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The Violent Road: Nigeria’s North Central

Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau

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The North Central region has witnessed sharp spikes in violence surrounding elections and other critical junctures. The federal government has in recent years declared states of emergency in parts of the North Central region in response to high levels of armed violence there. For instance, in January of 2012, a state of emergency was declared in several local government areas in Plateau and Niger states.104 Most states in the North Central region were won by current president Goodluck Jonathan in the 2011 general elections. Niger was won by the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, President Jonathan’s strongest rival.105

Across a range of poverty measures, the North Central region performs relatively well: the region (including FCT) has an infant mortality rate of 77 (compared to a national average of 87),106 while it also has a mid-range level of respondents reporting no educational attainment whatsoever.107 This regional figure masks significant variation across the zone, however: Demographic and Health Survey data includes the FCT within North Central, which owing to its status as an economic and political hub, drives up many of these average figures. There is a marked disparity in state-specific data, with over 60% of respondents reporting no educational attainment whatsoever in Niger, for example, compared to 34% in Benue.108

Demographics and geography
The population of the North Central region (excluding FCT) is estimated at 22 million.109 The region’s population is predominantly Christian, with sizeable Muslim minorities.110 The region is extremely ethnically diverse, with significant concentrations of members of the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group, who make up approximately 29% of the national population, alongside a number of smaller ethnic groups in highly diverse areas.111 Conflict in the North Central region is often categorized as religious violence, but regional identities, ethnicity, ‘indigeneity’ and ‘settlement,’ access to land and livelihoods all overlap with religious identities to produce a volatile conflict profile. These tensions are exacerbated through institutional and legal frame works that have historically entrenched community and ethnic divisions as well as the politicisation of inter-group rivalry and fear.112

Armed violence
The North Central region has some of the highest levels of violence involving armed communal groups. Communal militias have been involved in over 40% of incidents of political violence in the North Central region and over 73% of conflict-related fatalities.113 This can be contrasted with national averages in which communal militias were involved in just 17% of all violent events.114 Armed violence in the North Central region is characterised by extreme volatility: relatively low-levels of conflict are interspersed with sudden spikes, usually occurring around critical junctures such as elections.115

In 2001, as many as 1,000 people were killed in the Plateau state capital, Jos, in less than a week in devastating inter-communal tension between ‘indigenes’ and ‘settlers.’ In 2004, an episode of inter-communal violence – primarily Muslims and Christians against one another – claimed as many as 700 lives in Plateau before the military intervened.116 In addition, the region also experiences high rates of violent crime. Nigeria Watch estimates that Plateau State experienced more than 40 deaths by homicide per 100,000 inhabitants between 2006 and 2011: the highest rate in the country.117

Civil society in the North Central: Benue, Kogi, Plateau

A total of 77 stakeholders, including 55 civil society organisations, were mapped in the three states.

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Number of actors mapped

Civil society in North Central has capacities below the national median, except for Plateau. The budgetary and staff capacity of the civil society organisations recorded is the lowest among all zones. However, these figures hide important differences between states – civil society organisations in Plateau have a relatively high median budget of eight million Naira, and nine full-time employees, whereas the organisations in Kogi and Benue work with quite limited resources – roughly one million Naira in both states, and four full-time staff.

Like in the South South and the South East, long-standing conflict coupled with international attention seems to have some implications for NGO capacity; where these factors are common, civil society tends to be better organised and funded.

Civil society in North Central implements a high number of victim assistance projects. The highest absolute number of victim assistance projects was recorded in the North Central zone – 41, or 77% of the projects recorded support victims in one way or another. Like in the South South, the most common types of work are psychosocial assistance and data collection.


Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 02.28.12Benue State

Benue state is located in the North Central region of Nigeria.118 It shares borders with Nasarawa state to the North, Taraba to the East, Cross River, Enugu and Ebonyi to the South, and Kogi to the west. The state’s capital is Makurdi. Benue state was created on 3rd February, 1976, by the administration of General Murtala Muhammed. The predominant languages spoken in the state are Tiv, Idoma, Igede and Etulo. According to the official figures of the 2006 census, Benue state has a population of 4,253,641 people.

Benue state has 23 local governments. The state’s predominant ethnic groups are Tiv, Idoma and Igede.

Benue is largely an agricultural and rural state. About 80% of the population derives its income from agriculture.119 In order to check migration from rural to urban areas, the government has prioritised rural development such as the opening of rural roads and rural electrification projects. One of the state’s major resources (and its namesake) is the River Benue, which both supports the state’s agricultural production and could be a source of tourism revenue in the future.

Overview of armed violence in the state
Incidences of armed violence arise from various factors including boundary conflicts, armed robbery, cultism, political and electoral violence. The state conflicts can be largely divided into two broad categories – interstate conflict and intrastate conflicts.

