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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 15:27 GMT
Nigeria road trip: Kaduna
Kano Kaduna Abuja The second in a series of reports from northern Nigeria by the BBC's West Africa correspondent, Mark Doyle, assessing the impact of the 11 September attacks

Kaduna is the sort of city where you would expect to find a decent Polo Club.

It was once the British colonial capital of Nigeria, roughly situated in the centre of a country and within striking distance of the mainly Muslim north and largely Christian south.

Kaduna Polo Club players
Anyone who's anyone goes to Kaduna Polo Club

In the plush suburbs of Kaduna's Government Residential Area (GRA), everyone who was anyone once had a villa, and many still do.

Former generals made rich on military government contracts, politicians who have had their share of the gravy, and expatriates who have cashed in on Nigeria's oil boom - all of them have jostled for building space in the cool shade of the trees that line the GRA streets.

These days, it is also necessary for the big contract-chasers to take a suite in the Hilton Hotel in the new capital, Abuja. But some of them still keep a villa in the more congenial surroundings of Kaduna, just three hours drive north of the capital.

And what could be more congenial than Kaduna Polo Club, a large expanse of green grass with a modest verandah clubhouse in the middle?

Calm amid turmoil

For the BBC team, our visit to the clubhouse was a welcome antidote after several tiring days on the road and a stay in the polluted and noisy northern city of Kano.

We had come to Kaduna to canvas more views on how the attacks of 11 September and the war in Afghanistan had affected Christian-Muslim relations in Nigeria.

Kaduna street
Kaduna has seen its fair share of political violence

Like many Nigerian cities, Kaduna has seen its share of political violence.

In early 2000, when Muslim leaders here first proposed the introduction of Islamic Sharia law, a legal system that allows some crimes to be punished by amputation or stoning, there was an explosion of violence.

Christians and Muslims destroyed each others' places of worship and hundreds died.

One of the first people I came across in Kaduna (in fact it was more that he came across me) was a plain-clothes security officer who was very keen to find out what a team of foreign journalists was doing there, and who emphasised repeatedly that the city was "thoroughly peaceful, a very peaceful place indeed".

As far as I could see, during my short visit at least, he was right.

Taking no chances

Perhaps the authorities had learnt their lessons in the year 2000 and were not taking any chances.

We all regretted seeing the attacks on America, but we can't really stomach the bombing of Afghanistan either

Muslim landowner

I heard for example that poster-sellers who had been doing a brisk trade selling pictures of Osama Bin Laden had been banned from doing so a few days before we arrived.

At the Polo Club, this playground for the rich, opinions about Bin Laden were divided, but the debate was good humoured.

As you'd expect in northern Nigeria, most members of the Polo Club are Muslims, but there are some Christians too.

However, money speaks as loudly as religion in this country, and the social and business ties that bind the super-rich appear to be as strong as any religious differences they have.

A Muslim landowner, who walked onto the pitch followed by a string of thoroughbred polo ponies, took a direct view.

Kaduna Polo Club player
Love of sport papers over religious differences

"We all regretted seeing the attacks on America, but we can't really stomach the bombing of Afghanistan either. The Americans will have to modify their foreign policy if they want to avoid more Bin Ladens in the future," he said.

A Christian member proudly pointed out that he had been elected to the Polo Club Committee by Muslims, and in the face of competition with other Muslim candidates.

"This thing has nothing to do with Christianity versus Islam. The Americans are trying to get Osama Bin Laden not because he is a Muslim but because he is a terrorist," he said.

Many Muslims on the streets of Kaduna would of course question this "terrorist" label.

Another member of the club emphasised that a common love of sport and having a good time together papered over any political differences they might have.

"Polo brings us together whatever our religion", he said, before mounting a fresh pony and galloping off for another game.

Poverty outside

Kaduna Polo Club is, of course, a place for the rich and privileged.

Kaduna farmer
Most Nigerians endure grinding poverty

But perhaps it illustrates how easy it is to be tolerant when you're comfortably off.

The Polo Club is the exact antithesis of the hard, poverty-stricken life that the vast majority of Nigerians endure.

It is those poor Nigerians, whose choices are so limited, who are relatively easy prey to the promises of religious extremists from either the Christian or Muslim camps.

Next stop Abuja.

See also:

19 Oct 01 | Africa
Nigerian appeals Sharia sentence
05 Nov 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
The death of a Nigerian village
14 Sep 01 | Africa
Nigerian sentenced to stoning
09 Sep 01 | Africa
Dozens killed in Nigeria violence
15 Oct 01 | Africa
Analysis: Nigeria's Sharia split
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