ABUJA - Poverty, inequality and injustice are threatening to trigger a broad sectarian conflict between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, an international task force said on Wednesday, July 11.
"There is a possibility that the current tension and conflict might become subsumed by its religious dimension (especially along geographical 'religious fault-lines')," a Christian-Muslim task force said in a report cited by Reuters.
Hundreds of people have been killed in sectarian violence in Nigeria this year.
A report, produced by a 12-member task force led by World Council of Churches (WCC) General Secretary Olav Fyske Tveit of Norway and Jordanian Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, chairman of the board of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, said the root causes of the violence got far beyond religion.
It cited corruption, mismanagement, land disputes and the lack of aid for victims or punishment for troublemakers as the main causes for fuelling sectarian tension in Nigeria, especially in the Middle Belt, where the Muslim north meets the Christian south.
The report also cited the wealth gap between oil-producing states in the south and the resource-poor north as a leading factor in regional tensions.
Land disputes such as the lack of recognized grazing land for nomadic Fulani cattle herders was also fuelling the violence.
"It is an enormous problem that needs to be solved or resolved at the federal and constitution levels, perhaps with a constitutional clarification or amendment," the report said.
The report said attacks by radical groups such as Boko Haram that exploit these secular issues and revenge killings by Christian and Muslim gangs have reinforced the religious aspect of the violence.
Nigeria, one of the world's most religiously committed nations, is divided between a Muslim north and a Christian south.
Muslims and Christians, who constitute 55 and 40 percent of Nigeria's 140 million population respectively, have lived in peace for the most part.
But ethnic and religious tensions have bubbled for years, fuelled by decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands with migrants and settlers from the Hausa-speaking Muslim north.
The report, however, said that religion had played a part in fuelling the sectarian violence in Nigeria.
"In Nigeria, three things are intertwined - religion, politics and ethnicity, the report quoted former justice minister Prince Bola Ajibola, one of several Nigerian officials who accompanied the delegation, as saying.
And the three are beclouded with corruption, poverty and insecurity.
The report warned that blaming only religion for the sectarian tension would make that incomplete view "a self-fulfilling prediction".
The report also cited politics as among sources of sectarian tension in Africa's most populous country.
It said tensions arose because Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian southerner, served out the presidential term of northern Muslim Umare Yar'Adua after the latter's death in 2010, then won election in 2011.
Muslims say Jonathan's election broke a power-sharing agreement between north and south.
The Geneva-based WCC and the Jordanian institute announced they would jointly publish books for Nigerian schools explaining the theology of peace in both religions and draw up a manifesto on interfaith cooperation for Nigerians to sign.
They also said they would seek partners to launch a neutral center to collect accurate information on the conflict to help find a settlement.
The joint delegation, which met government officials and faith leaders in the strife-torn Kaduna and Plateau states and in Abuja from May 22 to 25, said it wanted to show how Muslims and Christians could work together to foster peace."The crisis in Nigeria must no longer be seen as a localized issue," the report said in its conclusion.