“Atrocities in Nigeria’s Plateau State and the Responsibility to Protect”
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
The Global Centre for R2P published on March 15 a policy brief analyzing the ongoing atrocities committed in Nigeria through an RtoP lens. As the mass killings over the past decade and in January and March of this year have been primarily a result of armed conflict between Christian and Muslim civilians, the violence is often chalked up to a religious conflict. The Global Centre provides a comprehensive background to the conflict and shows how much of the violence, which may amount to crimes against humanity, could have been, and can still be, prevented by the Nigerian government should it uphold its responsibility to protect.
On 7 March 2010, between 1 and 3 am, groups of armed men launched simultaneous attacks on the villages of Dogo Nahauwa, Zot, and Ratsat, in Du District of Jos South Local Government Area, Plateau state, Nigeria. Driven from their homes by the sound of gunfire, villagers were maimed and killed by machete wielding men who also set homes on fire, displacing the survivors.
The attacks are the latest in intercommunal violence that has, according to estimates from the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, killed 13,500 in Plateau state since 1999. As with past violence, the death toll from the recent attacks is highly politicized and contested with estimates ranging from 109 to 500. (…)
Soldiers were deployed to the affected villages in the hours after the attacks to quell the violence and prevent it from spreading to neighboring states. This is a positive step in keeping with R2P. However sending troops once crimes have occurred is not in itself sufficient to uphold R2P – especially as concerns have been raised that the army was too slow to respond and failed to react to warnings that could have resulted in earlier deployment and saved lives. (…)
While the attacks have manifested themselves along ethnic and religious lines, the violence stems from a number of sources including:
(1) A nationwide problem of official discrimination against populations labeled as non-indigenous. (…)
(2) Conflict over control of political power between primarily ‘settler’ and ‘indigenous’ groups and the manipulation of ethnic and religious identities to serve political and economic interests. (…)
(3) Competition between primarily Christian farmers and primarily Muslim pastoralists over access to cultivable land and water, with conflict over resources increasing due to demographic pressures and land degradation. (…)
(4) A prevailing culture of impunity.
In response to the attacks troops were deployed and acting President Jonathon put the military on red alert. Unlikepast responses where the military and police – widely criticized for their corruption and poor-training – committed extra-judicial killings, few reports of such acts have emerged since 7 March. The deployment of troops to prevent additional crimes, the Police Minister’s pledge to deploy more police and open outposts in rural areas, and the restraint shown by soldiers, are all positive examples of upholding the responsibility to protect and an improvement on past responses.
However the challenge for Nigeria remains preventing foreseeable crimes before they occur as more could have been done to prevent the 7 March atrocities. (…)
The repeated resort to committing atrocities is facilitated by the culture of impunity. It is the responsibility of the government to uphold the rule of law and end impunity. In the absence of accountability, and where effective preventive measures are not in place, attacks and reprisals become plausible options for those contemplating perpetrating crimes. Many of the 300 arrested after the January attacks had previously been arrested (following the November 2008 violence) but were later released. Already at least 200 have been arrested on suspicion of having been involved in the 7 March massacres. These arrests will have little lasting effect if proper investigations do not occur, due process is not respected, and transparent prosecutions are not carried out. Both Christians and Muslims who participated in the January and March attacks must be prosecuted to avoid selectivity or bias towards one ethnic or religious group and thus fuel future violence. In addition, long-term structural changes are necessary to strengthen and reform the legal system and judiciary in order to adequately address the accountability deficit.
Similarly, accountability requires inquiry into government failures to prevent and react — and allegations of the involvement of military, police, and political officials in the March and January violence (especially in light of concerns that local politicians may have exploited socio-economic, ethnic and religious divisions contributing to the violence). This will also involve assessing how early warning information was gathered (including the existence of hate speech in the local media, text messages, leaflets and religious sermons that incite violence at the local level), analyzed, shared and acted on by local, state and federal intelligence and security agencies and policy makers. Preventing future crimes requires learning lessons about what happened and where the response broke down, as well as taking steps to remedy the weakness and gaps. (…)
In addition to addressing impunity, upholding R2P will necessitate that local, state and federal authorities work alongside religious and ethnic leaders and civil society to address discrimination against ‘non-indigenes,’ resource allocation challenges, and to foster reconciliation. Efforts must be taken to end discrimination based on ancestry, affording all Nigerians the same rights. Ethnic and religious groups also must seek solutions to competition over scarce resources and work together to implement them. Innovative examples of such solutions can be found in Nigeria itself. For example, grazing reserves have been demarcated in the northern states of Katsina and Bauchi, helping to reduce tensions between pastoralists and farmers over access to cultivable land. (…)
ECOWAS, the AU and the UN should assess their own early-warning of, and response to, the violence in Plateau. ECOWAS must gauge the effectiveness of its ECOWARN early warning system, and the organizations ability and willingness to respond to threats in a country that is its largest funder and contributor of troops. Both ECOWAS and the AU need to play a constructive and sustained role in urging domestic actors to secure a solution to Nigeria’s current political problems. (…)
Read the full policy brief.