from Africa in Transition

Bloody Easter in Nigeria’s Middle Belt

April 01, 2013

Blog Post

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Sub-Saharan Africa


Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Wars and Conflict


Over Easter weekend there were at least fifty deaths attributable to ethnic and religious conflict near Jos in Plateau state in Nigeria’s Middle Belt. This time, based on media reports, most of the victims appear to have been Christian farmers, with the perpetrators allegedly Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen.

The precise number of victims is difficult to know, not least because many of the murders took place in remote areas. A representative of a non-governmental organization, who has on-ground experience in the Middle Belt, recommends multiplying reported death tolls by a factor of five for a more accurate approximation of deaths resulting from ethnic and religious conflict.

In effect, Plateau state is wracked by guerrilla warfare between Hausa-Fulani, Muslim herdsmen and Christian farmers from a number of small ethnic groups, of which the largest involved appears to be the Berom. The Hausa-Fulani, highly mobile and under pressure from the Sahara creeping south, normally inflict more causalities than they take–but there are also frequent “Christian” reprisals. The federal government based in Abuja is largely irrelevant to the guerilla conflict, and it has proven unable to control it, despite the presence of large numbers of Nigerian military.

This latest incident appears to be unrelated to the Islamist violence often labeled “Boko Haram.” However, it contributes to the context of heightened religious and ethnic violence that feeds Boko Haram.

There is some evidence, if far from conclusive, that Ansaru, which is perhaps the most violent Boko Haram element and responsible for church bombings, is based in Kaduna. This was the venue of a slaughter of more than eight hundred Muslims by “Christians” in the immediate aftermath of the 2011 elections.

The Nigeria Security Tracker indicates that the virulence of ethnic and religious violence centered  in the Middle Belt is comparable to that in the northern part of the country associated with Boko Haram and the Abuja government’s heavy-handed response to it.

As in Maiduguri and, to a lesser extent, in Kano and Kaduna, normal civic life in Jos has atrophied, with few on the streets, and the markets mostly empty.

Meanwhile the boom in Lagos, which is based mostly on real estate, information technology, and finance continues without much reference to the Middle Belt or the North. It remains to be seen how long that disconnect can continue.