Updated: March 2012
2011 The April election, which elected incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, was deemed Nigeria’s fairest. But campaign violence, allegations of vote rigging and inflation of results (especially in the south and southeast) marred the results and led to three days of violent riots and sectarian killings between Christians and Muslims, leaving 1,000 dead. Militant Islamist group Boko Haram became a growing threat after several bombings, including Christmas bombings that killed 40, and attacks that killed hundreds provoked fear within Nigeria’s Christian community.
2010 The Movement for Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) ended its ceasefire in January and stepped up its attacks on oil pipelines and kidnappings. In July, a state of emergency was called in the Niger Delta region. Militant demobilization slowed to a halt while President Umaru Yar’Abua remained in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. After his death in May, Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan assumed the presidency and renewed the amnesty program in July, successfully negotiating the release of several hostages. Clashes between Fulani Muslims and Berom Christians in Nigeria’s Plateau State killed more than 1,000 people, the highest death toll since the 2008 clashes in the same area. The newly formed Boko Harem Islamic group conducted several attacks beginning in October and culminating in a Christmas Eve bomb blast in Jos that killed 86. According to various media reports, an estimated 1,350 people were killed in Nigeria in 2010, from both sectarian violence and militant activities in the Niger Delta region.
2009 Clashes between the government and militant groups in the North escalated in 2009, with militants continuing to attack oil facilities and even reaching the capital in the South. Nigerian officials claimed victory over what they have called the Nigerian Taliban after they killed the Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf. Tensions rose between the predominantly Christian South and the predominantly Muslim North with continued calls from some Islamic militants for the implementation of sharia law and the outlawing of Western education. According to analysts, the conflict stems more from anger and frustration over economic conditions than from religious belief. Some militants continued to disarm through the government-backed amnesty program. But others refused, citing the government’s refusal to address their main concerns of shared oil revenue and employment and training opportunities. In October, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) announced an indefinite ceasefire to allow peace negotiation with the government to proceed. Along with MEND, other militant groups also began to disarm, and as of October, almost 15,000 militants had laid down their arms.
2008 Violence continued throughout 2008 in the Niger Delta between the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), other militia groups in the region and Nigerian government forces. Kidnappings and hijackings of oil workers both on the ground and from boats continued throughout the year. Militia violence was at its worst in September, with 100 conflict deaths. Large-scale sexual violence by militias and militaries continued throughout 2008, raising concerns of an increased prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the region. The greatest violence of the year occurred between Muslim and Christian gangs in Jos over an election dispute, killing 200 and displacing approximately 7,000.
2007 Separatist, state and religious violence continued in 2007, while gang violence increased for the first time since 2004. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and other armed opposition groups continued attacks against oil-production facilities and employees, resulting in high financial losses for the government. Northerner Umaru Yar’Adua was elected President, marking the first civilian transfer to power in the history of Nigeria. The election was deemed illegitimate by both domestic and international observers, undermining the government’s authority and increasing tension within the country.
2006 Violent clashes between various groups continued throughout 2006, resulting in the death of around 300 civilians. The most horrific incidents involved riots between Muslim and Christian citizens over the publishing of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in Danish newspapers. Tension increased between President Olusegun Obasanjo and his deputy, Atiku Abubakar, which raised fears that a legitimate April 2007 election would not take place. A new rebel faction, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), emerged in early 2006 and was seeking independence for the region’s 14 million Ijaw people. Its favoured tactics reportedly included sabotaging oil production in the Delta region as well as kidnapping foreign workers.
2005 Religious, inter-ethnic, separatist, state and gang violence continued in 2005, although at an intensity lower than 2004. A national conference on constitutional reforms addressing religious and ethnic tensions collapsed without agreement.
2004 Inter-communal clashes, clashes with government security forces and attacks on oil facilities continued in 2004, claiming the lives of more than 1,200 people. Most violence occurred between Muslim and Christian militias in and around Kano and between militias and government security forces in and near Port Harcourt. Piracy also became a problem with Nigerian waters now ranked among the most dangerous in the world. A new government report estimated the number of people killed by violence in Nigeria as more than 50,000 since 1999. Tens of thousands of people were displaced by this year’s violence, bringing the total of displaced people since 1999 to more than 800,000.
2003 Inter-communal violence and clashes with government security forces claimed the lives of hundreds of Nigerians throughout the year. April’s presidential election was also a source of dissatisfaction and violence.
2002 Ethnically, religiously and politically motivated violence claimed the lives of hundreds of Nigerians, most of them civilians, throughout 2002. Political violence intensified in response to elections scheduled for the beginning of 2003. And religious violence over the controversial Miss World pageant claimed more than 200 lives.
