John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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A Bloody Easter in Nigeria

by John Campbell
April 9, 2012

A roadblock burns after a bombing at St. Finbarr's Catholic Church in the Rayfield suburb of the Nigerian city of Jos March 11, 2012. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters) A roadblock burns after a bombing at St. Finbarr's Catholic Church in the Rayfield suburb of the Nigerian city of Jos March 11, 2012. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

For Christians — and at least half of Nigeria’s population is Christian — Easter is the Queen of Feasts, one of the two highest profile holidays of the year. (The other is Christmas.) Last Christmas, there were bloody attacks on worshippers attributed to Boko Haram centered around Abuja. This Easter, there were similarly bloody attacks in Kaduna. Thus far, no group has claimed responsibility for them.

Press accounts say that at least thirty-eight were killed on Easter day by a car bomb detonated by a suicide bomber. There is reporting that the bomber’s goal was an Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) congregation, but he detonated his explosives prematurely when he attracted the attention of the security services. In what may be a related incident, a bomb was detonated in the middle belt city of Jos, also on Easter day, but apparently with no casualties. The State Security Service and the army a few days earlier reported that it had captured sixty explosive devices in Gombe (in the same general region as Kaduna and Jos) and arrested five suspects.

At an Easter vigil on Saturday at a Catholic Church in Benue, twenty-two died when the church collapsed around them. However, the cause was heavy rain, not terrorism, according to official authorities as reported in the press.

With increasing Boko Haram attacks, there had been concern about violence over Easter. According to the press, both the British and U.S. governments had issued warnings to their citizens. However, at least one Nigerian press spokesman had predicated that “Easter will be peaceful for all.”

Kaduna is on the fault line where the predominately Christian south and the predominately Muslim north meet. Human rights organizations estimate that at least eight hundred were killed in its outskirts following the April 2011 elections. While victims were both Christian and Muslim, the latter seem to have predominated. Ever since, there has been a heavy military and police presence in the city.

Kaduna was founded by the British in 1913 and it became the capital of the old Northern Region in 1917. Its population approaches eight hundred thousand. It is now the capital of Kaduna state, but many northern politicians maintain residences there, making it politically more important than its size would indicate. Jos is also on a religious and ethnic fault line, and has long been the venue of vicious ethnic and religious strife.

Boko Haram is a highly diffuse movement, rather than a tight organization. Though no group claims responsibility for the Easter mayhem, it is plausible that some aspect of Boko Haram is responsible. In its early days, Boko Haram attacks were mostly on police stations and military facilities, and suicide bombing started less than a year ago. Now, however, churches and to a lesser extent schools are also targets. Boko Haram would appear to be changing even as it becomes more successful.

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  • Posted by Maduka

    I am much more worried about the impact of Islamic inspired terrorism on ethnically and religiously divided towns like Jos and Kaduna than on more ethnically and religiously homogeneous towns like Kano, Maiduguri and Sokoto.

    The target of the bombers was a church/series of churches and the significance of an Easter attack is not lost on most Nigerians.

    If recent history is anything to go by, the likelihood of reprisal attacks in both Kaduna and Jos is extremely high. There is a human side to the crisis that is not often captured, and it is the raw, emotional, human angle to this crisis that will largely determine how peaceful Nigeria will be in future.

    Secondly, as I’ve mentioned earlier, you either seem to deliberately ignore the Middle Belt in most of your analysis or your knowledge of the dynamics of that part of Nigeria is not as deep as you wish it to be. If Nigeria tips into an unstable equilibrium, the likely trigger will be the Middle Belt, not the far North.

    So I think this is a wake up call for us to critically examine the Middle Belt and the impact the Boko Haram bombings are having on perceptions of the North and Nigeria’s internal politics.

    Consequently, the decision to site the US consulate at Kano may need to be revisited. Kano is extremely important, but Kano would leave one with the impression that Nigeria has an ethnically homogeneous and Islamic dominated North.

    Kaduna, on the other hand, is an important seat of power, is not too far from the “core North” but most importantly, is on ground zero (the interface between the largely Muslim far North and the ethnically and religiously diverse “Middle Belt”). A diplomat in Kaduna will have a better appreciation of the “North” and “Middle Belt” than a diplomat in Kano.

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