At year's end, Nigeria hosted about 5,000 refugees, including more than 2,000 from Liberia, 1,000 from Sierra Leone, and 2,000 from other countries such as Niger, Chad, and Sudan.

Approximately 1,000 Nigerians were refugees or asylum seekers at year's end, including more than 700 in Benin. At least 3,000 Nigerians were internally displaced.

Political background

The death in June of Nigeria's head of state, military strongman General Sani Abacha, opened the way for a transition to democratic civilian rule. In December, the country held elections to state assemblies, the first in a series of votes prior to presidential elections in February 1999.

Human rights abuses by state security forces diminished significantly during the second half of the year. Tensions surrounding the control of government and natural resources, however, continued to erupt into violence, forcing Nigerians from their homes.

Uprooted Nigerians

Violent clashes occurred in Nigeria's southern oil-rich states, where local ethnic groups claimed the government was indifferent to their economic and social development and was exploiting their land's natural resources, degrading it in the process.

Ethnic Ogoni from eastern Nigeria's Rivers State continued to advocate autonomy for their home area and maintained that the government systematically attempted to deprive them of their land and its oil reserves. In 1996, confrontation between Ogoni and government security forces reportedly displaced 30,000 Ogoni people and prompted small-scale refugee flight to Benin. Tensions continued in 1998. Nigeria's transitional government released Ogoni political prisoners in September.

Other ethnic minorities in the Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, and Akwa Ibom States echoed the Ogoni complaints of environmental degradation and grew increasingly vocal. Inter-ethnic conflict and violent clashes with government security forces intensified in those areas during the year.

The most violent clashes in 1998 involved members of the Ijaw ethnic group, the country's fourth largest, centered in the oil-producing Niger Delta. In August, a dispute over the relocation of local government headquarters and traditional land rights erupted into violence between ethnic Ijaw and ethnic Ilaje – a clan of the Yoruba group that dominates southwestern Nigeria. Several hundred people died, and thousands of Ilaje people fled their traditional territory.

By early October, the Nigerian Red Cross reported housing more than 3,000 people in an impromptu camp for the displaced outside Epe, 70 km (45 miles) east of the capital, Lagos.

Refugees from Liberia

Nigeria hosted about 2,000 Liberian refugees at year's end. Many lived in Oru, in Osun State, in southwest Nigeria. Most arrived during Liberia's civil war, which ended in 1996.

Approximately 1,000 Liberians repatriated with UNHCR assistance in July. They received transportation, household items, a one-month food ration, and a small cash allowance.


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