2001 Religious and communal fighting targeting civilians continued in several Nigerian states through the year. Deaths from Christian-Muslim and ethnic clashes and from attacks by government troops likely exceeded 2,000.
2000 In February, violence broke out between Muslims and Christians in the Northern city of Kaduna, spreading to neighbouring towns and eastern cities after a march to protest the proposed introduction of Islamic law in the state of Kunda. In May, there were renewed hostilities between Christians and Muslims after other Northern states announced their intentions to implement sharia law. There were some reports of continued fighting between ethnic groups in other regions of Nigeria. An estimated 2,000 (mostly civilian) people were killed, mainly due to clashes in Northern and Southeastern Nigeria.
1999 Regional, ethnic and religious fighting continued in several regions of Nigeria in 1999, claiming more than 1,000 lives. Conflict flared not only between ethnic groups, but also between ethnic groups and the state, especially in the oil-producing region of the Niger Delta. Clashes were also reported between Muslims and Christians in Northern states, killing at least 100 people. The government deployed troops to troubled areas around the country in an attempt to control the violence.
Type of Conflict
Parties to the Conflict
1. The Government of Nigeria: Government security forces, under President Goodluck Jonathan, continued to be heavily involved in the conflict. It is alleged that these forces, often with the consent of the Nigerian government, have used excessive force in performing their duties. The U.S. government is reportedly providing military training as well as technical assistance to the distressed Delta region.
Various ethnic groups are involved in conflicts with one another and/or with the Nigerian government, particularly in the Niger Delta area, where several groups, in particular the Ijaws, are fighting for self-determination and/or a greater share of the region’s oil resources. While there are numerous ethnic groups who engage in sporadic fighting and hundreds of ethnic-based armed groups, only the largest and/or most significant in terms of scale and intensity of fighting are listed below.
a) Ijaws and Itsekiris in the Niger Delta;
b) Ilajes and Ijaws in the Southwest;
c) Yorubas and Ijaws in the Southwest;
d) Yorubas and Hausas in the Southwest and North;
e) Tivs and Jukuns, Fulani and Kutebs in central Nigeria;
f) Fulani and Berom in the Riyomo district, Southwest of Jos.
Niger-Delta Based Rebel Groups:
2. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND): composed of the Ijaw people living in the Niger Delta. The group seeks independence for the region’s 14 million Ijaw inhabitants and has also claimed responsibility for the recent rash of kidnappings involving foreign oil workers. The group has reportedly pledged to incite a wave of guerrilla warfare until its demands, which include the release of prisoners and the cessation of all oil extraction and production in the Niger Delta, are granted.
3. The Ijaws-based Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities (FNDIC): the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force, (NDPVF) led by Mujahid Dokubo-Asari and fighting primarily for a greater share of oil wealth, the Egbesu Boys of Africa (EBA) and the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF).
4. Joint Revolutionary Council (JRC): a previously unknown militant group claiming to be fighting for an “independent Niger Delta.” In 2010, the JRC called for attacks on the Shell pipeline in Rivers State.
Other Ethnic-Based Rebel Groups
5. The Yorubas-based O’odua People’s Congress.
6. Igbos in Southeast Nigeria are represented in part by the unarmed Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).
Religious-based groups in the North: Conflict between Christian and Muslim groups was extremely intense in 2002. Armed groups include:
7. The Arewa People’s Congress (APC);
8. Hisbah Groups (Islamic vigilante groups that enforce adherence to sharia);
9. The Zamfara State Vigilante Service (ZSVS);
10. Al-Sunna Wal Jamma (also known as the Taliban).
11. Boko Harem (“Western education is a sin”): a militant Islamic sect emerging in 2004 and associated with the Islamic Maghreb who aim to enforce Islamic law throughout Nigeria. The group is responsible for a several bombings, including the Christmas Eve bombing in 2010, killing more than 80 people.
12. Christian Militias: There are numerous small Christian militias. While some of the armed groups are clearly motivated by religion, often religion is used as a cover for disputes over land and cattle that have traditionally occurred between farming communities (who are mostly Christian or practice indigenous African religions) and cattle herders (who are mostly Muslims.) This is especially true in Plateau State, which has seen the highest levels of religious violence.
