Rethinking Nigeria’s Indigene-Settler Conflicts
Many of Nigeria’s worst conflicts pit the recognized original inhabitants, or indigenes, of a particular place against supposedly later settlers. These conflicts may be growing deadlier and more numerous with time.
State and local governments have free rein to pick who is an indigene. Abuse of the label can foster deep socioeconomic inequalities, given that indigenes enjoy preferential access to land, schools, development spending, and public jobs. These inequalities feed into violence, although righting inequality may not be sufficient to end violence in every case.
The indigene-settler distinction is also explosive because it reinforces and is reinforced by other identity-based divides in Nigeria. These differences in ethnicity, language, religion, and culture can be longstanding and deeply felt, but how they factor into violence is again not well understood.
Poor law enforcement responses also help entrench violence between indigenes and settlers. Official complicity and indifference make prosecutions rare. Destructive conduct by the Nigerian security forces itself often becomes a structural cause of violence.
Serious thought about how to prevent or resolve indigene-settler violence has barely started in Nigeria. Addressing inequality between indigenes and settlers calls for serious, microlevel analysis of local economic dysfunctions and opportunities, along with real official commitment to make and enforce better policies.
More holistic understandings of justice are also needed. The worst hot spots will need a wide menu of well-planned interventions. Options include securitization, criminal prosecution, mediation and dialogue, truth commissions, victim compensation programs, public health and trauma assistance, public institutional reforms, education, and communications work. In some cases, building sustainable peace could take a generation or more
About the Report
Many of Nigeria’s deadliest conflicts pit the recognized original inhabitants, or indigenes, of a particular place against supposedly later settlers. Despite the heavy social, economic, and political tolls these conflicts inflict, serious thinking around how to prevent and resolve them has barely started. This report critically examines the existing assumptions, research, and policy regarding indigene-settler violence, with a view to assessing the current state of thinking and suggesting options for intervention.
About the Authors
Aaron Sayne is the principal of 104 Consulting. He advises governments on energy, security, and economic governance issues, foremost in Nigeria.