John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

Print Print Email Email Share Share Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close

loading...

“Rethinking Nigeria’s Indigene-Settler Conflicts”

by John Campbell
August 1, 2012

Displaced Lagos residents fight over blankets which were handed out as aid, January 29, 2002, after explosions at an armoury on Sunday. (George Esiri/Courtesy Reuters) Displaced Lagos residents fight over blankets which were handed out as aid, January 29, 2002, after explosions at an armoury on Sunday. (George Esiri/Courtesy Reuters)

The United States Institute of Peace has just published a Special Report by Aaron Sayne on conflicts in Nigeria between “indigenes” and “settlers”. It is a must-read for those trying to understand endemic conflict in Nigeria, especially in Plateau state where the violence has been both horrific and more publicized than elsewhere.

The Special Report is organized according to two assumptions: “Government must share resources more equally among all Nigerians to reduce violence,” and “Government must hold more perpetrators accountable to reduce indigene-settler violence.” Sayne puts on the table points useful for discussion and analysis of the indigene/settler phenomenon, ranging from definitions of “indigenes” (original inhabitants) and “settlers” (those who arrived later.) He illustrates the crucial point that indigenes have significant advantages over settlers – and it is the state and local governments that pick who is an indigene. The federal government has no role. Hence, one of the bloodiest types of conflict in Nigeria is essentially in the hands of state and local governments.

Sayne makes a convincing argument that the clash between indigenes and settlers is getting worse. He cites national figures from 2006 and suggests that fighting displaced over six million in six years. He notes the increasing use of mercenaries and ethnic militias in the fighting.

The report puts the indigene/settler conflict in a larger context of divisions and fault lines: a population divided between two world religions, perhaps the second largest number of ethnic groups in the world, economic rivalries between farmers and herdsmen, extreme inequality in the distribution of wealth, etc. Sometimes all of these boundaries coincide, e.g., around Jos the fighting is between Muslim Fulani herdsmen and Christian Baroum farmers. In this context, the distinction between “indigene” and “settler” can be yet another source of division—and conflict.

Post a Comment 11 Comments

  • Posted by Chavuka

    The author of this article doesn’t understand the first thing about Nigeria.

    Nigeria isn’t America, where the natives were either massacred or herded in to reserves, where slaves were stripped of their former identities, and where a foreign culture was imposed on everyone else.

    Everyone could start from ground zero.

    The problems that exist in Nigeria are no different from the problems in Zimbabwe between white settlers and black “indigenes”. I could go on.

    Africa is full of ancient ethnic societies with strong links between the land and origin.

    When an African says he is a “son of the soil”, he means that he can trace his origin to a particular family, part of a specific clan which is part of an ethnic group.

    To apply American/Western categories when analysing these problems is a great waste of time.

    In many African sedentary societies, the land forms an integral part of the culture. There are procedures for assimilation into the host communities, and these procedures cannot simply be abandoned in order “to behave like the West”.

    If settlers refuse to assimilate and make unnecessary demands on host communities – they will be resisted as invaders, as in the Nigeria’s Plateau state.

  • Posted by Marie

    I agree with the writer. The local and state governments have a paramount role to play in restoring peace to Jos and Nigeria as a whole.
    P.S. Baroum is actually berom.

  • Posted by Brennan Kraxberger

    Nigerians must understand that the designation of “settlers” as second-class citizens fundamentally hampers economic growth and national unity. The problem is that too many indigenes still living in their places of origin believe that their long-term welfare is tied to preserving discriminatory relationships.

    As Nigeria continues to urbanize and access to agricultural land becomes less important, these issues will be especially salient for the country’s burgeoning cities. There is simply no way that the central government can ensure even development of cities in all 36 states of the federation. Nigeria needs constitutional and political clarity about protections for non-indigenes. The federal government should lead the way on these reforms. Restricting freedom of movement and promoting communal tensions is no way to move forward. That said, getting rid of discrimatory practices should not be equated with a push for culturally homogenous nation-state.

  • Posted by Chavuka

    Brennan Kraxberger,

    You haven’t said anything useful here.

    Nigeria still has traditional rulers. Traditional rulers rule over clans or tribes that are tied to the land.

    Land ownership is tied to the culture, politics and the local belief system – ancestors are buried there.

    This 1000 year old system cannot be dismantled simply because you want Nigeria to follow the same path as the Western world.

    I come from a farming culture, and I know how difficult it will be to implement what you are suggesting – no Nigerian government could possibly do so without risking its legitimacy.

    We will eventually get there, but not in a hurry. When education levels are reasonably high.

    We are talking about a 100 year project.

