If the Nigerian authorities fail to punish those responsible for the latest intercommunal violence, they are only paving the way for further bloodshed, say human rights advocates, historians, politicians and religious leaders.
“Outbreaks of intercommunal violence are likely again unless the government takes swift action to hold perpetrators to account and address the root causes,” Human Rights Watch Nigeria researcher Eric Guttschuss told IRIN.
In the latest violence, which erupted in Plateau State on 17 January, at least 326 people were killed and tens of thousands displaced.
Guttschuss pointed out that following 2001 violence in Plateau's capital, Jos, in which some 1,000 people were killed, several hundred more died in ensuing clashes between Christian farmers and Muslim pastoralists across the state.
Several judicial inquiry commissions have been set up to look into violence, but their findings have not been acted upon or even made public, Plateau State senator Dan Tom told IRIN.
A hearing into earlier killings in Plateau was held in late 2009 but nothing came of it, he said, adding that several suspects were arrested but later released, setting a bad precedent.
“The reports of these commissions must be [made public] and people should be punished for their involvement,” Tom told IRIN.
If Nigeria's deadly unrest is to subside, the government must go after not only perpetrators but also causes, observers told IRIN.
Though the violence manifests along religious lines with Christians and Muslims fighting – a majority of those killed in the latest violence were Muslim; mosques and churches were burned – the unrest is driven by political tensions over power and resources, Tom said.
“It is more a question of ethnicity than religion…a struggle for political control between the indigenous Berom ethnic group, [mostly Christian], and the Hausa, [predominantly Muslim]."
Many Hausa are not considered natives of the state and cannot access state privileges – a nationwide problem that is particularly palpable in Plateau State.
The issue of natives versus settlers was exploited when tin mining developed in Jos in 1904, drawing in mainly Hausa migrants and pushing mainly Berom natives to the town’s outskirts, Adam Higazi. researcher with Oxford University, told IRIN. From here Christian groups asserted exclusive rights over local and state political positions, power they have consolidated over the years, he said.
Tensions have mounted recently partly because Hausa communities in Jos North are vying for more political power in parts of Jos, Tom said.
Higazi said discrimination remains strong. “The state government is very discriminatory in its practices, notably in the exclusion of so-called settlers from state politics, and its views towards the recent violence in Jos are one-sided, defined by religious orientation and ethnic prejudices of those in power,” Higazi told IRIN.
“My family has been here since 1909,” Jos Imam Cheikh Ibrahim Ismael told IRIN. “But my children cannot access scholarships to further their education. They are second-class citizens."
Senator Tom said ethnic discrimination is a nationwide problem and the federal government must take the lead to resolve it.
A draft bill has been issued to bring an end to the practice of favouring indigenous groups but it has made no progress in Parliament.
The federal government must also push state authorities and civil society representatives to set up a mediation panel to help foster peaceful relations among ethnic groups, Higazi said.
An impartial investigation into the latest events must also be set up said HRW, and its recommendations be followed up and made public.
HRW's Guttschuss said he is encouraged that several public officials have recently talked publicly about the need to tackle impunity, recognizing that it fuels the fighting.
Plateau senator Tom is optimistic. “I’m very hopeful things will change for the better in Plateau State because Hausas and Beroms don’t have any other country but Nigeria….We can’t continue killing ourselves and destroying our homes.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions