Chimamanda Adichie: Nigeria’s Problem is Crises of Governance, not Sectarianism

Chimamanda Adichie {Photograph: Ishara S Kodikara/AFP/Getty}

January, 2012

Celebrated Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has called on religious leaders to quell rising sectarian tensions in the country as it wrestles with a national strike and tit-for-tat violence by Islamist and Christian groups.

A wave of deadly attacks against churches, carried out by members of extremist Islamist group Boko Haram, has resulted in retaliation by Christians, including the burning of a mosque and school in the southern city of Benin.

“Christian leaders must continue to preach peace and togetherness so that Christians do not retaliate,” Adichie told the Guardian.

“Muslim leaders must strongly and repeatedly condemn the violence against Christians and make it clear that Boko Haram does not represent Nigerian Islam,” she said.

Related: NewsRescue- The Solution for Boko

Her Orange prize-winning book, Half of a Yellow Sun, documented the Biafran war of 1967-1970, which killed more than a million civilians through both fighting and starvation.

Boko Haram, whose name means “western education is forbidden”, emerged in Maiduguri, in Nigeria’s north-east, in 2002. Since then it has mainly carried out attacks on Christians in northern or “middle belt” states.

The organisation remains mysterious, but in an interview with the BBC in 2009 its leader, Mohammed Yusuf, who was subsequently killed by Nigeria’s security services, expressed a number of unorthodox theological views.

He said “western-style education”, which ran contrary to Islamic teaching, included the idea that the Earth was a sphere and that rain was a result of evaporation and condensation.

Boko Haram operates against a wider background of sectarian strife in Nigeria, whose Muslim population is concentrated in its north. The middle belt city of Jos, where various ethnic and religious groups merge, has experienced some of the country’s worst religious violence.

In November 2008 about 700 people were killed in riots following disputed local elections which degenerated along sectarian lines. See: The End of Boko Haram

“Of course I completely understand the rage and pain of Christian southerners whose relatives are murdered in the north, and whose shock and mourning are worsened by the weakness of the government’s response,” said Adichie. “But the vast majority of northerners are as horrified by the killings as anyone else and have nothing to do with them.”

Related: NewsRescue- The Middle Belt holds Nigeria Together; Middle Belt holds ‘Security Summit’

Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, said in a speech on 8 January that “the situation we have in our hands is even worse than the civil [Biafran] war”.

In the same speech, he revealed that he thought Boko Haram had sympathisers in various arms of government and the judiciary.

Responding to his comments on the war, Adichie said: “I think that is a mere rhetorical flourish. What matters to me is that our president has publicly said that Boko Haram has backers and supporters in the national assembly. If he has this knowledge, why has nothing been done to and about these supporters of terrorism?”

Related: NewsRescue- Nigeria Targeted For Destruction: Gordon Duff, US

Nigerian workers took to the streets on Friday for a fifth day of strikes over the lifting of the fuel subsidy, after trade unions broke off talks with Jonathan and said they would not restart until Saturday.

The government scrapped subsidies on petrol imports at the beginning of the year, more than doubling the pump price to about 150 naira (60p) a litre, and sparking bitter protests across the country. {NewsRescue- IMF Forces African Nations to Remove Fuel Subsidies}

Pressure is mounting on Jonathan to reach a deal. Nigeria’s main oil union has threatened to shut down output from Africa’s biggest crude producer from Sunday if the government does not reinstate the subsidy.

Niger Delta MEND group

Adichie believes the root of Nigeria’s problems is not sectarianism, but a crisis of governance.

“Right now, all over Nigeria, from Kano in the north to Port Harcourt in the south, people are protesting the same things: the increase in fuel prices and the lack of basic government services.

“Nigerians have divisions but they are largely united in their dissatisfaction with and distrust of their government.

Related: NewsRescue- Democracy Fails Africa

“The divisions we see today would, in my view, be greatly reduced if people had regular and affordable electricity, good roads, affordable transportation – all of which are political problems.”

Related: NewsRescue- Poverty in the North – A “Mayday” Call},