  • Posted by Zainab

    This discrimination of residents of states, whose ancestors over several generations have lived there, is retrogressive, hampers economic development and social cohesion. It is another form of subtle racism in my opinion.

    What I find most interesting and incredible is that those who justify this indigene-settler discrimination find it perfectly okay to frown at racism in Europe, China, America or elsewhere against Africans for instance, but see nothing wrong in discriminating against fellow citizens, of the same state. That a person’s ancestors over several generations having lived in an area cannot accord the person indigene status in that area, when the same person would migrate to Europe or America and after 7-12 years or so, or by virtue of marriage become a full citizen of these countries with full rights is just incredible.

    This sort of selective reasoning and cognitive dissonance just beats the imagination.

    There is nothing African about discrimination, this cannot be justified at all. Reform-minded leaders can legislate laws and ensure these are strictly adhered to.

    There is just no excuse for discrimination, otherwise we as Africans and Nigerians shouldn’t be in any moral position to complain about racism.

  • Posted by Chavuka

    Zainab,

    That’s an extremely simplistic understanding of extremely complex events.

    Nigeria isn’t Europe or North America, Nigeria is in Africa. In Africa, fragile modern states were superimposed on ancient tribal societies.

    Much as we would want our societies to mirror the West, we need to realise that our nation is very much a work in progress and as Burke would have warned, societies should be left to evolve at their own pace.

    Having said that, there are many excellent examples of “settler/indigene” harmony – a great example is the Brazilians/Sierra Leonians of Lagos Island.

    It is not just enough to claim that “one’s ancestors have stayed for x generations” – what if one’s ancestors made no attempt to assimilate with the host community? What if don’t respect the cultural norms of the host community. If Igbo settlers in say, Benin claim the “Obaship”, of course there would be trouble, lots of it.

    In Kano, settlers are herded into the “Sabon Gari” (settler’s quarters) and you cannot really participate fully the politics of many Muslim majority states in Northern Nigeria unless you are Muslim.

    Is the present situation optimal? No, but “progressives” like you haven’t outlined how we are going get from where we are to where we want to be.

    As I said earlier, this a multi-generational effort and given the complex interplay between traditional and secular centers of power in contemporary Nigeria, no Nigerian leader, no matter how powerful or well intentioned, can decree what you envision into existence.

    It will take a lot of time, education and understanding.

  • Posted by Chavuka

    Zainab,

    Before we get into complex matters like the “settler/indigene” dichotomy, let’s pluck low-hanging fruit like:

    A. The discrimination of non-Muslim minorities in majority Muslim states like Yobe and Bornu. (The Kaduna crisis was triggered by the exclusion of the Christian population from politics).

    B. The Sharia issue – you cannot, on one hand fully support exclusion based on religion and the fact that the laws of a state are biased in favour of a particular religion, while on the other claim that “discrimination of settlers is immoral”.

    The legal code in some states of Nigeria makes it illegal for a Muslim to convert to Christianity (punishable by death) – that to me is the greatest challenge to the idea of a united Nigeria, not the “indigene/settler” dichotomy.

  • Posted by pierro peter Uganda

    THIS WHOLE INDIGENE/SETTLER ISSUE CAN NOT BE LIKENED TO WESTERN APPROACH ANYWAY. WE ARE IN AFRICA, PRECISELY NIGERIA. THE SETTLERS IN PLATEAU STATE FOR INSTANCE ARE NOT THE ONLY SETTLERS CONSIDERING MIGRATION OF GROUPS IN NIGERIA. THERE ARE IGBOS IN LAGOS STATE, THERE ARE YORUBAS IN ANAMBRA STATE, JUST LIKE THERE OTHER GROUPS SCATTERED ACROSS NIGERIA. THESE GROUPS CLEARLY HAS DEFINED LIMIT. SO GIVEN A PREFERENTIAL ATTENTION, SAY TREATMENT TO A PARTICULAR GROUP IS TOTALLY OUT OF QUESTION, AS IN THE CASE OF PLATEAU STATE. AS PER WESTERN APPROACH, AGAIN, IT BOILS BACK TO LEADERSHIP IN AFRICA WHERE LEADERS CHOOSE TO WATCH IT CITIZENS WASTE AWAY IN ILLITERACY AND POVERTY WHEN CONTINENTAL GOAL SHOULD BE EDUCATION. SO WESTERNIZED APPROACH TO AFRICANIZED ISSUE WILL NOT HELP IN THIS SITUATION, INSTEAD, APPROACH TO PRACTICAL TRUTH. SURE.

