Metastasizing Conflicts in Nigeria

The declaration of a State of emergency in Northeastern Nigeria four months ago formally legalized the use of military force in mediating the Boko Haram insurgency. The declaration by the President, which was welcome by most Nigerians and some, felt was overdue showed the depth at which the Nigerian security environment has descended into in recent years. The move showed the palpability of futility of all means employed to mediate the conflict. The recall of Nigerian soldiers in Mali and announcement of the deployment of about 8,000 soldiers to beef up security in Northern Nigeria last week after several bombing and strikes by Boko Haram insurgents after over there months of military operations could be translated as indication that the positive reports of crushing of the rebels and killing of several insurgents might have been over-emphasized. The perennial failure of the military incursion into security in Nigeria clearly reveals a need for a newer approach to understanding and handling conflicts in the country.

Increase devolvement of the nation-states into chaotic situation through repeated conflicts in the 21st century have made the study of conflict management a major issue in international relations today. Mary Kaldor and Shannon Beebe maintained in their works “THE ULTIMATE WEAPON IS NO WEAPON: Human Security and the New Rules of War and Peace” (2010) that conflict remain a major factor in national pride. State elsewhile use military might to strengthen citizens trust in state capabilities for security. Echoing the theme of Chris Hedges argument in “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2002) conflict is inherent and natural to human. The nature of human relationship makes strives and need for personal assertion imperative. Force of nature propelled by man insatiable needs have fuelled natural quest for dominance of his environment.

Man need for a loci, import and purposes is recognized by every religious groups. The pressure of succeeding in modern societies divided into several competing groups has equally increased the basis for conflicts. Researches on conflicts have revealed that while interstate conflicts have continued to abate in the 21st century, intra-state wars have expanded in the new global order. The exhilaration and deceptive heroism of war continued to delude, increase need for self-assertion have turned men against their states. International Alert in its July 2013 publication of Peace Focus, maintained that despite fall recorded in annual number of Battle deaths fro civil wars from more than 160,000 per anum in the 1980s to less than 50,000 a year in the 2000s, yet over 25% of world population “continue to live in areas affected by fragility, conflict or large scale, organized criminal violence” .

Increase globalization have continued to create shortages in some regions of the world especially Africa. High incidence of poverty, lack and shortages have led to newer forms of conflict as competition for basic resources became stiff in most developing states. New alignments and groupings have continued in societies as people look for areas of advantage for different group. The interplay of all these new groups thou required for the society to function has continued to escalate sparks and proto-conflict in some society with acute shortages of opportunities.

The presence of conflicts remains the yardstick for measuring relationship. Conflicts are important in building a viable and workable society. It create basis for relationship and set the agenda for peaceful co-habitation of groups in any society when properly managed. Interplay of groups with different composition, qualities, values and traits is itself a recipe for friction and conflicts. Groups’ main aim remain in satisfying its members’ need for gratification and pride. In the ultimate competition to lead the pack, the term “them” and “us” are introduced. Relationships between groups are based on the history of such groups’ interactions. Group’s development of Shared goals, objectives and directions created shared distinct identity, which ultimately encourages competition in our societies.

Inter-group relationships are always affected by historical precedence. Opinions about group are shaped by previous interactions. As group interactions are important in societal development, clashes between groups and individuals are normal. Conflicts are normally given negative connotations in most literature, yet this is sometimes untrue.

Conflicts may be functional or dysfunctional. Functional conflicts enhances positive competition, determines and outline relationship and rules of engagements, identifies and support weakness, and lead to better ways of handling proto-conflicts between groups are always essential in a developing environment. Functional conflicts allow for individual and groups to compete and try bettering their selves resulting in healthy competition and mutual respect.

Dysfunctional conflict are protracted, destructive and negatively affects the society development. These kind of conflicts if not identified on time and managed could bring down a nation. Most writers on conflicts concentrates on the dysfunctional side as the functional conflicts can easily be mediated or negotiated. Dysfunctional conflicts harms the individuals involved in them, may disrupt and prevent goal actualization within groups, could also lead to inter-group violence which in turn destabilizes the society.

Dysfunctional conflicts evolve into violence reactions and constitute the main challenge of conflict management. Improper management of dysfunctional conflict in most societies has continued to breed Violent Conflicts. In areas of repeated violent conflicts groupings with criminal intentions undermines the states capabilities for security through creation of organized criminal violent groups. Increase activities of organized criminal group in Africa has been influenced in the 2000s by the growing violent conflicts in almost every region. The Touareg controlled one of the main cocaine trafficking routes from Latin America through the West Africa to European cities and this has been a major factor in the Mali violent Conflict.

