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Saturday, 30 November, 2002, 15:59 GMT
Nigeria's beauty troubles
When all around is uncertain, the street battles far from over, you'll see their battered old pickups chugging around town, retrieving the dead and injured.
It's a dangerous and unpleasant task, but one which no-one else seems prepared to do.
These are not the big boys from the International Red Cross, driving air-conditioned land cruisers, these are all Nigerians, struggling with limited funding and even more limited resources.
But if you flag them down, to ask the only question a journalist ever asks in this situation, how many casualties - they'll greet you with a tired, but enthusiastic smile and help you all they can.
It's at times like these, when you're looking around at smouldering buildings and the charred remains of living beings, that a little bit of good-natured sanity goes a very long way.
But how did we get to this point where tensions between Muslims and Christians are so volatile, that the publishing of a single ill-considered article in a national paper could have led to so much bloodshed?
Who is to blame?
It's too easy to put it all down just to religion, or to the tensions of different cultures living side-by-side in extreme poverty, or even the narrow-minded bigotry of local leaders.
There are certainly elements of all these, but none provide a satisfactory answer.
Conspiracy theories are always popular here, that there are dark forces behind the violence, stirring up trouble for political ends.
And just because it's difficult to prove, it doesn't mean it's not true.
What is known, is that what started as peaceful demonstrations by Muslims last week, were hijacked by thugs, bent on burning and looting.
It's also known that money was being handed out to these criminal elements in order to foment unrest. It doesn't take much, a dollar or two perhaps, to persuade an unemployed young man living in the poor suburbs of Kaduna, to take up his machete.
There is enough tension just below the surface here, for the smallest financial incentive to set the place on fire.
It is desperately sad that there are indeed people who choose violence over political dialogue, who seek to destabilise existing governments not with the force of their arguments, but with force of arms.
It's the same the world over, I suppose. But it's only when you witness it with your own eyes that you wonder at the greed and ambition of man.
Hoped for benefits
And all this because of a beauty pageant - something many ordinary people here were hoping would bring much needed positive images of Nigeria to the world.
Nigeria as a place of peace that welcomed outsiders of whatever colour or religion, a country in which it was safe to do business after so many years of corrupt military rule and yes, communal violence.
So what happens?
The world's media descends on Nigeria not to look at beauty, but to capture once again the 'beast of intolerance'.
Not my image there, but that of Nigeria's nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, who like so many here, despair at this country's inability to leap the barrier into a world in which mutual respect wins the day over mistrust and bigotry.
And then to those millions of ordinary Nigerians, non-Muslims in particular, who are angered at what they see as a victory for radical Islam, that protests started by Muslims have sent the beauty queens packing, and in the process embarrassed Nigeria once again around the globe.
I still have a vivid memory of one radio interview I did whilst in Kaduna covering the riots.
It was before the Miss World organisers had made the decision to leave the country, and were adamant that the show would be staged in Nigeria.
On that same programme was Miss Ireland, herself being interviewed live from her hotel in the capital, Abuja.
"How does it feel, asked the interviewer to Miss Ireland, to be involved in an event that has perhaps in some way contributed to the deaths of over 100 people?"
A long silence.
A mumbled answer about not really knowing much about what was going on outside her hotel.
"You go away and have a long think about it, dear," said the fatherly voice of the Irish programme presenter.
And she, and her fellow beauty queens, did just that. And left. On a flight, chartered at very short notice, back to London.
I suppose it's harsh to criticise beauty queens for being in any way responsible for what happened. After all, they're just beauty queens and not politicians.
But there are real politicians here who could and should have known better than to bring an event here that was so evidently provocative to Muslim sensibilities and liable to lead to protests, most particularly during the most holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
Miss World row
What next for Nigeria?
29 Nov 02 | Africa
25 Nov 02 | Africa
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