of relationship among all the federating components of the country and at the end build consensus. Obasanjo had the opportunity but bungled it through a selfish and parochial third term agenda.

    March 11, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Reply
  2. Adeola Poroye

    Don't be quick to throw away the position held by Gen. Obasanjo. He might not be so popular, but his depth and understanding of the issues facing Nigerian are impeccable. That is not to say Prof. Soyinka failed to hit the nail on the head. Their views might differ on the surface, but i can tell you without a doubt they are both spot on.

    It is rare to find two people of their insights into various challenges facing Nigeria as a country. I personally believe that if Nigeria is to emerge from her current situation, we are going to need these two and many more to halt the free fall and take a U-turn.

    Kudos to Amanpour and cnn, Job well done!

    March 11, 2010 at 7:19 pm | Reply
  3. obiekunie

    It is a pity that we have come to this level.in nigeria life means nothing.obasanjo should cover his face in shame.he is now advising the acting president to take action.how many nigerians lost their lives in a similar circumstances.what did he do to bring the culpits to book.nigeria recorded more killings in the 8 years that obasanjo wasted then anyother regime in the history of nigeria.obasanjo should tell the world what he did as a president to stop the genocide that is going on in nigeria most especially the northern part of the country.nigeria suppose to be a secular state but obasanjo allowed some religious bigots who were governors to force sharia laws on everybody living in their states.he did not say anything to protect the constitution.obasanjo.dont forget that obasanjos attorney general and minister for justice was murdered.up till this moment the killers are still walking free on the street.there was a lot of political motivated killings during obasanjos regime and nobody has been charged to court.obasanjo sent the army to Odi a small community in the niger delta they killed almost every body there.what about Zaki Ibiam.the same thing happened there during obasanjos regime.obasanjo should leave nigerians to mourn their deaths.obasanjo is in the same group with Pinochet,pol pot,idi amin and hitler.we are compiling evidences that we will send to hague in due course.please CNN when you want to know the truth about nigeria invite the likes of pro.soyinka or prof.pat utomi.leave the likes of obasanjo and his boys ribadu and el rufai.kudos too to amanpour for a job well done

    March 11, 2010 at 11:51 pm | Reply
  4. peter

    THERE NOTHING NEW ABOUT THE JOS CRISIS IN NIGERIA, IT IS PURELY RELIGIOUS EVERY OTHER THING THE MUSLIMS OR OTHER SECTARIANS ARE TRYING TO SAY IS JUST TO COVER THE TRUTH AND LET THE FIRE BURNING UNDER. THIS HAS BEEN HAPPENING FOR YEARS AND EACH TIME IT HAPPENS, THEY SAY IS NOT RELIGIOUS CRISIS THEN WHY THE BURNING OF CHURCHES, MASS KILLING OF CHRISTIANS IN THE NORTH AND DESTRUCTION OF CHRISTIANS PROPERTIES AND HOUSES IN THE NORTH. WE ALL KNOW IT, EVERY NIGERIANS KNOW THE TRUTH. AFTER THIS WICKED ACT HAVE BEEN DONE THEY WILL NOW RELATE IT TO POLITICAL AND COMMUNAL CRISIS. TOO BAD FOR A COUNTRY LIKE NIGERIA THAT WAS BROUGHT TOGETHER ARTIFICIALLY, WHAT DO WE EXPECT OF A COUNTRY THAT CANNOT AND CAN NEVER LIVE IN PEACE DESPITE THEIR HUGE MINERAL DEPOSIT, POVERTY STILL ROLE THE MASS OF POPULATION, NO GOOD ROADS, NO WATER, NO FOOD, YET THE LEADERS DRIVE THE MOST EXPENSIVE CARS, BUY HOUSES ABROAD, SEND THEIR CHILDREN ABROAD FOR STUDIES AND PUNISH AMONG MANY MORE ENCOURAGE MAN SLAUGHTER. TOO BAD FOR NIGERIA, MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON US

    March 12, 2010 at 8:54 am | Reply
  5. Thomas Okirika George

    The situation in Jos, and indeed other crises of this magnitude have never been fuelled by the cause of religion, apart from the fact that all these crises are a metaphor for what we have become, the powers that be are strongly cashing in on this divisions.

    Jos and other incidences have become a sore to our country, and methinks a more decisive measure ought to be taken. Personally I propose a united nations peace keeping method, where the keepers' of the peace will not have bias of any sort.

    The accussations about who was negligent, or responsible for stopping the massacre, continue to incite the once traquill people of that topographically picturesque city..

    Our hearts bleed...

    March 12, 2010 at 10:59 am | Reply
  6. Deola

    The people that amalgamated Nigeria did a bad job of mixing different persons together with nothing in common except the color of their skin. Nigeria is like mixing Mecca with Rome. I see no future in its existence, the root cause of our palaver.

    March 13, 2010 at 10:04 pm | Reply
  7. marcus

    one can only understand the problem of jos if you leave there. i know it is historic but it only came to light recently because of the attitumde of the present state govt. lets be sincere to ourselves even before his election his manifesto was redemption . redemption of what? if only he was ready to help his people he should have encourage them to believe in themselves. even when he tried to stop them from taking the locally brewed alcohol their response was angry, even though they know it makes them unproductive.there many ponds left by mining company and it is used for dry season farming of many exotic vegetables instead of engaging in the farming themselves they rather lease it out to so called settlers.helped them believe they can succeed and not to blame others mr govt.

    March 16, 2010 at 6:37 pm | Reply
  8. Gabriel

    Some Islamic scholars tell us that Islam is wholistic, which means that an economic, political, ethnic matter could translate to religious. Could this explain why past and present crisis in some states of Northern Nigeria, including Plateau State, result in burning down Church buildings, destroying residential and properties and killing adherents of the Christian faith.

    Culture and tradition in Africa is still very strong and may remain so for the next 100 years. Ancestral territory which include traditional holding on land cannot be triviliased or overrulled by those who are not indigenous to an area. It is on record that where the Hausa-Fulanis agitated for the kind of control they want in Jos, Plateau, in other parts of Nigeria, the natives of those States fought back to the point of shedding blood!

    March 17, 2010 at 8:52 pm | Reply
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