Repeated conflicts in Niger Republic, Nigeria and Chad have been chiefly affected by the Mali crisis. The presence of the Touareg tribes controlled areas in all these countries could be a factor in escalating violence.

Repeated conflict in Nigeria has become a norm. National divide based on ethnic lines from pre-independent era have continued undermine state’s monopoly over legitimate use of force in the country. The power of states to legitimate force has been challenged severally by ethnic militias with intention of segmentation and fragmentation of authority in the Nigerian state has increased military operations in over 32 states in the country since 1985.

Militarization of security operations and conflict management in Nigeria has been criticized in many forums as it impugns the growth of proper policing tradition, leaves no room for creation of institutions for future conflict management and exacerbates conflict situation through lack of concise plans for post-conflict reconciliation process.

Regrettably, 40 years after the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70), the states only answer to conflicts still remain in the deployment of the Nigerian Armed Forces to trouble zones. With several years of repeated conflicts in: South-west (Odua Peoples’ Congress); South-south (Niger Delta Militants), South-east (MASSOB), North (Religious riots: Maitatesen, Boko Haram, et al) lack of designed and tested systematic process for curtailing violent conflict still fails the Nigerian state.

Conflict has been identified as a major index in Nation building. Most analysts today discuss conflicts as negative and destructive, this is only true in an environment without proper institution for managing such disputes. Conflicts are signposts of internal pressures and discomfort between people and groups in daily interactions within a society. Giving members of the society the necessary avenue to vent such pressure and get a fair hearing was inbuilt into the constitution. Human right to fair hearing and expression was supposed to handle these pressures in our modern societies.

Traditional African societies employed mediation and also encourage negotiation of disputes before resorting to a form of peer group or elder arbitration to deliver an award. The system allowed for parties to conflict to talk and vent their anger during the process of dispute resolution. The process allowed for parties to keep talking and addressing the issues at stake towards identifying mutually accepted solutions. Lack of respect for local tradition and culture led to the Nigerian state embrace of the English constitutional model and judicial system that the local could barely understand at independence in 1960. Lack of proper education of the public on the basics and process of the newly acquired legal system has led to the fact that 60 years later most Nigerians still find it difficult unraveling and negotiating the labyrinth of Nigerian law enforcement and judicial system.

Against this background is the delineation of the Nigerian geographical state that did not take into account the willingness of the over 400 ethnic groups within the areas willingness to come together into a nation state. Nigeria as an entity was created by colonialist as an administrative convenience and not based on shared values and ancestral origin like most European states, which has lasted eon. Forceful amalgamation of these nations, most of which were traditional enemies into one state is a recipe for disaster from start and to assure the ship does not sail peacefully, all African nations adopted the United Nations Clause “to defend their territorial integrity with all their resources” thereby foreclosing ethnic agitations for self determination.

The failure of the Nigerian law enforcement system over the past 40 years has led to citizen apathy and lack of respect for government institution set up to replace the traditional dispute resolution system in law enforcement. This failure gradually led to increase in numbers of lynch mob attacks on suspected criminals, several reprisal attacks by groups and challenges on the monopoly of the state to use of force as the citizens’ trust of security agencies and the courts worsened in the 80s. By the late eighties ethnic militias gradually emerged, increase agitation for self-determination by major ethnic groups led to the formation of ethnic militias for security and protection of carved homeland, and increase use of high caliber weapons by criminals and anti-states elements escalated.

The use of military for security operations became enshrined in Nigeria in the 1980s, during the reign of General Ibrahim Babangida. Lagos and other major cities in the country witnessed the first major deployment of soldiers for security operations on their streets after the botched April 22, 1990 Major Gideon Gwaza Orkar coup.

Subsequent regimes equally towed the line of elite securitization model in conflict resolution in Nigeria. The use of soldiers and military might in crushing opposition and anti-state elements has led to the rise of a military which regal in impunity and have no respect whatsoever for the public they are supposed to defend. Given the attendant misnomer that went into the creation of the Police and armed forces in Nigeria, which were designed as force of oppression of the masses towards protecting the interests of the colonial masters in the pre-independence period. Perfecting the “Kill and go” mentality with which the Hausa Constabulary in Lagos and Native Authority Police dealt with Nigerian then informed the growth of disdain for bloody civilians by the “privileged” security operatives in Nigeria.

