Nigerian violence linked to lack of power sharing

A recent university study indicates that more violence occurs between religious groups in Nigeria when they do not share political power.

The study, undertaken by the University of Texas at Dallas, examined violence between Christians and Muslims in districts across the country.

“The popular opinion is that different religions never ever get along," Jonas Bunte, co-author of the study, said. "It’s much easier to find newspaper reports of burning churches or destroyed mosques than instances in which there’s actually peaceful coexistence."

The researchers compared the more-violent areas with less-violent ones, looking for factors that might influence the people involved.

“We found some districts where Christians and Muslims constantly clashed over decades," Bunte said. "At the same time, there were other districts where that wasn’t the case at all.”

Bunte said that areas where the religious parties were forced to share political power were much less violent than those that did not share political power.

“The general population feels much less threatened by competition from other religions in these districts with power-sharing agreements," he said.  "They feel much safer because the discourse is different. If the elites don’t use derogatory language and the general population doesn’t feel threatened, that explains why there are fewer incidents of inter-religious violence.”

Some Nigerian districts use “conventional” ballots in which voters must choose between individual Muslims or Christians running for office. Other districts vote for teams of candidates, one Christian and one Muslim, thus necessitating a system of power sharing.

The districts without power sharing had an average of four times more violent events than those with it.

The results of the study were published in the Journal of Peace Research.

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