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  Armed Conflicts Report

Nigeria (1990 - first combat deaths) 
Update: January 2006

Type of Conflict
Parties to the Conflict
Status of the Fighting
Number of Deaths
Political Developments
Arms Sources
Economic Factors


2005 Religious, inter-ethnic, separatist, state and gang violence continued in 2005 although at an intensity lower than 2004. A national conference on constitutional reforms addressing religious and ethnic tensions collapsed without agreement.

2004 Inter-communal clashes, clashes with government security forces and attacks on oil facilities continued in 2004, claiming the lives of over 1,200 people. Most violence occurred between Muslim and Christian militias in and around Kano and between oil militias and government security forces in and near Port Harcourt. Piracy also became a problem with Nigerian waters now ranked among the most dangerous in the world. A new government report estimated the number of people killed by violence in Nigeria as over 50,000 since 1999. Tens of thousands of people were displaced by this year’s violence bringing the total of displaced persons since 1999 to over 800,000.

2003 Inter-communal violence and clashes with government security forces claimed the lives of hundreds of Nigerians throughout the year. April’s presidential election was also a source of dissatisfaction and violence.

2002 Ethnically, religiously, and politically motivated violence claimed the lives of hundreds of Nigerians, most of them civilians, throughout 2002. Political violence intensified in response to elections scheduled for the beginning of 2003 and religious violence over the controversial “Miss World” pageant claimed over 200 lives.

2001 Religious and communal fighting targeting civilians continued in several Nigerian states through the year. Deaths from Christian-Muslim and ethnic clashes and from attacks by government troops likely exceeded 2,000.

2000 In February violence broke out between Muslims and Christians in the northern city of Kaduna, spreading to neighbouring towns and eastern cities following a march to protest the proposed introduction of Islamic law in the state of Kunda. In May, there were renewed hostilities between the two religious groups after other northern states announced their intentions to implement Sharia. There were some reports of continued fighting between ethnic groups in other regions of Nigeria. An estimated 2,000 (mostly civilian) people were killed, mainly due to clashes in Northern and South-eastern Nigeria.

1999 Regional, ethnic and religious fighting continued in several regions of Nigeria in 1999, claiming over 1,000 lives. Conflict flared not only between ethnic groups, but also between ethnic groups and the state, especially in the oil-producing region of the Niger Delta. Clashes were also reported between Muslims and Christians in northern states, killing at least 100 people. The government deployed troops to troubled areas around the country in an attempt to control the violence.

Type of Conflict:

Failed state.

Parties to the Conflict:

1) The government’s security forces, under President Olusegun Obasanjo, continued to be heavily involved in the conflict. It is alleged that these forces, often with the consent of the Nigerian Government, have used excessive force in performing their duties.

"The international rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday accused the Nigerian government of condoning the killing of innocent civilians by the security forces during religious riots in the northern city of Kaduna last November. ... The report said for unknown reasons the security forces did not intervene immediately when the violence erupted. But when eventually they were deployed, policemen and soldiers contributed to the high death toll by indiscriminately shooting at people who did not pose any obvious threats to them or other people." [IRIN, July 22, 2003]

"At least 10 people were shot dead in Nigeria’s biggest city of Lagos on Monday, as police battled angry mobs rioting in the streets." [IRIN, July 7, 2003]

"Nigerian soldiers and police have killed thousands of people and tortured others in the three years since civilian rule was installed, Amnesty International said in a new report issued Thursday. The killings are either ignored by the government or are committed with ‘outright complicity’ from officials, the report said." [Associated Press, December 19, 2002]

"Meanwhile the police and the security services, who are working with the oil companies to clamp down on the youth groups, fear that the unrest will continue to grow." [Guardian Weekly, 23-29 September 1999]

2) Various ethnic groups are involved in conflicts with one another and/or with the Nigerian government particularly in the Niger Delta area were several groups, in particular the Ijaws, are fighting for self-determination and/or a greater share of the regions oil resources. While there are numerous ethnic groups who engage in sporadic fighting and hundreds of ethnic-based armed groups, only the largest and/or most significant in terms of scale and intensity of fighting are listed below.

a) Ijaws and Itsekiris in the Niger Delta;
b) Ilajes and Ijaws in the southwest;
c) Yorubas and Ijaws in the southwest;
d) Yorubas and Hausas in the southwest and north;
e) Tivs and Jukuns, Fulani and Kutebs in central Nigeria;
f) Fulani and Berom in the Riyomo district, south-west of Jos.

Armed groups include:

a) The Ijaws-based Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities (FNDIC), the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force, (NDPVF) led by Mujahid Dokubo-Asari and fighting primarily for a greater share of oil wealth, the Egbesu Boys of Africa (EBA) and the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF).
b) The Yorubas-based O’odua People’s Congress.
c) Igbos in south-east Nigeria are represented in part by the unarmed Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).
d) There are numerous small militias of other ethnic groups active on a local level.

