Since 2001, violence has erupted in Jos city, capital of Plateau state, in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region. The ostensible dispute is over the “rights” of the indigene Berom/Anaguta/Afizere (BAA) group and the rival claims of the Hausa-Fulani settlers to land, power and resources. Indigene-settler conflicts are not new to Nigeria, but the country is currently experiencing widespread intercommunal strife, which particularly affects the Middle Belt. The Jos crisis is the result of failure to amend the constitution to privilege broad-based citizenship over exclusive indigene status and ensure that residency rather than indigeneity determines citizens’ rights. Constitutional change is an important step to defuse indigene-settler rivalries that continue to undermine security. It must be accompanied by immediate steps to identify and prosecute perpetrators of violence, in Jos and other parts of the country. Elites at local, state and federal level must also consistently implement policies aimed at reducing the dangerous link between ethnic belonging and access to resources, power and security if intercommunal violence is to end.
The indigene principle, or indigeneity (that is, local origin), means that some groups control power and resources in states or local government areas (LGAs) while others – who have migrated for different reasons – are excluded. This gives rise both to grievances and fierce political competition, which too often lead to violence. Indigeneity was given constitutional force at independence in 1960 to protect the ethnic minorities from being submerged by the larger Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba groups and preserve their cultural and political identity and traditional institutions of governance. Religion is a pertinent, albeit secondary factor, which reinforces underlying tension and, over the years, has assumed greater importance, especially since the return of democracy in May 1999. Fierce and unregulated political competition characterised by ethnic mobilisation and violence, coupled with poor governance, economic deregulation and rampant corruption, have severely exacerbated ethnic, religious and regional fault lines. The notion of national citizenship appears to have been abrogated by both ethnicity and ancestry.