One of the biggest cases of armed violence in the state happened in 2001, when Nigerian soldiers responded to the purported kidnapping and murder of 19 of their comrades by massacring hundreds of civilians in the town of Zaki Biam.120 In Gwer West, Fulani men have attacked and killed local Tiv people increasingly in recent years.121 These attacks have displaced more than 10,000 people.122

Violence in Benue state includes attacks caused by cultism, armed robbery, assassinations and electoral conflicts. Other types of violence include extrajudicial or accidental killings by the police and armed robberies.

Since the return of Nigerian democracy in 1999, every election has been fraught with violence. Of the last general election, some commentators have written that politicians of various parties, particularly the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), made use of organised violence to support their electoral claims.123 Of particular note was a violent clash between the ACN and PDP in October 2011. Although accounts vary, the violence appeared to start after assailants attacked the home of a traditional leader in the town, killing four members of his family. The ensuing clash between supporters of the two parties resulted in as many as 30 deaths, and 60 houses also were destroyed.124

However, it is not just the general elections that bring crises and violence; local government elections have also resulted in clashes.125 Kwande is also renowned for its several political crises notably those arising from the 27th March, 2003, local government elections (Anza and Adzegeh 2004).

Fighter loyal to militant leader Ateke Tom shows off his weapon in one of their camps in the Niger Delta

A fighter loyal to militant leader Ateke Tom shows off his weapon in one of their camps in the Niger Delta, March 2008 (Reuters/ Austin Ekeinde).

Perpetrators of armed violence
The primary perpetrators of armed violence in Benue include thugs, cultists, armed robbers and in some cases, the police.

In many situations, armed violence does not belong to one particular category or another.

Inter- and intra-communal violence accounts for some of the most serious incidents of armed violence in Benue state. The various boundary disputes between Benue and Taraba, Nasarawa and Ebonyi/Enugu continue to be a source of concern.126 Fulani herders and Tiv farmers continue to clash in Gwer West at intervals. Most of these disputes are usually over matters of property rights.

Political and electoral violence seems to be one of the most common forms of violence in the state owing largely to the fact that most of the revenue in the state originates with the government. The conclusion that is frequently drawn from this state of affairs is that the person who controls political leadership controls the whole state – and its potential profits. This has led to great violence during almost every election.127

Most of the institutions of higher learning in the state host cults of various types. There have been reports of attacks and reprisals that have even led to the closing down of schools.128

Weapons used
While there are no exact figures to show the exact numbers and types of weapons used in particular cases of violence, the most common weapons appear to be handguns and machetes. However, raids by the police have resulted in the collection of other weapons including AK-47 and G3 rifles, Beretta and Browning pistols and various types of ammunition.129

Victims of armed violence

The victims of armed violence in Benue state include students, politicians, farmers and others. Large areas of Benue farmland have been abandoned with consequences for the local area as well as the rest of Nigeria.130 For instance, the most recent Gwer East invasion by the Fulanis left an estimated 16 people dead and several more injured.131 These attacks traumatise the local population and lead to displacement as farmers flee their land for safer territory.132

Institutional responses

Women Environmental Programme (WEP) categorize the responses to armed violence as being either those carried out by the state or those carried out by non-governmental organisations.

State responses include actions by the various security forces in the state, including the police, army and navy. Broadly though, the state response to armed violence includes deployment of security forces to conflict areas for peacekeeping; relief responses, which involve the immediate and short-term provision of relief items to victims of violence; the establishment of commissions and panels of enquiry; government social programmes designed to stop hostilities and embrace peace and tolerance; and the establishment of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) in 2000 to strengthen capacities for the promotion of peace through conflict prevention, management and resolution.

These efforts have been thwarted by various factors – corruption, inefficiency and orientation of the Nigerian police and security personnel are all seen to have severely compromised the ability of the force to fulfill its primary function of maintaining law and order while protecting the lives and properties of the general citizenry. The forces have also been negatively affected by chronic underfunding. Despite all this, the Nigerian Police Force has been one of the most important groups responding to armed violence in the state.133

In some cases, the state police forces have worked with their federal counterparts to address armed conflict. The state also inaugurated a Joint Task Force of the various armed forces (police, army etc.) called Operation Zenda to combat crime.

Traditional and religious leaders have interacted with their communities of focusto curb armed violence more generally. According to WREP, ‘Some traditional leaders belong to the State and Local Government’s Security Council and are called to support state efforts in nipping conflicts in the bud when these occur. The challenge with this response has always been that these leaders themselves are often parties in the conflicts. Thus, in a situation where some of them have lost the respect of the people, their role in the process is minimal.134

Non-Governmental Organisations have also set up various seminars and programmes aimed at enlightening the society on the dangers of armed violence. Finally, there are various vigilante groups all over the state that are set up to counter violence and crime.

Success and challenges
Benue state has seen a large number of recurring violent situations. Both the government and NGOs must engage in more efforts to stem the tide. The police must be better funded and equipped to strengthen their capabilities. Community policing, as used in other parts of Nigeria, would help to make things far better. It has also been speculated that politicians supply youths with weapons during elections, which are not collected afterwards. With the guns in their possession, these unemployed youths then use them to enrich themselves. Better investigations and cooperation between state agencies would help prevent crimes committed with these weapons.


Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 02.28.24Kogi State

Kogi state is in the North Central zone of Nigeria. It is popularly called the ‘Confluence State’ because the confluence of Rivers Niger and Benue is at its capital, Lokoja (the first administrative capital of modern-day Nigeria). Kogi state was created out of the former Kwara and Benue states on August 27, 1991. The state covers the area of the former Kabba Province, previously split between Kwara state and Benue state in the state creation exercise of 1976.135

Kogi state shares borders with Niger and Nasarawa states and the Federal Capital Territory to the north, Benue and Enugu states to the east, and Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Kwara States to the west. The state has 21 Local Government Areas (LGAs).

The total population of Kogi state is 3.8 million people.136 Some LGAs, such as Ajaokuta LGA, have witnessed sharp rates of increase in their population over time, with some reports attributing this to the migration of members of the Ebira (also Igbirra) community from the cocoa-belt in South Western Nigeria with the establishment of large steel and iron ore mining initiatives in Kogi.137

There are eight languages spoken as a first language in Kogi state: Ebira in Kogi, Okene, Adavi and Okehi LGAs; Igala in Ankpa, Idah and Dekina LGAs; Nupe in Kogi LGA and Yoruba in the western LGAs of Kogi state are the major languages. Other minority languages include Kakanda in Kogi LGA; Kupa in Kogi LGA around Abugi; Basa in Bassa and Ankpa LGAs; and Oko-Eni-Osayen in Okene LGA, Ogori and Magongo towns.138

Agriculture is a mainstay of the economy of Kogi: 23.7% of women and 42.2% of men (the largest occupational category for men) are employed in agriculture.139 Farm produce from the state includes coffee, cocoa, palm oil, cashew, groundnut, maize, cassava, yam, rice and melon. Mineral resources include coal, limestone, iron and tin.

Overview of armed violence in the State

Kogi state is one of the most tempestuous and conflict-prone states in Nigeria. Cases of the use of illegal arms in the state are rampant. The fact that the state is bordered by 10 other states and is the main gateway to the north of Nigeria for people from the South makes it a strategic location. The most common type of violence in the state is gang and organised crime, such as muggings, kidnappings, carjackings and armed robberies which continue at high levels in the state.

Political thuggery and organised killings by terrorist elements operating under the name of Boko Haram, the so-called ‘Islamist’ militant group, are also common. Also top on the list are incidences of communal and religious violence. The motivations behind violent acts include political and electoral contestations, religious and ethnic rivalry, and resource-based violence.

Religious violence is a common occurrence in Kogi. In August 2012, gunmen killed at least 19 worshippers at a Christian worship centre near Okene City in the state, prompting the government to impose a curfew and 24-hour surveillance in some parts of the state.140

Among the immediate causes of religious violence in Nigeria, a number of reasons have been cited including: religious intolerance, fundamentalism and extremism; disruptive modes of worship by the two main religions (Christianity and Islam); disparaging preaching and stereotyping; proselytising; government patronage, religious preferentialism and marginalisation; and sensationalism in media reporting.141

The spectacle of terrorism in the state has taken many lives and left many families devastated. In February 2012, armed men from the Boko Haram group used bombs and heavy gunfire to storm a prison in Kotonkarfe LGA in Kogi state. They freed 119 inmates, among them seven of their members.142

This attack was followed by several successful attacks by the same Boko Haram group as well as raids by the Joint Security Taskforce (JTF) deployed by govern- ment to restore law and order. Other acts of armed violence include indiscriminate attacks on security agents in the state. Between 2010 and 2012, at least 16 policemen were killed in the Okene area.143

Criminal violence is extremely common in Kogi. Although exact figures are not available, an analysis of media reports in the last two years shows that over 50 persons might have lost their lives in armed robberies. In December 2011, robbers killed 15 people in Okene, Kogi state, in a wave of violent robberies of four banks.144

Perpetrators of armed violence

Significant numbers of violent acts in Kogi state are perpetrated by thugs recruited by politicians to rig or influence elections. They range from illiterates to highly educated youths who are nonetheless jobless. In addition to this is armed robbery. Recently, religious extremists have also perpetrated armed violence in the state.

Weapons used in the carrying out of armed robbery, political assassinations and thuggery include machetes, axes, cutlasses, knives and clubs and locally made guns. However, recently, groups have escalated to the use of rocket launchers, guns and improvised explosive devices to bring down their targets. Besides other unknown sources, bandits also raid police stations in search of weapons and ammunition. Such was the case at the Kabba/Bunu LGA Police station which was raided by attackers using suspected grenades, razing the building.

