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Inter-communal Violence in Nigeria
Inter-communal conflicts are not a new phenomenon in Nigeria. For decades, communities in various parts of the country have fought, often violently, for political and economic control. Thousands have died in these conflicts and successive governments have failed to take effective action to bring those responsible to justice or to prevent these clashes from recurring. While some Nigerians point out that little could be expected from past military governments, who often resorted to violent repression themselves, there were hopes that the civilian government of President Olusegun Obasanjo, which came to power in May 1999, would be more responsive.

However, since 1999, inter-communal violence in Nigeria has not abated; it may even have increased. In addition to the crisis in Jos, there were several other serious outbreaks of violence in 1999, 2000 and 2001. In 1999 and 2000, there were violent clashes in the southwest between members of the Hausa and Yoruba ethnic groups. In February and May 2000, more than seven hundred people were killed in the northern town of Kaduna and in reprisal killings in the southeast, in clashes between Muslim and Christian communities over the mooted extension of the application of Sharia (Islamic law) in Kaduna state.1 In June and July 2001, between one hundred and two hundred people were killed in Nasarawa state in clashes between the Tiv and several other ethnic groups. The longstanding conflict between the Tiv and the Jukun in neighboring Taraba and Benue states also continued, culminating in October 2001 in the massacre of more than two hundred civilians by the military in Benue state in reprisal for the killing of nineteen soldiers.2 In July and August 2001, violence broke out between Christians and Muslims in Bauchi state, apparently in response to the introduction of Sharia law there. In October 2001, further violence erupted in the northern city of Kano following protests against the United States military attacks on Afghanistan.3

The Crisis in Jos: Possible Causes and Warning Signs
Unlike other parts of Nigeria, which have experienced inter-communal violence with tragic regularity, Jos, until September 2001, had always been viewed as a peaceful city. To many Nigerians, the Plateau State motto of "Home of Peace and Tourism" was more than an empty slogan. Indeed, many people fleeing conflicts in their own areas had sought protection and safety in Jos; some had even settled there. Some observers believe that this regular influx of populations from neighboring states may have ended up destabilizing the tranquility of Jos. People fleeing in 2000 and 2001 from clashes in Kaduna, Bauchi, Taraba, and Nasarawa states may have inadvertently contributed to creating an atmosphere of fear among inhabitants of Plateau State by testifying to the atrocities they had left behind, some of which were still continuing. The increase in the population in Jos, in particular, also created an increase in economic pressures, leading in turn to the scarcity of some goods and increase in prices. Resources became stretched, and tensions began to rise.4

Plateau State, including its capital Jos, is inhabited by both Christians and Muslims. Christians are in the majority, with Muslims constituting a significant minority.5 It is home to several ethnic groups, which fall into two broad categories: those who consider themselves "indigenes" or original inhabitants of the area-among them the Birom, the Afizere and the Anaguta-and those who are termed "non-indigenes" or "settlers," composed in large part of Hausa (the majority ethnic group in northern Nigeria), but also of southern Igbo, Yoruba and other ethnic groups. Some of the "settlers," notably the Hausa, have been living in the area for several generations. Neither the "indigenes" nor the "settlers" are monolithic in religious terms, but Christianity tends to be the dominant religion among the indigenes, while Islam is the dominant religion among the settlers.

The strain between "indigenes" and "non-indigenes" has been most visible in Jos in the competition for political posts. In 1994, there were the first signs of violence and attacks on religious institutions following the appointment of a Muslim as sole administrator of Jos North local government area.6 There were tensions over other public appointments in 1996 and again in 1998. The case, which contributed most directly to the outbreak of hostilities in September 2001, was the appointment of the poverty eradication coordinator in Jos North in August, a few weeks before the crisis.7 The appointment of Mukhtar Muhammad, a Hausa, was controversial: in December 1998, during the transition to civilian rule, he had been forced to stand down as chairman of the newly-elected Jos North local government after he was accused of falsifying his credentials. His subsequent appointment to the coveted post of poverty eradication coordinator was seen by some as a provocation and was strongly opposed by Christian groups.

While some of the questions raised about the poverty eradication coordinator's appointment may have been legitimate, the protests soon escalated into an ugly exchange of abuse in the days leading up to September 7. Some groups seized the opportunity to launch personal attacks on Mukhtar Muhammad, posting death threats at his office, such as "Trace your roots before it is too late," "Run for your life," "You are warned once again not to step in," "This office is not meant for Hausa-Fulani or any non-indigene," "Mukhtar Muhammad is a wanderer. If you want to stay alive don't step in."8

Tensions were further inflamed by leaflets which began circulating in the name of an organization called Hausa-Fulani Youths (Under 25), which contained explicit threats towards "indigenes", such as: "Yes, the loss of a few families wouldn't bother us. After all for every single Anaguta's [indigene] life and their allies; there are thousands of other Hausa-Fulanis. Let's see who blinks first." "Death is the best friend of Hamas. Be rest assured that we will do it even better." "The seat is dearer to us than our lives. In that case, do you have the monopoly of violence?" "Blood for blood. We are ready."9

Anonymous leaflets propagating the extension of Sharia law in Plateau State were also circulated. A man distributing some of these leaflets, who was arrested, reportedly confessed to being a Christian in disguise. Similarly, some Hausas alleged that a compilation of documents attributed to Hausa groups had effectively been forged and that a Christian group had attached an unrelated list of signatures of Muslim leaders to the leaflets, apparently in a bid to incriminate particular prominent individuals.