13. Hundreds of armed gangs, known as “cults”: contribute to violence in Nigeria. Cults may be involved in a number of activities such as organized crime, especially the theft of oil, vigilante actions, community self-defence, ethnic or religious violence and party politics (hired by local politicians to help influence political outcomes). They are usually made up of a small number of poor youths who view the gangs as one of the few opportunities for economic gain and protection. The largest among them include the Bakassi Boys in Southeastern Nigeria and the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV), active in Rivers state. The Niger Delta Vigilante is led by Ateke Tom, one of the most-wanted men in Nigeria, and has an active membership of several hundreds. It has a small fleet of speedboats used in the transporting of stolen oil and kidnappings.
Status of Fighting
2011 After the announcement of presidential elections on April 16, violent riots and sectarian killings between Christian and Muslims erupted in some northern states, leaving more than 1,000 dead and making the election one of the bloodiest in Nigeria’s history. According to Human Rights Watch, reports of inter-communal violence in Plateau State killed more than 350 in 45 separate incidents; inter-communal clashes in Bauchi, Benue, Nassarawa, Niger and Taraba states killed more than 120 and left hundreds displaced; and Nigerian security forces were implicated in several attacks on villages in Plateau State in August and September and in extrajudicial killings in response to Boko Haram attacks in Maiduguri. Militant Islamist group Boko Haram became a growing threat after several bombings, including Christmas bombings that killed 40, and attacks that killed hundreds provoked fear within Nigeria’s Christian community. The military was accused of killing an estimated 140 civilians over the course of the year. The Boko Haram killed more than 400 people, primarily Christians.
2010 In 2010, conflict in the Niger Delta between government forces and the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) continued, and sectarian violence in the Jos Plateau region intensified. In July, MEND announced the end to a July 2009 ceasefire and increased attacks on pipelines and kidnappings. In March, three separate attacks on pipelines were reported. In July, Senate President David Mark issued a state of emergency in the Southeast states after four journalists were kidnapped. In early November, Niger Delta militants took 19 oil and construction workers hostage, including two Americans, two Frenchmen, two Indonesians, one Canadian and 12 Nigerians; all were released on Nov. 18 after negotiations between demobilized ex-militants and MEND fighters. The Nigerian military began a new offensive in the Niger Delta, resulting in 150 deaths, according to activist groups. In January, clashes between Muslims and Christians in Jos killed between 320 and 550 people and displaced 18,000. After the attacks, troops moved into the Jos area and a curfew was imposed. In early March, an estimated 500 were killed when Fulani Muslims attacked three villages close to Jos in a revenge attack for Christian assaults on Muslim villages in January. Four hundred bodies were found in a mass grave in the city of Dogon Na Hauwa. Sporadic Muslim-Christian violence continued in the Plateau State for the rest of the year. The newly formed Boko Harem Islamic group conducted several attacks beginning in October, culminating in a Christmas Eve bomb blast in Jos that killed 86.
2009 Hostilities between the government’s Joint Military Task Force (JTF) nd militants in the Niger Delta in May led to what one military spokesperson described as many militant deaths, recovered arms and the destruction of a militant camp. Clashes between militants and government forces in the Niger Delta escalated. In response, traditional rulers from the coastal areas called for more government accountability and for their children to lay down their arms. During these clashes, the Ijaw National Congress, which represents the largest ethnic group in the Niger Delta, said the army had killed “at least 1,000 civilians” [Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 18 May 2009] during operations there. The army countered that it was responding to increased attacks by MEND, which had stepped up attacks against oil workers.
2008 The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) continued to target oil facilities throughout the year, claiming responsibility for a number of attacks. The government increased efforts for peace talks, however MEND refused to participate in any negotiations unless Henry Okah, a key rebel arrested in 2007, was released. Inter-communal violence continued throughout 2008. For the first time, MEND struck a deep offshore oilfield, a location which was thought to be relatively safe. MEND declared a unilateral ceasefire at the end of June, which lasted two weeks. The ceasefire ended after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered to assist the Nigerian government with military training to target militias in the Niger Delta. The kidnapping of foreign oil workers and hijacking of foreign oil tankers continued in 2008, and at the height of the hijacks, eight ships and 93 crew members were taken hostage. September saw 100 deaths in attacks on Chevron and Shell facilities by militants, who then declared another unilateral ceasefire on Sept. 21. The government arrested 400 suspected militants for the attacks. In November, 2,500 new Joint Task Force troops were deployed in the Niger Delta region. Also in November, tensions between Christian and Muslim gangs in Jos rose to new heights. Approximately 200 died, 157 were injured and 7,000 displaced in the two days of clashes. The year ended with continued, although minimal, religious violence in Jos and with MEND threatening increased violence after the arrest of a militant leader.
