Response to the Violence of September 2001
As with the police, Human Rights Watch made repeated attempts to meet the governor but was told that he was not available. From the available information, it would appear that the state government, too, neglected to take action that could have prevented or limited the crisis. On the basis of the evidence described above, particularly the threats contained in correspondence addressed to the governor himself and other material circulated in the days leading up to the violence, it is difficult to believe that the state government was not aware of the dangerous build-up of tension. The government also appeared to ignore several calls of alarm from local human rights organizations57 who personally visited the office of the deputy governor, the commissioner of police and the director of the SSS, including on September 7, the day the violence started. When they asked why the security forces had not seen the warning signs, they were told that the warnings had been communicated to the authorities; yet no action was taken. For example, the government did not make any concerted effort to work with community leaders to pacify the situation and appeal to their members to refrain from violence; nor did it make any attempt to question the authors or signatories of the threats issued in the days leading up to the violence.
At the federal level, the government was anxious to play down the scale of the violence. Government officials were reluctant to issue an estimated death toll, even after the extent of the killings had become widely reported. Eventually the state-run Daily Times newspaper, on September 12, was quoted in various media reports as stating that 500 bodies had been buried.58
On September 15, President Obasanjo visited Jos and condemned the violence. Soon afterwards, the government set up a peace and reconciliation committee, composed of Muslim and Christian leaders and officials from the Plateau state government. The committee, whose mandate was to pacify and calm the population, toured the city talking to different communities. It concluded its work in the first week of October. However, according to a member of the state government's Information Committee (which was also set up by the government as part of its response to the crisis), the peace and reconciliation committee's report would not be made public and was merely intended to "guide the government."59
Several other committees and commissions of inquiry were set up at different levels. A judicial commission of inquiry was announced by the federal government on September 25; chaired by Justice Suleiman Galadima, a Federal High Court judge from Nasarawa State, its main focus is to investigate the circumstances in which the twenty-two detainees who had tried to escape died at Jos prison. There is some lack of clarity in its terms of reference as to whether or to what extent it is also mandated to investigate other aspects of the crisis in Jos. A separate commission of inquiry, chaired by Justice Niki Tobi, was set up at the level of the Plateau State Government, to investigate the broader crisis. Both the federal and the state commissions have begun receiving memoranda and holding public hearings in Jos. In addition, an executive committee of the federal Senate, chaired by former Senate President Senator Chuba Okadigbo, is carrying out its own investigation, but this will have a broader remit and will study the crisis in Jos alongside conflicts in other parts of the country; members of the committee have toured Plateau, Benue and Nasarawa states and are expected to submit a report to the Senate on their findings.
Human Rights Watch and representatives of local human rights organizations met a representative of the Plateau state Information Committee. We asked him for information about the government's initiatives in response to the crisis, in particular details of the various commissions of inquiry. The representative gave very little information, despite explaining that one of the main purposes of the committee was to make official information available to the public; its other purpose was to collect information on the response of communities and communicate these to the government. He claimed not to have information on the number of victims of the violence, nor on the number of arrests. Instead, he referred us to the chairman of his committee, who is also the Information Commissioner for the Plateau state government. A meeting that he claimed to have arranged with the chairman of the committee did not materialize.60
On the humanitarian level, government authorities, with the assistance of nongovernmental organizations such as the Nigerian Red Cross, eventually provided protection and assistance for those fleeing the violence. In the first week there were initially around 50,000 displaced persons, in eight different camps, most of them located in military barracks and police buildings.61 By early October, they had been transferred to just two sites, a primary school at Gangare and the Federal School of Forestry. By the end of November, there were still many displaced people scattered around Jos, some unable to return to their homes because they had been destroyed, others too fearful of returning because of perceived insecurity.
Responses to the Causes of the Conflict
In terms of access to resources and opportunities in day-to-day life, the distinction between "indigenes" and "non-indigenes" is critical. In practice, the two groups effectively have different rights, resulting in discrimination and inequalities of access in many areas. The impact has been felt particularly in education and employment, where an informal two-tier system appears to operate. For example, "non-indigenes" have to pay higher fees to enter good public schools, while paying the same taxes as "indigenes." "Non-indigenes" complain of discrimination and harassment in their search for employment, especially in the civil service and in federal institutions: many senior positions are seen as effectively "reserved" for "indigenes" and some "non-indigenes" have been repeatedly threatened, apparently in a bid to make them resign or to discourage them from seeking further promotion.62
Religious differences have also always been present, but were not originally the main cause of the tension in Jos. What started as a political conflict ended up as an outwardly religious feud: religion was increasingly used and manipulated to deepen divisions, creating a situation where one of the first reactions of the rioters in September 2001 was to attack mosques and churches as the most tangible symbols of "enemy values". A professor at the University of Jos explained: "Religion was simply an excuse. It is not the main issue, but it played a role in widening the conflict. It was a tool of manipulation. People are more emotional in situations of poverty and religion is used to inflame passions. People respond quickly when something is presented as a religious issue."63 This manipulation of the religious factor sometimes led to changing alliances: for example during the September 2001 crisis, some Muslim "indigenes" (a minority) were assimilated to Hausas and targeted by Christian "indigenes." In the words of one Muslim leader, "some other tribes which became Muslims are regarded as Hausas, even though they are not. Hausa has become synonymous with Islam."64
In the wake of the Jos crisis and the spiraling conflicts in other parts of the country-notably in Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa states-the federal government eventually set up initiatives in the latter part of 2001 to try to address the broader phenomenon of inter-communal violence in Nigeria. A national commission on security was created; meetings were convened with the governors of the affected states, including Plateau State; and in November the government announced the constitution of a judicial commission of inquiry into the inter-communal conflicts in Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states. At the time of writing it is too early to judge what impact these initiatives will have on the communities concerned. President Obasanjo has also repeatedly called for calm and condemned the violence in public statements, but to date few practical steps have been taken toward prevention.