At a more formal level, there was an angry exchange of correspondence addressed to the Plateau State governor by Christian and Muslim groups. The language used by both groups revealed deeply-held grievances caused by the divide between "indigenes" and "non-indigenes." In a letter to the governor dated August 20, the Jasawa10 Development Association complained about the Christian protests that had described Mukhtar Muhammad as a "non-indigene"; the letter also protested about the refusal of the chairman of Jos North Local Government "to issue Indigene Certificates to members of our community.11 We met the Chairman and explained our position. He resisted vehemently and insisted we must go back to wherever we originated."12 The (Christian) Plateau State Youths retorted on August 28 with a letter to the government entitled "Enough is Enough." Protesting at the actions and propaganda of Hausa organizations, the letter gave the governor an ultimatum: "We are finally giving you sir and the security operatives 48 hours to call these so called Jasawa to order OR we will SURELY call them to order."13 In a press conference on August 31, the Plateau State Youth Council stated: "The constitution of Nigeria allows `any' citizen of the country to live in any place of his/her choice, therefore any person or group of persons is/are welcome to stay in Plateau State. Equally the constitution recognizes the rights of the indigenes place as the owners of that given place. Funny and insulting that a Hausa/Fulani man from Bauchi, Kano, Katsina etc who is looking for pasture and trade `settled' in Jos among the indigenes of Afizere, Anaguta and Berom only to wake up one day to lay claim to a place leased to them for peaceful co-existence [...]". The letter went on to call for the position of poverty eradication coordinator to be given exclusively to indigenes and for all Hausa-Fulani chieftaincy titles to be scrapped and replaced by indigenous traditional titles. It also called for the "immediate renaming and re-organization of all our Electoral Wards to indigenous names and original interest of our people."14

Many people confirmed to Human Rights Watch that these exchanges heightened an already tense atmosphere in Jos and accentuated existing fears and suspicions. The Centre for Peace Initiative and Development (CEPID), a conflict-resolution and development organization, had anticipated a crisis as early as March 2001 and had organized workshops for youth, journalists, community, and religious leaders, as well as a media campaign on radio and television.15 In the days immediately before the crisis in September, three human rights organizations, the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Community Action for Popular Participation (CAPP), and the Christian Foundation for Social Justice and Equality, personally visited state police and government authorities to alert them to what they perceived as imminent threats to peace. Unfortunately, the authorities failed to respond.16

1 Since 1999, several states in the north of Nigeria have extended the application of Sharia law to criminal cases; previously, it had only been applied to personal status law. The extension of Sharia has been controversial; it has been strongly opposed by some Christian groups, even though it is supposed to apply only to Muslims. Judgments handed down by Sharia criminal courts in 2000 and 2001 have included punishments such as floggings, amputations and death by stoning.

2 See Nigeria: Soldiers massacre civilians in revenge attack in Benue State, Human Rights Watch news release, October 25, 2001.

3 This is not an exhaustive list of incidents of inter-communal violence in Nigeria since 1999.

4 Human Rights Watch interview with Imran Abdulrahman, national coordinator of the Centre for Peace Initiative and Development (CEPID) and lecturer at the University of Jos, September 30, 2001.

5 No accurate statistics are available on the proportion of Christians and Muslims.

6 During this period of military rule, officials were not elected.

7 The poverty eradication coordinator is appointed by the federal government since the program is a federal one; the appointment is usually made on the recommendation or advice of the state governor. The local government area of Jos North includes the main commercial area of the town, so this appointment is seen as important and influential.

8 Letter to the Governor of Plateau State from the Jasawa Development Association, entitled "Threat to peace and security in Jos North Local Government Area," August 20, 2001.

9 Copies provided to Human Rights Watch by human rights and religious organizations in Jos, October 2001.

10 Jasawa is a term used to describe Hausas living in Jos.

11 Indigene certificates are supposed to be issued by the local government of the area from which people originate. Settler populations, such as the Hausas in Plateau State and other groups in other parts of the country, have generally not been able to obtain these certificates from their area of residence, even though some of them may have been living there for several generations. Practices and criteria for issuing indigene certificates vary from state to state.

12 Letter to the Governor of Plateau State from the Jasawa Development Association, entitled "Threat to peace and security in Jos North Local Government Area," August 20, 2001.

13 Letter to the Governor of Plateau State in the name of "concern Plateau State Youths," entitled "Enough is Enough," August 28, 2001.

14 Text of the Press Conference by Plateau State Youth Council held on August 31, 2001, at the Nigeria Union of Journalist Press Centre, Jos.

15 Human Rights Watch interview with Imran Abdulrahman, national coordinator of the Centre for Peace Initiative and Development (CEPID) and lecturer at the University of Jos, September 30, 2001.

16 Human Rights Watch interviews with these organizations, Jos, September and October 2001.

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