"The rebel Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force in Nigeria is fighting for autonomy in the country's oil-rich Niger Delta and has threatened an ‘all-out war’ from Friday." [Reuters, September 29, 2004]

3) Fighting between religious groups:

a) Muslims and Christians in the north. The conflict between these groups was extremely intense in 2002. Muslim-based armed groups include the Arewa People’s Congress (APC), Hisbah Groups (Islamic vigilante groups that enforce adherence to Sharia), the Zamfara State Vigilante Service (ZSVS), and Al-Sunna Wal Jamma (also known as the Taleban). There are numerous small Christian militias. While some of the armed groups are clearly motivated by religion, often religion is used as a cover for disputes over land and cattle that have traditionally occurred between farming communities (who are mostly Christian or practice indigenous African religions) and cattle herders (who are mostly Muslims.) This is especially true in Plateau state where the most violent episodes of religious violence has occurred.

b) Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities in the northern state of Sokoto.

"Minority ethnic groups have exploited the religious component of these conflicts in order to further engage in farming and cattle rustling disputes in this mainly agrarian state. While both Christians (who are mainly farmers) and Muslims (primarily cattle herders) have pointed to identification cards recovered during combat as proof that their adversaries are religiously motivated, its true role is insignificant except for the fact that the various ethnic groups involved just happen to belong to one or the other. The Fulani and Wase militias are exclusively Muslim, for example, while the Taroh and Gamai militias are non-Muslim—and are made up of Christians and practitioners of African traditional religions (ATR)." [Nicolas Florquin and Eric G. Berman (eds.) Armed and Aimless: Armed Groups, Guns, and Human Security in the ECOWAS Region, Small Arms Survey, May 2005]

"Traditionally Sunni Islam has held sway in Nigeria, but in recent years more militant Shi'ite groups have attracted support." [, June 6, 2005]

4) Hundreds of armed gangs, known as “cults” also contribute to violence in Nigeria. Cults may be involved in a number of activities such as organized crime especially the theft of oil, vigilante actions/community self-defence, ethnic and/or religious violence and party politics (hired by local politicians to help influence political outcomes). They are usually made up of a small number of poor youths who view the gangs as one of the few opportunities for economic gain and protection. The largest among them include the Bakassi Boys in south-eastern Nigeria and the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV) active in Rivers state.

"The oil-producing Niger delta of southeastern Nigeria has been plagued by powerful armed gangs for several years. Some of them have been set up to fight for the interests of rival ethnic groups and several make money from crime, particularly the theft and smuggling of crude oil and kidnapping for ransom." [, June 21, 2005]

[source on major armed groups and cults: Nicolas Florquin and Eric G. Berman (eds.) Armed and Aimless: Armed Groups, Guns, and Human Security in the ECOWAS Region, Small Arms Survey, May 2005]

Status of Fighting:

2005 Sporadic violence continued throughout Nigeria. Sunni and Shiite Muslims clashed in the north-western town of Sokoto while Christian – Muslim violence in northern Nigeria decreased significantly from last year. Major inter-ethnic clashes over land were reported in central-eastern Adamawa state. Violence by ethnic militias, gangs, local police and the Nigerian army continued in the Niger Delta mainly linked to access to land and oil wealth and to demands for self-determination.

"A secessionist protest left at least 12 people dead after violence erupted on the second of a two-day stay-home strike in southeast Nigeria, according to residents and witnesses. The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) called for schools, businesses and offices to shut down on Monday and Tuesday in the ethnic Igbo-dominated areas of the southeast to back a demand for secession and protest the detention of their leader, Ralph Uwazurike, who is on trial for treason." [Reuters, December 7, 2005]

"In an oil-rich part of Nigeria, there’s a town in ruins. Some residents were killed this year, and others made homeless, in a dispute over an oilfield…The trouble in Odioma started when Shell paid a neighbouring area for the right to drill on property that both Odioma and its neighbour claimed." [NPR, August 25, 2005]

"Five people were killed last week when an armed militia group launched a midnight attack on the main prison in the southeastern oil town of Port Harcourt to free several of its members awaiting trial for murder, a police spokesman said. Police spokesman Emmanuel Ighodalo said 176 prisoners escaped from the jail on Friday night as about 100 members of the Outlaws, a local militia group, shot their way into the building." [, June 21, 2005]

"Hundreds of armed riot police have been deployed in Nigeria’s northern city of Sokoto, where Sunni protesters razed a government building in escalating violence with rival Shi’ites that could engulf the mainly Islamic region, government officials said on Monday. More than a dozen people have died in Sokoto since February in tit-for-tat violence between the Sunni majority and Shi’ite minority, centred on demands by Shi’ites for access to the city’s biggest mosque to preach their brand of Islam." [, June 6, 2005]

"Dozens of people died in clashes last week between two rival communities in southeastern Nigeria over ownership of prized farmland, residents and officials said Tuesday... John Otu, Ebonyi commissioner for information, confirmed there were many deaths but said he could not give definite figures. He said a longstanding dispute over farming land flared up again last week, with retaliatory attacks culminating in Thursday’s mayhem.The people are farmers and this is the farming season which often brings such conflicts,” Otu told IRIN." [, April 26, 2005]

"More than 200 soldiers in gunboats attacked the remote town of Odioma in the Nembe district of Bayelsa state on Saturday, burning houses and firing at the inhabitants as they fled in confusion, residents said. Nimi Barigha-Amange, a clan chief in the area, said more than 30 bodies had been recovered and that many people were still missing." [, February 24, 2005]

2004 While sporadic fighting continued across the country, most clashes were between Muslims and Christians in the Plateau State (primarily in or near Kano) and between factions in the oil-rich area around Port Harcourt. A Christian militia attack on a Muslim town in May and reprisals killed hundreds of people. Muslim extremist clashes with Nigerian security forces and attacks by insurgents on oil installations in Port Harcourt contributed to the year’s violence. Piracy also became a significant problem and Nigerian waters were ranked as the third most dangerous in the world.