Despite several attempts employing force in mediating conflicts in Nigeria, the attendant results have been a noticeable increase in violent activities in Nigeria. Areas mostly under security locked down have continued to witness high cases of violent death and criminal activities has equally quadruple in recent years in those areas. Is it possible to aver that militarization of conflict tacitly aid the metastasizing of repeated conflicts in Nigerian society? Are there other ways that the Nigerian state could attempt conflict management and post-conflict reconciliation process to reduce repeated conflicts in the country?

Examples of failure of military operations in solving conflicts in Nigeria abound around us.

Niger Delta

The Niger Delta resource control crises have been a part of the national problem since the Major Isacc Adaka Boro rebellion in the late 80s during the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70). General Abacha executed Ken Saro-Wiwa and 7 others Ogoni activists in 1995 as a result of crisis in the Gokana, Ogoni area of Rivers State to show the states resolve to crush any opposition. The 1999 Choba deployment of soldiers left several dead and a growing resolute by the youth of the Niger Delta to fight back and die for the “cause”. By November 1999 General Obasanjo was forced to deploy soldiers to attack and take Odi, in Kolokuma-Opokuma, Bayelsa state leading to the escalation of current Niger Delta militancy. The Nigerian Army has been in deployment in the creeks of the Niger Delta since 1999 enforcing security in a multi-billion Naira operations. Huge military presence was deployed in all major cities.
Surprisingly, 2013 reports from the creek of Niger Delta shows a growing increase in militancy operations and crude theft. Many analysts pointed at the current surge in bunkering have gone beyond what was obtainable at the peak of crisis in the early 2000s.

JOS, Plateau State.

The Nok Art culture was identified to have existed in Jos Plateau Nigeria since 3000 BC making the area to be one of the historical sights for tourism development in Nigeria. The cosmopolitan nature of Jos was cut short in the late 90s through repeated conflicts premised on the control of lands, power sharing process and resource control between the Indigenous tribes (Berom, Anaguta and Afizere) and the Hausa/Fulani settlers. Fierce and unregulated political competition characterized by ethnic mobilization and violence, coupled with poor governance, economic deregulation and rampant corruption, have severely exacerbated ethnic, religious and regional fault lines. The notion of national citizenship appears to have been abrogated by both ethnicity and ancestry. Scarce resources and groups’ selfish aspirations for control of these scarce resources for members use have been the root of the Jos crisis.

The deployment of the Nigerian military in Jos in the past 13 years have been attributed by many analysts as the major factor in extending the sphere of these conflicts. Military operations has been roundly condemned by all international commentators, it is overtly expensive, have high incidence of human rights abuse, does not protect women and noncombatants and its yet to produce conclusive proof of ending any conflicts in the past twenty years.

Boko Haram Conflict:

The United States and other countries have maintained that the Boko Haram conflict was not well managed by the local security forces. Carefree security agents engineered the escalation of these conflicts. The descent of these groups into faceless and fearful insurgents groups could have been checked if proper security maneuvers were employed. Increase use of the gun and military force by the state as conflict management tool led to the deployment of soldiers and sacking of the Boko Haram’s Kanama camp in 2009. This evidently could have been the trigger that brought the group to international limelight and exposed survivors of the attacks to pity and supports from both local and international.

Regrettably, there are no means of communication and dialogue with faceless bodies. Boko Haram leaders fearing the same end as their leader Mohammed Yusuf went underground and using tricks of insurgents survival learnt from the Al-Qaeda engagement with the US in Afghanistan and Iraq, employed loose cell based system for recruitment and operations. This would have made it almost impossible for state armed forces to detect and disband. The areas around Northeastern Nigeria also is a major factor in aiding these insurgents, the area is large and in desert environment which made it clearly easy for insurgents to spot and evade patrol team most time. The French Troup in Mali were equally frustrated in their quest for the elimination of the Touareg insurgents, despite years of local knowledge their patrol teams were easily dodged by the desert dwellers.

The nation have watched endlessly as the Nigerian Army in the past 12 weeks regaled us with stories of successful massacre of hundreds of Northern Nigerians “insurgents” and sacking of several insurgents’ camps just as we were daily inundated with the stories of military successful operations in the Niger Delta creeks. Military sources have claimed over 1 million illegal refineries discovery and burnt while several thousands of arrests have been made yet bunkering of crude is growing in these areas daily.

Major challenges to conflict management in Nigeria are in the areas of lack of a vibrant investigative media, low capacity in Social Societies, dysfunctional Nigeria Police Force and politicians benefiting from the chaotic environment.

