Nigeria - a short history review

Nigeria is home to 250 ethnic groups. The predominant groups, making up 65% of the population, are the Hausa and Fulani in the north, and the Yoruba and Ibo in the south. By the 16th century, most Hausa leaders were Muslim and in the early 19th century, dan Fodio led a series of jihads that brought almost all of the north under Islam.

British merchants established a permanent presence in Southern Yorubaland in Lagos and in the Niger Delta. In the mid 19th century the British formally colonised Nigeria under two protectorates - Northern Nigeria (mostly Muslim) and Southern Nigeria (mostly Christian). The two protectorates were joined in 1941 to form the colony of Nigeria but the people have never been truly united. The British undermined Nigerian nationalism by encouraging tribalism, choosing to rule indirectly through local chiefs. Nigeria became an independent nation on 1 October 1960 and entrenched ethnic tensions and power struggles began to simmer. Nigeria's post colonial history has been rocky and bloody.

Mostly northern Muslims ruled Nigeria from independence until Olusegun Obasanjo, a southerner and strongly Christian Yoruba, was democratically elected President in February 1999. This inflamed the northern Muslim governors and left them reeling. To regain power and prestige, they have reinvented themselves as religious reformers. Zamfara was the first northern state to introduce Sharia (Islamic) Law, in January 2000. Since then, nine other northern states have followed suit. The Nigerian Constitution prohibits the government from adopting any religion, ensuring the separation of Church and state. The introduction of Sharia Law effectively creates a parallel government and has been declared 'unconstitutional and illegal'. The situation for the Christian minority in Northern Nigeria, always difficult, is fast becoming intolerable.

Town planning authorities in the northern Kano State recently spuriously declared all 120 churches in Kano City to be illegal on environmental and legal grounds, with 17 already demolished. The Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association believes that the authorities are aiming to wipe out all signs of Christianity quickly, and then possibly offer vacant land outside the city limits to churches that wish to rebuild (funded by whom?). Also, four churches were torched in Jigawa state in mid June by rioting Muslim youths, after the publication of a book by a Christian author was branded blasphemous by Muslims. Scores of Christians are reported to have fled the Jigawa capital of Dutse.

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