Strategies for [Re]building State Capacity to Manage Ethnic and Religious Conflict in Nigeria

Article excerpt

When ethnic and religious leaders preach reconciliation without having unequivocally committed themselves to struggle on the side of the oppressed for justice, they are caught straddling a pseudo-neutrality made of nothing but thin air (Wink, 1997:22) [emphasis added].


Nigeria is clearly a prototype state in accommodating ethnic and religious fault-lines. With a population of 140 million and over 250 ethno-linguistic groups, it is the only country with a population of half Christians and half Muslims (Paden, 2008:6). Since 1999, violent conflicts have become a method of collective action by the diverse ethnic and religious groups in Nigeria. In the last ten years, the loss of human lives and the destruction of properties is immense and the cost is beyond measurement.

The incentive for ethnic and religious groups to approach the courts in cases of disputes is dependent on the remedies available, in terms of access to courts, the cost of judicial actions, and delay in getting court judgments and individuals' confidence in the judiciary as an impartial arbiter. Where legal institutions are weak or there is open complicity between the judges and a particular group against another group, the latter may turn to informal means of seeking redress. Thus conflict rather than co-operation or bargaining has emerged as a 'rational', though incredible method of interactions between or amongst ethnic and religious groups in Nigeria. It is also the case, however, that failure to build adequate state capacity--to help put in place or resuscitate effective public institutions for law and order and the provision of social services--can also doom peace-building efforts in Nigeria.

Some of the ethno-religious conflicts that have captured national and international attention in the last ten years (1999 to 2009) in Nigeria include; the Tiv vs Jukun, Jukun vs Kuteb, Chamba vs Kuteb in Tararba State, Ogoni vs Andon in Rivers State, the Sharia crisis in Kaduna State, the Tiv vs other ethnic groups in Azara of Nasarawa State in 2001, the Hausa/Fulani vs the Anaguta, Afizere and Berom in Jos North Local Government Area of Plateau State in 2001, the Tarok vs Hausa/Fulani in Wase Local Government Area in 2004, the Goemai vs the Hausa/Fulani in Shendam Local government Area of Plateau State in 2002, the religious violence of Maidiguri, Borno State in 2005, the Quan vs Pan in Quan'Pan Local Government Area of Plateau State in 2006, the Hausa/Fulani vs the Anaguta, Afizere and Berom in Jos North Local Government Area of Plateau State in 2008, and the 'Boko Haram' violence that engulfed Borno, Yobe, Bauchi and Kano states in July, 2009 respectively.

Ethnic and Religious Conflicts in Nigeria from 1999 to 2008: An Overview of some of the Causes

While the roots of ethnic and religious conflicts have been linked to colonialism and the cold war (Machava, 2008:2), other scholars argue that ethnic and religious conflicts are rooted in bad governance, politicization of ethnic and religious identities, the competition and conflict for political power by the ethnic and religious communities respectively (Anarfi, 2004; Conversi, 1999). Takaya (1992:112) identified centrifugal factors that gave rise to the politicization of ethnic and religious identities in Nigeria, which include;

(i) the existence of two or more ethnic and religious groups with numerical strengths that can significantly affect the outcome and direction of a democratic political process;

(ii) the instrumentalisation of ethnicity and religion as legitimizing tool of hegemony in instances when the interests of the political class are under threat;

(iii) when there is an ascendant radical thinking within a politically significant ethnic or religious group capable of upstaging hegemony;

(iv) when the society is characterized by political, social or economic hardships that can cause alliances along ethnic and religious fault-lines. …


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