A horrid suggestion from Qaddafi

The recent violence in central Nigeria has shocked everyone for its scale and horror (there was another minor outbreak today). But no better is a solution proposed by none other than Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi: divide the country in half. Funny, that’s pretty much what the British did — and that  legacy has much to do ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
Mark Renders/Getty Images
Mark Renders/Getty Images
Mark Renders/Getty Images

The recent violence in central Nigeria has shocked everyone for its scale and horror (there was another minor outbreak today). But no better is a solution proposed by none other than Libya's Muammar Qaddafi: divide the country in half.

The recent violence in central Nigeria has shocked everyone for its scale and horror (there was another minor outbreak today). But no better is a solution proposed by none other than Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi: divide the country in half.

Funny, that’s pretty much what the British did — and that  legacy has much to do with the violence that we see today. During the colonial period, the country was split decisevely between its Muslim North and Christian South (a very imprecise division, by the way). The North was essentially cordoned off, isolated from other influences, be they economic traders or missionaries. Inside that quarantined zone, the British built up Nigeria’s army and much of the "established" wealth that remains today. And they also built up a whole lot of resentment from the rest of the country. 

Splitting up Nigeria today would be messy to say the least. A half-century after the British left, the "borders" between faiths — always fuzzy at best — have by now completely blurred. Plateau State, where the latest violence has taken place, is a great example: supposedly in the "North," it has been home for decades to a large Christian community. Recent Muslim immigrants (and Christian immigrants too) have put pressure on the land, resources, and political structures, stoking inter-community violence. Good luck picking apart which "half" is Muslim and Christian, and exactly where a divide would fall. 

Luckily, no one takes Qaddafi very seriously these days. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one to have had this terrible, terrible idea. Rumors (though not yet credible ones) have been circulating in the country since its president Umaru Yar’Adua went medically missing that a civil war was in the offing, between the North and the South. This is just the sort of suggestion that no one needs.

Update: Acting Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has just dissolved the cabinet of Yar’Adua, a move that will certainly cause a stir in the country’s politics in coming days and confirms fears of a power struggle between Jonathan’s people and Yar’Adua’s people to control the country’s helm.

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

Read More On Libya

More from Foreign Policy

The USS Nimitz and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and South Korean Navy warships sail in formation during a joint naval exercise off the South Korean coast.
The USS Nimitz and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and South Korean Navy warships sail in formation during a joint naval exercise off the South Korean coast.

America Is a Heartbeat Away From a War It Could Lose

Global war is neither a theoretical contingency nor the fever dream of hawks and militarists.

A protester waves a Palestinian flag in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, during a demonstration calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. People sit and walk on the grass lawn in front of the protester and barricades.
A protester waves a Palestinian flag in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, during a demonstration calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. People sit and walk on the grass lawn in front of the protester and barricades.

The West’s Incoherent Critique of Israel’s Gaza Strategy

The reality of fighting Hamas in Gaza makes this war terrible one way or another.

Biden dressed in a dark blue suit walks with his head down past a row of alternating U.S. and Israeli flags.
Biden dressed in a dark blue suit walks with his head down past a row of alternating U.S. and Israeli flags.

Biden Owns the Israel-Palestine Conflict Now

In tying Washington to Israel’s war in Gaza, the U.S. president now shares responsibility for the broader conflict’s fate.

U.S. President Joe Biden is seen in profile as he greets Chinese President Xi Jinping with a handshake. Xi, a 70-year-old man in a dark blue suit, smiles as he takes the hand of Biden, an 80-year-old man who also wears a dark blue suit.
U.S. President Joe Biden is seen in profile as he greets Chinese President Xi Jinping with a handshake. Xi, a 70-year-old man in a dark blue suit, smiles as he takes the hand of Biden, an 80-year-old man who also wears a dark blue suit.

Taiwan’s Room to Maneuver Shrinks as Biden and Xi Meet

As the latest crisis in the straits wraps up, Taipei is on the back foot.