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The city of Kaduna, the capital of Kaduna State, is one of the largest in northern Nigeria and is viewed by some as the symbolic capital of the north.5 While the north of Nigeria is predominantly Muslim, Kaduna has a significant population of Christians, from around thirty ethnic groups based mostly in the south of the state, sometimes referred to as the South Kaduna minority tribes. According to some estimates, close to half the population of Kaduna may be made up of Christians. The majority of the population in the northern part of Kaduna State are Muslims from the Hausa/Fulani ethnic groups. Kaduna differs from other northern states in that although some areas are dominated by particular ethnic groups, these different groups have also lived side by side in the same areas for many years, especially in Kaduna town.6 Kaduna has a different mix of populations from other northern states: as its capital is one of the more developed cities in the north, it has become host to people from many ethnic groups from different parts of the country, including Christians from other states.

Over several decades, Kaduna, like other states of Nigeria, has experienced outbreaks of violence and fighting between different groups. Most often, this has pitted Muslims against Christians, although the fundamental causes can be traced to political and economic rivalries, rather than religious differences. In recent years, however, religion has come to the fore as one of the aspects with which people have identified most readily and which has enabled leaders to stir up violence whenever it suited their purposes. Since 2000, in particular, the religious dimension to the tensions in Kaduna emerged more explicitly, as conflicts began to center around the extension of Sharia to criminal law, one of the most divisive issues in Nigeria in recent times.

Three of the most serious outbreaks of violence in Kaduna State occurred in 1987, 1992 and 2000. In 1987, a dispute erupted between students from different ethnic and religious groups in Kafanchan, and the violence spread to several other towns and areas. In February and May 1992, in what became known as the Zangon-Kataf crisis, there were clashes in Zangon-Kataf between the Hausa and the Kataf (a predominantly Christian ethnic group), initially sparked off by a dispute over the relocation of a market. Killings of Hausa by Kataf were followed by reprisal killings of Christians by Muslims, including in several other parts of Kaduna State.7

The 2000 crisis and its consequences

A brief background on the events of 2000 is essential to understand some of the factors which gave rise to the violence in Kaduna in November 2002. In February and May 2000, in some of the most serious inter-communal violence that Nigeria has seen in recent years, at least 2,000 people, and possibly many more, were killed in fighting between Christians and Muslims in Kaduna. Some commentators have described the 2000 Kaduna riots as the single worst outbreak of violence in Nigeria since the 1967-70 civil war.

The fighting began following debate around the proposed introduction of Sharia in Kaduna State. Sharia has existed in northern Nigeria for many years, but until 1999, it had only been applied to personal and domestic law. From 1999 onwards, in a move which was popular among many Muslims but highly controversial in the broader Nigerian federation, a number of northern state governors began extending its application to criminal law and other areas that had not been previously regulated. Zamfara was the first state to do so; others soon followed, and by 2001, most of Nigeria’s twelve northern states had adopted some form of Sharia in criminal law.8 Although designed to apply only to Muslims living in these states (non-Muslim criminal suspects are not tried by Sharia courts), its application has been strongly opposed by Christians, who find themselves directly or indirectly affected by it in different ways; for example in some states, the sale and consumption of alcohol is prohibited, and women are prohibited from traveling with men in public transport vehicles. Aside from these practical effects of Sharia, many Christians have strongly opposed its application for reasons of politics and “principle”, arguing that its spread is a way of perpetuating the historical dominance of the Muslim north — a discourse which shows that regional divisions in Nigeria remain at least as strong as religious divisions.

In view of Kaduna’s large Christian population, the possibility of introducing Sharia in Kaduna State was always likely to attract more controversy, and more protest, than in other northern states. A Lagos-based human rights activist described Kaduna as having become a place of contestation for Muslims and Christians, a battleground for the “forces of secularity.”9

The 2000 violence in Kaduna took place in two main waves—sometimes referred to as “Sharia 1” and “Sharia 2” — a first wave from February 21 to 25, with further killings in March, followed by a second wave from May 22 to 23. In reaction to the prospect of the introduction of Sharia into Kaduna Sate, the Kaduna branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) organized a public protest on February 21. Then the situation degenerated: Muslim youths clashed with the Christian protestors, and fighting between Christians and Muslims spiraled out of control, with massive violence and destruction on both sides. An accurate, total death toll has never been ascertained, and as is typical in these situations, government and police officials were keen to play down the figures. A judicial commission of inquiry set up by the Kaduna state government reported that at least 1,295 people had been killed, while an unspecified additional number were buried unidentified, and others were declared missing;10 however, this number refers only to those killed in February and does not include the several hundred people reported killed in May.11 All the people Human Rights Watch interviewed in connection with the 2002 riots believed that the number of people killed in the 2000 riots far exceeded the figure of 2,000 and was likely to be closer to 5,000. A Nigerian journalist who covered the November 2002 Kaduna riots described them as “child’s play compared to what happened in 2000.”12 The 2000 violence in Kaduna had repercussions elsewhere in the country, particularly in the southeast, as predominantly Christian ethnic groups, such as the Igbo, took revenge for the killings of Christians in Kaduna and turned against Muslim populations in their areas.