The attackers carted away arms and ammunition from the armoury and killed two policemen.145

According to Kogi State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Mohammed Musa Katsina, there are no fewer than 1,000 illegally acquired AK-47 riffles in private hands in Okene, the headquarters of the Central Senatorial District of the state.146

Victims of armed violence

Victims of armed violence who survive suffer loss of property, psychological, and non-lethal physical harm. They also suffer economically and financially as businesses, shops, markets and even commercial motorcyclists close operations during attacks and following the imposition of curfews. Individuals who travel through the state, particularly the areas under curfew, suffer from limitations on their freedom to travel.


A woman cries after a bomb placed in a market in Nigeria causes the deaths of dozens of civilians (Pan-African News Wire).

Institutional response

The government has responded to armed violence in Kogi at both national and state levels. The Federal Government has set up a Joint Task Force (JTF) made up of members of the Nigerian police, the army, air force and State Security Services (SSS), with a mandate to keep the peace. At the state levels, the government has responded with a series of actions.

It has mobilised traditional rulers, religious and political institutions to interface and intervene with their subjects, faith members and followers. While the current government at the state level has received commendation from leading civil society figures in the state for not institutionalising thuggery, Chief Security Officers (CSOs) critique the government for failing to institute a Peace Committee which in their view could play a vital role in healing wounds of political and religious rivalries.

In an interview, Centre for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Executive Director Idris Milik said that, generally, local civil society organisations are not doing much to address armed violence. Virtually none of the local CSOs has a strategic plan or programme on armed violence. They therefore respond to situations as they emerge. Responses include undertaking assessment and issuing statements to media for reportage. However, in 2007 the Centre for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution mobilised the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and the Civil Liberties Organisation to undertake site visits to scenes of electoral violence in Ogimina area. The resulting report was forwarded to the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee and became a subject of Senate investigation.

As a follow up, some civil society organisations (such as the Centre of Human Rights and Conflict resolution, the Kogi state branch of Campaign for Democracy, Journalists for Development Initiative and the Kogi state chapter of the Civil Liberty Organisation) partnered with Kogi LGA to implement an amnesty programme. This offers money and employment for warring youths who return weapons and renounce violence. To date, the programme reports 68 people have thus far submitted their guns and received appointments from government. Some critics of the amnesty programme for youths and others who renounce violence contend that the amount (Niara 4,000) offered is too small to attract beneficiaries.

Groups such as Network on Police Reform and CLEEN Foundation have had some programmes in the state in collaboration with local groups. However, they do not maintain offices and physical presence in the state.


Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 02.28.36Plateau State

Plateau, in the North Central geopolitical zone, was created in 1967 by the Murtala Muhammed Regime. The state covers 26,899 km2 and shares state bound- aries with Bauchi (north), Taraba (east), Nasarawa (south) and Kaduna (west). The population is highly heterogeneous, with more than 40 ethno-linguistic groups in a population of more than 3.2 million. No ethnic group is large enough to claim a majority.147

The state capital, Jos, is rich in minerals, such as tin and columbite, and has attracted migrants from all over Nigeria to work in the mines and related service industries.148 Farmers grow a variety of crops on the fertile agricultural land. The climate is near-temperate, with abundant water and pasture and an absence of disease, which attracted Fulani livestock herders to the area.149 It is also attractive to Nigerian and foreign tourists and retirees.

Although statewide estimates indicate that the Christian population is a significant majority, figures for the city of Jos, with a population of more than 1 million, indicate that the urban area is much more evenly split between Christians and Muslims.150

Overview of armed violence in the state

Levels of violence
Plateau is among the most conflict-affected states in Nigeria. The Nigeria Security Tracker recorded 1,016 violence-related deaths in Plateau between May 2011 and August 2013, and the Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset recorded 312 separate incidents of armed political violence in the state between 1997 and August 2013.151

Armed violence in Plateau is characterised by extreme volatility: relatively low levels of conflict are interspersed with sudden and devastating spikes in violence, usually occurring around critical junctures such as elections. Hundreds of people have been killed in short-lived, sporadic episodes of inter-group violence, revenge killings and raiding.152

Plateau has experienced very serious inter-communal conflict since 2000. Violence in Jos in September 2001 had serious repercussions beyond the city. Guerrilla warfare in the Wase-Langtang area continues to cause many deaths and displace pastoral communities. The Gamai claim that this string of attacks and repercussions began when Hausa and Fulani Muslims attacked them with the backing of foreign mercenaries. The Gamai list hundreds of people killed, injured, displaced, or abducted during the conflict. By May 2004, the entire non-Muslim population in Yelwa had been driven from their homes. Other ethnic groups, such as the Taroh, Demak, Kwalla, Mernyang, Ter, and Montol, also claim lives were lost and property destroyed.

A family gathers around the grave where three murdered family members were buried together in Jos in Nigeria's Plateau state

A family gathers around the grave in Jos, where three murdered family members were buried together, December 2011 (Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde).

The Berom believe that the sophistication of their attackers’ arms prove politicians or others supported Fulani attacks. Furthermore, they claimed that some attackers wore uniforms, which led them to conclude that security forces were also complicit.

