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.

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. 

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.

Tag: Libya

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