2007 The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) continued to target oil facilities with increasingly co-ordinated and sophisticated attacks, including the bombing of oil-export terminals and the destruction of pipelines, as well as the kidnapping of foreign workers. As of July 18, 2007, the number of kidnapped foreign oil workers totalled more than 200 in 18 months. The kidnappers were said to be a mix of criminal gangs trying to earn profit and separatist groups with political agendas. Fighting increased in Kano, one of the 12 Northern states where Islamic law is practised. This fighting was attributed to militants from Chad. Islamic militants attacked a police station in Kano, killing police officers and civilians. Elsewhere in the Muslim states, sectarian clashes killed religious clerics, civilians and police officers and continued to fuel tension between Christian and Muslim communities. Militia violence increased for the first time since 2004 when rival gunmen went on a rampage that killed 20 people. Following the release of two jailed Ijaw leaders, 25 armed groups joined in a united front to demand more regional control over the delta’s oil resources. MEND refused to participate in the talks.
2006 Instances of violence increased steadily since the emergence of a new rebel faction, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). The group was reportedly responsible for kidnapping at least four foreign oil workers each month as well as sabotaging numerous oil extraction and production facilities. Its efforts have contributed to a 10-per-cent reduction in Nigeria’s oil exportation. In addition, a massive wave of hostilities swept through the Northern areas of Maiduguri, Onitsha, Bauchi and Enugu in February after the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in Danish newspapers. The violence began in Maiduguri as Muslim rioters burned Christian churches and attacked civilians. Christian inhabitants then retaliated by looting Muslim shops and by killing and burning Muslim civilians. Violence also erupted in March during the 2006 census, when numerous ethnic groups reportedly attacked census personnel as they attempted to count the population in the Ondu, Anambra, Enugu and Nnewi states. The group known as MASSOB, composed of the Igbo people and seeking an independent Biafra, was blamed for a series of attacks on police stations in the state of Anambra. Tensions in the Delta region as well as in the North and South have caused uncertainty over whether or not foreign investment can continue and if presidential elections in 2007 will incite further violence among already hostile groups.
2005 Sporadic violence continued throughout Nigeria. Sunni and Shia Muslims clashed in the Northwestern town of Sokoto. Christian-Muslim violence in Northern Nigeria decreased significantly from last year. Major inter-ethnic clashes over land were reported in central-eastern Adamawa state. Violence by ethnic militias, gangs, local police and the Nigerian army continued in the Niger Delta, mainly linked to access to land and oil and to demands for self-determination.
2004 While sporadic fighting continued across the country, most clashes were between Muslims and Christians in the Plateau State (primarily in or near Kano) and between factions in the oil-rich area around Port Harcourt. A Christian militia attack on a Muslim town in May and reprisals killed hundreds of people. Muslim extremist clashes with Nigerian security forces and attacks by insurgents on oil installations in Port Harcourt contributed to the year’s violence. Piracy also became a significant problem and Nigerian waters were ranked as the third-most dangerous in the world.
2003 While sporadic violence continued throughout the country in 2003, the oil-producing Niger Delta area of Southern Nigeria witnessed the most intense fighting. Clashes between Ijaw and Itsekiri groups in March and August in the city of Warri, allegedly over the economic benefits from the exploitation of the region’s oil reserves, resulted in the death of hundreds. The violence had a severe impact on the country’s oil production and led to the intervention of security forces. Violence also marred the presidential elections in mid-April as tribal and political rivals clashed prior to, and after, the elections.
2002 Religious and ethnic-based clashes occurred near the central city of Jos, in Southeastern Nigeria, and the Plateau, Nasarawa, Bauchi, Taraba and Benue states. In some cases, conflict led to the mass internal migration of affected communities. Inter-communal tensions were exacerbated by ambitious politicians hoping to gain voter support and politically motivated deaths increased as a result of up-coming elections. The Miss World pageant, which was to be held in Kaduna in November, resulted in violence between the Muslim and Christian communities of Northern Nigeria and resulted in over 200 deaths.
2001 Religious and communal fighting targeting civilians continued in several Nigerian states through the year. Clashes occurred between ethnic groups as well as between Christians and Muslims over the introduction of sharia law. Government troops killed more than 200 people in retaliation for the deaths of 19 captured soldiers.
2000 On Feb. 21, violence broke out between Muslims and Christians in the Northern city of Kaduna, spreading to neighbouring towns and eastern cities of Aba, Umuahia and Obasanjo, after a march organized by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to protest the proposed introduction of Islamic law in the state of Kunda. The clashes lasted for 10 days, while homes and places of worship were burned and more than 1,000 people killed. In March, fighting also took place between rival communities in Ife, Southwestern Nigeria, over disputed ownership of land. In May, there was a revival of hostilities between Muslims and Christians after other Northern states announced their intentions to implement sharia law. By mid-October, ethnic clashes broke out between a militant Yoruba group and Hausa-Fulanis in Lagos, resulting in up to 100 deaths.
