In Nigeria, 400 people were killed last week in violent clashes over disputed election results in the central Nigerian city of Jos. Christian and Muslim protesters took to the streets Friday, killing people and burning down homes, mosques and churches over what they said were rigged election results. At least 7,000 people were forced to flee their homes. We speak with Nigerian human rights activist, Omoyele Sowore. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
We turn to Nigeria, where up to 400 people were believed killed last week in violent clashes over disputed election results in the central Nigerian city of Jos. Christian and Muslim protesters took to the streets Friday, killing people, burning down homes, mosques, churches, over what they said were rigged election results. At least 7,000 people were forced to flee their homes.
Authorities imposed a curfew over Jos, and security forces were reportedly given “shoot-on-sight” orders.
For more insight, a few days ago I spoke to Nigerian activist and journalist Omoyele Sowore. Sowore has been arrested and tortured by the Nigerian military, now here in the United States runs the website saharareporters.com.
What has happened in Nigeria is that since 1999, when we had this return of democracy, so to speak, there has been consistent violation of democratic tenets and principles, especially election rigging. And the Nigerian people have not had a chance to choose their leaders and also have not had a chance to express their anger whenever the few cabal who run the country, members of the ruling elite, decide to turn elections against the choices of the people. So you now have a country that is filled up of — like I say, that’s doused in gas. And any time there is a little violation of these democratic tenets and basic civil rights of the people, it escalates in ways that nobody can imagine, very fast, very quickly and, you know, very seriously.
And what exactly happened?
This time around, there was an election that took place, a local government election, of all elections took, and somebody who was supposed to win by a 58,000 margin was denied victory. And the reaction was instantaneous.
Don’t forget that even the current president had the same experience, the rigged election. The elections in 2007 were so bad that on Sahara Reporters we got election results twenty-four hours before the elections took place. That is the kind of things that you saw led to what happened in Jos. But I’m quite disappointed that it got a kind of miserable coverage it got in the mainstream media in this country, when Mumbai, where less people died, got, you know.
Right. Well, it was much more conveyed as a confrontation, a religious confrontation between Christians and Muslims.
That is where I was expressing disappointment. It’s that nobody has really spoken to the root of the problem. That is the fact that Nigerians want real democracy and have been denied this consistently since 1999, in recent times, of course, their entire life. And the sectarian part of it was the interpretation given to the crisis by the people in government, not what happened on the ground. So what my analogy is that, like I said, if a house is doused with gas and any part of it catches fire, the part with most gas will of course burn faster and more seriously and perhaps more fatal.
Are the Muslim and Christian communities at odds with each other?
I don’t believe so, because the reason is that the crisis has now been extinguished. If it is true that it’s the Muslim versus Christian and that they want us to believe, the crisis could not have been contained, because we’re talking about 50-50 almost, roughly, the population of Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. What I’m saying, and what we should not lose sight of, is the problem is justice in Nigeria and poor leadership. We shouldn’t lose sight of this.
It was the Muslim party, the predominantly Muslim party, that got denied the election, and the —?
The truth is that there’s no political party in Nigeria that’s predominately Christian or Muslim. You know, the parties in Nigeria, the major parties, are predominately greedy and greedy people.
Do you think the violence will continue now?
For as long as there’s injustice in Nigeria of any democratic type, you cannot predict what will happen in our country. That much I can tell you. If there’s justice, of course, there will be peace. There’s no question about it. It’s as simple as that.
Omoyele Sowore is a Nigerian activist, and he runs the website saharareporters.com.
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