"The sound of sporadic gun battles pitting Nigerian soldiers against an armed Islamic extremist group on Saturday cracked down from mountains overlooking a frightened village on the border with Cameroon. The security forces have for days been tracking the militants in battles which officials said have claimed 28 lives since the self-styled Talibans raided a police station on Monday, killing four officers and stealing ammunition." [Agence France-Presse, September 225, 2004]

'Nigerian waters were the most deadly in the world during the first half of 2004 according to a new piracy report. Analysts blame the proliferation of weapons in the oil-rich Niger Delta region where armed gangs trade stolen crude. The Malaysia-based International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said on Monday that half of the 30 deaths recorded in pirate attacks around the world between 1 January and 30 June occurred in Nigerian territorial waters. In terms of the number of attacks, Nigeria ranked third with 13 attacks, behind Indonesia (50) and the Malacca Straits (20)." [IRIN, July 27, 2004]

2003 While sporadic violence continued throughout the country in 2003, the oil-producing Niger
Delta area of southern Nigeria witnessed the most intense fighting. Clashes between Ijaw and
Itsekiri groups in March and August in the city of Warri, allegedly over the economic benefits from
the exploitation of the region’s oil reserves, resulted in the death of hundreds. The violence had a
severe impact upon the country’s oil production and led to the intervention of security forces.
Violence also marred the presidential elections in mid-April as tribal and political rivals clashed
prior to, and following, the elections.

"Many people in Warri believe the real dispute is about which of the heavily armed groups control the illegal trade in stolen crude oil. Industry analysts estimate that at least 100,000 barrels of oil are diverted from official exports every day - rich pickings for the criminal underworld, using ethnic rivalries as an excuse for gang warfare." [BBC NEWS, August 22, 2003]

"Disputes over the distribution of electoral wards among ethnic groups in and around Warri caused large-scale outbreaks of violence in February and March 2003. Dozens of people were killed and several villages were destroyed." [Human Rights Watch, April 10, 2003]

"President Olusegun Obasanjo said he was working with the police, the army and the navy ‘to calm the situation and get the culprits responsible’ for two weeks of violence that have killed more than 100 people ... Battles between Itsekiri militants and their Ijaw rivals have drawn in the army, and the fighting forced the oil multinationals Chevron Texaco, Royal/Dutch Shell and TotalFinaElf to reduce petroleum production in the region." [Associated Press, March 28, 2003]

"Chevron Texaco has almost completely frozen its Nigeria operations as a result of the fighting, which has left at least 100 people dead and up to two dozen villages damaged or destroyed ... The pullout by Chevron Texaco, Shell and TotalFinaElf has cut Nigeria’s output by 800,000 barrels a day, about 40 percent of the 2 million barrels normally produced." [Associated Press, March 27, 2003]

"The Nigerian Red Cross was struggling to cope with thousands of refugees yesterday as the death toll from weekend clashes between farmers and nomads rose to 110, the agency’s chief said. Fighting erupted on Friday in the northeastern state of Adamawa when nomadic herdsmen from the Fulani ethnic group attacked the farming village of Dumne." [Globe and Mail, March 5, 2003]

2002 Religious and ethnic-based clashes occurred near the central city of Jos, south-eastern Nigeria,
and the Plateau, Nasarawa, Bauchi, Taraba and Benue states. In some cases, conflict led to the mass internal migration of affected communities. Inter-communal tensions were exacerbated by ambitious politicians hoping to gain voter support and politically motivated deaths increased as a result of up-coming elections. The “Miss World” pageant, which was to be held in Kaduna in November, resulted in violence between the Muslim and Christian communities of Northern Nigeria and resulted in over 200 deaths.

"Warning shots rang out in Kaduna overnight as troops enforced a curfew five days after Christian-Muslim riots broke out. The Red Cross said yesterday that the death toll was 215, while civil rights and hospital sources put the figure at 250. Clashes erupted after a local newspaper enraged Muslims by saying the Prophet Mohammed probably would have married one of the contestants in the Miss World pageant." [Reuters, November 26, 2002]

"At least six people have been killed in more ethnic clashes in Nigeria. Fresh ethnic clashes in a village near the central Nigerian city of Jos, where 15 people died in a bout of bloodletting last month, have left six people dead. Police say the latest fighting erupted in the Riyom district, south-west of Jos, between ethnic Fulani herdsmen and ethnic Berom, the dominant tribe in the area, and escalated after a botched peace meeting." [, June18, 2002]

"At least 15 people are reported to have been killed in unrest in south-eastern Nigeria. A political rights group representing the Ogoni people says fighting between two local communities has been ongoing for several days in a dispute that appears to be over access to land ... Even local rights campaigners admit that they have been taken aback by the ferocity of the clashes." [BBC News, May 11, 2002]

