Last Updated: Friday, 19 September 2014, 13:55 GMT

State of the World's Minorities 2007 - Nigeria

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 4 March 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2007 - Nigeria, 4 March 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48a971253c.html [accessed 21 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In the course of 2006, Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, strained under its complicated federal system, the political manipulation of ethnicity, and unrest over resource sharing.

The Igbo (Ibo), Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba peoples make up around 65 per cent of Nigeria's population, but there are over 250 ethnic groups. During the colonial era, Britain gave preferred educational opportunities to the largely Christian populations of the south, with northern Muslims relying to a great extent on Koranic education. Beginning in colonial times, there have been varying attempts to manage or exploit Nigeria's ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity through various forms of federalism. Since 1996, the country has been divided into 36 states and 774 Local Government Areas.

Beginning with the country's 1979 Constitution, the concept of 'indigeneity' has been perpetuated in the current 1999 Constitution. This system categorizes all Nigerians as indigenes or non-indigenes (also labelled 'settlers') to a region based on where their parents or grandparents were born. The mechanism's intent was to ensure ethnic parity in education and employment, as well as to protect traditional cultures. But in 2006 Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group separately reported that the principle has instead systematically marginalized millions of Nigerians and encouraged ethno-linguistic identity politics that have fanned the flames of inter-communal violence, even where the roots of many conflicts lie elsewhere or pre-date policies of indigeneity. The mere definition of which groups are indigenous to a region creates many controversies; disputed historical migration patterns and intermarriage often make clear delineations impossible. The policy has become a tool for indigenes across the country to exclude competing 'settlers' from scarce educational and employment opportunities, even if these are life-long residents of the community. Not surprisingly, this has led to fierce resentment among the excluded.

For example, in diverse Plateau State, indigeneity has been used by Christian politicians to maintain dominance through exclusion of Muslim Hausa and Fulani 'settlers'. The Jarawa ethnic group is also classified as 'non-indigene', although it also fails to qualify for indigenous status anywhere in Nigeria. Between 1999 and 2004 in Plateau State, intercommunal fighting arising from disputes over indigeneity, land and religion resulted in 250,000 internally displaced persons. April 2006 fighting between members of the Pan and Gomai ethnic groups over issues of indigeneity resulted in over 100 killed and 8,000 displaced persons.

In the wake of the September 2005 publication of Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, in February 2006 Muslim mobs attacked minority Christians in northern Nigeria, killing 16 and burning 11 churches. The government deployed soldiers and riot police to contain the violence.

Niger Delta

Oil from the Niger Delta has made Nigeria the world's twelfth largest oil producer and accounts for 95 per cent of its foreign currency revenue. Despite high world oil prices, such minority groups of the Niger Delta as the Ijaw and Ogoni remain mired in poverty, lacking in education and jobs, and suffering from oil companies' pollution of their air and water. Nigeria's 1999 Constitution gives the central government ownership of the country's natural resources. Most of the derivative percentage passed back to state and local accounts is stolen by corrupt officials. Tensions have mounted, with ethnic resistance groups in the Delta increasingly turning to violent means. Militants launched a series of attacks on oil installations in January and February 2006. In April, President Olusegun Obasanjo proposed a 'Marshall Plan' for the Delta, but only with involvement of corrupt local officials and exclusion of many civil society organizations that enjoy credibility in the region. Following further attacks, in August 2006 Obasanjo ordered a crackdown on militants while still pursuing negotiations. The abduction of oil workers in October 2006 pointed to continuing radicalization among minority populations of the Delta, and an ongoing need to address the causes of their anger.

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