Since 2001, growing mutual suspicion has led to serious religious cleavages. Religiously motivated operations, such as protecting or destroying places of worship, became common. Non-Muslim indigenous youth leaders interviewed felt that, after massacres
of Christians in 2002 and 2004, the Muslim enclave of Yelwa had become a threat to the stability and peace of the entire southern region. They perceived Islamic influence to be expanding with every renewed bout of fighting and accused the Fulani of hiring mercenaries from Chad, Niger, Cameroon and other neighbouring countries.

Just as elites have politicised and manipulated religious tensions, minority groups have exploited religion to engage in farming and cattle-rustling disputes.

Nigeria Watch estimated a rate of 40 deaths by homicide per 100,000 inhabitants in 2006-11, the highest in the country.153

These have included deprivation of the right to worship; abduction of women; summary execution and rape.

Main underlying causes
Conflict in Plateau is often reduced to Christian/ Muslim violence, but issues of regional identities, ethnicity, ‘indigeneity’ and ‘settlement,’ access to land and livelihoods all overlap with religious identities to produce a volatile and explosive conflict profile.

Inter-group violence in Plateau concerns the largely Christian farmers, who see themselves as indigenous to the area, and the predominantly Muslim population of traders and pastoralists with origins in northern Nigeria.154 Under changes to the law in the 1990s, many Muslims and members of ethnic groups who are dominant in the North were denied eligibility for indigenous status. This led to federal intervention, which only stoked fears about access to indigenous legal status and resources.

The real drivers of inter-group armed violence are, therefore, the institutional framework by which indigenous status is granted to groups and its failure to institute inclusive broad-based citizenship; discriminatory access to resources, political power and opportunities; and the politicisation and manipulation of these fears by elites.155

In September 2001, tensions exploded in Jos and around 1,000 people were killed in just six days.156 What had originally been an ethnic and political conflict turned into a religious one, because the two sides exploited religion to mobilise large-scale support. The violence spread across the state; Human Rights Watch estimates that between 2,000 and 3,000 people were killed between September 2001 and May 2004.157

Perpetrators of armed violence

Government action (and at times, inaction) has sometimes exacerbated this cycle of violence. Despite heavy police and military deployments, security forces have failed to defuse mounting tensions. During inter- communal violence in 2004, as many as 700 people were killed before the military intervened.158 In the southern zone, some believe that security forces have accepted bribes to allow attackers in.

Inaction may partly be the result of the failure to unify federal and state responses to crises,159 but it may also indicate a lack of political will to quell violence. Sometimes, elites have deliberately politicised ethnic, religious and regional identities to gain support and mobilise supporters. Politicians, traditional and religious leaders, drug lords, and organised crime syndicates have supplied or paid for arms.

As public trust in state security and police has deteriorated, people have increasingly put their trust in local militias, vigilantes and defence groups, and thereby fed the violence with the militarisation of non-state armed actors.160

Nearly all groups in conflict-affected areas have formed armed militias or defence groups trained by members with previous military experience. Not all can afford small arms and must rely instead on traditional weapons such as machetes and bows. Larger groups, such as the Hausa, Fulani, Taroh, and Gamai,161 however, have access to different categories of military-type assault weapons.

Weapons used
Weapons used include locally made pistols; dane guns; rifles; single- and double-barrelled shotguns; AK-47 and G3 assault rifles; sub-machine guns;162 SLRs; light machine guns; locally made bombs and traditional weapons such as swords, machetes and bows and arrows.163

Some weapons originate from internal and crossborder trafficking; mercenaries and fighters have brought in others from the neighbouring states of Nasarawa, Bauchi, and Taraba, usually on hire. Non-Muslim armed groups apparently purchase most of their weapons from the southeast, whereas Muslim groups look to Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Corrupt security personnel have sometimes hired out their weapons for short periods of time and former personnel have donated large numbers of weapons.

Victims of armed violence

More than half (52%) of incidents of political violence have targeted civilians (this includes some very high level individuals such as the recent death of a Senator); violence against non-combatants has caused approximately 48% of conflict-related deaths in the state.164 A study based on hospital data revealed that 16 per cent of the victims of fighting in and around Jos during 2001-02 were aged 3-19 years old, and more than a quarter were women.165

Institutional response

Although attempts to investigate episodes of violence are to be encouraged there are issues. So many inquiries have been established in Plateau, and yet so little action has been taken as a result of these inquiries, that the inquiry process has been largely discredited and politicised. This has led to institutionalised impunity, with few perpetrators brought to

account for the consequences of their actions. During a state peace conference in 2004 members of the affected communities acknowledged the need to disarm, but cautioned that it would create an opening for attacks by mercenaries from outside Plateau. They called on the federal government to initiate a nationwide arms recovery programme, target neighbouring states and stop armed attackers from entering Plateau.166

A roadblock burns after the bombing of a church in Nigeria

A roadblock burns after a bombing at St. Finbarr’s Catholic Church in the Rayfield suburb of Jos, March 2012 (Reuters).