"At least 23,000 Fulani herders have fled Nigeria’s eastern Taraba State to Cameroon to escape clashes which broke out in the Mambilla plateau with farming communities at the beginning of the year, a pastoral association said. ... ‘Attacks on Fulani pastoralists who produce 75 percent of the protein needs of the country are becoming incessant, particularly in states like Plateau, Nasarawa, Bauchi, Taraba and Benue states, “ said the statement signed by MACBAN (Miyetti Alla Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria) secretary general, Tukur Abashe. He said the incident in the Mambilla plateau between 1 and 7 January resulted in the death of more than 96 herdsmen and the loss of 53, 791 cattle. Abashe blamed the violence on a Mambilla militia group known as ‘Ashana - no case to answer.’ ... Officials of the Sarduana local government council, however, dispute the account of MACBAN and accuse the Fulani herdsmen of inviting ‘mercenaries’ from neighbouring countries who launched attacks on farming communities of the Mambilla plateau." [IRIN, February 22, 2002]

2001 Religious and communal fighting targeting civilians continued in several Nigerian states through
the year. Clashes occurred between ethnic groups as well as between Christians and Muslims over the introduction of Sharia Law. Government troops also killed over 200 people in retaliation for the deaths of 19 captured soldiers.

"Nigerian Red Cross officials said fighting between Christian Jarawas and Sayawas and Hausa-Fulani Muslims in June and July left more than 400 people dead and more than 22,000 displaced." [IRIN, August 29, 2001]

"More than 100 people were killed and thousands rendered homeless when men dressed in military uniforms attacked villages in Benue State, central Nigeria, local officials said. The assailants destroyed many houses in Vatse, Zaki-Biam, Anyiin and Gbeji settlements, located near Benue’s border with neighbouring Tarabe State." [IRIN, October 21, 2001]

"Several people were killed in clashes in northern Nigeria’s Kaduna State amid tension over the introduction of a new legal system under which Sharia-Islamic Law would co-exist with canon law." [IRIN, November 5, 2001]

2000 On February 21, violence broke out between Muslims and Christians in the northern city of
Kaduna, spreading to neighbouring towns and eastern cities of Aba, Umuahia and Obasanjo, following a march organized by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to protest the proposed introduction of Islamic law in the state of Kunda. The clashes lasted for ten days, while homes and places of worship were burned and over one thousand people killed. In March, fighting also took place between rival communities in Ife, south-western Nigeria over disputed ownership of land. In May, there was a revival of hostilities between the two religious groups (Moslems and Christians), after other northern states announced their intentions to implement Sharia. By mid-October ethnic clashes broke out between a militant Yoruba group and Hausa-Fulanis in Lagos, resulting in up to 100 deaths.

[InterPress Service, 2 March 2000; InterPress Service, 25 February 2000; Defence Weekly, 31 May 2000; IRIN, 17 October 2000]

"President Olusegun Obasanjo on Wednesday pleaded for an end to the ‘worst bloodletting…since the civil war’ after ten days of ethnic violence in which more than 1000 people have died." [Daily Mail and Guardian, 2 March 2000]

"The fighting broke out between residents of two neighbouring towns, the Ife and the Modakeke, over disputed ownership of land…The two towns are in the heartland of the Youba people, one of Nigeria’s three main ethnic groups. The inhabitants are mainly Christians or animists. The two communities have a long-lasting rivalry over land ownership and political supremacy in the area..." [BBC News, 6 March 2000]

1999 Several distinct, although not necessarily unrelated, armed clashes occurred between various groups in different areas of Nigeria in 1999. Intense fighting continued in the Niger Delta region between ethnic groups (especially the Ijaw) and government soldiers and security forces. A state of emergency, declared for a few days at the end of December 1998, lasted into January 1999 after as many as 240 people were killed in clashes between protesting Ijaw youths and government troops in the Niger Delta state of Bayelsa. This and other regions of Nigeria also witnessed inter-ethnic violence during the year, including between the Ijaw and Itsekiri groups, between Ijaw and Ilaje groups in the southwestern state of Ondo, and between Yoruba and Ijaw in the southwest. Fighting in the southwestern and northern regions between Yorubas, who comprise the majority in the southwest, and the Hausa-Fulani who dominate in the north, reportedly claimed over 360 lives. In the north, occasional fighting between Muslims and Christians claimed almost 100 lives while clashes in the east between local farmers and Fulani herdsmen over cattle herding and access to land resulted in about 100 deaths. Control over land also sparked conflict between different Ibo groups in eastern Nigeria. The government tried to manage rising tensions and communal fighting by deploying several hundred soldiers to various regions of the country, although these efforts were generally ineffective in ending the violence. Human Rights Watch reports suggest that government troops were involved in destroying villages and played a role in perpetuating the violence in many regions.

[Sources: Amnesty International, 23 November 1999; AP, 4 January 1999; BBC News, 28 November 1999; The Economist, 19 June 1999 and 31 July 1999; Guardian Weekly, 29 July- August 4, 23-29 September 1999, and January 6-12 2000; Jane’s Defence Weekly, 18 August 1999; Kent Communications, 6 January 1999; Reuters, 19 January 1999]

Number of Deaths:

Total : Although past estimates have placed the number of deaths in Nigerian sectarian fighting since 1999 at about 10,000, a government sponsored report in 2004 estimated the number to be larger than 50,000.

