Curbing Violence in Nigeria (I): The Jos Crisis

Africa Report N°196 17 Dec 2012, crisisgroup

Executive Summary

Full PDF Report


Since 2001, violence has erupted in Jos city, capital of Plateau state, in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region. The ostensible dispute is over the “rights” of the indigene Berom/Anaguta/Afizere (BAA) group and the rival claims of the Hausa-Fulani settlers to land, power and resources. Indigene-settler conflicts are not new to Nigeria, but the country is currently experiencing widespread intercommunal strife, which particularly affects the Middle Belt. The Jos crisis is the result of failure to amend the constitution to privilege broad-based citizenship over exclusive indigene status and ensure that residency rather than indigeneity determines citizens’ rights. Constitutional change is an important step to defuse indigene-settler rivalries that continue to undermine security. It must be accompanied by immediate steps to identify and prosecute perpetrators of violence, in Jos and other parts of the country. Elites at local, state and federal level must also consistently implement policies aimed at reducing the dangerous link between ethnic belonging and access to resources, power and security if intercommunal violence is to end.

The indigene principle, or indigeneity (that is, local origin), means that some groups control power and resources in states or local government areas (LGAs) while others – who have migrated for different reasons – are excluded. This gives rise both to grievances and fierce political competition, which too often lead to violence. Indigeneity was given constitutional force at independence in 1960 to protect the ethnic minorities from being submerged by the larger Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba groups and preserve their cultural and political identity and traditional institutions of governance. Religion is a pertinent, albeit secondary factor, which reinforces underlying tension and, over the years, has assumed greater importance, especially since the return of democracy in May 1999. Fierce and unregulated political competition characterised by ethnic mobilisation and violence, coupled with poor governance, economic deregulation and rampant corruption, have severely exacerbated ethnic, religious and regional fault lines. The notion of national citizenship appears to have been abrogated by both ethnicity and ancestry.

The persistent settler-indigene conflict in Plateau state reflects the longstanding sense of grievance the BAA, including a small Muslim community among them, continue to nurse against their perceived treatment as second-class citizens by the Hausa-Fulani. The predominantly Christian Middle Belt, famous for its history of bitter struggle against attempts by the Muslim-dominated Far North to subjugate it, understands the citizenship malaise better than any other region. Reclaiming their rights, as the indigenous peoples of Plateau state, is the dominant narrative that runs through the BAA’s attempted politics of reverse discrimination against their perceived ancient oppressors. Conversely, the Hausa-Fulani claim that they, not the BAA, are the authentic indigenes of Jos and have been aggrieved about their lack of access to power and resources despite being the majority in the biggest of the LGAs, Jos North.

Because the settlers are almost entirely Muslim and the indigenous people predominantly Christian, struggle over land ownership, economic resources and political control tends to be expressed not just in ethnic but also religious terms. The dispute is compounded by the fact that, of the settler groups, only the Hausa-Fulani lay proprietary claim to Jos. As violence recurs, spatial polarisation and segregation accentuate social and political divisions; people become more conscious of their sub-national solidarity and allegiances and are more forthcoming about expressing them.

Since the end of 2010, security has further deteriorated in Jos because of terror attacks and suicide bombings against churches and security targets by suspected militants of Boko Haram, the Islamist group responsible for an unprecedented wave of terrorist attacks in the north. Thousands have been killed, hundreds of thousands have been displaced internally and billions of dollars of property have been destroyed.

Thus far, responses from local and national authorities have proven mostly ineffective. They have come in three ways. First, several judicial commissions of inquiry have been appointed to “get to the root of the crises” and recommend “lasting solutions”. But authorities have been slow in publishing reports and acting on their recommendations. Tough public speeches have not been translated into tangible political action against instigators and perpetrators: none of the suspects named by the various commissions have been prosecuted, and impunity continues to feed violence.

The second response is police and military action, which has had little success. Security forces not only fail to share intelligence among themselves, they are also suspected of taking sides in the conflict and soldiers are accused of trading guns for money. Finally, Operation Rainbow (OR), a joint initiative since June 2010 between the federal government and the Plateau state government with support from the UN Development Programme (UNDP), is considered a holistic response to the crisis. Still in its infancy, OR appears useful but will only be effective if it can, at the minimum, win the confidence of both sides. It should be publicised at the grassroots so that the population can own it.

The crisis in Plateau requires both national and local solutions. Constitutional provisions, by virtue of their ambiguity over the terms “indigene” (which the constitution fails to define satisfactorily) and “residency” for accessing citizenship rights, have done little to clarify the situation. Nigeria’s current conception and implementation of its citizenship (or national) question are inadequate and flawed. The way forward is for the National Assembly, via a referendum or by itself, following its nationwide public hearings on the matter, to replace the indigene principle with a more inclusive residency provision to fight discrimination and inequalities between settler and indigenous communities while consciously taking immediate steps to assuage the fears of ethnic minorities.

