The Nigerian government, headed by President Goodluck Jonathan of the People's Democratic Party, faces two major crises — brought on by renewed ethno-religious violence and the abolition of fuel subsidies. These may appear distinct but are, in fact, interconnected. The population of Nigeria is made up more or less equally of Christians and Muslims, with a small minority following traditional religion. The first crisis was triggered by deadly Christmas Day bombings near the national capital, Abuja, and in the city of Jos, about 200km away; 49 people were killed and scores injured. In addition, 52 people, including several children, have died in communal violence in the south-eastern Ebonyi state. In response, President Jonathan has imposed an emergency in four states, closing all the relevant borders. The Islamist group, Boko Haram, has claimed responsibility for the bombings. The second crisis can be traced, in part, to International Monetary Fund pressure to end fuel subsidies. The proposal has generated widespread opposition, despite the fact that Nigeria intends to put the projected $8 billion savings towards creating domestic refining capacity, and possibly towards limiting the influence multinationals such as Shell have on Abuja's policies.

Nigeria is one of the world's major oil producers. It is also one of the world's most corrupt countries. The connection between the communal violence and the fuel price issue lies in the fact that the benefits of oil have not reached the majority of the 160-million population. One result is serious dysfunctionality in public services and institutions. Survivors of the bombings have accused the emergency services of slowness and incompetence; the services even sent text messages to journalists at the scene seeking their help in getting more ambulances. Secondly, persistent and widening inequalities, with poverty especially severe in the Muslim-majority north, alienate citizens and give fundamentalists ready audiences. Moreover, leaders of Boko Haram, which demands the nationwide adoption of an extreme form of the Sharia law, claim that al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has assisted them; AQIM has also publicly praised the Nigerian group. If the central government is to respond effectively to these challenges, it will need to dig deep and draw on the democratic and secular spirit of the Nigerian masses, who struggled valiantly to end military rule and have — since the restoration of civilian rule in 1999 — voted decisively on political, not religious or ethnic, lines.

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