The 2000 violence has left long-lasting scars on the people and the state of Kaduna; the memories were still fresh when violence struck again two years later, and many communities feel that their grievances have still not been addressed. In particular, many of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch in December 2002 were still bitter about the fact that there had been no justice following the massive violence in 2000; they therefore expressed little hope that the organizers or perpetrators of the 2002 violence would be prosecuted. None of the people interviewed by Human Rights Watch were able to cite any cases of leading actors in the 2000 violence who had been brought to trial. It is widely believed that at that time, government authorities decided to avoid what they perceived as a risk of further escalating the violence by charging and trying the individuals responsible. Many Muslims and Christians alike also attributed the lack of prosecutions for the 2000 violence to significant political pressure from leaders of both communities, and feared that a similar absence of action would characterize the government’s response to the 2002 violence.13 As described in this report, their predictions have turned out to be true.

Apart from the trauma that individuals and families have suffered, and the ever-deepening divisions in the society, the physical effects of the violence of 2000 are still visible in the widespread destruction of houses and other buildings. When Human Rights Watch visited the state capital in December 2002, local residents pointed out destruction that had been caused in 2000, separately from the more recent destruction caused in 2002. In some cases, the same neighborhoods or buildings had been hit twice, first in 2000, then again in 2002, and many had not been rebuilt or repaired since 2000.

The 2000 violence also caused large-scale population displacement, leading to a sharp segregation of communities in some areas. By 2002, residents were describing particular areas of Kaduna town as “100 per cent Christian” or “100 per cent Muslim.” This was largely as a result of the 2000 events, and to a lesser extent the clashes of previous years. Christians and Muslims increasingly moved to areas which were dominated by people of their own faith in the hope of finding safety there; many of them did not return to their original areas of residence. Following the 2002 violence, this physical segregation of parts of the city appears to have increased — an indication of deepening polarization in what was once a genuinely mixed population. Many of the people interviewed by Human Rights Watch in December 2002 explained that they had moved homes not because they did not want to live with members of other faiths, but that it was a “survival tactic”: they expected to be safer surrounded by their own community in the event of any future resurgence of violence.

The governor of Kaduna State, Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, has found himself in an increasingly difficult political position in the last few years, particularly since the 2000 riots and the introduction of Sharia. The manner in which Sharia is applied to criminal law varies from state to state in the north of Nigeria, and the federal government has given free reign to state governors in this respect, despite fierce controversy as to the constitutionality of its application to criminal law in the first place.14 In Kaduna, the governor eventually introduced a “modified” or watered-down version of Sharia, a kind of compromise to make allowances for the fact that the state has such a large Christian population. For example, unlike in some northern states, restrictions relating to life-style, such as consumption or sale of alcohol, are not generally applied to Christians in Kaduna. In view of the violence that the prospect of Sharia had unleashed in 2000, it was not until 2001 that Sharia was extended to cover criminal law in Kaduna State and Sharia courts were created there.15 To date, unlike some other northern states, the Sharia courts in Kaduna State are not reported to have handed down cruel, inhuman and degrading sentences such as death by stoning, floggings and amputations, even though these punishments are provided for in the penal code.16

Faced with the challenge of trying to win the support of both Christians and Muslims, Governor Makarfi, himself a Muslim, has succeeded in satisfying neither. Christians have accused him of pandering to Islamic “extremists” by introducing Sharia, a move which was seen as responsible for the massive killings in 2000 and which continues to cause controversy and division. For example, a statement issued by Christian elders two days after the November 2002 violence had subsided accused Governor Makarfi of “executing an Islamic Sharia agenda against the Christians and Southern Kaduna people who in the first instance overwhelmingly voted him into power.”17 The same statement asserts: “The implementation of Islamic Sharia as signed into law in Kaduna State has turned the Christians and other non-Muslims in Kaduna State in a ‘House of War’. We therefore totally refuse to accept it as such.”18 However, some Christians have supported his efforts to resist pressure to turn Kaduna into a “full” Sharia state, and some of his most ardent supporters can be found among the Christian communities. His most vocal critics have been Muslims, who have accused him of betraying them by not implementing “proper Sharia” and of being more Christian than some Christians; they have nicknamed him “Pastor Makarfi” or “John Makarfi”. In addition, as a member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), he has been criticized by opponents of President Obasanjo and labeled a stooge of the president.19

