Nigeria is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse African countries, with an estimated population figure (as at October, 31st 2011), of over 160 million consisting of many distinct ethno-linguistic groups and split almost evenly between Muslims and Christians. These groups constitute a complex interaction of social, political and economic diversity that make up Nigeria.
But in many international gathering, Nigeria is perceived as a conflict prone society and the youths are at the heart of most violent conflicts in the country. Recent empirical studies suggest that the youths are prosecutors of 90-95% of violent conflicts in Nigeria. This is pretty similar to what is obtained in most other conflict-ridden societies. What probably raises anxiety about the Nigerian situation is the sheer magnitude, complexity, frequency, dimensions and seeming intractability of most of the violent conflicts.
The reasons for conflicts are complex and multi-layered. Even with the advent of civil rule in 1999, Nigeria has not ceased to record violent conflicts which have had devastating human, economic and socio-political consequences with strong ethnic, religious and resource control linkages. The violent conflicts pose a major threat to Nigeria’s democratic stability and socio-economic development. Due to the religious undertone of conflicts within the target region, inter-faith dialogue has become an important tool used for conflict management. Every geo-political region of Nigeria is characterized by entrenched structures of violent conflicts, with the youths as the principal driving infrastructure.
In the oil-producing region of the south-south, resource control agitations and environmental conflicts waged by ethnic militias like the Egbesu Boys and the different armed groups of the Niger Delta region have become an endemic sigma on the oil-rich region and Nigeria in general. These have found expressions in acts of kidnapping, militarism, sabotage of oil installations, bombings, invasion of unsuspecting communities in the riverine areas, e.t.c.
Unfortunately, it became a money spinning venture as expatriate workers were kidnapped for huge ransoms. This was almost the exclusive preserve of the Niger-Deltans, until the South-East took over, to the extent that for about four years now, our people from the East find it difficult to go home without their hearts pounding in fear of being kidnapped. Kidnapping has become big business and people are payıng up.
In the south-east, organized crime and political turbulence have compounded the problem of societal fragmentation and descent into lawlessness or criminal anarchy. Youth militias and community vigilantes such as the famous Bakassi Boys have taken advantage of the vacuum created by the dysfunction and legitimacy orisis of government’s law enforcement institutions and agencies to ostensibly substitute for the state’s function of law enforcement and crime control in a crude and jungle fashion.
In the south-west, some elders and the youths are the principal protagonists of majority of the ethnic and communal violence that tend to be on the increase in the area in recent years, with the formation also of a militant group known as the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC). Some of these militant groups also participate in some anti-social behaviours that issues like kidnapping which hitherto was synonymous with the Niger-Delta region, is now a daily occurrence in areas in the south-west like Lagos, Ondo, Ekiti, Oyo and many other states in the country.
The spread of kidnapping to other parts of the country is believed to be fallout of the military confrontation between the militants and the Federal Government. Militants, who were dislodged from their Niger-Delta bases like Gbaramotu Kingdom and environs, were forced to relocate to other areas where they have continued their trade of kidnapping as a means of survival. Other probable groups of kidnappers, who though, are not militants, believe that kidnapping pays with minimum risk of being caught. This second follows the general trend of Nigerians who like going into any business that they consider lucrative at the moment, not minding if such would endure or not.
In the three geo-political zones of the old northern region, the enormous damage inflicted on different communities and people by the incessant outbreak of ethno-religious conflicts and disputes relating to land rights and the indigeneity problem (communal squabbles between “indigenes” and “setlers”) is common-knowledge. We must note here, however, that crises in the northern region are mostly initiated by a clique of elders who have very selfish political interest of holding onto the reigns of power as their birth-right. They too have formed themselves into a group called the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and many believe that some of them may be behind the recent “Boko Haram” sectarian violence which started since 2009 and has become a major source of threat to the existing unity of the nation. Above all these, there is the macro or nationwide problem of political violence, linked to electoral fraud, sponsorship and use of thuggery by many politicians and political parties, as well as the politicization of sensitive issues and primordial identities such as ethnic and religious identities.
Reasons for Widespread and Frequent Violent Conflicts in Nigeria
A lot of studies tend to associate most of the macro and micro levels conflicts in Nigeria with the problem of poverty. This may seem an over-simplification, but researchers have argued that poverty translates into conflict in Nigeria through several ways.
In recent times, emphasis is being put on addressing the role of women in peace-building in order to enhance and sustain a peaceful society as well as developing a coherent training strategy for expert trainers in conflict management. Research studies and expert round tables are aimed at demystifying the multi-layered causes of conflict and developing well-targeted intervention strategies at the local and state levels.
Principally, the major factors contributing to crises situations in Nigeria are: the nature and scope of Nigeria’s identity diversity, Ethnicity, Religion, Regionalism, Class, Gender, Patterns of Post-Colonial Identity Conflicts, Ethno-Religious Clashes, Inter-Ethnic Violence, Intra-Ethnic and Intra-Religious Conflicts, Inter-Group Economic Clashes, Federal Conflict Management and its contradictory effects, e.t.c.