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A look at Bala Usman’s analysis of communal conflicts in Nigeria (1)

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By Eric Teniola

IN view of recent tribal clashes, it is necessary and important to take a look at a paper presented by Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman(1945-2005) of the Department of History, Ahmadu Bello University.

He made the presentation at the Presidential Retreat on Peace and Conflict Resolution in Some Central states of Nigeria, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Jos, 24th-26th, 2002. Till he died on September 24, 2005, Dr. Usman was the founder of Centre for Democratic Development, Research and Training at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

“The most primary of the fabrics binding all human communities, throughout the world, from the earliest Stone Age hunting and gathering bands, up to today, has been the provision, on a sustained basis, of the security of life, and of the means of life, to the members of that community. But, even from that very ancient period of human development, one of the most difficult political problems that human communities and polities have faced, is that of establishing on a feasible, and operationable, basis who is a member of the community and who is not. For this defines where the boundaries of the community and the polity begin and end, and who comes within that community and who is outside it and constitutes an actual or, a potential threat to the security and safety of its members.

But, also one of the most permanent features of human development has been that these boundaries have to keep changing and, generally, expanding in order to incorporate others, who do not have the same ancestry, but who move in due to all sorts of factors and constitute a dynamic factor in improving the cultural, technological, economic and even political levels of the community. Human progress at all levels, even at the level of genetic development, is inseparable from immigration and the inter-mixing of different groups to  form new groups. But, this process always challenges the existing order and generates tension, stresses, which can be used to set off violent conflicts. These are lessons of history we have to face in Nigeria, as others are facing them in all countries of the world.

The communal conflicts in Nigeria which, since the 1980s, have become more frequent, more widespread and more violently destructive of life and property, are indications of failures to tackle and peacefully resolve the current manifestations of this age-old problem of the relationships between public safety, identity, the boundaries of the community, the basis of citizenship rights and social, economic and political progress. Since 1980, some of the well-known incidents of violent communal conflicts in the country were:1. The Kasuwar Magani conflict, Kaduna State, in 1980, 2. The Maitatsine Uprising, Kano City, in December, 1980; 3. The Ife-Modakeke conflicts, in April, 1981; 4. The Maitasine Uprisings of Kano, Kaduna and Maiduguri, in October 1982; 5.

The Maitatsine Uprising, Yola, February, 1984; 6. The Matitasine Uprising, Gombe, April, 1985: 7. The conflicts in Numan and neighbouring areas of Adamawa State, in 1986-88; 8. The conflicts in Kafanchan, Kaduna, Zaria and other parts of Kaduna State, in March 1987; 9. The conflicts at Wukari, Takum and other parts of Taraba and Benue states, in 1990-1992; 1999-2002; 10. the conflict in Tafawa Balewa and other parts of Bauchi State, in 1991, and 2000-2001; l1. the conflict in Zangon Kataf and other parts of Kaduna State, in February and May, 1992; 12. the conflicts in Obi and Toto LGAs and neighbouring areas of Nasarawa State, in 1995-1999; 13. the conflict in the Andoni and Ogoni areas of Rivers State, in 1993-94;, 14.

The conflict in Karim Lamido LGA. Taraba State, in 1996-1997; 15. The conflict in the Ogoni and Okrika areas of Rivers State in 1994-1996; 16. The conflicts in Nembe and Kalabari areas of Bayelsa State, in 1996-1999;17. The conflict in the Bassambiri and Ogbolomabiri areas of Bayelsa State, in the 1990s; 18. The conflict in the Okpoma Brass areas of Bayelsa State in the 1990s; 19. The conflict in the Sangama, Soku and Oluasiri areas of Rivers and Bayelsa States in 1993-2001; 20. The conflict in the Burutu LGA, of Delta State in 2000-2001; 21. The conflicts in Warri and its environs, 1997-2002; 22. The conflicts in the Okitipupa area of Ondo State in 1998-2000; 23. The conflict in Mushin, Ajegunle, Ketu and Agege and other parts of Lagos State, 1999-2000; 24. The conflicts in Kano State in 1999-2000; 25.

