Nigeria can be roughly divided into the predominantly Muslim north, the central or Middle Belt area where Christians and Muslims are more or less evenly balanced, and a mainly Christian south. Each region also contains a sizable minority of people who follow traditional African beliefs. Religious violence has cost the lives of over 50,000 people since 1999, when one-third of Nigeria's 36 states instituted the Islamic penal code making Shari'ah (Islamic) law the highest legal authority, creating a de facto state religion in violation of the national, secular constitution. For many non-Muslims in northern and central Nigeria, daily life consists of a veneer of normality that barely conceals an underlying reality of chronic discrimination and tension which periodically erupts into deadly, but organized, violence.
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