the news site for journalists covering development issues


Northern Nigeria: Background to Conflict

Map of Nigeria.[DAKAR/BRUSSELS] Nigeria’s far north is not the hot bed of Islamic extremists some in the West fear, but it needs reinforced community-level peacebuilding, a more subtle security response, and improved management of public resources lest lingering tensions lead to new violence.

Northern Nigeria: Background to Conflict, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the region’s conflict risks. Violence has flared up there periodically for more than 30 years. Mainly in the form of urban riots, it has seen Muslims pitted against Christians, confrontations between different Islamic sects, and rejectionist sects against the state. The relative calm that much of northern Nigeria had enjoyed for several years was broken by the emergence in 2009 of Boko Haram, a radical group that appears to have some links to al-Qaeda.

In the build-up to the 2011 national elections, the worst-case scenario is that local violence will polarise the rest of the country. This must be avoided through actions at the local, regional and national level.

“While some in the West panic at what they see as growing Islamic radicalism in the region, the roots of the problem are more complex and lie in Nigeria’s history and contemporary politics”, says Titi Ajayi, Crisis Group’s West Africa Fellow.

Many common factors fuel conflicts across Nigeria: in particular, the political manipulation of religion and ethnicity and disputes between supposed local groups and “settlers” over distribution of public resources. The failure of the state to assure public order, contribute to dispute settlement and implement post-conflict peacebuilding measures also plays a role, as does economic decline and unemployment. As elsewhere in the country, the far north – the twelve states that apply Sharia (Islamic law) – suffers from a potent mix of economic malaise and contentious, community-based distribution of public resources.

But there is also a specifically northern element. A thread of rejectionist thinking runs through northern Nigerian history, according to which collaboration with secular authorities is illegitimate. While calls for an “Islamic state” in Nigeria should not be taken too seriously, despite media hyperbole, they do demonstrate that many in the far north express political and social dissatisfaction through greater adherence to Islam and increasingly look to the religious canon for solutions to multiple problems in their lives.

On the positive side, much local conflict prevention and resolution does occur, and the region has historically shown much capacity for peaceful co-existence between its ethnic and religious communities. Generally speaking, for a vast region beset with social and economic problems, the absence of widespread conflict is as notable as the pockets of violence.

The starting point for addressing the conflicts must be a better understanding of the historical, cultural and other contexts in which they take place. The region has experienced recurrent violence, particularly since the early 1980s. These are the product of several complex and inter-locking factors, including a volatile mix of historical grievances, political manipulation and ethnic and religious rivalries.

“Northern Nigeria is little understood by those in the south, still less by the international community, where too often, it is viewed as part of bigger rivalries in a putative West-Islam divide”, says EJ Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s Acting Africa Program Director. “Still, the overall situation needs to be taken seriously. If it were to deteriorate significantly, especially along Christian-Muslim lines, it could have grave repercussions for national cohesion in the build-up to national elections in 2011”.

Crisis Group contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 2 541 1635; Kimberly Abbott (Washington) +1 202 785 1602

Source: Crisis Group

Get the World News and Media Diary


Gender-based violence in Sierra Leone

Freetown Rainbo Centre staffRainbo Centre signWorking to prevent violence
Midwife Annie MafindaSafiatu Jalloh, counselorMidwife Many Sowa
Rakel LarsonChief Officer Balogun DixonMadam Julia Sarkodie Mensah
Police Family Support UnitCourtroom posterJoseph Rahall
http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/486867Midwives_counsellors_security_guards_staff_Freetown_Rainbo_Centre_Princeses_Christian_Maternity_Hospital_600x450.jpg

Freetown Rainbo Centre staff

Staff, including midwives, counsellors and security guards, at the Freetown Rainbo Centre, in the Princeses Christian Maternity Hospital, which deals with rape crises. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/827434Rainbo_Centre_sign_Sierra_Leone_600_380.jpg

Rainbo Centre sign

Rainbo Centre sign which hangs in all three centres in Sierra Leone. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/206417IRC_run_group_in_Kenema_Sierra_Leone_working_to_change_male_attitudes_to_violence_600_450.jpg

Working to prevent violence

Six members of a men's group in Kenema, Sierra Leone run by IRC. They are working to change men's attitudes and stop violence before it starts. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/908993Midwife_Annie_Mafinda_with_toys_in_the_Freetown_Rainbo_Centre_counselling_room_600_450.jpg

Midwife Annie Mafinda

Midwife Annie Mafinda, with toys in the counselling room at the Freetown Rainbo Centre. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/242101Safiatu_Jalloh_counselor_with_the_Rainbo_Centre_in_Kenema_600_450.jpg

Safiatu Jalloh, counselor

Safiatu Jalloh, counselor with the Rainbo Centre in Kenema. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/601712Many_Sowa_midwife_at_the_Kenema_Rainbo_Centre_Sierra_Leone_600_450.jpg

Midwife Many Sowa

Many Sowa, midwife at the Kenema Rainbo Centre, Sierra Leone. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/866528Rakel_Larson_UN_Displaced_Persons_representative_working_with_Irish_Aid_on_the_Saturday_Courts_project_600x450.jpg

Rakel Larson

Rakel Larson, United Nations Displaced Persons representative, working with Irish Aid on the Saturday Courts project. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/893836Balogun_Dixon_Chief_Officer_Pademba_Road_Prison_at_the_Freetown_Courthouse_600_450.jpg

Chief Officer Balogun Dixon

Balogun Dixon, Chief Officer Pademba Road Prison, at the Freetown Courthouse. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/827415Madam_Julia_Sarkodie_Mensah_Consultant_Master_and_Registrar_of_the_Sierra_Leone_Judiciary_338_450.jpg

Madam Julia Sarkodie Mensah

Madam Julia Sarkodie Mensah, Consultant Master and Registrar of the Sierra Leone Judiciary. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/602051The_Family_Support_Unit_in_the_Kenema_Police_Force_600_450.jpg

Police Family Support Unit

The Family Support Unit in the Kenema Police Force, pictured outside their station. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/226639Poster_on_GBV_in_the_Freetown_Courthouse_345_450.jpg

Courtroom poster

Poster on the walls of a courtroom in the Freetown Courthouse building offering socio-legal support for victims of gender-based violence. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/238581Joseph_Rahall_Executive_Director_Green_Scenery_at_the_offices_in_Freetown_Sierra_Leone_600_450.jpg

Joseph Rahall

Joseph Rahall, Executive Director of eco-NGO 'Green Scenery', at their offices in Freetown, Sierra Leone.