Backgrounder: Communal conflicts in Nigeria

(click image for a larger version!)

The map above shows the spatial patterns of communal conflicts across Nigeria between 1989-2010. Although clashes between communal groups classified as Christians and Muslims are the ones most often portrayed in the media there are also several other groups who have been in conflict over the years since 1989.

The major hotspots of violence between Christian and Muslim communities is circled on the map with a blue circle. The violence depicted here has been classified along these ‘Christian versus Muslims’ lines, but some specific communities can also be singled out. These contain, but are not limited to, the Hausa and the Fulani (mainly Muslim), Tarok (Christian), Yoruba (mixed religion), Igbo (Christian), Kataf (Christian) and Yugur (mixed, with Christian and traditional beliefs). Plateau, Bauchi, Kaduna, Kano and Taraba states are the heartlands of these conflicts, geographically speaking.

While it is not necessarily erroneous to label these conflicts as being religious ones (since such lines are often visible) the communal conflicts in Nigeria can be ascribed also ethno-linguistic as well as pastoralist-farmer and political characteristics. An excerpt from the UCDP Conflict Encyclopedia reads:

The conflict between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria is part of a bigger context of ethnic and religious tensions that are present in the Nigeria society. These tensions have on certain occasions escalated into armed conflict. The conflicts often start with a seemingly trivial disagreement and then rapidly deteriorate into religious clashes. The fact that Christianity and Islam are the prominent religions in Nigeria and that the religions are represented in different parts of the country has on several occasions led to mobilisation along religious lines. Another fact that might explain the presence of religious conflicts in Nigeria is the fact that a majority of the 200 ethno-linguistic groups in Nigeria adhere to either Christianity or Islam; thereby it is possible to frame ethnic conflicts in Nigeria as being centred on religious issues. That might very well be the case, and in fact true in some cases, it should however be thoroughly investigated so that it is not a “meta identity” given to the group due to lacking information from news media. Nevertheless there are Christian – Muslim conflicts in Nigeria, the point is that a majority of the ethnic and communal clashes in Nigeria can be described using this overarching labelling.

As is visible from the map there are also other communal conflicts in Nigeria, beyond the Christian versus Muslim dichotomy. The southwest part of Nigeria stands out as a second hotspot, mainly in the states of the Nigerian delta. There is a very large number of groups who have fought each other since 1989 in these areas, and the conflicts here are not easily classified in terms of Christians versus Muslims or any other religions. A common theme here has instead been conflicts over land-owner rights, as these areas in Nigeria’s delta are sources of the country’s enormous oil wealth. But there are many other political and economic grievances stated by and between these groups.Many of the ethnic groups here have formed ethno-political interest groups, such as the Ogono group MOSOP and the Ijaw groups IYC and NDV. An excerpt from the UCDP Conflict Encyclopedia reads:

The southern region of Nigeria, and especially the delta area, is where the crude oil that constitutes a substantial amount of the Nigerian revenues is located. The fact that the oil and the subsequent incomes that can be extracted from it are concentrated to this area, in which several ethnic groups have their homeland, has led to violent episodes between ethnic groups contesting the ownership of land in and around the oil rich delta area. Given these conditions, a number of groups mobilized and formed interest groups speaking on the behalf of the ethnicities. This polarized the already fragile relations in the southern parts of Nigeria, and led to a situation where contested ownership of land, taxation of land or even number of employees at the oil facilities were all potential conflict issues.

The most intense conflicts in this area have stood between the Adoni and Ogoni communities (around Port Harcourt, circled in green), the Ijaw and Itsekiri (mainly in the Warri area, circled in yellow), the Aguleri and Umuleri (around Onitsha, circled in purple) and the Ife and Modakeke (around Ibadan and Ondo, circled in white).

The last two hotspots show fighting between the Ukele and Izzi (south of Oturkpo on the map), and between Hausa and Yoruba around Lagos.

Want to read more about these conflicts and their varying characteristics? Visit the Nigeria page of the UCDP Conflict Encyclopedia.