from Africa in Transition

“Rethinking Nigeria’s Indigene-Settler Conflicts”

August 1, 2012

Blog Post

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.