Plateau State: view from the ground

A visit to Jos, capital of the North Central Nigerian state of Plateau, is, at first, reassuring. While armed security personnel still patrol the streets, they are fewer in number than at the height of the crisis a few years ago. But such is the nature of Plateau’s conflict: periods of calm punctuated with bursts of concentrated violence.

Checkpoints and arms trafficking
Our researchers found checkpoints along most major roads leading into and out of the state capital and many nearby towns and villages. These checkpoints are usually operated by 5-10 uniformed personnel armed with AK-47 rifles as well as plainclothes security operatives. One told us: “We look at the faces of passengers and observe their body language when their vehicles are stopped. We single out some passengers for questioning based on professional [experience].”

Our researchers observed some vehicles with government registration number plates pass unchecked, particularly those with tinted glass. A soldier told our researchers that these vehicles are allowed through because they are “big men” who take offense if delayed.

We were told that remote village communities often had their own security arrangements, believing the government fails to protect communities against criminals and vigilantes. This has had consequences. An anonymous security consultant told us that arms proliferation in the state is “unbelievable”, and that indigenes have begun arming themselves. “People… were used to just crying out for help when attacked,” he said. “Now they’ve realised the need to defend themselves against aggressors.”

An anonymous village chief confirmed this: “Our boys take turns…to keep guard. We got them some weapons because some of the attackers who come are well armed. You don’t expect someone with a stick to [fight] people with gun[s].”

According to these villagers, official security personnel are mainly in urban areas so unable to protect vulnerable communities not easily accessible by vehicles.

We were told some communities contribute money for village armaments or, in extreme cases, the employment of mercenaries. Kinsmen in the military or police are sometimes brought in to help acquire weapons or act as vigilantes. We were told repeatedly of stockpiles of arms and ammunition in many towns and villages across the state. In the Riyom region, our researcher witnessed vigilantes first hand. Some carried antique guns, others clubs and knives; a few had more modern rifles. Community leaders in these outlying regions said they feel they are not offered government help and that vigilante security remains their only option to defend their territory.

One of the non-indigenous groups our researchers encountered in outlying regions were migratory Fulani herdsmen. Social workers working in Fulani communi- ties told us there is ongoing violence between the Fulani and indigenes. Despite the fact the Fulani have lived for over a century in these territories, they are still seen as settlers by indigenes. Our researcher was told the Fulani, armed with assault rifles, traditional knives and machetes, sometimes raid villages at dawn. There is a rumour the Muslim Fulani are supported by ‘external powers’ in attacking the mostly Christian Berom villagers (a belief underpinned by the sophisticated weapons used). Some Fulani attackers also wear military attire, leading to the belief security forces are supporting the Fulani. The military’s spokesman in Plateau, Lt. K. Amos, reacting to an attack where men dressed in military camouflage slaughtered a family of 10, said no soldiers were involved: “Somehow, criminals gained access to our old uniforms … but I can assure that none of our people were involved.”


The general narrative in Plateau is that there is a “return-to-peace”, but this is often not borne out by the situation on the ground. Many believe that this narrative is pushed forward by the media, not so much by direct collusion as by a withholding of information on the part of the security forces.

According to some villagers, killings in remote communities often go unreported; some that are reported never make it out of the files of the state security service. Five journalists told us they had very limited information on levels of violence in the state, and that there is little they can do to report on the violence without endangering their own lives. Some claim to have come under threat from communities that deemed their work ‘unfavourable reporting’. What’s more, most of the areas under attack are too remote or dangerous for journalists to travel to. So journalists are left with little more than phone interviews or security press releases. And telephone service is limited or nonexistent in many of the remote areas.

“I cannot risk my life to visit some of these communities being attacked,” said a journalist who wished to remain anonymous. “Even soldiers are afraid to go there so how would you expect an ordinary journalist who has no [weapons] to go and verify claims? That can never be possible.”

Government response

Representatives of the government told us that they are committed to making Plateau safe over the long-term. According to Alhassan Barde, Executive Secretary of the Plateau State Emergency Management Agency: “Governor Jonah Jang is aware of the crisis which has affected thousands of persons in the state and that is why he has always taken significant steps to enhance an effective and timely response to the needs of internally displaced persons.”

But perhaps most telling is the response of victims to their own situation. Many victims do not go to court to seek justice or compensation. They would rather concentrate on rebuilding and fending for themselves, hoping not to be attacked again. No military or security commanders would speak to our researchers.


