Director, IT and Administration - Family Health International (FHI)

Nigeria Clash Isn't About Religion, Clarifies Prelate

Cites Economic Issues Between Herdsmen and Farmers

ROME, MARCH 9, 2010 ( Last Sunday's violence near Jos that caused the deaths of perhaps several hundred people is being portrayed as a Muslim-Christian conflict, but according to an archbishop of the area, the real issues are political and ethnic.

Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, a city slightly south and west of the Nigerian capital, explained to Vatican Radio that the violence is a "classic conflict between herdsmen and farmers, only the Fulani are all Muslims and the Berom all Christians."

The attackers belonged to the mainly Muslim Fulani tribe, whereas the villages were mainly Christian Berom.

Archbishop Onaiyekan noted that the international media is quick to "report that it is Christians and Muslims who are killing one another; but this is not true, because the killings are not caused by religion but by social, economic, tribal and cultural issues."

Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Jos echoed the same sentiments in a peace committee meeting Monday. The committee was established by the government and includes elders of various tribes, as well as religious leaders, and former civil and military directors.

The archbishop told Aid to the Church in Need: "We need to look for solutions. It’s too simplistic to say it’s just Christians fighting Muslims, that it’s a religious war.

“We need to look beyond that, we cannot say it’s just religious, we need a political and social solution -- I said this at the [peace committee] conference.”

Sunday's violence is held to be a type of retaliation for fighting in January in Jos, when the majority of those killed were Muslim.

And a side factor that favors violent outbreaks, Archbishop Kaigama observed, is the wide circulation of weapons in the area.

"It's very easy to find persons who will come to fight only for a handful of dollars," he said.

Archbishop Onaiyekan lamented that the victims are simply poor people "who know nothing about, and have nothing to do with, any of this and are completely innocent."

He said that members of the Church continue to work to promote good relations between Christians and Muslims.

"We pray for peace, for good government and for truth," he said. "And we pray also that people may realize that the only way to survive in this country is to recognize one another as brothers and citizens of the same nation."