Nigeria returned to a democratically elected government in 1999, but outbreaks of politically motivated religious and ethnic violence continue to occur intermittently. Serious violence erupted in 1999 and again in 2000, killing some 2,000 or more people and forcing tens of thousands of Nigerians to flee their homes at least temporarily.
In addition to its own violence, Nigeria hosted nearly 10,000 refugees from other African countries at the start of 2001.
Recent Political/Military/Human Rights Developments
Tensions over ethnicity, religion, and land continued to mount during the first half of 2001, triggering new communal violence in central and northern Nigeria that killed at least 100-200 people, and perhaps many more. The violence occurred in Nigeria's prime agricultural land. Local police struggled to restore order.
Four additional states imposed the Muslim religion's sharia law, adding to tensions and resulting in some violence. Eleven of Nigeria's 36 states have imposed sharia law during the past two years.
New Uprooted People
Ethnic and religious conflicts erupted in late June and July, displacing 60,000 to 100,000 people. Reports estimated that 50,000 residents fled from their homes in central Nigeria's Nasarawa State.
Violence also struck the central states of Taraba and Bauchi, where some 20,000 fled in each state. Religious violence also occurred in Kaduna State in late June.
In Nasarawa State, ethnic Tiv Christians fled their homes because of conflict with the local majority population of Hausa-speaking ethnic Azara Muslims. Many displaced residents of Nasarawa State fled to neighboring Benue State, which has a Tiv majority. Many others raced to Benue State where they sought shelter with friends and relatives or settled into four new camps. Thousands congregated for shelter at two primary schools. Other displaced Tiv families fled to two camps in Plateau State. Many displaced people in central Nigeria refused to return to their homes despite assurances from local governments that the violence had ended.
In southern of Nigeria, an estimated 1,000 people were displaced by conflicts between two ethnic groups over claims to oil-rich lands.
In June, a Swedish ship carrying 186 Liberian asylum seekers docked in Nigeria after being denied entry in Ghana, Togo, and Benin. The asylum seekers settled at Oru camp in southwestern Nigeria.
The massive population displacements in June and July seriously strained local resources in central Nigeria. Few international relief organizations were operating in the country. State government officials worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Nigerian Red Cross, and Medicines Sans Frontiers to aid the displaced population. Some 22,000 displaced persons received blankets, soap, buckets, and sleeping mats as of late July.
Camps in Benue State were overcrowded. ICRC warned that uprooted families faced a "serous shortage" of food. Concern grew over epidemic outbreaks of meningitis and the measles. The imposition of sharia law in northern states, and rejection of western medicine in some cases, led to significant reductions in immunizations