Overviews of armed violence per geopolitical region:

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104  BBC News, Boko Haram attacks prompt Nigeria state of emergency, 1 January 2012,
105  Nigeria Elections Coalition, Nigeria Presidential Elections – 2011,
106  National Population Commission, Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2008, November 2009, p. 121.
107  National Population Commission, Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2008, November 2009, pp. 15, 16
108  National Bureau of Statistics, Harmonized Nigeria Living Standard Survey 2009/10: Core Welfare Indicators, 2010, p. 10.
109  National Bureau of Statistics, Social Statistics in Nigeri Part III: Health, Employment, Public Safety, Population and Vital Registration, 2012, p. 71.
110  Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa, April 2010, p. ii.
111  Chris Kwaja, Nigeria’s Pernicious Drivers of Ethno-Religious Conflict, Africa Security Brief No. 14, July 2011, p. 3, citing Ulrich Lamm.
112  International Crisis Group, Curbing Violence in Nigeria (I) The Jos Crisis, Africa Report No. 196, 17 December 2012; Chris Kwaja, ‘Nigeria’s Pernicious Drivers of Ethno-Religious Conflict,’ Africa Security Brief, No. 14, July 2011.113  Armed Conflict Location & Event Dataset (ACLED),, violent conflict events (excluding non-violent actors: civilians and non-violent protesters) from January 1999 – June 2013.
114  Armed Conflict Location & Event Dataset (ACLED),, violent conflict events (excluding non-violent actors: civilians and non-violent protesters) from January 1999 – June 2013.
115  Chris Kwaja, ‘Nigeria’s Pernicious Drivers of Ethno-Religious Conflict,’ Africa Security Brief, No. 14, July 2011, p. 5; Human Rights Watch, Revenge in the Name of Religion: The Cycle of Violence in Plateau and Kano States, May 2005.
116  Human Rights Watch, Revenge in the Name of Religion: The Cycle of Violence in Plateau and Kano States, May 2005.
117  Nigeria Watch, Third Report on Violence in Nigeria (2006-2011), June 2011, p. 13.
118  The information in this section is taken from the following sources:
118 Agema, S. V. 2011. How Benue Voted. Newsnow Magazine. 11(4), pp. 20-21.
118 Agema, S. V. 2012. The Zaki-Biam Crisis: Writing and Confabs – How much have we done? Unpublished Paper at Symposium on Zaki Biam. Makurdi: Benue State University. 118 Akwaya, C. 2009. ‘View Point’ Radio Interview with Charles Iornumbe. Makurdi: Radio Benue.
118 Benue State Government (n.d). 2012. [Online]. [Accessed: 12 September 2012]. Available from:
118 Ginifer, J and Ismail, O. 2005. Armed Violence and Poverty in Nigeria: Mini case study for the Armed Violence and Poverty Initiative. [Online]. [Accessed: 12 September 2012]. Available from: publications/AVPI/poverty/AVPI_Nigeria.pdf
118 Hazen, J. M. and Horner, J. 2007. Small Arms, Armed Vio- lence and Insecurity in Nigeria: The Niger-Delta Perspective. [Online]. [Accessed: 12 September 2012]. Available from:
118 Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). 2012. Nigeria: Increasing Violence continues to cause internal displacement. [Online]. [Accessed: 12 September 2012]. Available from: 118 Isaacs, D. 2001. The Death of a Nigerian Village. [Online].
[Accessed: 12 September 2012]. Available from: correspondent/1634356.stm
118 Kajo, T. 2011. Day Benue Cement Company went up in flames. [Online]. [Accessed: 12 September 2012]. Available from:
118 Kpera, A. 2010. ‘View Point’ Radio Interview with Charles Iornumbe. Makurdi: Radio Benue.
118 Nathaniel, P. O .2012. Cult clash claims varsity students in Benue. [Online]. [Accessed: 12 September 2012]. Available from: 11140-cult-clash-claims-3-varsity-students-in-benue
118 National Population Council. 2006. Population and Housing Census Priority Tables Vol 4: Population Distribution by Age and Sex (State and Local Government area). [Online]. [Accessed: 12 September 2012]. Available from: Priority%20table%20Vol%204.pdf
118 Tsav, A (n.d).2012. ‘View Point’ Radio interview with Charles Iornumbe. Makurdi: Radio Benue.
118 UNDP. 2012. Terms of reference. [Online]. [Accessed: 12 September 2012]. Available from: AGRICULTURAL-POLICY.doc
118 United States Department of State (USDS). 2012. 2011 Human Rights Report. [Online]. [Accessed: 12 September 2012]. Available from:
118 Women Environmental Programme. 2009. Conflict in the Middlebelt Region of Nigeria: Engendering Peace in Agila Community. Abuja: WEP
119 Benue State official website, accessed from on 22 November 2013.
120 Isaacs, 2001; BBC 2012; IDMC, 2012; Iduh 2011; Ginifer and Ismail 2005
121 Reuters 2012
122 Hazen and Horner (2007), Channels, 2012; African Herald Express, 11th March 2012; NRC, 7th May 2012
123 Ogala (2011) talks about pre-election violence.
124 USDS 2012
125 Daily Trust 2012; Ogala 2011
126 Kpera, 2010
127 Agema 2012; Gemade 2011
128 ASP Philip Agena is quoted in one of the recent ones that claimed three lives in Nathaniel (2012) 129 Duru 2012
130 Ginifer and Ismail, 2005
131 Channels 2012
132 Agema 2012; Hazen and Horner 2007; Isaacs 2001 133 Of note, there has been a recent crackdown on various violent perpetrators particularly cultists (Buru, 2012; Today’s Nigeria, 2012).
134 WREP 2011: 5-6
135 Middle Belt Forum, ‘Kogi state: Background Information,’
136 National Bureau of Statistics, Social Statistics in Nigeria 2012 Part III: Health, Employment, Public Safety, Population and Vital Registration, p. 71.
137 Professor K.O. Ologe, Middle Belt Forum, ’Kogi state: People, Population and Rural-Urban Settlement,’ content/article/9-uncategorised/79-kogi.
138 Dr. Uwe Seibert, University of Jos, ‘Languages of Kogi. state,’ April 2000, 139 National Population Commission, Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2008, November 2009, pp. 342, 343. 140 Business Day, ‘Kogi Declare Curfew amidst Violence,’ 8 August 2012
141  Isaac Terwase Sampson, 2012, ‘Religious Violence in Nigeria: Causal Diagnoses and Strategic Recommendations to the State and Religious Communities,’ African Journal on Conflict Resolution Vol. 12, No. 1, January 2012, pp. 103 – 124.
142  The Moment, ‘Boko Haram Frees Kogi Prison Inmates,’ 15 February 2012.

