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

Article excerpt


Despite strong optimism that the enthronement of democratic rule in Nigeria in 1999 would avert or contain ethnic and religious conflicts, the country has witnessed high level ethnic and religious violence with devastating consequences. This paper examines ethnic and religious conflicts in Nigeria in terms of its causes and impacts from 1999 to date. It argues that the weakness of the state has impacted significantly on the management of ethnic and religious conflicts in view of the fact that the state has increasingly become less responsive to the security needs of its citizens. The paper contends further that the challenge of managing ethnic and religious conflicts in Nigeria lies squarely in rebuilding state capacity for the effective and efficient management of diversities along ethnic and religious fault-lines. In the final analysis, the paper provides some recommendations in terms of how to fast-track efforts towards peace, security and stability in the Nigerian state.

Key Words: Nigeria, State, Ethnic, Religion, Conflict, Pluralism.

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). …


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