"More than 50,000 people have been killed in communal clashes in one Nigerian state in less than three years, a new government study says. The violence has mostly pitted Christian farmers against Muslim animal herders in the central Plateau state. This figure is far higher than previous estimates of the number killed. It had been estimated that some 10,000 people had been killed in clashes between rival ethnic and religious groups across Nigeria since 1999." [BBC News, October 7, 2004]

2005 At least 350 people were killed, the majority in inter-communal fighting over land and oil resources.

"Nigeria suspects attackers caused new pipeline fires in the volatile Niger Delta, one week after unknown gunmen blew up separate pipelines in the oil-producing region, the state oil company said on Thursday. Several fires broke out on Tuesday along two pipelines in a remote mangrove forest in Delta state, which neighbours Rivers state where last week's attack on two Royal Dutch Shell pipelines killed 11 people and cut output." [Reuters, December 29, 2005]

"More than 50 people were killed in the worst day of the violence last Thursday when fighters armed with machetes and rifles, believed to be from Cross River State, rampaged through a settlement of people across the border in neighbouring Ebonyi State, residents said." [, April 26, 2005]

"At least 30 people have been killed in inter-communal fighting in south-eastern Nigeria, officials say. But local reports quoting community leaders say more than 100 people are feared dead." [BBC News, April 29, 2005]

"Residents in a rural town in the southern Niger Delta said government troops killed at least 30 people and torched houses during a raid carried out as part of investigations into an oil dispute between two local communities." [, February 24, 2005.]

"At least 30 people have been killed in a week of clashes between farming communities and nomadic cattle herdsmen in Adamawa state, near the eastern frontier with Cameroon, local officials and residents said on Tuesday." [, February 8, 2005]

"Nigerian troops on Friday shot and killed four villagers who were protesting at the main export terminal run by ChevronTexaco in the Niger Delta, one of the demonstration’s organizers said." [, February 4, 2005]

2004 Between 1,200 and 2,100 people were killed in 2004. There were many unconfirmed reports of casualties, particularly from sectarian fighting in Kano.

"Fighting in the southern Nigerian city of Port Harcourt has killed up to 500 people over the past month, says Amnesty International." [BBC News, September 16, 2004]

"The death toll of a bloody clash between Christian and Muslim mobs in the northeastern Nigerian state of Adamawa in June has been revised upward to 132, a government spokesman said on Monday." [Reuters, September 13, 2004]

"Rioters killed at least 50 people and burned down three mosques in fresh violence between Christians and Muslims in northern Nigeria, a journalist who visited the local morgue told AFP on Wednesday." [Agence France-Presse, June 9, 2004]

"Nigeria's main body representing Christians claimed Thursday that more than 400 members of its community were killed by Muslim mobs in two days of attacks in the northern city of Kano…The claim was impossible to verify immediately, and Kano's chief of police, Abdul Ganiyu Dawodu, dismissed it…" [Agence France-Presse, May 13, 2004]

"Sectarian tensions were on the rise in central Nigeria on Thursday as a Nigerian Red Cross team confirmed that 630 people had been killed when Christian ethnic militiamen attacked a mainly Muslim town." [Agence France-Presse, May 6, 2004]

2003 Independent media reports indicate that approximately 500 people died in inter-communal
conflicts or in clashes with government security forces throughout the first nine months of the year, with most of the fatalities occurring in the oil-producing region of southern Nigeria.

"The Nigerian Red Cross said on Friday that about 100 people were killed in five days of ethnic violence that rocked the southern oil city of Warri." [IRIN, August 22, 2003]

"At least 30 villagers have been killed by gunshots or hacking in communal fighting in central Nigeria that has cut off entire communities for days, residents said yesterday." [Globe and Mail, March 13, 2003]

2002 Independent media reports indicate that at least 500 people died in religious or ethnic conflict, or
clashes with government security forces in the first nine months of 2002.

"Reports that several people died in clashes this week between the navy and armed militants in southeastern Nigeria have been carried by the media, confirmed by area residents, but denied by a senior military official." [IRIN, January 25, 2002]

"At least 36 Nigerians died in clashes between an ethnic militia group, Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC), and security forces in the southwest on Saturday, police told IRIN on Monday... The deaths came barely a week after an estimated 100 people died in communal clashes in Nasarawa State, central Nigeria, over ownership of a fish pond. Thousands of people were displaced and property destroyed." [IRIN, January 14, 2002]

2001 According to media reports, at least 2,000 people lost their lives. The majority of the deaths
stemmed from clashes between Christians and Muslims, but hundreds also were killed by security forces in communal violence.

"Not fewer than 100 people, including 6 policemen, died in ethnic unrest in the central Nigerian state of Nasarawa." [IRIN, July 18, 2001]

"Ethnic and religious violence spread to other parts of Plateau State in Nigeria as calm returned to the state capital, Jos, after four days of fighting between Christians and Muslims. Some news organizations reported a Red Cross volunteer as saying there were 165 deaths." [IRIN, September 12, 2001]

"Humanitarian sources and residents say up to 200 people were killed in the violence that followed a demonstration by Muslims in Kano to protest US air strikes against Afghanistan." [IRIN, October 17, 2001]

"A fresh outbreak of ethnic violence has erupted in Nigeria’s central region Tabara State, with dozens of people killed and thousands forced to fleet their homes. Reprisal attacks mounted by soldiers in October against several Tiv villages resulted in the death of more than 200 people and the displacement of tens of thousands of others. Residents of the affected areas have continued to report military activity in their districts against unarmed villages, with more people being killed, injured or forced to flee their homes." [IRIN, November 27, 2001]

"According to Human Rights Watch as many as 1,000 people were killed in Jos in six days of clashes between Christians and Muslims, in September." [IRIN, December 21, 2001]

2000 An estimated 2,000 (mostly civilian) deaths, mainly due to clashes between Muslims and
Christians in Northern and South-eastern Nigeria.

