Nigeria Torn by Rising Religious Violence

January 12, 2012

By DREW HINSHAW, The Wall Street Journal

A spree of bomb blasts and machine-gun attacks attributed to an Islamic militia targeting Nigeria’s Christians—and apparent reprisal attacks against Muslims—have stoked fears the government is powerless to halt escalating religious violence in Africa’s most populous country.

As the militia, Boko Haram, was blamed for more attacks on Wednesday, the government’s move to end a fuel subsidy brought thousands of protesters to the streets of Lagos for a third day. Nigeria’s largest oil-worker union, meanwhile, threatened to shut down the country’s offshore oil platforms.

Analysts say such a shutdown could cut production in Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, by one-quarter within weeks—or sooner if security forces guarding the facilities sympathize with union demands.

Thousands fled for protection Wednesday to an army barracks near Nigeria’s southern city of Benin, after a mob of young men torched a local mosque the day before, said a Nigeria Red Cross spokesman.

The attack killed at least five and appeared to be in response to Christian killings in Nigeria’s mostly Muslim north by Boko Haram, the spokesman said.

The attorney general, Mohammed Bello Adoke, encouraged Nigerians to stay put, saying government would address the insecurity.

So far, no mass exodus on religious lines has taken place. But many Nigerians saw in the recent tit-for-tat killings a threat of religious pogroms that recalled the country’s most violent period, the 1967-70 civil war. During that conflict, about two million Nigerians migrated back to their region of origin to escape the violence.

“It is scary…a dark omen,” said Anthony Chigbo, chief executive of public opinion polling company, Gallup Polls Nigeria Ltd., who said he had witnessed some truckloads of men migrating back to the north. “There is total national insecurity.”

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