The Nigerian media has become well trained in using of press releases and hearsay in defining its publications. It is incredible that Nigerian press quotes most authoritative news about Nigeria from foreign reports. The state chooses and directs news items through releases and propaganda. Collusion between the state and the media, which is supposed to be the watchdogs of the state, has escalated the level of impunity in state officials operations. The Nigeria army has persistently enjoyed their relationship with the media. They have perfected the reports pooling system and the use of media show to announce military success. The shock of some of these scripted shows are in the quality of information available for the public at such events.

States cannot grow when the media are mere lapdogs. The media should be the arena for quality discussions and analysis and not a medium for comedy of errors. Conflicts escalations will always occur where the press feeds on the states sides of every argument without proper investigations.

The descent of Nigeria Police Force into disrepute wasn’t gradual. Orchestrated by the military to militate against the surprised stiff response of the Mobile Police Officers and Men posted to Dodan Barracks as Presidential Escorts during the Coup of 1983. The Nigeria Police was punished and systematically denied the impetus for growth during the military era. The military between 1983 and 1999, used the Army to perform all major security operations, starved the police of funding for staff development and equipment.

When youth radicalism started escalating in the late 80s, lack of inherent capacity to challenge drug trafficking, advance fee frauds, armed robberies and smuggling in the late 80s the handicapped policing authority became helpless and chose to collude with the criminals instead of losing their lives. The citizens became helpless in the hands of criminals leading to search for new avenues for protection from the emerging threats. The era of ethnic vigilantes, which later morphed into militias, formed to protect the people has dawned in Nigeria. Groups like OPC, Bakassi Boys and Isakaba emerged to fill the gaps created by the police.

The increasing threat was compounded by the return to military rules in 1999. Political class and elites without any trust in police and other security agencies protection resolved to arming youths as personal body guards and to destroy opponents. State armories were looted and many arms were illegally sourced from international markets to arm loyal boys. The well-armed political thugs now out gunned the helpless Police losing the little credence they seem to posses.

Increasing rate of terrorism and insurgent activities escalated threats to lives and properties in the country necessitating the declaration of State of Emergency in several states and recently in three Northeastern states with high insurgents presence to arrest drift into anarchy.

Strategic analysis of the operational signatures of the Boko Haram insurgent group has shown the inherent abilities of the group to morph under pressure and behaves irrationally in its target choices. Response to the 2009 disbandment of the group was felt in the sporadic bombings in Abuja, several military and Police Barracks and stations in the country and eventually the United Nations Building in Abuja in 2010.

Readings from profile of the Boko Haram groups has revealed the possibility of one of the following security scenario eventually playing out at the end of current all out military push:

Scenario one:

Military operations aided by Police and other security operatives’ leads to the elimination and disband the group totally and restore peace to the region.

This remains the most desirable scenario. If this was achieved the country will be at peace and other groups will think twice before taking the government on.

Scenario two:

Military push may leads to the scattering of the Boko Haram sect, which may now evolve into proto-sects spread over the whole Northern region without a central leadership. Boko Haram Sects could go into hiding in neighboring countries and engage the military in guerilla warfare in northern Nigeria like the Taliban has done for years to the US armies in Afghanistan.

• Longer period of Emergency rule and military operations may lead to high economic deprivation, high volume of internally displaced persons, huge military spending and ground the already faltering national economy.
• High volume of trans-border crime and proliferation of illegal weapons will increase at Nigeria border areas, leading to other violent crimes in Nigeria and neighboring countries.
• Given Nigerian population, sustained military operation may lead to high level of emigration from northern Nigeria as violence spread, over burden local security capabilities, huge inflow of IDPs into border states will exert high pressure on resources in neighboring states and increase unemployment.
• Boko haram may extend their operational areas across the Niger and in Abuja this may lead to high apprehension and threat perception in other regions of the country.
• Attack by Boko Harm in any other region of the country may lead to ethnic militias’ retaliations and ethnic cleansings.
• If these happen, the resultant unrest could compromise current fragile peace in the country and lead to general calls for disintegration.

Scenario one is desirable and remains the thrust of current state of emergency. Given that security operations are dynamic and may evolve if not well planned and executed there is a need for the government to as a matter of urgency start preparing for a supporting ameliorating Conflict Resolution Plan for Emergency Situation (CRPES) in Nigeria immediately. This plan, which could in the long run direct states engagement during conflict situations should entail the use of negotiation and mediated settlement of the ongoing conflicts and future ones. There is a need for the strengthening of conflict management capabilities of the state towards harnessing the positivity in conflicts.

