Nigeria's Foreign Minister: Conflicts More than Religious Problem

The recent string of violence in central Nigeria is more than a religious conflict, asserted the country's minister of foreign affairs.

While the international community has "largely misunderstood" the violence as stemming from Christian-Muslim animosity, said Henry Odein, it is "much more complicated."

Odein told a visiting World Council of Churches delegation last week that the conflict in the central Plateau State, which resulted in hundreds of deaths in March, is more about an indigenous population and an immigrant community in that area than simply a religious conflict.

"The issues are of social and economic nature," Odein said.

Members of the WCC Living Letters team, which visited Nigeria from May 15 to 20, visited the villages near Jos, in the Plateau State where houses and markets were burned and more than 500 people were killed, mostly Christians.

The governor of Plateau State, Jonah David Jang, said the capital city Jos has seen one of the worst ethnic conflicts in recent years. Jang, who is a committed Christian and a minister of the Church of Christ in Nigeria, has been the governor of Plateau State for the past four years.

During the visit, the Living Letters team visited a mass grave in Dogonahawa village where about 323 locals murdered last March are buried.

They also met a 60-year-old woman, Kumbo Chuwang, who was maimed in the violence, and a teenage boy, Tebita Danjuma, whose body was burned by the fire engulfing the building he was in.

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, chairman of the Plateau State division of the Chritain Association of Nigeria, stated that the conflict is not about Muslims versus Christians.

"It is not the religions that are fighting but some people who adhere to the religions that are involved," Kaigama said. "There is no war between the two faiths."

The WCC advocated for the Nigerian government to invest more to develop Plateau State and to ensure those responsible for the violence are brought to trial.

"We have met the survivors, talked to them, listened to them and prayed along with them and assured them that the global community of churches is with them in their moment of crisis," said WCC program executive for Africa Dr. Nigussu Legesse to Odein on May 21.

Legesse urged the Nigerian minister of foreign affairs to help develop Jos through the federal government. He also said many people told the WCC delegation they are worried that assailants will be released with impunity.

Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa, is about evenly split between Muslims who mainly reside in the North and Christians who live in the Southern portion of the country. The central region, especially Plateau State, has often been a place of violent outbreak between Muslim and Christians.