Nigeria: Managing ethnic diversity, not religion is Nigeria’s problem

October 28, 2011 17:350 comments

Mr Uchenna Emelonye is Head of Governance, Institutional and Justice Reform Programme and oversees International Development Law Organization, IDLO’s work with governments on legal and judicial reform, as well as its work with civil society on legal empowerment and access to justice. In this interview, he spoke on the report by IDLO into the ethno-religious crises in some Northern parts of the country. Excerpt.

WHAT is International Development Law Organisation, IDLO?

IDLO is a Rome based intergovernmental organisation that promotes legal, regulatory and institutional reform to advance economic and social development in transitional and developing countries. It believes that legal reform occurs alongside economic and social development, and is driven by societal demand.

By involving stakeholders at all levels of society, IDLO helps develop sustainable, equitable solutions that reflect a society’s broad needs and desires.

What is the focus of this report?

The background of this report is an appreciation of the nexus between citizenship, religion, integration and ethno-religious based conflicts in Nigeria, a pluralistic society where ideals of federalism and constitutionalism are still in transition.

Conflicts arising from ethno-religious tensions are not foreign to Nigeria, but the frequency and the toll on human lives and property of recent conflicts make them more challenging to address.

Ideally, the spirit of federation and nationalism is expected to override all ethnic, tribal or religious affiliations of Nigerians, unfortunately, this is not the case as most ethno-religious conflicts were based on ethnic or religious identity.

In most cases and particularly in Plateau State, it is between “indigenes” and “settlers”, even where the face-off is sectarian. This publication, synthesizes and analyzes through a rule of law lens ethno-religious conflicts with particular reference to the “indigene-settler” dispute in Jos and its surrounding villages as reported through various judicial commissions of inquiry set up between 1994 and 2010.

Our hope is that our findings and recommendations will stimulate continued dialogue and peace building, leading to harmonious co-existence in Nigeria.

What are the key findings of the report?

Since its independence in 1960, Nigeria has struggled with the challenge of managing its religious and political diversity. The major test of Nigeria’s ability to manage this diversity and promote national integration has been ethno-religious crises and their devastating effects in Plateau State, primarily in Jos, and Borno State, primarily in Maiduguri.

Although violence occurs throughout Nigeria, incidents of identity-based violence in Plateau State, the second most ethnically diverse after Adamawa, outnumber occurrences in other states.

The state’s diverse population is considered to have two identities: “indigenes” and “settlers” and reflect two major religions, Christianity and Islam, respectively. Cyclical sectarian conflicts often arise during elections and the Jos crises have resulted in grave human rights violations, polarized local society, and resulted in significant material losses.

Nigeria provides an example of the contentious relationship between law and society. While a law may attempt to prohibit discrimination, members of society often act contrary to the dictates of the law. A person is a citizen of Nigeria either by birth, by registration or by naturalization.

Although the Nigerian constitution discourages discrimination based on tribe, language, sex, religion or political leaning, practices have developed that prejudice and polarize the citizenry based on their putative “indigene” and “settler” status.

The absence of residency rights also continues to weaken Nigeria’s integration 51 years after its independence and largely accounts for the conflict between “indigenes” and “settlers,” particularly in Plateau State. For this reason, Nigeria may wish to consider adopting actions designed to forestall discrimination in whatever form, promote integration, and eradicate the distinction between “indigene” and “settler.” IDLO also recommends consideration of new legal instruments and other measures to address recurrent problems.

Should the ethnic diversity of Nigeria be construed as a weakness?

Diversity, per se, is not the problem. Its management, however, presents Nigeria with a formidable challenge. A divisive interplay of politics, ethnicity and religion in Nigeria has led to rising nationalism and militancy of various ethnic and religious movements.

Since the 1980s, religious extremism has increased in Nigeria. Ethno-religious and cultural differences do not necessarily mean that relationships between groups will always be problematic or end in violence. With the deep religious divisions in the country, however, legislation on its own is insufficient.

A national dialogue to promote cohesion, unity, tolerance, peace, and understanding would put into perspective the core values of ethnic nationalities and how such values can be accommodated in a federation without undermining the existence of the nation as a whole.

It is for this reason that IDLO has also assisted bring various parties together in Abuja and Jos Plateau State to contribute to the beginning of a framework for future dialogue.

Given the links between ethnicity, religion, identity and citizenship, conflicts related to each have become dominant factors weakening and dividing the country. At least 62 identity-based conflicts have taken place within the last decade, with 22 incidents recorded in 2004 alone.

To illustrate the extent of the death toll from ethno-religious violence in the last 10 years, it may be pertinent to cite that thousands killed in northern Nigeria as non-Muslims opposed to the introduction of Sharia law fight Muslims who demand its implementation in the northern Kaduna State. (2000).

