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Published on 26.03.2014 22:05

~Youth Views~ Conflict in Nigeria
by Olivia Rammel, Funda Ozcelik, and Doha Samir
15 April 2008

Amsterdam/Istanbul/Cairo - It's been nine years since Nigeria, Africa's biggest oil producer and most populous nation, ended its military rule and became a democracy. The transformation, though slow and problematic, has been characterised by three consecutive elections, the latest one in 2007. Despite this process of democratisation, Nigeria still remains at risk of ethno-religious, community, and resource-related conflicts, largely due to its tumultuous history.

In the 1960s, Britain created an artificial Nigerian state that included about 200 ethnic groups who spoke different languages; the three major ethnic groups were the Muslim Hausa-Fulani, Catholic Igbo and the mixed Muslim and Christian Yoruba. Administrative boundaries created by the British colonial government deepened the division between the different ethnic groups. Also, Nigeria's large geographic territory with its different environmental climates limited interaction between different groups, creating different cultures and economic conditions.

An imposed system of indirect rule not only reinforced ethnic divisions, but also gave power to traditional leaders. By abusing this power, rulers in the villages established patronage networks, which in the long run, encouraged the tribalism and nepotism that Nigeria still suffers from today.

These territorial divisions and indirect rule were further complicated by socio-economic disparities, in part due to the unequal spread of education. In the North, the percentage of individuals receiving western-style education was much lower than the percentage in the South. And those who did receive higher education in the North were primarily descendants of elite families and aristocracies, many of whom have dominated Nigerian politics and held major civil service positions.

Competition for scarce resources also caused ethnic affiliations to become stronger and created antagonism among different factions. The patronage networks and corrupted tendency of the elites to benefit themselves and their ethnic groups span4 also played into the conflict.

The North is predominantly Muslim, while the South is mainly Christian. However, the problem is not one of religion. Religious and ethnic diversities by themselves would not have led to the outbreak of violence. However the westernisation of the South created socio-economic inequality, strengthening ethnic affiliations along religious lines. As a result, other tensions began to be expressed and articulated in religious terms, and eventually main actors of the conflict started to use religion to gain political support.

The South is more resource-rich, particularly endowed with oil reserves, while the North is more agriculturally oriented. Oil accounts for more than 80 percent of the federal government's revenues. Thus, there has always been competition among different groups in terms of access to these resources. Violence and kidnappings in the oil-rich Niger River Delta in 2006 – when militants demanded a greater share of federal revenue as well as benefits from community development – only prove that the resource distribution problem is far from being solved and will likely trigger more violence in the future.

The incorporation of different ethnicities in an artificial geography makes the regional disparity hard to address. Also, the level of violence is still very high – especially during election periods.

There is a great necessity to address the socio-economic inequalities among different fractions of the society by empowering a faithful democratic ruling class and a strong civil society. It is also crucial that the international community plays a role to remind the official and unofficial authorities in Nigeria of their responsibilities to provide peace and security in the country.


* Olivia Rammel is pursuing a major in anthropology and a minor in conflict studies at the University of Amsterdam. Funda Ozcelik is a MA student of conflict analysis & resolution at Sabanci University and Doha Samir is pursuing a BA in political science at Cairo University. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service, 15 April 2008,
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