"President Olusegun Obasanjo on Wednesday pleaded for an end to the ‘worst bloodletting…since the civil war’ after ten days of ethnic violence in which more than 1000 people have died. Up to 450 ethnic Hausas (Moslem) were killed in a massacre by ethnic Ibos in the town of Aba at the start of the week after hundreds of mainly Ibos (Christians) died in the northern city of Kaduna last week." [Daily Mail and Guardian, 2 March 2000]

"About 30 people are reported to have been killed and about 200 injured in Ife, south-western Nigeria, during three days of fighting between rival communities." [BBC News, 6 March 2000]

"In March, hundreds of Muslims were massacred by Christians in the south-east seeking revenge for Christians killed in the north." [The Economist, 8 April 2000]

"Nigeria’s security forces have arrested more than 50 people after religious riots between Muslims and Christians in the northern town of Kaduna left 200-300 people dead last week…This fighting was a renewal of recent clashes after local leaders said they were moving to implement Islamic law in Kaduna’s home state." [Jane’s Defence Weekly, 31 May 2000]

"Clashes this week in Lagos between local Yorubas of the militant Oodua Peoples' Congress (OPC) and Hausa speakers from the north claimed more than 100 lives and highlighted the growing north/south political divide in Nigeria." [IRIN, 20 October 2000]

1999 An estimated 760 to 1,240 mostly civilian deaths have resulted from the varied clashes.

"In the past six months, over 500 people have been killed in various forms of communal fighting and thuggery." [The Economist, 31 July 1999]

"Ethnic and religious tension have been running high since President Olusegen Obasanjo, a southern Christian, took office last May to end 15 years of dictatorship by soldiers from the largely Muslim north. More than 1,000 people have died in the clashes since then." [Globe and Mail, 23 February 2000]

Political Developments:

2005 A national conference on constitutional reforms meant to ease ethnic and religious tensions broke down in July without an agreement. In August, President Olusegun Obasanjo publicly confirmed that Nigerian police were guilty of systemic human rights abuses and promised reforms. Late in the year, the Nigerian government arrested and charged with treason and subversion the leaders of several militia and separatist groups who could face the death penalty if convicted. Negotiation between leaders of the Ogoni people and Shell continued.

"Nigeria has charged the leader of a separatist organization that has campaigned for the creation of a Republic of Biafra with treason. Ralph Uwazurike and six others denied in an Abuja court any intention to take up arms to intimidate the state. His outlaw organization, Massob, wants a separate state, Biafra, for the Igbo people in the south-east." [BBC News, November 8, 2005]

"Nigerian separatist militia leader Mujahid Dokubo Asari has been charged with treason for which he could face the death penalty…He was detained two weeks ago following a newspaper interview in which he was quoted as calling for the dissolution of Nigeria." [BBC News, October 6, 2005]

"Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo has confirmed widespread extrajudicial killings of suspects and innocent citizens by the country's police and promised tough action to clean-up the force. Obasanjo’s speech in Abuja on Thursday, in a rare acknowledgement of gross human rights violations by security forces, confirming recent findings by the United Nations Human Rights Commission and rights groups." [, August 19, 2005]

"A national conference convened to map out constitutional reforms and ease ethnic and religious tensions has been brought to its knees by disputes over how to share out Nigeria's oil wealth...Delegates from the Niger Delta, which produces the bulk of Nigeria's oil, refused to return to the talks after walking out last month. They were furious at what they regarded as paltry efforts to give their people a greater share of the black gold produced on their doorstep...But oil was not the only contentious issue. Delegates were also split over how long the tenures for the president and regional governors should be. Some wanted to maintain the status quo, which allows the head of state and state governors to serve a maximum of two consecutive four-year terms. But others wanted to allow them a single six-year elected term...The failure of this much-vaunted attempt to agree on constitutional reform may play into the hands of opposition groups who boycotted the conference on the grounds that all the delegates were government nominees." [, July 12, 2005]

"President Olusegun Obasanjo chose a respected Nigerian Catholic priest Matthew Kukah to ‘facilitate’ negotiations between Shell and the minority activist group, Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) and other Ogoni leaders, a statement by the president’s office said on Tuesday. Kukah will be assisted by UK-based International Centre for Reconciliation (ICR) in seeking an end to the conflict which arose out of Ogoni allegations of environmental damage and general oppression as a result of Shell’s oil production activities." [, June 1, 2005]

2004 Despite a pledge as part of a peace deal with the government, militia groups in Nigeria’s oil-rich south announced they would not disarm, although after the government offered money for arms militia members began to turn in guns. Following an upsurge in violence in the River State, the governor fired his entire cabinet while in response to more violence in the Plateau State, the National Assembly gave the President of Nigeria sweeping emergency powers. Over 20,000 people were displaced by the fighting this year, bringing the total number of displaced people since 1999 to well over 800,000. The ruling party extended its lead over opposition parties after performing well in local elections in March.