1999 Several distinct, although not necessarily unrelated, armed clashes occurred between various groups in different areas of Nigeria in 1999. Intense fighting continued in the Niger Delta region between ethnic groups (especially the Ijaw) and government soldiers and security forces. A state of emergency, declared for a few days at the end of December 1998, lasted into January 1999 after as many as 240 people were killed in clashes between protesting Ijaw youths and government troops in the Niger Delta state of Bayelsa. This and other regions of Nigeria also witnessed inter-ethnic violence during the year, including between the Ijaw and Itsekiri groups, between Ijaw and Ilaje groups in the Southwestern state of Ondo, and between Yoruba and Ijaw in the Southwest. Fighting in the Southwestern and Northern regions between Yorubas, who comprise the majority in the Southwest, and the Hausa-Fulani who dominate in the North, reportedly claimed more than 360 lives. In the North, occasional fighting between Muslims and Christians claimed almost 100 lives while clashes in the east between local farmers and Fulani herdsmen over cattle-herding and access to land resulted in about 100 deaths. Control over land also sparked conflict between different Ibo groups in eastern Nigeria. The government tried to manage rising tensions and communal fighting by deploying several hundred soldiers to various regions of the country, although these efforts were generally ineffective in ending the violence. Human Rights Watch reports suggest that government troops were involved in destroying villages and played a role in perpetuating the violence in many regions.
Number of Deaths
Total: According to International Crisis Watch, between 1999 and 2009, an estimated 14,000 people were killed in sectarian violence, the majority of which took place in Nigeria’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious middle belt region. An estimated 3,000 of these deaths occurred in the city of Jos, Plateau State, where approximately 500 were killed in 2008 and an additional 1,000 in 2010. A government sponsored-report in 2004 estimated the total fatalities to be greater than 50,000. A 2004 study commissioned by Royal Dutch Shell estimated that 1,000, mostly young, people, die each year as a result of violence between rival militia groups in the Niger Delta. More than 200,000 people have been displaced since 1999.
2011 According to media reports, an estimated 1,700 people were killed in electoral violence, militant activities and sectarian clashes. According to Human Rights Watch, sectarian killings and election riots left 1,000 people dead while killings from the Boko Haram militant Islamist group left 425 people dead. More than 100 people were killed in several bomb attacks, while another 50 people died in tribal clashed between Ezza and Ezilo.
2010 According to various media reports, 1,350 people were killed in sectarian violence and militant activities in the Niger Delta region. Many of these were killed in and around Jos, where clashes between Fulani Muslims and Berom Christians resulted in approximately 1,000 deaths.
2009 According to reports, 1,700 people were killed in clashes between government forces and various rebel factions. According to the Nigerian Red Cross, 780 people were killed in Maiduguri, home to the leader of Boko Haram group.
2008 According to reports, 500 civilians, militia combatants and government officials were killedin fighting in the Niger Delta and in religious violence in Jos. An additional 157 were injured in the two-day conflict at Jos and 7,000 were displaced. The death toll was likely higher, but most of the fighting took place in remote, difficult-to-access areas.
2007 More than 100 people were reported killed. The death toll was likely higher, but most of the fighting took place in remote, difficult-to-access areas.
2006 At least 300 people, mostly civilians, were reported killed, 200 of them in Christian-Muslim clashes. In addition, at least 50 foreign oil workers were kidnapped from compounds in the Delta region.
2005 At least 350 people were killed, the majority in inter-communal fighting over land and oil resources.
2004 Between 1,200 and 2,100 people were killed in 2004. There were many unconfirmed reports of fatalities, particularly from sectarian fighting in Kano.
2003 According to independent media reports, approximately 500 people were killed in inter-communal conflicts or in clashes with government security forces throughout the first nine months of the year, with most of the fatalities occurring in the oil-producing region of Southern Nigeria.
2002 According to independent media reports, at least 500 people were killed in religious and ethnic conflict or in clashes with government security forces.
2001 According to media reports, at least 2,000 people were killed in 2001, the majority in clashes between Christians and Muslims.
2000 An estimated 2,000 people, primarily civilians, were killed in clashes between Muslims and Christians in Northern and Southeastern Nigeria.