143  Blueprint Newspaper, ‘Okene: Between Political Thuggery and Terrorism,’ 24 August 2012.
144  The Moment, ‘Fifteen Killed in Okene Bank Robberies, while Attack in Kaduna Left Five Dead,’ 21 December 2011.
145  This Day Live, ‘Bandits Storm Kogi Police Station, Kill Two Cops, Attack Bank,’ 20 November 2011.
146  This Day Live, ‘Kogi CP: More than 1000 AK 47 in Okene,’ 25 August 2012.
147  Major groups include the: Birom (Berom); Angas; Mwan- gahvul; Taroh; Goemai (Gamai); Tal; Fier; Afizere (Jarawa); Miango; Youm; Bogghom; Rukuba; Piapung; Kwalla; Montol; Jukun; Challa; Ron; Kulere; Pyem; Miship; Mupun; and Buji.
148  Plotnicov, 1967; Freund, 1981
149  Some of these ‘settlers’ have lived in the region for more than 50 years.
150  Chris Kwaja, ‘Nigeria’s Pernicious Drivers of Ethno-Religious Conflict,’ Africa Security Brief, No. 14, July 2011, p. 4.
151  Council on Foreign Relations Nigeria Security Tracker: Mapping Violence in Nigeria, ‘Map: Deaths by State,’ p29483?cid=otr-marketing_usenigeria_security_tracker; Armed Conflict Location & Event Dataset,

152  Chris Kwaja, ‘Nigeria’s Pernicious Drivers of Ethno-Religious Conflict,’ Africa Security Brief, No. 14, July 2011, p. 5; Human Rights Watch, Revenge in the Name of Religion: The Cycle of Violence in Plateau and Kano States, May 2005.
153  Nigeria Watch, Third Report on Violence in Nigeria (2006- 2011), June 2011, p. 13.
154  Chris Kwaja, ‘Nigeria’s Pernicious Drivers of Ethno-Religious Conflict,’ Africa Security Brief, No. 14, July 2011.
155  International Crisis Group, Curbing Violence in Nigeria (I): The Jos Crisis, Africa Report No. 196, 17 December 2012; Chris Kwaja, ‘Nigeria’s Pernicious Drivers of Ethno-Religious Conflict,’ Africa Security Brief, No. 14, July 2011.
156  Human Rights Watch, Revenge in the Name of Religion: The Cycle of Violence in Plateau and Kano States, May 2005.
157  Human Rights Watch (May 2005) Revenge in the Name of Religion: The Cycle of Violence in Plateau and Kano States (Vol. 17), No. 8 (A) p. 6
158  Human Rights Watch, Revenge in the Name of Religion: The Cycle of Violence in Plateau and Kano States, May 2005.
159  Chris Kwaja, ‘Nigeria’s Pernicious Drivers of Ethno-Religious Conflict,’ Africa Security Brief, No. 14, July 2011.
160  Chris Kwaja, ‘Nigeria’s Pernicious Drivers of Ethno-Religious Conflict,’ Africa Security Brief, No. 14, July 2011, p. 6.
161  The Fulani and Wase militias are exclusively Muslim, for example, whereas the Taroh and Gamai militias are non-Muslim, composed of Christians and practitioners of African traditional religions.
162  Plateau State Government, 2004a, pp. 59–60
163  Small Arms Survey (May, 2005) Armed and Aimless
Armed Groups, Guns, and Human Security in the Ecowas Region- (pages 34-35) SAS Ecowas intro def 26.4.2005 12:02 … – Small Arms Survey…/ SAS-Armed-Aimless-Part-1-Chapter-01
164  Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset (ACLED),
165  Uba et al., 2003
166  Plateau State Government, 2004b, p. 92

This report is a draft and may be subject to change.