"An ethnic militia group which threatened to kill foreign oil workers in southeastern Nigeria last month has started handing in its weapons under a guns-for-cash peace deal agreed with the government. Moujahid Dokubo-Asari told IRIN on Friday that his Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF) had surrendered a total of 196 assault rifles and two general purpose machine guns to the government over the past week." [IRIN, October 29, 2004]

"Ethnic militia groups in the Niger Delta agreed a tentative peace deal with Nigeria's federal government at the end of last week. But political commentators and activists in the Delta said on Monday they were sceptical that it would provide anything more than a temporary respite to a battle which threatens the country's lifeblood oil industry." [IRIN, October 4, 2004]

"Nigeria’s National Assembly has approved eight new laws giving President Olusegun Obasanjo sweeping powers in strife-torn Plateau State where he imposed a state of emergency last month after a surge in inter-ethnic and religious violence. The laws approved by the two-chamber legislature on Tuesday gave the police and other security services the power to detain people indefinitely, conduct searches without warrants, impose curfews and ban public processions." [IRIN, June 2, 2004]

"The ruling People’s Democratic Party widened its lead in Nigeria’s local elections as more results were published on Tuesday as allegations of rigging and malpractice abounded." [IRIN, March 30, 2004]

"Some 800,000 people have been displaced from their homes as a result of communal and religious clashes that have rocked Nigeria over the past four years, according to the government's National Commission for Refugees (NCR)." [IRIN, January 2, 2004]

2003 The mid-April presidential elections, which resulted in the re-election of President Olusegun Obasanjo [leader of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)], were tainted with allegations of fraudulent electoral practices, despite the presence of international observers. As a result, opposition leaders refused to accept the elections as legitimate. The election heightened animosity between the Christian and Muslim populations as the main opposition to the Christian PDP was the Muslim-dominated All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP).

"European Union observers said earlier that fraud and irregularities had marred the April 19 election in Africa’s most populous nation. ...The Washington-based National Democratic Institute said on Monday it had found ‘ballot-stuffing, rigging, voter intimidation, violence and fraud,’ particularly in the southern oil-producing Delta region and the southeast. ... Any government that is formed on the basis of this so-called election shall be illegitimate and we shall not recognize it,’ Gen. Buhari’s All Nigeria Peoples Party said. ‘A fraudulent democracy is worse than a dictatorship.’" [Globe and Mail, April 23, 2003]

2002 In the face of intensified ethnic and religious violence, the Obasanjo government continued to
employ extreme measures to respond to social unrest and violence. A recent report by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) claimed that security forces, operating with orders from the government, were responsible for over 10,000 Nigerian civilian deaths. According to the report, in addition to committing extra-judicial executions of alleged criminals, the state and its security agencies instigated and exacerbated communal conflicts, and failed to react to early warning signals of pending violence. In other developments, allegations of unfair voting registration procedures served to fuel political tensions.

"Five days into a long overdue voter registration exercise, a shortage of materials and allegations of fraud and malpractice were among the complaints that have been reported from various parts of Nigeria. In many registration centres in the country's biggest city and commercial capital, Lagos, intending voters were turned away because of a shortage of registration materials. Local newspapers on Tuesday reported similar complaints from different parts of the country." [IRIN, September 17, 2002]

"There are already strong indications that the political campaigns for elections due to be held in early 2003 will be turbulent. Of particular concern are the tensions between the country's Christian and Muslim communities, which politicians may seek to exploit in their struggle for political power ahead of the elections. These religious tensions have severely worsened following the introduction of harsh Islamic punishments in the country's northern states over the past two years." [BBC News, September 17, 2002]

"In over 50 separate and documented incidents, over 10,000 Nigerians have reportedly been victims of extra-judicial executions at an average of over 200 executions per incident. Security agents, acting in most cases on direct orders of the government, have been responsible for many of the deaths as well as accompanying rapes, maiming and torture of thousands of women, the aged, children and other defenceless civilians. The local and international media coverage of these incidents portrays them as ethno-religious in nature. However, our investigations show that this euphemism has helped in obscuring the visible roles of the state and its security agencies in the perpetuation of these egregious violations, thereby shielding the government from full responsibility for their occurrence and recurrence." [Hope Betrayed: A Report on Impunity and State Sponsored Violence in Nigeria, World Organisation Against Torture, September 4, 2002]

2001 A Human Rights Watch report criticized the Nigerian government for failure to prevent the violence which swept through the city of Jos, killing more than 1,000 people.

"Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director of HRW’s Africa Division said in the report: ‘There were clear signals that trouble was brewing in Jos, but these signals were ignored. Effective government action is urgently needed if the violence in hot spots across the country is not to flare up again and cause thousands of more deaths." [IRIN, December 18, 2001]

2000 Early in the year, President Obasanjo implemented an anti-corruption programme, dismissing an entire layer of senior officers in order to pave the path for reform and development. However, renewed violence in the north set off calls for Nigeria to split into a looser confederation of ethnic regions. By the beginning of October eight states adopted the Sharia (Islamic law), giving rise to increasing tensions and grave concerns by opposing groups over implications for the constitutional order. Meanwhile, President Obasanjo indicated that there is no imminent danger requiring urgent action.

