No ghosts in WSJ’s thorough report on Nigerian bombings

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Last week, I criticized a front-page Wall Street Journal profile of a Nigerian terror group leader. The otherwise enlightening report missed a key element in the kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls — the Christian faith of the vast majority of them.

This week, the same Journal correspondent covered the bombings that killed more than 100 people in that West African nation and absolutely nailed the religion angle.

This praiseworthy breaking news report gets right to the point:

ABUJA, Nigeria — Three bombs struck the crowded city of Jos in quick succession on Tuesday, aid workers said, killing at least 118 people and putting one of Africa’s most religiously divided cities back on edge.

Religiously divided how? Read on, and the Journal explains in great detail.

Like the Journal, the New York Times highlights the Christian-Muslim tensions in Jos. But while the Times simply references the tensions, the Journal provides context and depth to help readers understand the religious factors at play.

Just one revealing section of the Journal’s story:

The wave of bombings poses a test for the religiously fraught city. Streets emptied in the hours after the blast, with both Muslims and Christians bracing themselves for another religious riot.

There have been many here. Riots in 2001 killed nearly 1,000 people, before roughly 700 more died in a similar round of clashes in 2008, followed by 2010 riots that left about 200 dead.

Now, Boko Haram appears to be tapping into the deep reservoir of religious hatred here. The group bombed a market in Jos on Christmas Eve in 2010, and set off three church bombs in 2012.

“The wider implication is the potential for it to destabilize the city and put it back into rioting again,” said Adam Higazi, a Cambridge University Nigeria researcher who lived in Jos until recently. “They’re trying to destabilize Jos again and spark more religious violence.”

Nigeria has been beset by longstanding grievances between its Christian south and Muslim north. The country has had a Muslim president for just three of its past 15 years of democracy, and many Muslims here say they believe Christian politicians have ruled for too long. Far from the halls of power, Nigerians in the countryside — especially outside Jos — clash over farmland, too. Herdsman — almost all of them Muslims—frequently battle with farmers, largely Christians, who blame free-range cattle for trampling their crops.

Across the north, meanwhile, many Muslims insist Shariah law is the remedy to rampant corruption that has kept this country mired in poverty. Many Christians see Shariah as an unconstitutional imposition on a religiously mixed country.

No ghosts in this story.

Impressive reporting, Wall Street Journal.

About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Trent Wheeler

    This is such a complex issue that any competent reporting on the issues in Nigeria must include the confluence of variables that are reflected in the current situation, as well as that countries history.
    1. There is a religious divide in Nigeria that reflects the traditional African religions, the Christian religion and Islam. Those divides are geographic in terms of the Christian/Muslim conflicts.
    2. There are the traditional tribal conflicts. While there are over 250 tribal dialects in Nigeria, three of the tribes garner most of the political influence (Egbo in the Southeast, Yoruba in the Southwest and the Hausa-Fulani in the north). Most of the Hausa people in the north are also Islamic and the 12 northern states exercise Sharia law despite Nigeria being a democracy.
    3. Political division (often based on tribal allegiance) is probably the single most significant factor. Nigeria is relatively new as an oil producing nation. The large influx of money into a traditionally poor, agrarian society has caused serious politics battles for power and control of the wealth. Those in power typically allocate what money does trickle down, into their home regions of the country. Recently the Southeast has seen significant improvements in roads, airports, and infrastructure as a result of Goodnews Jonathan’s presidency. For at least the past 3 elections the north (where the Boko Haram operates) has been left out of the economic benefits resulting in an increase in tensions and reactions.

    All of this combined reflects the religious, political and tribal tensions. Many Nigerians believe that the Boko Haram is gaining adherents because of their defense of all of these contributing factors. Christianity (which they connect to western culture) is an easy target to elevate tensions and get influence government policy.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      Thanks for your comment, Trent. I know that you’ve visited Nigeria yourself and are involved in mission work there, which adds to your insight.

  • Jim Davis

    I did see two gaffes: “Interfaith violence rages constantly across the
    hills outside the city, carried out by people who have little, if any, connection to
    Boko Haram.” Aside from appearing twice in the story, the sentence has
    no attribution. How does the reporter know the violence has little or no Boko
    Haram connection?

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      Thanks, Jim. Good question.


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