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October 15, 2013

Security Fears Rise as Nigerians Celebrate Eid al-Adha

by Heather Murdock

Nigerian Muslims and Christians in the city of Kaduna traditionally celebrate Eid al-Adha, the Muslim sacrifice holiday, together.  But after four years of insurgency and sectarian violence, some locals say holidays are not safe and have chosen to remain in their religiously segregated neighborhoods.

At a concert, hundreds of people, Muslims and Christians, relax under canopies, celebrating Eid al-Adha in Kaduna, a Nigerian city known for insecurity and sectarian violence.

Heavily armed police officers and soldiers surround the event.

Eid al-Adha is a national holiday in Nigeria so even non-Muslims generally do not work. And while many celebrate the day publicly, others say holidays in Kaduna have become a time of fear, after bomb blasts on Christmas, Easter and Eid al-Adha in recent years.

Walter Uba is a Nigerian journalist and the father of six. Outside the press club in Kaduna, he says the entire police force is on patrol for the holiday, but that may not be enough.

“The full security is not that fully guaranteed because anybody can breach security at any time, at any place,” says Uba.

He adds that he sent his children to the capital, Abuja, for the festival and told them not to attend any public celebrations.

“These are the spots where they want to come and kill and maim children, even plus the parents so I am not thinking of that. In short, as far as any celebration is concerned in this country rule me out until when that full security in Nigeria comes back to what it used to be. But, as of now, no,” says Uba.

Insurgents known as Boko Haram have killed thousands of people in the past four years. Three northeastern states are now under emergency rule as Nigeria’s military battles the group.

Kaduna State is in an area known as Nigeria’s “Middle Belt” that lies between the mostly-Muslim north and the mostly-Christian south. The state capital, Kaduna city, is divided much like the country with Muslims in the north, and Christians in the south.

Long history of violence

Outbreaks of sectarian violence have plagued the city for decades and are often sparked by insurgent attacks and elections. Human Rights Watch says more than 800 people were killed after the 2011 elections and many locals say they expect the upcoming 2015 elections to be just as violent.

Godwin Tewase Kuba owns a small shop and is the father of two. As he heads to the market to buy groceries, he says Kaduna residents are increasingly taking responsibility for their own security.

“Everybody has become a neighborhood watch. Everybody has started observing who comes into the community. How strange is the person? How unfamiliar is the person?”

In central Kaduna at night, residents set up blocks on nearly every road and check cars as they come and go, armed with sticks, knives and sometimes even guns.

But at the concert, Sani Ibrahim, an artist, says heavy security - both professional and civilian - in Kaduna is not a sign that the city is more dangerous, but a sign that it is more safe.

“It’s peace now. Now in Kaduna we are in peace with Muslims and Christians we are together now,” says Ibrahim.

Sectarian violence in Kaduna is often along religious lines but analysts say the real divides are economic in their origins and related as much to ethnicity as religion.

And as Ibrahim enjoys the Eid al-Adha festival in Kaduna, he says while some locals are staying home for safety, at the public gathering he is attending he is happy to see members of ethnicities from every corner of Nigeria.

Ibrahima Yakubu contributed to this report from Kaduna.