• At least 915 people were killed in days of rioting as Christian-Muslim violence flares after Friday prayers in Jos. Churches and mosques set on fire. (2001)

• At least 215 people died in rioting in the northern city of Kaduna following a newspaper article suggesting the Prophet Mohammad would probably have married one of the Miss World beauty queens. Nigeria abandoned hosting the Miss World Contest in Abuja. (2002)

• At least 157 lives claimed after a week of rioting by Muslim and Christian mobs. The violence began in northeastern city of Maiduguri, when a Muslim protest against Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad runs out of control. Revenge attacks follow in the south. (2006)

• At least 400 people killed in clashes between Muslim and Christian gangs triggered by a disputed local government chairmanship election in the state capital, Jos. (2008)

• Several people and several houses, churches and mosques burned after clashes in Bauchi City. Governor of the state imposes a night-time curfew. (2009)

• More than 50 people killed and over 100 arrested after Boko Haram, an extremist Islamist militant group, stages attacks in the northeastern city of Bauchi when some of its members were arrested. Bauchi State governor imposes another night curfew on the state capital. (2009)

• 400 bodies   mostly women and children   given a mass burial after armed men killed and maimed Berom villages in Dogo Nahawa, Zot, Rasat and Kutgot in Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State in 2010.

What is the practical dichotomy between “indigenes” and “settlers” struggle in some parts of Nigeria?

“Indigeneship” status has unique significance in Nigeria and offers additional privileges to citizenship. An “indigene” has been defined as a “person who belongs, either through birth or ancestry, to a particular community that is geographically determined,” and a settler as “someone who leaves his original place of normal residence or habitation to settle in a new location.”

The terms “indigene” and “settler,” however, are not mentioned in the constitutional provisions on citizenship. Unfortunately, these very terms have divided the people of Nigeria and constitute the bases for discrimination in employment, admission into higher institutions, and acquisition of property.

Although we used the terms “indigene” and “settler” in this publication, the terms are inappropriate to describe a Nigerian citizen residing within the Nigerian nation. Identity conflicts have primarily been between “indigenes” and “settlers.” Although “indigenes” may have different identities, these are often disregarded for purposes of un
iting against a perceived common threat.

What tier of government established the Judicial Commissions reviewed under this report?

Plateau State and Federal Government respectively established separate Judicial Commissions of Inquiry. Plateau State government’s Commissions were headed by Justice J. Aribiton Fiberesima (1994), Justice Niki Tobi (2001) and Justice Bola Ajibola (2009).

In turn, the Plateau State issued white papers on the 1994 and 2001 Commissions. A Peace Conference in 2004 also set up by the Plateau State government brought major stakeholders in Plateau State to create a forum and bring together the people of Plateau State along with other stakeholders to a roundtable discussion where contending issues will be openly presented and debated.

The Conference like other Judicial Commissions recommended steps to achieve sustainable peace in Plateau State. The Federal government also constituted the Justice Suleiman Galadima Commission of Inquiry (2001), Emmanuel Abisoye Presidential Panel (2009) and Chief Solomon Lar Presidential Advisory Committee (2010).

The Federal government Commissions were convened to advise the federal government on potential solutions to the continuing crises. This publication reviewed the mandates, findings and recommendations of these Commissions on contentious issues such as ownership of Jos, delineation of electoral wards, boundaries and land use in Jos North Local Government Area.

What is the philosophy behind IDLO’s intervention in this publication?

IDLO neither apportions blame nor determines culpability of any group or individual for crimes or violence. Our presentation of results is offered only as noted in a given commission report. Our work also does not attempt to investigate de novo the remote and immediate causes of the crises; the commissions, advisory panels, and committees have already established the facts.

Our focus is to highlight their major findings and recommendations and synthesize them into a single document by identifying policy or legal gaps. The objective of undertaking this study was to determine whether or not ethno-religious conflicts that hinder national integration may be the result of legal and structural deficiencies which fail to provide an effective legal framework to accommodate diverse populations.

Ultimately, IDLO offers potential legal and practical solutions to manage and reduce ethno-religious conflict in Nigeria. We build on the findings of commissions or peace conferences and chart what may be a future course for citizenship, peace building and integration in Plateau State that can also be extended to other areas.

Our examination of Nigeria’s constitutional and legal development through existing literature is our contribution to efforts to encourage peaceful co-existence in Plateau State. The consequences of persistent ethno-religious conflict   instability and insecurity   run counter to IDLO’s mandate to promote the rule of law through democratic governance, social and economic development.

Ultimately, we agree that “Nigeria must strengthen its institutions, policies and practices to reduce or attenuate the predominance of ethnicity in local, state and national politics.” Lasting peace and stability in Nigeria can only be achieved when solutions are based on the rule of law and respect for human
rights of all Nigerians.

Source: Vanguard

Tags:

Leave a Reply