A few weeks ago, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) released a report, written by Aaron Sayne, looking at indigene-settler conflicts in Nigeria, the basis of deadly communal violence notably in Jos and Kaduna, but also Warri, Wukari in Taraba, parts of Benue and other parts of the country. The report, based on thorough analysis delves into many issues surrounding these conflicts, but importantly locates such violence within the context of constitutional provisions (indigenization clause) and identity politics that enable such indigene-settler clashes. You can read the full report HERE (PDF).
Here is a summary:
- Many of Nigeria’s worst conflicts pit the recognized original inhabitants, or indigenes, of a particular place against supposedly later settlers. These conflicts may be growing deadlier and more numerous with time.
- State and local governments have free rein to pick who is an indigene. Abuse of the label can foster deep socio-economic inequalities, given that indigenes enjoy preferential access to land, schools, development spending, and public jobs. These inequalities feed into violence, although righting inequality may not be sufficient to end violence in every case.
- The indigene-settler distinction is also explosive because it reinforces and is reinforced by other identity-based divides (ethnicity, religion) in Nigeria. These differences in ethnicity, language, religion, and culture can be longstanding and deeply felt, but how they factor into violence is again not well understood.
- Poor law enforcement responses also help entrench violence between indigenes and settlers. Official complicity and indifference make prosecutions rare. Destructive conduct by the Nigerian security forces itself often becomes a structural cause of violence.
- Serious thought about how to prevent or resolve indigene-settler violence has barely started in Nigeria. Addressing inequality between indigenes and settlers calls for serious, microlevel analysis of local economic dysfunctions and opportunities, along with real official commitment to make and enforce better policies.
- More holistic understandings of justice are also needed. The worst hot spots will need a wide menu of well-planned interventions. Options include securitization, criminal prosecution, mediation and dialogue, truth commissions, victim compensation programs, public health and trauma assistance, public institutional reforms, education, and communications work. In some cases, building sustainable peace could take a generation or more.
I find the report rich in detail, yet concise enough — at less than 20 pages — not to be boring, but readable in one sitting. It balances theoretical arguments with factual analysis derived from interviews and discussions with key stakeholders. Some points I found to be highly significant and worth highlighting include:
The report underscores the role of identity in indigene-settler violence which tends to be downplayed especially by foreign analysts who prefer instead to focus on structural factors such as economic inequality and poverty as drivers of conflict. Though the study acknowledges the link between inequality and violence, I find it quite dismissive of the major role played by these socio-economic factors of poverty, inequality and access to economic opportunities and resources, as drivers of indigene-settler violence, especially as more prosperous and urbanized people in bigger cities are less likely to engage in identity-based communal conflict.
The report reflects on the need to devise concrete measures and policies to engage Nigeria’s massive, fast-growing, young population, with measures such as attracting Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), ensuring ordinary Nigerians have access to loans and credit financing and overdue federalist reforms that would push “more resources away from Abuja and down to the states”. Importantly, it highlights the major retrogressive role of discriminatory attitudes and practices of socio-economic exclusion based on indigene-settler dichotomy on economic growth and development, and how this needs to be addressed if parts of the country where this discrimination is prevalent are to reap socio-economic dividends.
It notes government’s (at different levels) tendency to respond to outbreaks of serious violence with ad-hoc measures rather than long-term and sustainable ones, such as launching numerous ad hoc judicial commissions of inquiry with no enforcement powers and with their findings seldom published, adopted, or acted on. For instance at least sixteen commissions have examined violence in Jos alone. Similarly, the ad-hoc security-based approaches to violence such as presidential declarations of emergency, augmenting local police presence with military task forces or ad hoc disarmament exercises which lead to few results, sometimes further entrench conflict and add to the human toll.
Some pragmatic recommendations listed include: “…overlooked change agents, such as local peace and security committees or female religious groups, should be engaged more creatively”; community policing which has been relatively successful in Lagos; establishing truth commissions which have been successful in Rwanda, can heal the psychological trauma and scarring of communities which have experienced such violence, and institutional reforms of the security forces. Though the study also recommends civil society engagement in involving grassroots stakeholders’ participation to make peace settlement negotiations more sustainable, it doesn’t actually state how such grassroots involvement is to be attained especially as it further (dis)regards such CSOs as donor driven and lacking genuine constituencies.
Importantly, the report underscores the need for “serious thinking about how to prevent or resolve Nigeria’s indigene-settler violence…” which “…has barely started.” It adds “…as often in the country, existing analyses are stronger on problems than on solutions.” Clearly, this critical point provides an insight into our approach to other pressing national issues as well; there is a tendency to (over) analyse problems, with exceptional clarity but with little solutions proferred in the public sphere.
We need to “re-think” , re-evaluate and re-assess how we approach our numerous challenges in Nigeria, from new perspectives. In many cases, this would entail engaging in micro-analyses at sub-national levels and proffering solutions no matter how ambitious, idealistic or quixotic they might initially appear. We need to get conversations started on possible solutions so that they would be discussed, debated, fine-tuned and ultimately accepted and implemented.
Effective and sustainable solutions to Nigeria’s numerous problems, especially the recurring and tragic outbreaks of violence, can only come from Nigerians themselves. Much as such fine reports by USIP or other think-tanks conduct excellent analyses and recommend pragmatic solutions, it is when we Nigerians profer, discuss and debate solutions that we can accept them and work with them.
“Cannibalization of Muslims in Jos, Where is our Humanity” February 4, 2012