The conflicts in the Kaduna Metropolis, in 2000; 26. The conflicts in the Jos Metropolis and environs, in 2001-2002; 27. The conflict in the Quan-Pan LGA of Plateau State, and the Azara District of Awe LGA of Nasarawa State, in 2001; 28. The conflicts in Awe LGA and other areas of Nasarawa State in 2001- 2002; 29. The conflict in Ife and Modakeke areas of Osun State, in 2000-2001. 30. The conflict on the Mambila Plateau in 2001-2002; 31. The conflict in Gombe State in September, 2000; 32. The conflict in Shagamu and other parts of Ogun State in 1999-2000; 33. The conflict in Aguleri and Umuleri areas of Anambra State in 2000;  34. The conflict in Gwantu, Kaduna, in 2001.

There were of course many other cases of violent communal conflicts which did not get prominent treatment in the media, or, by the government and opinion leaders and politicians. The violent clashes between Fulani and other nomads and Hausa and other peasant farmers in the Sahelian states of Kebbi, Sokoto, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Yobe, Borno, Bauchi, Gombe, and in the other central Nigerian states, hardly receive much attention in the media and by the state governments and at the Federal Government level. They are not only, almost annual events but, the destruction of lives, livestock and property involved, is significant. But, since these violent communal conflicts between farmers and nomads, occur entirely in the rural areas, the governments do not seem to feel threatened by them and accord them low priority, as they generally do with the whole of rural Nigeria.

As  for most of the media, a report of a conflict between Hausas and Fulanis, even when their reporters, ensconced in the urban centres, learn about this, it is not attractive for coverage. It exposes as questionable, the dominant dichotomies of conflict they insist on  imposing on the general domestic and foreign perceptions of  Nigeria politics, which are, that it is ,  has always been, a matter of rivalry. North versus the South; Christians versus Muslims: Hausa-Fulani versus Middle Belt minorities; and Hausa-Fulani versus the rest.

Therefore, over this and other types of conflicts, government, pronouncements and media reports do not give an adequate picture of the extent of violent communal conflicts  in  the  rural areas of Nigeria, particularly where they do  not involve the disruption of oil production, or, oil pipelines. Some indications of the extent of the reporting of these conflicts  may be  obtained from State Security Service and Nigeria Police returns from their local government offices.

But, it is not clear how much of this is systematically assessed and compiled, to build a broad picture for the each LGA, each State, and for the whole country, to make possible a comprehensive and sustained nation-wide analysis of the pattern, nature, causes, courses, and consequences, of all incidents of violent communal conflicts.

The empirical data required to study the contemporary manifestation of these communal conflicts and from these, dig into their historical roots is, largely, not available. Even the few tribunals and commissions of inquiry established to investigate these conflicts produce reports, which sometimes lead to white papers, which hardly go beyond the desks of top government officials and some editors of media houses.

What is being attempted in this paper, therefore, is, on the basis of a general impression of these conflicts place them in a historical perspective. This is not going to, however, be history at the micro, or, the ground, level, dealing with who first settled where, but, history at the meta, or, the broader level of conceptualisation. This meeting is a Presidential Retreat, where the broad parameters of the problem should be addressed and where wrangling over details of historical events should be left to other levels of the exercise of attempting to tackle and solve the problem. This presentation largely examines some of the existing perspectives which dominate the Nigerian public and government’s view of the causes of these violent communal conflicts, particularly those which are not normally addressed in current public discourse on the problem.

Irrational Forces

One of the widespread attitudes towards these violent communal conflicts, especially in the immediate  aftermath of the bloodshed and other devastations, is that these are just the  result of madness by those involved. It is often said, that the brutal killings of non-combatant human beings, particularly children and women, by burning them alive and cutting  them up with knives and cutlasses, and gunning them down as they run away, and the destruction of vehicles, buildings, livestock, crops and all physical assets, which take place in these conflicts, are the outcome of some irrational forces unleashed, which defy logic, or, any sensible mode of explanation of human behaviour.

The perpetrators of this violence, on both sides, and even the actual planners, do not appear to gain anything tangible beyond the satisfaction of eliminating an “enemy”. But, in many instances,  this elimination has also involved the destruction of some of the key human and material assets on which the economy of the community, no  matter how  inequitable, rests. The dispossession, exclusion and alienation which marked the situation of many of the perpetrators of this violence are not brought to end by this orgy of destruction. The wisdom in the old adage of, everybody should be his, or, her neighbour’s keeper, comes back to haunt the perpetrators.

Having eliminated their neighbours, they often find that it becomes  much more difficult to keep their body and soul together. For, where families have lived as  neighbours for years, even if not for generations, the elimination of the rnembers of one family by members of the other, in these violence communal conflicts, leaves  wound in the psyche of those involved which are in most cases not obvious, but are often said to be mentally and emotionally far-reaching.?


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