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The Violent Road: Drivers of Armed Violence in Nigeria

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Drivers of armed violence

There are numerous drivers of armed violence in Nigeria – some that are drivers of violence everywhere, some particular to the Nigerian experience.

Poverty, under-development and uneven growth
In spite of Nigeria’s vast resource wealth, the majority of Nigerians live in absolute poverty. Even state-level rates of poverty, however, obscure important differences between elites and the rest of the population. Wealth levels in urban areas, and the resource-rich South East and South South, mask pockets of deprivation.

The relationship between poverty and armed violence is not simple: the North West is the worst performing region across a range of indicators of wealth and well-being, yet it has far less violence than other regions. However, significant inequality of wealth is often a reliable predictor of conflict, and southern Nigeria has some of the greatest imbalances in wealth – and greatest levels of violence – in the country.

Weak governance, lack of transparency, and limited trust in institutions
Corruption and unaccountable governance are central to Nigeria’s problems with armed violence. The levels and extent of armed violence in Nigeria originate from both political action and inaction. Political sponsorship of militant groups, for instance, is relatively common and well-documented in many parts of the country.

Meanwhile, the limited production and sharing of data makes it difficult for multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder efforts to address armed violence or to evaluate the government’s efforts to reduce it. Many Nigerians have lost confidence in the state’s ability to protect them from criminality and violence. This has led to communities, markets, businesses, and individuals taking responsibility for their own security through community watch groups, security companies, high walls and barbed wire, or personal arms, opening up a Pandora’s Box of vigilantism and paramilitary activity from which it can be difficult to return.

Politicised groups
Nigeria has a heterogenous population, but diversity itself does not automatically lead to high levels of armed violence. Rather, tensions can be managed through responsive, inclusive and broad-based political, social and economic institutions which bind diverse groups together instead of drive them apart.

In Nigeria, it is rather the failure of government and society to sufficiently develop these institutions, the deliberate politicisation of groups drawn on ethnic or religious lines, and the overlap between these groups and deep socio-economic inequalities that combine to foment armed violence.