Lar exposes Nigeria's faultlines

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A senior Nigerian politician has warned that the country may break up if efforts to Islamicise the north continue

Solomon Lar, the first chairman of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) of Nigeria has told journalists that Nigeria's non-Muslim citizens strongly resent being "discriminated against" in the northern states of the country, where Islam is the predominant religion. Lar is also a former Governor of Plateau State, which lies almost exactly midway between the north and the south with a population divided almost equally between Muslims and Christians. So all the social and political faultlines of the federation are manifest there.

There are now periodic riots in middle and northern states, that pit Muslims and Christians against each other, in which hundreds of lives have been lost, and churches and mosques burnt down.

The "middle belt" has always played a crucial role in helping to preserve the balance of power between the north and the south. One particular ethnic group there, the Lantang, has gained the reputation of kingmaker, exercising influence through a "Lantang Mafia" that is powerful both within the armed forces and the civilian body politic. The most famous son of Lantang is the former Nigerian foreign minister, the late General Joseph Garba, who, as commander of the brigade of guards in 1975, played a leading role in overthrowing General Yakubu Gowon as head of state and replacing him with the General Murtala Muhammed.

Lar's complaint against "discrimination", made in an informal talk with journalists at Kaduna, will have to be taken extremely seriously by the northern ruling group, headed by President Umaru Yar-Adua.

Lar said that Nigeria's northern Muslims should remember that the man who laid the foundation for their ascendancy to power, the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, had, in his lifetime, ensured that there were good schools in the north, and had encouraged co-education of males and females. Although there were different ethnic nationalities in the north, the Sardauna managed to keep them together, irrespective of their differences.

Lar said: "The Sardauna never allowed religion to overshadow his administration. Although he was a good practising Muslim, he also recognised that there were other people of a different faith, like Christians. The Sardauna did not deny the Christians their rights, as was being done now in some states in the north."

But, he added:
In the north [today], apart from Plateau, Nassarawa, Benue, Niger, Kwara, Taraba, Kogi and Gombe states, the other states discriminate against Christians, so much so that if you are a Christian, or if you are not a Muslim, they will not give you a piece of land to build the church. They will not employ Christians. They will not allow the children of Christians to go to public schools. They don't allow the teaching of Christian Religious Knowledge in their in schools.

If Christian children go to public schools in those states, they would be forced to change their names to Muslim names. For example if you are Gabriel, they will change your name to Jibril. If you are Moses, they will call you Musa. This is very bad.

Lar warned: "The country may break up, if such treatments continue".

These are words that will spark a ferocious debate. Lar has opened the bottle and let the genie out. Many Muslims are in denial about what is going on in the north, though it is public knowledge that some states there have adopted Sharia law and don't, for instance, allow men and women to travel together on public transport.

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