Many Nigerians characterize the government's attitude towards inter-communal violence as passive at best. To date, it has done little to address the longstanding grievances of the various communities concerned, nor has it attempted to find a solution to the problems caused by the notion of "indigeneity" which is at the root of many of these conflicts. Certainly, the September 2001 conflict in Jos can be attributed directly to competition and bitterness over perceived advantages and disadvantages between "indigenous" and "non-indigenous" populations, as illustrated above.
Fundamental flaws in Nigeria's constitution have still not been addressed, despite many appeals from civil society groups and others who have pointed out that by reforming the constitution, or at least by instituting a process for consultation to engage different communities in its review, the government could go some way toward putting a stop to inter-communal violence. The legitimacy of the current constitution is hotly disputed, not least because it was drafted without consultation with the Nigerian people, under a military government.
In recognition of the multi-ethnic character of Nigeria,65 the 1979 constitution (which forms the basis for the 1999 constitution currently in force) introduced the concept of "federal character". The federal character provision was intended to give all Nigerians a sense of stake in the government, as well as a sense of belonging and representation. It was also intended to redress the consequences of certain imbalances: for example, in the past southerners were more likely to be represented in government as they generally had better access to education than northerners. The 1999 constitution provides for political positions to be allocated according to a quota system. It states: "The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few States or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies."66 However, it leaves open the question of who is considered to be "from" a particular state. Likewise, the constitution does not include a definition of "indigeneity," yet uses the term "indigene."67 At the same time, it guarantees freedom from discrimination on the basis of membership of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion, or political opinion.68
The absence of a clear, official definition of "indigeneity" has caused many problems. In practice, the concept of "indigeneity" or of being "from a state" has been applied and interpreted in inconsistent ways in different parts of Nigeria, often not reflecting the theory or the spirit of the constitution. In some states, claims to "indigeneity" have been used to give specific groups certain rights based not on their Nigerian citizenship but on their ancestors' place of origin within Nigeria. Some political groups have taken advantage of the vagueness surrounding the definitions to marginalize other groups, leading to further grievances.
A professor at the University of Jos explained: "You are only a full citizen of Nigeria if you live in your area of origin. The notion of indigeneity conflicts with the democratic or republican concept of citizenship. However long you live somewhere, you can't become an indigene of that place unless your parents are indigenes. It is easier to become a Nigerian citizen than an indigene."69
The Citizens' Forum for Constitutional Reform (CFCR), a group set up by a number of Nigerian human rights and other nongovernmental organizations, has stated: "People have argued that the elite manipulate the concept of indigeneity for selfish ends. There has therefore been a strong argument for establishing citizenship based on residency. There have been various suggestions on how this issue should be addressed. Meanwhile, the problem of indigeneity has caused a lot of problems in Nigeria. Following the creation of new states, people were asked to leave the state where they have been working for years because they are non-indigenes [...] Women who are married to men from another state suffer worse dilemma, as they can neither lay claim to the state of their parents nor that of their husbands. Children born to non-indigenes face discrimination in admissions into schools or in payment of higher amount of money in school fees. There is therefore the need for provisions on citizenship that is all inclusive and foster national unity and integration."70
The government set up a presidential committee to review the constitution, which produced a report in February 2001. However, both politicians and civil society groups have strongly criticized its composition and its work as unrepresentative. The House of Representatives is also undertaking a review of the constitution, to which nongovernmental organizations, including the CFCR, have made submissions and proposals. Meanwhile, the real and perceived divisions between "indigenes" and "non-indigenes" continue to fuel tensions across the country.
The Nigerian Government has an international obligation to provide equal protection to all citizens before the law and to prohibit any form of discrimination. In particular, article 2.1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states: "Each State Party to the present Convention undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origins, property, birth or other status." Article 26 of the ICCPR states: "All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." While the Nigerian constitution does prohibit discrimination, the government has a responsibility to ensure that protection from discrimination and equal rights for all are applied in practice. By failing to ensure that the provisions of the constitution are applied consistently by state authorities throughout the country, the Nigerian government is failing to meet its international obligations.
67 See for example section 147 (3), Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999: " [...] the President shall appoint at least one Minister from each State, who shall be an indigene of such State."