1999 An estimated 760 to 1,240 people, primarily civilians, were killed in clashes.
2011 The April election, which elected incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, was deemed Nigeria’s fairest. But campaign violence, allegations of vote rigging and inflation of results (especially in the south and southeast) marred the results and led to three days of violent riots and sectarian killings between Christians and Muslims, leaving 1,000 dead. Nigeria made poor progress with its anti-corruption campaign. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission secured only four convictions of senior officials, none of whom faced serious prison time.
2010 The beginning of 2010 was marked with political uncertainty as President Umaru Yar’Adua remained in Saudi Arabia receiving medical treatment. Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan assumed presidential responsibilities in February. On May 5, Yar’Adua died and Jonathan formally became President of Nigeria. The mid-term death of Yar’Adua, a Northern Muslim, upset the balance of power between the Muslim North and Christian South. Under an agreement in the ruling party, power rotates between the North and South at national level every second election. After a debate within the ruling People’s Democratic Party, governors from the Northern states agreed that Jonathan, a Southern Christian, could run in the next election. Elections were postponed from January 2011 to April 2011, approved by the National Assembly. Violence and political unrest in the Niger Delta region continued to be a major concern for the government. Yar’Adua’s illness stalled the amnesty program, and militants warned of new violence, staging protests in Abuja. In July, Jonathan restarted the rehabilitation and reintegration program.
2009 In May, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) declared an all-out war on the government. The group advised oil companies to evacuate staff before the start of what it called a civil war. The militants vowed not to stop their campaign until all oil production in the Niger Delta ceased. Also in May, the government launched a campaign to target militant strongholds in the region. Various human-rights groups reported that the campaign caused high civilian fatalities and large-scale displacement. The government offered amnesty to militants willing to lay down their weapons. In July, MEND leader Henry Okah accepted the amnesty offer. Delays and lack of resources meant that some former militants would not enter rehabilitation for six months after disarmament. Militants continued to target gas facilities, including attacks on major pipelines that forced power stations to temporarily shut down. A month after the amnesty offer, a new rebel group, the Urhobo Revolutionary Army, appeared in the Delta region. This group swore allegiance to MEND. The Nigerian government confessed to extrajudicial killings in its dealing with the Boko Haram group, and sent a formal apology to the United Nations. In November, MEND declared a ceasefire. Formal talks began between the militant group and President Umaru Yar’Adua began soon after. But Yar’Adua’s poor health, continued corruption among the bureaucracy and division among the rebel factions left little hope the talks would yield results.
2008 Many appeals of municipal, state and federal election results were held in 2008, in addition to trials for suspected corruption within the government. President Umaru Yar’Adua’s election result was upheld in December 2008. The oil-rich area of Bakassi Peninsula was transferred to Cameroon in accordance with an International Justice Tribunal ruling. The transfer resulted in 60,000 Nigerians requesting transfer to other areas of Nigeria. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) refused to engage in peace talks without Henry Okah, a key rebel leader who was arrested and given a secret trial in 2007.
2007 In the lead-up to the May elections, opposition demands to delay the vote were rejected by the government. In response, 18 opposition parties urged Nigerians to boycott the election. The election of President Umaru Yar’Adua marked the first civilian transfer to power in the history of Nigeria. But the election was marred by reports of widespread vote-rigging. The government engaged in preliminary talks with 25 armed groups, but analysts did not expect the talks to yield any tangible results. The widespread discontent among the Ijaw people, who said their rights were not being respected, increased support for armed opposition groups. Facing accusations of political corruption and abuse of power, Yar’Adua launched an investigation into the links between government officials in the Niger Delta and violent criminal gangs. After the election, assassination attempts were made on the President and Vice-President.
2006 Political tensions increased between President Olsegun Obasanjo and his deputy, Atiku Abubakar when Abubakar refused to support the extension of Obasanjo’s presidency for a third term. The internal conflict slowed down government functions and undermined confidence in the government and in the electoral process. Funsho Williams of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and leading candidate for governor of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous state, was found slain in his bedroom. All the major Nigerian political parties were fielding candidates from the predominantly Muslim North, rousing sectarian sensitivities in the Christian South were minorities perceive a history of domination by Northern rulers. Two journalists were charged with sedition after publishing reports critical of Obasanjo’s government. Massive unemployment continued to be a problem, as large numbers of unemployed and disillusioned youth were being recruited into the ranks of rebel factions daily. Kidnappings of foreign oil workers in the Delta region was becoming commonplace as rebel groups attempted to bargain for the release of their members from custody.
2005 A national conference on constitutional reforms meant to ease ethnic and religious tensions broke down in July without an agreement. In August, President Olusegun Obasanjo publicly confirmed that Nigerian police were guilty of systemic human-rights abuses and promised reforms. Late in the year, the Nigerian government arrested the leaders of several militia and separatist groups, charging them with treason and subversion. Negotiation between leaders of the Ogoni and the Shell continued.