  • Posted by John Ojeah

    Zainab, how do we solve the problem. Its easy to just write on how unjust it is. You and I as Nigerians know how old and entrench the indigenes/settlers issue is. In my opinion it was one of the early causes of what led to the civil war.

    I was denied scholarship just because I am not an indigene of the state I was born and grew up in. A lot of people have fallen victims to this dichotomy and lose all their properties and families since the 1950s and have pass such tales to their children and grand children who still habour such pains till today.

    So how do we solve the problem? Its not as easy as just passing a law that people are not going to obey. Solution and ‘not criticism’.

  • Posted by Zainab

    Chavuka (or is it Maduka):

    You raised the issue of (Political) Sharia and the exclusion of non-Muslims in far Northerns states. Its quite valid, it is quite problematic in many respects. However, Sharia APPLIES ONLY TO MUSLIMS. In many states in the North, e.g. Kaduna, there are many areas that are Shariah-free zones. There is no compulsion on religion or shariah to non-Muslims.

    That said, I do agree that there is discrimination and exclusion under the guise of “POLITICAL SHARIAH”. Notice I used the word “political” as a qualifier. However, discrimination and exclusion is not exclusive to the northern states or to the North. It is very widespread in the southern states and in the South.

    Infact, many Northerners who have lived in the South recount tales of outright hostility and unhidden “hatred” against them, even in federal institutions and places of work. They are made to feel very unwelcome. It is not a northern, southern or “shariah” thing, it is a Nigerian phenomenon.

    Discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity or both is widely pervasive ALL OVER Nigeria. That’s why you find fewer proportion of northerners living in the South, compared to southerners living in the North. The general idea is “go to the South at your own peril”. Many choose not to.

    The northern states have never carried out any execution on the basis of conversion FROM Islam. You are muddling up the issues here. Indigene/Settler dichotomy is something entirely different.

  • Posted by Zainab

    Chavuka (or is it Maduka):

    You raised the issue of (Political) Sharia and the exclusion of non-Muslims in far Northerns states. Its quite valid, it is quite problematic in many respects. However, Sharia APPLIES ONLY TO MUSLIMS. In many states in the North, e.g. Kaduna, there are many areas that are Shariah-free zones. There is no compulsion on religion or shariah to non-Muslims.

    When it comes to the judicial system for instance, Shariah courts have existed side by side with High courts and Customary courts right from independence. This is something you don’t find in the South. Shariah courts are there to cater for the needs of Muslims ONLY on issues such as marriages, divorces, inheritance and estates of the deceased because there are detailed specific islamic prescriptions for these. For the non-Muslims in these areas, Customary courts cater to such similar needs of theirs. Please go and do some research on this and find out.

    That said, I do agree that there is discrimination and exclusion under the guise of “POLITICAL SHARIAH”. Notice I used the word “political” as a qualifier. This is because this movement of the post 1999 era championed by some northern state governors is more of a populist move (than substance) by these Young Turks (those governors) trying to hold their own in a “new” democratic era. There has always been some form of Shariah in the North, but this post-1999 movement was more political and populist than substance, and in typical Nigerian fashion used as a cover in appropriating or expropriating resources – in this case discrimination and exclusion — by the political elite.

    HOWEVER, discrimination and exclusion is not exclusive to the northern states or to the North. It is very widespread in the southern states and in the South.

    Infact, many Northerners who have lived in the South recount tales of outright hostility and unhidden “hatred” against them, even in federal institutions and places of work. It is difficult for an ordinary northerner to just migrate to the south as southerners have done. How many northerners are enrolled in southern universities and institutions of higher learning compared to what obtains in the north? How many northern academics can you find in southern universities, when you can find a number of southerners in northern universities? Northerners are made to feel very unwelcome. It is not a northern, southern or “shariah” thing, it is a Nigerian phenomenon.

    Discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity or both is widely pervasive ALL OVER Nigeria. That’s why you find fewer proportion of northerners living in the South, compared to southerners living in the North. The general idea is “go to the South at your own peril”. Many choose not to.

    Ask yourself Chavuka, if the Igbos didn’t feel welcome or safe or secure in the North, would they have returned to establish more businesses after all that happened with Biafra? (P.S. this isnt meant to be offensive, and if it does, I apologise but its just to emphasize on a point). No matter how enterprising and adventurous a person is, and in this case the Igbos, they would NOT risk their lives unnecessarily after the experience of the Civil War, if they didn’t feel secure or welcome in the North.

    The northern states have never carried out any execution on the basis of conversion FROM Islam. You are muddling up the issues here. Indigene/Settler dichotomy is something entirely different.

    We need to stop this sort of selective reasoning or selective amnesia

Post a Comment

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR's guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

* Required

Pingbacks