While a compromise solution to the Nigerian fuel crisis seems to have been found, the deeper and more dangerous regional and religious crisis is getting worse. Significantly worse.Even as estimates for the bombings in Kano rose from 150 to up to 250, new attacks left churches burning in one part of the northern Bauchi state, while 11 people were killed and 12 injured in a separate incident, also in Bauchi.Most of the dead in the recent church attacks across the country are said to belong to the Igbo people. The Igbo are a southern, mostly Christian Nigerian group of an estimated 27 to 30 million people. An earlier attempt at secession by the Igbo led to the establishment of Biafra, a breakaway government that was crushed in the bloody Nigerian civil war. Since then, the Igbo (a traditionally mobile and enterprising people) have fanned out across Nigeria and the world; their presence in the North is often resented by native Muslim groups. Boko Haram has ordered all Christians to leave the North and the church bombings and other attacks seem to be part of a concerted effort to stampede them into flight.For their part, some Igbo in their southeastern Nigeria homeland are beginning to retaliate. Chika Unigwe writes in the Guardian about the news she is getting from the Igbo heartland in former Biafra:
An Igbo group, Ogbunigwe Ndigbo, gave all northern Muslims in the region two weeks to leave or face their wrath. In Lokpanta, where my mother is from, the Muslim Hausa community – which settled there many years ago – were seen leaving in truckloads.
The Hausa are the leading Muslim people in most of the North, and as refugees from the South come North with tales of violence and fear, anger will grow. Boko Haram appears to hope that a series of reciprocal acts of violence and ethnic cleansing will escalate, leading to a crisis that ultimately divides the country. Presumably Boko Haram would try to use that crisis to get control of the North and impose its own radical and extreme views on Muslims in the country.Worse, the government seems hopelessly, helplessly overmatched at this point. A suspect was arrested in the case of the Christmas church bombings; within 24 hours the suspect somehow managed to escape, still handcuffed, from his guards. There are widespread suspicions, right up to President Goodluck Jonathan himself, that members of the security forces and the military (historically strongholds of northern influence) are secretly helping Boko Haram.Treason might not be to blame; the Nigerian government is one of the world’s most corrupt organizations, and it is perfectly possible that prisoner escapes can be arranged if the right palms are crossed. But whether it has been hollowed out by secret terrorist sympathizers or simply eaten away by conventional corruption, Nigeria does not seem able to do much about its worst security threat in a generation. Muddle at the top; violence at the grassroots; religion, ethnicity and oil revenue in a toxic brew: Nigeria is not in a good place.A lot of people only care about Nigerian politics when oil is involved. At the moment, production is not under threat. But while violence in the oil patch can have a direct and disturbing effect on world oil prices, the increasing stress on Nigeria’s somewhat fragile and artificial national unity ia more serious in the long run. If the center doesn’t hold in Nigeria, few sub-Saharan countries divided by language, religion and ethnicity have much hope of hanging together. If ethnically charged religious violence begins to spread in Nigeria, wider confrontations across the volatile Christian-Muslim divide across Africa cannot be ruled out.At the moment, the Nigerian center looks distressingly weak.