2004 Militia groups in Nigeria’s oil-rich South announced they would not disarm, despite pledging to do so as part of a peace deal with the government. But when the government offered money for arms, militia members began to turn in guns. In response to more violence in the Plateau State, the National Assembly gave the President of Nigeria sweeping emergency powers. After an upsurge in violence in the River State, the Governor fired his entire cabinet. More than 20,000 people were displaced by the fighting this year, bringing the total number of displaced people since 1999 to well over 800,000. In March, the ruling party performed strongly in local elections.
2003 In April, President Olusegun Obasanjo of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was re-elected amid allegations of fraud, despite the presence of international election observers. Opposition leaders refused to accept the results of the election. The primary opposition party to the mainly Christian PDP was the Muslim-dominated All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), heightening animosity between the Christian and Muslim populations.
2002 In the face of intensified ethnic and religious violence, the Obasanjo government continued to employ extreme measures to respond to social unrest and violence. According to a report by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), government security forces were responsible for more than 10,000 civilian deaths. In addition to executing extrajudicial killings of alleged criminals, the report said, the state and its security agencies instigated and exacerbated communal conflicts and failed to react to warning signs of violence. Allegations of unfair voting registration procedures ahead of the 2003 elections fuelled political tensions.
2001 A Human Rights Watch report criticized the Nigerian government for failing to prevent the violence that swept through the city of Jos, killing more than 1,000 people.
2000 Early in the year, President Olusegun Obasanjo implemented an anti-corruption program, dismissing senior officers to pave the path for reform. But renewed violence in the North sparked calls for Nigeria to split into a looser confederation of ethnic regions. By the beginning of October, eight states adopted sharia law.
1999 Ending 15 years of military rule, Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in as Nigeria’s first civilian President in May after multiparty elections. Despite repeated promises, the Nigerian government has done little to end the communal fighting in the country. A peace agreement signed by Ijaw and Ilaje groups in August was ineffective in discouraging armed clashes between the two groups in the Southwestern state of Ondo.
Approximately 120 million people in more than 200 ethnic groups live in Nigeria.
Since at least 1990, military governments in Nigeria have tried to stifle increasing complaints that oil production in the Niger Delta does not benefit local communities. For more than 10 years, the government has repressed ethnic groups in the Niger Delta who are demanding political autonomy and compensation for environmental damage caused by oil companies. These demands intensified after 1995, when Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni activists were executed by Nigeria’s military regime for opposing oil extraction. In other areas of the Niger Delta, inter-ethnic fighting over land ownership has occurred between the Ijaw and Ilaje.
Elsewhere, tensions between the Hausa and Yoruba, Nigeria’s two largest ethnic groups, escalated into armed fighting in a number of regions of the country, but have been concentrated in Northern and Southwestern Nigeria. Northern Nigeria is primarily Muslim and dominated by the Hausa; the Yoruba make up the majority in the Christian South. Yoruba have traditionally accused Hausa governments of neglect while Hausa believe that Yoruba monopolize business and economic affairs. Tension intensified in 1993 after the cancellation of presidential elections by military rulers was seen by the Yoruba as a grave injustice by the Northern power elite. Yoruba groups have advocated secession, while other groups living in the Southwest region have demanded decentralization of political power. Reports suggest that the election of President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba, in 1999, shifted the balance of power to the Southwest from the North, which had controlled the country since 1960.
Ethnic and regional tensions often overlap with religious differences, making it difficult to differentiate between ethnic or regional conflict and religious conflict. Recent religious clashes in the North stem from Christian opposition to Muslim appeals for the adoption of the Islamic sharia law by some states where both Christians and Muslims live. Sharia law now exists in 11 Nigerian states. Economic inequalities and resource scarcities are also cited as causes of violence, as are the heavy-handed tactics of the government’s security forces. Moreover, media reports have accused politicians of fuelling ethnic, religious or communal tensions for political gain. Sectarian violence has been increasing in recent years, as violent clashed between Muslim and Christian communities in the Plateau region resulted in more than 500 deaths in 2008 and close to 1,000 in 2010.
Known recent suppliers of military equipment to Nigeria include Russia, China, Poland and Italy, which supplied four light helicopters in 2004. In March 2003, the U.S. suspension of military aid to Nigeria was attributed to human-rights concerns about Nigeria’s military forces. However, some analysts suggested it was the result of Nigeria’s opposition to the U.S.-led war on Iraq. Even so, the Nigerian navy was able to acquire, through a security co-operation program, a third warship from the United States to monitor the Niger Delta in an attempt to decrease the theft of crude oil from pipelines.
