Curbing Violence in Nigeria (I): The Jos Crisis
Dakar/Brussels, Unless addressed immediately, recurrent violence in Nigeria’s Plateau state will continue to fuel settler-indigene tensions and exacerbate intercommunal strife across the country.
Curbing Violence in Nigeria (I): The Jos Crisis, the first in a series of International Crisis Group reports that examine insecurity in three regions of the country, explores the dynamics of violence in Plateau state since 2001. The ostensible dispute is over the “rights” of the predominately Christian Berom/Anaguta/Afizere (BAA) indigene groups and the rival claims of the Muslim Hausa-Fulani settlers to land, power and resources.
“Indigene-settler conflicts are not new to Nigeria, but the country is currently experiencing widespread intercommunal strife, which particularly affects Jos city, capital of Plateau state, in the Middle Belt region. Violence in Jos is defined and worsened by both local and national dynamics”, says Kunle Amuwo, Crisis Group’s West Africa Senior Analyst. “The failure of the ruling elite to address and resolve key issues such as citizenship, identity and political inclusion, has aggravated the situation”.
Conflicts have become more frequent and deadlier over the last eleven years, with about 4,000 people killed in several episodes of violence involving the BAA and Hausa-Fulani communities. More suffering can be expected if nothing is done to address the root causes of the tragedy.
Security further deteriorated in Jos from 2010 because of terror attacks and suicide bombings against churches and security targets by suspected militants of Boko Haram, the Islamist group responsible for unprecedented waves of terrorist attacks in the north.
Plateau state and the Middle Belt – which represents, roughly, the centre of the country – used to be a bridge between north and south. For a long time, its capital Jos mirrored the peaceful coexistence of Nigerians from different ethnic backgrounds. Cosmopolitanism, anchored in multi-ethnicity and multiple languages, formed a culture of tolerance and friendly relations between Muslims and Christians.
The crisis in Plateau requires both national and local solutions. Nigeria’s current conception and implementation of its citizenship question are inadequate and flawed. The way forward is for the National Assembly, via a referendum or by itself, following its nationwide public hearings, to replace the indigene principle with a more inclusive residency provision to fight discrimination and inequalities between settler and indigenous communities. The authorities must also take immediate steps to assuage the fears of ethnic minorities, including by prosecuting instigators and perpetrators of violence and stopping the illegal possession of firearms.
At the state level, the current Plateau government can no longer carry on as if it is in power to serve only indigenous communities. It should not wait for national constitutional reform before abolishing discriminatory policies on education and employment between indigenes and settlers.
“Nigeria has to move quickly to get to grips with the indigene-settler divide and the dysfunctional situation this has created in Jos and elsewhere”, says Gilles Yabi, Crisis Group’s West Africa Project Director. “Otherwise, political differences will harden further, more pain will be inflicted on the hapless population, and invariably, the country’s development will be impaired”.