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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Miss World riots in Nigeria

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News of the riots over the Miss World pageant held in Nigeria was widely reported on U.S. television in the usual short form that leaves the viewer wondering what craziness in Nigeria leads to killing in the name of religion. What follows is an analysis of the situation in Nigeria that lead to the widespread rioting.

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In late November, riots broke out in Kaduna, northern Nigeria. More than 220 people died, perhaps 1,000 were wounded, and five hundred were hospitalized. Three hundred and fifty were arrested. The army shot many of them. The government sees these disturbances as potential revolts. In the past four years, conflicts like this have become increasingly common as the Muslim majority in twelve northern states has set up Sharia law courts that go beyond what is allowed by the Nigerian constitution. From 1999 to now, 10,000 people have died in riots.

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This time, the excuse was a fashion article in the November 16 edition of ThisDay, a Lagos based paper. A woman journalist, Isioma Daniel, wrote about the Miss World contest, which was scheduled for the last week of Ramadan (the fasting month when Muslims reflect on how they have lived their lives) in Abuja, the Nigerian capital located in Kaduna state. (Kaduna along with eleven other northern states is partially subject to Sharia, the Muslim code of conduct.) After weighing the pros and cons of holding the event in Nigeria, Isioma Daniel wrote, "What would Mohammed think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from one of them. The irony is that Algeria, an Islamic country, is one of the countries participating in the event."

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Isioma Daniel studied at Lancaster in England and recently returned to Nigeria. ThisDay is a reputable newspaper concentrating on political and economic news. Its motto is "The Pursuit of Truth and Reason." An editor said he thought he had deleted the offending sentences and had not realized the story had already been transmitted. The following four days, apologies were printed on page one of the paper. Isioma Daniel submitted her resignation. Accepting it, an editor said he wished she would stay and that she was one of their best writers, but she and her family feared for her safety. She flew to the United States. An elected official, the Deputy General of Zamfara, another northern state, issued a fatwa calling for her death for insulting Mohammed. It is the first fatwa issued in Nigeria. The next week, a writer in ThisDay noted that only religious leaders can issue fatwas, and the Deputy General is an elected official, not a legitimate voice of Islamic opinion. In early December, Abdulkadir Orire, the Secretary General of Nigeria's organization of Islamic groups, ordered the fatwa lifted, saying "true religion never touches thuggery, killing, and vandalism-but where you have 70% of youths unemployed-a devil can find work for idle hands."

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Despite all the apologies and the resignation of Daniel, a riot developed in Kaduna-not in Abuja, the site of the pageant. Four days after the newspaper article, protestors presented a petition to Ahmed Makarfi, the governor of Kaduna, asking him to condemn ThisDay. The protestors were joined by youth who trashed cars bearing slogans supporting Makarfi. Makarfi's campaign office was targeted. There is a national election coming up in January. One resident said "People are angry because the governor refused to receive a group of protestors who came yesterday to deliver a petition against the newspaper article. Instead. security forces fired tear gas and opened fire, killing five people right there at the gate of the government house."