Nigerian Vice President Goodluck Jonathan dispatched troops to the state of Plateau on Jan. 19 to quell Muslim-Christian clashes in the state's capital city of Jos. Muslim-Christian tensions are not unusual in Jos, and Jonathan has acted quickly to prevent the conflict from spreading into a larger one, both within Plateau state, but also within Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party, which has been racked by an internal dispute over the vice president's authority to govern in President Umaru Yaradua's absence.
Clashes in the Nigerian city of Jos, capital of the state of Plateau, began to subside Jan. 20 after four days of violence left up to 460 dead. Thousands have been forced to flee their homes in the wake of this latest bout of violence in Jos, which periodically sees fighting between its Muslim and Christian communities. Nigerian Vice President Goodluck Jonathan ordered Jan. 19 that six military units be dispatched to Jos, signifying his most serious act of executive authority since a Jan. 13 federal court ruling granted him largely ceremonial powers of the presidency. Jonathan, who has been filling in for Nigerian President Umaru Yaradua since November 2009 as a result of the president's continuing hospitalization in Saudi Arabia, is attempting to prevent the localized conflict in Jos from turning into a national crisis over the foundations of executive authority in Nigeria. The initial clashes began Jan. 17 over a dispute between Christians and Muslims in the Nasarawa Gwom district of the city, regarding reconstruction projects emanating from the last time such violence occurred in Jos in November 2008. Nigerian Mobile Police units were dispatched quickly to enforce a 12-hour, dusk-to-dawn curfew upon the town. Fighting continued, however, forcing Jonathan to dispatch troops to Jos on Jan. 19. A 24-hour curfew also has been imposed in an attempt to quell the violence. (click image to enlarge) Clashes between Muslims and Christians are not uncommon in Jos. Up to 800 people were killed in the 2008 violence, and nearly 1,000 people died under similar circumstances in September 2001. Due to Plateau's geographic location along the unofficial border between Nigeria's predominately Muslim north and Christian south — it rests in what is known as Nigeria's "Middle Belt zone" — the state is prone to tensions between the two largest religious groups in the country over who is truly indigenous to the area, and thus deserving of control over local political offices and patronage. Also not without precedent is the act of sending troops to quell Muslim-Christian clashes in Jos, which is Nigeria's 10th largest city with a population of just over 500,000 and situated about 186 miles from the nation's capital of Abuja. Yaradua dispatched army units based in neighboring states to the city in 2008 almost immediately after reports of violence reached the nation's capital. The fact that Plateau already is controlled by Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), however, indicates that the cause of this week's fighting is unlikely to be akin to what led to the July 2009 clashes in the northern states of Borno, Kano, Bauchi and Yobe. Violence propagated in the summer of 2009 by the Islamist sect Boko Haram, which left approximately 700 dead, likely was triggered by attempts by the PDP to gain control of northern states governed by the opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), as part of the PDP's ongoing attempts to maneuver itself ahead of the upcoming 2011 national elections. While the Boko Haram clashes likely were linked to the PDP's attempts to take control of ANPP-governed states, the situation in Jos is more about Jonathan trying to keep a localized conflict from turning into a national crisis. Jonathan, a Christian from the southern region of the Niger Delta, does not want violence to spread beyond the confines of Plateau because it would run the risk of portraying him as an inept leader and likely would give fodder to those (mainly in the north) who do not wish to see the vice president assume power in Abuja should Yaradua's condition take a turn for the worse. Jonathan knows that the precedent in dispatching troops to Jos ensures that his Jan. 19 order as the fill-in commander-in-chief will not be seen as controversial; in fact, a failure to act under the current circumstances would undoubtedly send the message that the Ijaw vice president is weak. Thus, in addition to army units being dispatched to Plateau, federal troops and other police units have been put on alert in neighboring states to prevent a spillover of violence.