“No, no civil war. I’m an optimist,” observes my colleague, the anthropologist and Georgetown School of Foreign Service Professor Gwendolyn Mikell.
Dr. Mikell is here reflecting on the recent explosion of sectarian strife in Nigeria–strife which is often understood by analysts in the Western media as predicated on ethno-religious conflict between the Muslim north and Christian south.
The treacherous headline grabber in all of this has been the jihadist group Boko Haram. This fundamentalist Islamist sect advocates the imposition of Sharia law and has engaged in horrendous assaults on Christian communities. Amongst the most frightful was last year’s Christmas massacre which resulted in the deaths of dozens of Catholic worshipers in Madala.
Professor Mikell complexifies the media narratives and argues against “Nigeria-on-the-brink” ruminations. In a piece in the Huffington Post she and her co-author warned about the dangers of reducing. . . .
Nigeria to two monolithic, antagonistic and inexorably colliding blocs, one Northern, the other Southern. This is a false reality since Nigeria is a nation of roughly 150 million people with more than 200 ethnic groups. There is no insuperable Mason-Dixon line separating a wholly Muslim North from a wholly Christian South. These hypothetical blocs are convenient intellectual fictions that do not accord with the complexity of the country’s vast national tapestry. There are portions of Southern Nigeria where Muslims are in the majority or are large minorities as there are swaths in the North where Christians are the majority or a significant minority. As in our own country, Nigeria’s cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity is at times a source of tension but also a tremendous national asset and a source of national pride. Despite occasional local outbursts, Nigeria’s Christians and Muslims occupy the national space with considerable peace and tolerance.
In the interview above, our guest points to the role that oil, escalating poverty and the Nigerian state have played in bringing us to the current situation. Her prognosis is cautiously optimistic, stressing the benefits that an increasingly vigilant state and an expanding civil society will play in the restoration of calm to resource-rich Nigeria.
SFS student Ghazi Bin Hamed conducted this interview. The segment was produced by his classmate Mitchel Hochberg.