The various conflicting tribal and ethnic groups in the Niger Delta area are allegedly armed by the criminal organizations involved in the illicit trade in stolen crude oil. Many militia groups also obtain arms by either bribing police forces or attacking and raiding police stations, stealing arms and ammunition.
During 1999, the United States and members of the European Union, previously the major arms suppliers to Nigeria, lifted the military sanctions imposed after the government execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others. Russia has also provided military equipment to Nigeria. In the Niger Delta, oil multinationals are accused of importing small arms and using armed soldiers. In addition, Nigeria has a domestic capacity to manufacture small arms. Other arms are smuggled into the country illegally from neighbouring countries such as Benin, Ghana, Togo, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
In 2005, Nigeria reportedly spent an estimated $845-million (U.S.) on arms, acquiring 12 combat aircraft from China and increasing protection for foreign workers in the Niger Delta. Four countries in Africa—Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa—account for more than 62 per cent of all military spending on the continent.
Small arms have also emerged as a serious problem, with rebel factions easily obtaining them from suppliers such as China. In 2007, the United States announced the initiation of a U.S.-led joint training and equipment program aimed at assisting Nigeria’s military to counter the growing violence against oil facilities and their workers. The United States Defense Department also proposed a regional maritime awareness capabilities program for the Nigerian navy worth $16-million (U.S.). In 2008, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered Nigeria assistance in training their forces to deal with militants in the Niger Delta, prompting increased violence from MEND and other militia forces in the area. In 2009, Members of MEND agreed to hand over almost 8,000 arms under the government’s amnesty offer. However, the handover was conditional on the government’s willingness to buy back the weapons, as well as making financial provisions for the militants and delivering a percentage of oil-revenue. Some militant leaders have claimed abuse and corruption in the program, with third parties collecting arms from militants in order to build up their own armouries in preparation for the 2011 elections.
[Sources: Human Rights Watch World Report 2000; SIPRI Yearbooks 2002-2006, Voice of America News, March 21, 2003; IRIN, September 5, 29, 2003; US State Department 2007, IRIN, July 24, 2007]
The impact of multinational oil operations in the Niger Delta region is at the centre of community protest and conflict. The communities feel marginalized and impoverished and face environmental devastation after decades of oil production in the region. Some analysts argue that much of the sectarian violence in Nigeria is a result of economic inequalities and resource scarcity, not ideological or communal differences.
The oil industry has become increasingly involved in the Nigerian conflict as its facilities have been targeted by various groups as a means to attract the government’s attention to their grievances. In 2004, militia groups demanding a greater share of oil revenues threatened “all-out war” and increased attacks on oil installations.
In addition, land has become a source of conflict, especially between pastoralists and farming communities, as increasing desertification has led to a shortage of arable land. In 2005, Nigeria signed a multimillion-dollar agreement with PetroChina, which is looking to increase its offshore holdings in the country and which has also emerged as a significant player in the Nigerian arms trade. Despite this new deal, analysts are reportedly still worried that at least $1-billion (U.S.) in oil revenues are continuously diverted by corrupt officials annually. In 2006, the federal government lost approximately $4.4-billion (U.S.) in oil revenue due to disruptions in production. The government depends on oil for 95 per cent of its export earnings and 80 per cent of total government revenues.
Armed local gangs and militant groups have increased their attacks on oil production by breaking into oil pipelines and siphoning off hundreds of barrels of oil at a time into waiting oil tankers or small fishing vessels. The oil is sold to offshore oil tankers bound for Asia, Europe, Russia and occasionally the United States. The shipping captains are increasingly paying the militants with arms and ammunition instead of money.
In 2008, the government continued to lose billions of dollars in revenue due to disruptions in production. With an estimated loss of approximately $100-million (U.S.) dollars a day due to the stolen-oil black market, foreign investment interest waned in 2008, causing problems for the Nigerian economy. Some political observers estimate that militant attacks on oil pipelines have cut Nigeria’s output by one-fifth, pushing world oil prices to record highs. An economic shift away from agriculture in the North and towards the oil industry in the South has led to the marginalization of the predominantly Muslim areas.
Decades of oil spills from transnational oil corporations, destruction of pipelines, and gas flares has resulted in heavy pollution in the Niger Delta region. In August 2011, the United Nations reported that the Ogoniland region will require $1-billion spread over 30 years to restore the area, making it the world’s largest oil cleanup.
map: CIA Factbook