At the state level, the current Plateau government should change its approach. It can no longer carry on as if it is in power to serve only indigenous communities. It should not wait for national constitutional reform before abolishing discriminatory policies on education and employment between indigenes and settlers, as did the Sokoto state government. Otherwise, political differences will harden further, more pain will be inflicted on the hapless population, and the state’s – and, invariably, the country’s – development will be impaired.


To the Federal Government of Nigeria:

In the short term

1.  Publish reports of previous commissions of inquiry and the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Jos crisis, including various white papers, and implement recommendations promoting principles of political inclusiveness, fairness, equity and justice. These include:

a) establishing a truth and reconciliation commission;

b) creating new local government areas and districts out of the highly disputed Jos North LGA;

c) adopting zoning and power rotation among the ethnic groups residing in it; and

d) establishing grazing reserve for the nomadic Fulani herdsmen.

2.  End impunity by prosecuting those responsible, within and outside Plateau state, for masterminding and perpetrating violence and killings across the state.

3.  Ensure the federal military Special Task Force (STF) in Jos works closely with the Plateau state government to protect various ethnic and cultural groups and reinforce security.

4.  Ensure, together with the Plateau state government, that Operation Rainbow is fully operational and has the capacity to take over from the STF within the shortest possible time, while guaranteeing its objectivity and neutrality at all times in order to elicit ownership by all participating parties.

5.  Facilitate, in collaboration with the Plateau state government, a genuinely bottom-up approach to the peace and confidence-building process, through effective engagement with community, civil society and traditional leaders, informal peacemakers like elders, youth and women groups to assess their concrete needs and demands; and creation of a legal framework and an implementation committee at the state level to meet these needs and demands.

In the medium term

6.  Work with the National Assembly to give the settler problem a constitutional solution by replacing the contentious indigene provisions in the 1999 constitution with a common citizenship for all Nigerians based on residency; quickly revive and pass into law the Residency Rights Bill sponsored in 2004 by a group of senators.

7.  Organise and fund a nationwide civic education program that would inculcate in Nigerians the significance of a common notion of citizenship, based on respect of ethnic and religious diversity, national unity and cohesion.

8.  Strengthen intelligence sharing with regional and international partners to assess external terrorist threats (notably from al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM) with a view to increasing state capacity to respond adequately, by:

a) taking part in U.S. initiatives such as the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP) and the Anti-Terrorism Assistance Programme (CTF); and

b) drawing on the examples of countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines that face similar intercommunal conflicts and have initiated policies against radicalisation and violence.

To the Plateau State Government:

In the short term

9.  Implement the recommendations of the published Fi­beresima, Tobi and Ajibola commissions of inquiry and the white papers, that promote peace and security. These include:

a) prosecution of instigators and perpetrators of conspiracy, murder, arson and public disturbance;

b) checking the illegal possession of firearms; and

c) ending the indiscriminate construction of places of worship in residential areas in Jos and other towns.

10.  Reach out to all settler groups in the state, particularly the Hausa-Fulani, to restore trust and confidence.

11.  Provide security posts in strategic areas within the Jos metropolis and its environs in order to prevent civil unrest – a strategy that proved effective in Kaduna state.

In the medium term

12.  Take measures against discrimination in education and employment opportunities between indigenes and settlers, following the example of Sokoto state.

13.  Facilitate meaningful and sustained dialogue between the various communities to help defuse the crisis; revive the moribund Plateau State Inter-Religious Council for Peace and Harmony (IRCPH) and replicate it at the local government and community levels, so as to value the expertise and experience of its special advisers on religious affairs (Christian and Muslim), security, community relations, youth and women mobilisation, rural transformation, project monitoring, ethical re-orientation and peacebuilding.

14.  Ensure that future local government elections are credible, free and fair, and that winners are duly declared and unencumbered to take office and exercise power.

15.  Modify the structure of the Jos North LGA to make the local council more representative of the desires of all the communities to foster a sense of community and belonging.

To the UN and Bilateral Donors:

16.  Press for accountability for perpetrators and instigators of violence to combat impunity.

17.  Encourage the Nigerian government and the National Assembly, via a referendum or by itself following its public hearings on the matter, to amend relevant sections of the 1999 constitution in order to provide a national, constitutional solution to the perennial settler-indigene problem.

18.  Provide further capacity building and technical assistance to the Nigerian and the Plateau state governments to complement current UNDP contributions in these areas and empower Operation Rainbow.

19.  Provide requisite expertise and skills to the Nigerian government and security agencies to support efforts at improving intelligence gathering and sharing, so as to boost efficiency in containing intercommunal conflicts and fighting terrorism and extremism.

20.  Work with the Nigerian government, the Plateau state government and the ethno-religious communities in the state to attenuate the youth’s social marginalisation, economic disempowerment, idleness and political exclusion through education and establishment of a working group of progressive, educated people from all communities that could promote fresh ideas into public policies.

Dakar/Brussels, 17 December 2012