Reduction in public display of state might work positively in aggravation of conflicts. The citizen will have to trust and respect the state through its performance in provision of basic human needs and protection from threats. The states monopoly of force was bestowed by the constitution and the people consented to the constitution. Hence the citizens are employer of government and needed to be listened to and cater for at all time. Not all agitations should be treated as a felony, some are needed to perfect relationship and remove ambiguities. Conflict management and transformation should be an art for leaders and senior civil servants. Absolute statements and careless use of words fuels conflict and exacerbates violence and should be avoided at all time.


Towards mediating current conflicts the state could employ the following suggestions:

In the short term
1. Gradual reduction of military forces operating in areas of conflicts in Nigeria and replacing them with a mix of specially trained Police, Civil Defence and State Security Service Unit. The need for civil engagement in areas of conflict can only be achieved when the parties to conflicts are allowed to meet and discus political solutions to crisis. The use of soldiers should be at extreme situation, all conflicts should normally pass through stages of negotiation and engagement of personae before open declaration of warfare. Proto-conflicts can always be mitigated if intervention is done immediately the conflict is identified.
2. Disband all current political/civil service based commission of enquiries and set up Independent Conflict Management Advisory Committee (ICMAC) on perennial conflicts in Nigeria. Membership of these committees should be professionally trained Dispute Resolution Professionals (DRP) to create trusts and allow for proper engagement in all areas of current conflicts
3. The ICMAC should be charged to identify factors for peaceful negotiation of conflicts based on political inclusiveness, fairness, equity and justice.
4. End current impunity of the military class. Set up an independent body to audit the operations of the Nigerian security agencies in conflict areas in the past twenty years. Discharge and prosecute all criminally culpable.
5. Introduce major project development in areas of conflict using of registered Non-Government Organizations (NGO), Faith-Based Organizations (FBO), Community Based Organisation (CBO) and Youth Development Associations (YDA) to deliver such projects. Increase activities in areas of conflicts has been known to reduce numbers of youth available for recruitment by insurgents, turn the local populace against the insurgents and diffuse negative conceptions preached by the anti-state elements.

In the medium term
1. Facilitate in collaboration with all stakeholders the convening of a post conflict management institutions in each state. There are needs for a the design of bottom-up approach to peace and confidence-building process in Nigeria. The states legislature should be encouraged to design legal framework for implementation committees at the state level to meet needs and demands for establishing culturally acceptable but effective conflict management process within each community. States should also be encouraged to design roles in conflict management for civil society groups, traditional leaders and Dispute Resolution Professionals (DRP).
2. Work with the National Assembly to review the Nigerian Criminal Act, Residency Rights Bill and legalize the use of locally accepted Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process in dispute settlement. The supports for local need for justice through the establishment and sponsorship of Settlement Centers and programme for dispute management that are generally acceptable, fair, easy to understand and fast will reduce the resort to self help that always herald major conflicts.
3. Increase activities in areas of civic education program that would reduce ethnic discriminations and inculcate in Nigerians the significance of a common notion of citizenship, based on respect of ethnic and religious diversity, national unity and cohesion. The introduction of youth associations that are political and religious neutral should help in these areas.
4. Strengthen local policing capabilities. Reform and redesign current law enforcement apparatus. Introduce a central planning Committee on Homeland Security, which could be a clearinghouse for all internal security organizations. Current lack of cohesive security operations by the police and other internal security organisation is obviously due to lack of central security planning.
5. Judicial Reform: Current legal system is alien and not easily understood by most Nigerians. Courts are overloaded, judges are corrupt and cases tend to go on forever. The rich are eternally favoured in the local courts as they can always afford bigger lawyers and circumvent justice. There is a need for direct efforts at ensuring balance of power in all the courts, increase trusts in the courts through increasing Judges accountability and sanctioning corrupt judges.
6. International Cooperation: Drawing aid and supports on managing conflicts from countries with history of well-managed communal conflicts and terrorism. Countries like Philippines, Columbia, USA, Pakistan, India and Indonesia have come a long way in managing local conflicts and insurrections. Lessons from these states could be harnessed and deployed for positive results.
7. Increase Vigilance: Security forces need to be deployed to areas of potential and repeated conflicts to gather quality intelligence on suspected groups and persons of interests to the state. Patrol and check in all border areas are important and should be well managed to reduce inflitartion of criminal elements. Of importance is intelligence sharing between our local security forces and regional organs to assess external terrorist threats (notably from al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM) with a view to increasing state capacity to respond adequately.

Don Michael Adeniji, pnm, MA
President, Association of Professional Negotiators and Mediators (APNM)
[email protected]

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