There was unanimity among the people interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Kaduna and elsewhere that the controversy over the Miss World contest was not the real cause of the violence in Kaduna. Muslims and Christians alike agreed that this was just a pretext or a trigger for unleashing frustrations and tensions that had been building up over many months, and even years. Many people believed that if the Miss World contest had never been planned to take place in Nigeria, and even if the article in ThisDay had not been written or published, some other incident would have been seized upon instead, and sooner or later, violence would have erupted. Some people believed that some groups had been waiting for an opportunity to take revenge for violence committed against their own community in 2000; certainly many of the grievances from that time have not been satisfactorily addressed by the government. Others attributed the riots to political opportunism.
There was a also a common belief among the different groups of people interviewed by Human Rights Watch that the real nature of the conflict was political, rather than religious, and that its religious manifestation was mostly the result of manipulation of the population by political leaders. To support this belief, they pointed to the fact that during the protests and riots, the governor’s campaign posters were torn down and, some alleged, replaced with posters of his political opponents. Some people claimed that the rioters were chanting “no second term” (for the governor). The governor’s campaign headquarters and a new shopping complex built by the governor were targeted by the protesters when they began attacking buildings in the town.105 The governor himself was also quick to describe the riots as political rather than religious, and accused his political opponents of using religion as an excuse to cause trouble.
As elections approached in April 2003, the stakes began to rise and Governor Makarfi’s political future looked increasingly uncertain. His political rivals for the position of governor—most of them Muslims too—were campaigning hard to try to unseat him. Some people in Kaduna accused some of these opponents of deliberately stoking up tensions and even orchestrating the November 2002 violence in order to destabilize the situation and weaken the governor’s position. Eventually, though, Governor Makarfi won a comfortable 58.69% of the vote in the elections of April 19, 2003.106
Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm these claims or to pinpoint the role of particular politicians in the run-up to the November 2002 events in Kaduna. However, it is clear that as elsewhere in Nigeria—especially in the north—religion has become extremely politicized and has been used as a tool to influence and mobilize the population. It is also clear that in the context of Kaduna’s longstanding inter-communal tensions, it took very little to spark off another round of violence. Human Rights Watch believes that the real cause of the November 2002 riots was not the Miss World contest or the newspaper article; these were issues on which disagreements could easily have been resolved without resorting to violence, even if tempers had flared. It seems likely that political or religious leaders were seeking to make capital out of a further outbreak of violence, whatever their objectives, and that a state of semi-permanent tension had been allowed to develop, and may even have been encouraged by some political or religious leaders. Looking back over Kaduna’s recent history, it is striking that these tensions between different ethnic and religious groups have increased without significant or effective measures being taken by those in power to address the underlying problems, despite recurring and massive loss of life.
The religious aspect of events in Kaduna was brought to the fore when, on November 25, in a move likely to further inflame the situation, the deputy governor of the northern state of Zamfara, Mamuda Aliyu Shinkafi, issued a fatwa (religious decree) against Isioma Daniel, the journalist whose article in ThisDay triggered the protests, and encouraged Muslims to kill her. Zamfara was the first state to introduce Sharia into criminal law and its state government remains one of the most ardent advocates of its application. The fatwa created a wave of panic and Isioma Daniel was forced to go into hiding for her own safety. Senior Muslim leaders and organizations, including Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), the Muslim umbrella organization, and the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (SCIA), as well as senior federal government officials, including Minister for Information Jerry Gana, were quick to disown and condemn the fatwa and to point out that it had no legal basis or justification. The JNI stated that the Zamfara state government had no authority to issue a fatwa and that it should be ignored. Isioma Daniel apologized for causing offence through her article; ThisDay also published several apologies before, during and after the violence, including a full apology and explanation from the editor-in-chief and chairman of the newspaper, on November 25. These apologies did not appear to satisfy those who were calling for revenge. According to Media Rights Agenda (a non-governmental organization working on freedom of expression and press freedom), on November 28, a group calling itself Movement against attack on Prophet Mohammed wrote to seventeen individually-named journalists working for ThisDay, including the editor, threatening to kill them for “conspiring” with Isioma Daniel.107
There were allegations that some Muslim and Christian leaders had made provocative statements in the days immediately preceding the violence and that these statements had been partly responsible for causing the violence. People pointed in particular to statements made by the Emir of Birnin Gwari, an important traditional ruler, in which he reportedly condemned the publication of the article in ThisDay and called on Muslims to rise up and protect their faith.108 In their own response to the events, Christian elders issued a press release in which they described the news conference given by the Emir of Birnin Gwari as “the major hatchet that has created the confusion/mayhem in Kaduna/environ […].” More significantly, the Christian elders also stated: “While we do not provoke, we shall no longer tolerate any act of provocation, killing, maiming or burning of our Churches by anybody for no wrong committed by us as we shall return ‘Fire for Fire.’ Enough is enough!”109
Other Christian leaders also warned that the desire for retaliation may become unstoppable. For example, the chairman of the Federal Capital Territory chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) was quoted as saying: “We are law abiding citizens and we expect the government to protect us; but if the government at various levels fail to protect us, our people will be left with no option but to defend and protect themselves by whatever means available to them. At that point, no Church leader or sermon will be able to stop them.”110
The importance of religion in understanding and analyzing the conflicts in Kaduna remains contested, and contradictory and confusing opinions are voiced, sometimes by the same individuals. According to members of Christian and Muslim communities, some of their leaders who told Human Rights Watch that they did not believe religion was the root cause of the violence in Kaduna were the first to resort to attacking their “opponents” with explicit reference to their religious faith, and to advocate “self-defense” on the basis of religious survival.111 Even though religious differences may not have been at the origin of the disputes, politics and religion in Kaduna, as elsewhere in the north of Nigeria, are now likely to remain inseparable until the issue of Sharia, its constitutional implications, and the grievances of Christian and Muslim communities are addressed fully and explicitly by the federal government. In an anecdotal example of how politicized religion has become, a senatorial candidate from Kaduna told Human Rights Watch that when campaigning in early 2003 to seek public support, he was only ever questioned about religion, not other issues.112 It is worth noting that although Kaduna has suffered from inter-communal tensions for several decades, the religious aspect only emerged sharply in the last few years. However, the fact that it now occupies centre stage in the language of politics in Kaduna State means that it will be difficult to set it to one side when attempting to resolve the tensions; it is a factor that will be need to be addressed explicitly, and religious and political leaders alike will have to be centrally involved in initiatives to resolve the conflicts.
105 Many people interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Kaduna regarded these details as significant. However, they do not constitute conclusive evidence that the riots were orchestrated by the governor’s opponents, since they could also have been acts of opportunism or vandalism once the riots had broken out.
106 Official results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Nigerian and foreign election observers reported instances of fraud and rigging in parts of Kaduna State, as in many other states of Nigeria during the 2003 elections.
107 See “Attacks on the press: 17 ThisDay reporters, editors receive death threats,” in Media Rights Monitor, published by Media Rights Agenda, January 2003. In its December 2002 issue, Media Rights Monitor also reported that the Kano State House of Assembly had adopted a resolution on November 22 banning the sale and distribution of ThisDay in Kano State.
108 Human Rights Watch has not been able to obtain the actual text of his statement.
109 Press Release on the Recent Religious Violence / Riots in Kaduna State by the Southern Kaduna Elders Consultative Forum, 25th November 2002.
110 See “We won’t tolerate more killings – CAN,” The Punch (Lagos), November 28, 2002.
111 Human Rights Watch interviews, Kaduna, November 2002, and other sources.
112 Human Rights Watch interview, Abuja, February 18, 2003.