As waves of violence have succeeded each other in Kaduna, and the authorities have failed to resolve the causes of the conflicts, some groups have intensified their campaign for the creation of a separate Southern Kaduna state. These demands have mostly been voiced by Christians who have repeatedly complained of marginalization — the assumption being that any newly-created state would be dominated by Christians, while most Muslims would continue to live in the northern part of the state. However, several Muslims told Human Rights Watch that they too were beginning to despair of the population’s ability to live together in the state’s current configuration, and that perhaps the only solution was to create separate states. However, others — Christians and Muslims — pointed out that in many areas, the populations are still intermingled and believe that ethnic and religious diversity remains one of the strengths of Kaduna State.20

4 Various reports and articles by non-governmental organizations, academics and others provide more detailed background on the history and causes of violence in Kaduna State. A concise account can be found in “Ethnic and religious crisis in Kaduna,” by Hussaini Abdu and Dr Lydia Umar, in Hope Betrayed? A report on impunity and state-sponsored violence in Nigeria, published by the Centre for Law Enforcement Education and the World Organisation Against Torture, 2002; and in Hussaini Abdu, “Ethno-religious crisis in Kaduna: impact on women and children,” in Ethno-religious conflicts and democracy in Nigeria: challenges, Etanibi E.O.Alemika and Festus Okoye (eds.), published by Human Rights Monitor, 2002.

5 Kaduna was the capital of what was called the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria under the British colonial administration.

6 See “Ethnic and religious crisis in Kaduna,” by Hussaini Abdu and Dr Lydia Umar, in Hope Betrayed? A report on impunity and state-sponsored violence in Nigeria, published by the Centre for Law Enforcement Education and the World Organisation Against Torture, 2002.

7 For an account of the Zangon-Kataf violence, see Akin Akinteye, James M.Wuye and Muhammad N.Ashafa, “Zangon Kataf crisis: a case study,” in Community conflicts in Nigeria: management, resolution and transformation, Onigu Otite and Isaac Olawale Albert (eds.), (Ibadan: Academic Associates Peaceworks, 1999). See also Human Rights Watch report on the trial which resulted from the Zangon-Kataf riots: “Military injustice: Major General Zamani Lekwot and others face government-sanctioned lynching,” March 30, 1993.

8 Nigeria is a federation made up of thirty-six states.

9 Human Rights Watch interview, Lagos, December 5, 2002. Secularity is sometimes associated with Christianity among Muslims who advocate Sharia in Nigeria.

10 See Chapter 3 of the White Paper on the Report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Kaduna State Religious Disturbances of February 2000, published by the Kaduna State Government in April 2001.

11 See for example Amnesty International Annual Report 2001.

12 Human Rights Watch interview, Lagos, December 4, 2002.

13 Human Rights Watch interviews, Kaduna, December 2002.

14 Section 10 of the 1999 constitution states: “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.” The constitution contains provisions for Sharia courts in the context of Islamic personal law, but not criminal law. Since the northern states began extending Sharia to criminal law, there has been much debate and division on this issue in Nigeria. The federal government has adopted a passive attitude, with the apparent hope or expectation that the issue would eventually resolve itself. Several senior federal government officials, including President Obasanjo and Attorney General and Minister of Justice Kanu Agabi, have expressed their personal opposition to certain sentences handed down by Sharia courts, particularly sentences of death by stoning for adultery. However, they have not taken measures to prevent these sentences from being issued by challenging aspects of the legislation, waiting instead for each case to make its way through the appeals process. In the period leading up to elections in 2003, the federal government would have been especially reluctant to take a strong stand against Sharia for fear of alienating the northern vote. Several of the northern state governors have staked their personal and political reputation on the successful implementation of Sharia.

15 Law To Provide for the Establishment of Sharia Courts in Kaduna State, May 2, 2001.

16 Section 96, Kaduna State Shari’ah Penal Code, June 2002.

17 Press Release on the Recent Religious Violence/Riots in Kaduna State by the Southern Kaduna Elders’ Consultative Forum, 25th November 2002.

18 Ibid.

19 In 1999, President Obasanjo came to power in large part through the support of the north. However, many northerners have since become disillusioned with his government, feeling that he has let them down. Opposition to President Obasanjo has grown across several northern states.

20 Human Rights Watch interviews, Kaduna, December 2002.

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July 2003