Source: The Atlantic Monthly
It was an ordinary soccer pitch: sparse tufts of grass and reddish soil surrounded by cinder-block homes. The two candidates stood on opposite sides of the field as the people of Yelwa, a town of 30,000 in central Nigeria, lined up behind them one May morning in 2002 to vote. Whoever had more supporters would lead the town’s council. And whoever led the council would control the certificates of indigeneship: the papers certifying that Yelwa was their home, and that they had a right there to land, jobs, and scholarships. Between the iron goalposts milled ethnic Jarawa, principally Muslim merchants and herders; next to them were the Tarok and Goemai, predominantly farmers and Christians. For several years, their hereditary tribal chief, a Christian, had refused certificates of indigeneship to Muslims no matter how long they’d lived in Yelwa. Without the certificates, the Muslims were second-class citizens.