Maps help explain Nigeria’s social divisions and potential for sectarian conflict.
The country has stark ethnic and religious divides:
The first map shows the country’s major ethnic groups. There are a number of major groups (Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo) and many more smaller groups not listed. The country has over 250 in all.
The second map shows the country’s main religious divide. The areas where Sharia (a relatively mild version) has been adopted are all Muslim. They are all in the north. The south is mainly Christian. (There are still many who practice some form of indigenous religion, especially in the southwest, but these are in the minority.)
Now see how development has been spread across the country:
In the first map, the female literacy rate by state is listed. In the second map, the vaccination rate by state is listed. The south has much higher figures for both. It is richer, has more access to schools and health clinics, and has much stronger international ties (which produces more remittances and more NGO assistance). Stark inequities breed resentment in the Muslim north.
Now one more map:
Nigeria’s political divide roughly corresponds to its religious divide. In the 2011 election, a Christian southerner, incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan, trounced his main rival, a Muslim, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, 59 to 32 percent. Jonathan did especially well in the southeast, receiving more than ninety-five percent of the vote in nine states, and more than ninety-eight percent in six. Meanwhile, every state in the Sharia belt gave a majority of its votes to Buhari; almost every other state massively rejected him. (A third candidate, another Muslim, Nuhu Ribadu, did well in a few states in the southwest and midsection, but received only 5.4 percent of the vote nationally.)
Although fairly contested, this election broke an unwritten rule agreed to by the country’s elites, making strife more likely. Whereas the presidency (which controls massive sums of money) was supposed to rotate between northerners and southerners, now southerners have enjoyed a long period of rule. Muslim leader Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was supposed to serve two terms as president, but died in office before serving his first term. Jonathan, the vice president at the time, replaced him, gaining significant advantages in the 2011 election.
As Frances Stewart has documented, the chance of sectarian strife is greatest when an identity group feels economically, politically, and culturally excluded at the same time. The election of a southern Christian has made many in the north now feel that they have been reduced to second class status in at least two of these three areas. Whereas previously the north felt that they were at least partners in the political realm (compensating for the known differences in the economic sphere), now they are more apt to feel socially excluded within their own country.
Terrorism is certainly not a product of this sentiment, but the seeds from which it sprouts can be laid by such feelings. Nigeria will have to find a way to reduce the economic divisions and make northerners feel more like partners in the country’s political system if it hopes to avoid greater strife in the future.