Nigeria: Interethnic Conflict

Members of a Hausa militia, armed with guns and knives, patrol Adubi Village looking for Tivs. (Photo: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP)

For Africa-watchers, the news had a depressingly familiar sound. It told of killing sprees by machete-wielding mobs and of a panic-stricken mass exodus—bringing up painful reminders of Rwanda.

This time, it was the Hausa-Fulani of Nasawara state, in central Nigeria, against their tribal rivals the Tivs. Though the Tivs and Hausas both have power bases in Nasawara, neither group is indigenous to the state. In recent years, both groups have jockeyed for influence in the state government.

The violence was triggered on June 12 by the assassination of Alhaji Musa Ibrahim, a traditional Hausa ruler who had become a special adviser to state Gov. Abdullahi Adamu. In April, Tivs had erupted in violence, accusing Ibrahim of using his influence to encroach on their land. When Ibrahim was murdered, Hausas had little doubt that Tivs were to blame.

“Alhaji Musa Ibrahim was always a marked man,” wrote Goodluck Ebelo in Lagos’ independent weekly Tempo (July 5). “[He] had come to represent, in the eyes of the Tivs, the very cause of some of their long-standing and immediate problems.”

But the brutality of the murder—in which Ibrahim was decapitated and eviscerated—shocked the country and inflamed Ibrahim’s followers. Hausas embarked on a systematic campaign of retaliation, first targeting Tivs in public office and then going on house-to-house killing sprees in Nasawara and the state capital, Lafia. “Children were reportedly either smashed against the walls, macheted, or shot dead,” wrote Isa Abdusalami Jos in Lagos’ independent The Guardian (June 28).

By July 3, 200 people were estimated killed and more than 50,000 had been displaced. Though horrifying in its scope, the violence was not unprecedented in Nasawara state, where the overriding issue is competition for land and 25 ethnic groups vie for seniority in 13 local government councils. “Rural Nasawara...has been one unending take of suspicion and bloodletting,” wrote Ebelo in Tempo (July 5).

State officials moved quickly to stem the crisis. On June 18, Gov. Adamu of Nasawara and Gov. George Akume from neighboring Benue state (where Tivs are in the majority) met to discuss preventive measures. They called for a cease-fire, urging warring parties to surrender their weapons. They encouraged the return of those who had fled, promising extra security, and announced that they would establish an inter-state peace and reconciliation committee.

“We cannot as true leaders of our people sit back and watch things get out of hand,” Adamu was quoted as saying by Lagos’ independent newsmagazine Newswatch (July 2). But Adamu and Akume’s measures did not stop the violence from spreading beyond the immediate region. On July 7, the United Nations’ Integrated Regional Information Network reported that ethnic violence had spread from Nasawara to nearby Taraba state, where members of the Fulani and Jukun tribes had attacked their Tiv neighbors.

December 2001 (VOL. 48, No. 12)Overline Overline Overline OverlineHeadline Headline Headline HeadlineName
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