Gaddafi comment sparks diplomatic row with Nigeria


Nigeria has recalled its ambassador to Libya and questioned whether the north African country is sponsoring violence after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said Nigeria should split along religious lines.

The Nigerian Foreign Ministry said it had recalled Ambassador Isah Mohammed for urgent consultations after Gaddafi’s comments, which come as Nigeria tries to contain violent clashes between Muslim and Christian gangs which have killed hundreds of people around the central city of Jos, Reuters reports.

The Nigerian parliament meanwhile passed a motion late on Thursday urging the government to order an investigation by the African Union into whether Libya was supplying “infiltrators” to destabilise the country. “The insensitive and oftentimes irresponsible utterances of Colonel Gaddafi, his theatrics and grandstanding at every auspicious occasion have become too numerous to recount. These have diminished his status and credibility as a leader to be taken seriously,” the Nigerian Foreign Ministry said.
“His comments on the crisis in Jos, Plateau state, are most unacceptable and unbecoming of any leader who claims to advocate and champion the cause of African integration and unity.”

Gaddafi said in a speech to students this week that the Jos crisis was a “deep conflict of religious nature” and suggested splitting Nigeria along religious lines “would stop bloodshed and burning of places of worship”, according to the BBC. He praised the example of India and Pakistan, where he said partition had saved many lives.

Nigeria’s Plateau State, of which Jos is the capital, lies at the crossroads of the predominantly Muslim north and mostly Christian south in the centre of Africa’s most populous nation, a region known as the “Middle Belt”. Fierce competition for control of fertile farmlands between Christian and animist indigenous groups and Muslim settlers from the north, as well as political rivalries, have repeatedly triggered unrest in the region over the past decade.

Days of clashes in January and attacks in recent weeks in which villagers have been hacked to death with machetes have left hundreds of people dead, leading to worldwide condemnation. “(We) call on the federal Government to request the African Union to order an independent investigation … and ascertain if there is a relationship between (Gaddafi’s) comment and the primary sources of the supply of infiltrators who come to fight Nigerians in their homeland,” parliament’s motion said.

Nigeria frequently blames militants from neighbouring countries for violence in its centre and north but there is no independent evidence of foreign involvement. The Jos unrest has put Nigeria in the international spotlight as it also struggles with a political crisis triggered by the prolonged illness of ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua, and the risk of resurgent violence in its oil-producing Niger Delta.

Acting President Goodluck Jonathan sacked the cabinet on Wednesday in a bid to consolidate his authority, deepening the immediate political uncertainty. Gaddafi, who was until recently the head of the African Union, has frequently stirred controversy in his dealings with sub-Saharan Africa.

He has long championed a “United States of Africa” but many south of the Sahara question his ambitions, saying his vision of a unified continent includes him being in charge of it. Libya has also been in dispute with western nations. This week it patched up a row with the United States caused when a U.S. official made caustic remarks about a speech by Gaddafi. A dispute between Libya and Switzerland deepened last month when Gaddafi called for a “jihad” against Switzerland.

Tripoli has been locked in a row with the Swiss since July 2008 when police in Geneva arrested one of the Libyan leader’s sons, Hannibal, on charges — which were later dropped — of mistreating two domestic employees.