[Guardian Weekly, 2-8 March 2000; The Economist, 8 April 2000; IRIN, 11 October 2000; IRIN, 20 October 2000]

"Prominent northern Muslim scholars in Nigeria say they want to meet with governors of southwestern states with large Muslim populations - Lagos, Oyo, Osun and Ogun - to discuss prospects for introducing Sharia in their areas..." [IRIN, 7 August 2000]

"In October last year, Zamfara - governed by Ahmed Sani of the opposition All Peoples' Party - became the first state in Nigeria to adopt Islamic law. Since then, eight others have followed. Zamfara and the other Sharia states insist that their interpretation of the 1999 Constitution that ended more than 15 years of military rule is that it allows the imposition of the Islamic legal system, which provides for corporal punishment, amputation of limbs and decapitation. But Catholic bishops who met in the northern city of Kaduna see imminent danger…Many Nigerians, both individuals and groups, also seem to believe that action is needed to contain the burgeoning political crises associated with the introduction of full Islamic law in parts of the north." [IRIN, 11 October 2000]

"Ethnic and religious tension have been running high since President Olusegun Obasanjo, a southern Christian, took office last May to end 15 years of dictatorship by soldiers from the largely Muslim north…Addressing Sharia poses a particularly difficult problem for Obasanjo, since he does not want to be viewed as further alienating the north, where there is a widespread feeling of exclusion from key government appointments." [Reuters, 22 February 2000]

1999 Ending fifteen years of military rule, Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in as the first civilian President in May following multi-party elections. Despite repeated promises, the Nigerian government has done little to end the communal fighting in the country. A peace agreement signed by Ijaw and Ilaje groups in August was ineffective in discouraging armed clashes between the two groups in the southwestern state of Ondo.


Approximately 120 million people in more than 200 ethnic groups live in Nigeria. Since at least 1990, military governments in Nigeria have tried to stifle the growing complaints within the Niger Delta region that decades of oil production have failed to benefit local communities. For more than ten years, ethnic groups in the Niger Delta demanding political autonomy and compensation for environmental damage caused by oil companies often have been met with repression. Demands intensified after 1995 when Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni activists were executed by the military regime for opposing the oil companies. In other areas of the Niger Delta, inter-ethnic fighting over land ownership has occurred between Ijaw and Ilaje groups.

Elsewhere, tension between the Hausa and Yoruba, Nigeria’s two largest ethnic groups, has escalated into armed fighting in a number of regions of the country, but has concentrated in northern and southwestern Nigeria. Northern Nigeria is primarily Muslim and dominated by Hausa and the Yoruba make up the majority in the Christian south. Yoruba have traditionally accused Hausa governments of neglect while Hausa believe that Yoruba monopolize business and economic affairs. Tension intensified in 1993 after the cancellation of presidential elections by military rulers was seen by the Yoruba as a grave injustice by the northern power elite. Yoruba groups have advocated succession, while other groups living in the southwest region have demanded decentralization of political power. Reports suggest that the election of President Obasanjo, a Yoruba, in 1999 shifted the balance of power to the southwest from the north, which had controlled the country since 1960.

Ethnic and regional tension often overlaps with religious differences making it difficult to differentiate between ethnic or regional conflict and religious conflict. Recent religious clashes in the north stem from Christian opposition to Muslim appeals for the adoption of the Islamic sharia law by some states where both Christians and Muslims live. Sharia law now exists in eleven Nigerian states. Economic inequalities and resource scarcities are also cited as causes of violence, as are the heavy-handed tactics of the government’s security forces. Moreover, media reports have accused politicians of fueling ethnic, religious or communal tensions for political gain.

[Additional Sources: Globe and Mail, 23 February 2000; Nigeria Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998, US State Department, 26 February 1999]

Arms Sources:

Known recent suppliers of military equipment to Nigeria include Russia, China, Poland and Italy which supplied four light helicopters in 2004. In March 2003, the US suspension of military aid to Nigeria was attributed to human rights concerns about Nigeria’s military forces. However, some analysts held that the suspension was a result of Nigeria’s opposition to the US-led war on Iraq. Even so, the Nigerian navy was able to acquire, through a security cooperation programme, a third warship from the US to monitor the Niger Delta in an attempt to decrease the theft of crude oil from pipelines.

The various conflicting tribal and ethnic groups in the Niger Delta area are allegedly armed by the criminal organizations involved in the illicit trade in stolen crude oil. Many militia groups also obtain arms by either bribing police forces or attacking and raiding police stations, stealing arms and ammunition.

During 1999 the US and members of the European Union, previously the major arms suppliers to Nigeria, lifted the military sanctions imposed after the government execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others. Russia has also provided military equipment to Nigeria. In the Niger Delta, oil multinationals are accused of importing small arms and using armed soldiers. In addition, Nigeria has a domestic capacity to manufacture small arms. Other arms are smuggled into the country illegally from neighbouring countries such as Benin, Ghana, Togo, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

[Sources: Human Rights Watch World Report 2000; SIPRI Yearbooks 2002-2005, Voice of America News, March 21, 2003; IRIN, September 5, 29, 2003; ]

"The arsenal of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) will soon receive a boost as the Federal Executive Council (FEC) yesterday approved the procurement of 15 F-7NI and FT-7NI Chinese multi-role combat and trainer aircraft." [The Guardian (Lagos), September 29, 2005]

"A large U.S. navy ship has deployed in the Gulf of Guinea to help West African navies become more effective in providing security in the oil-rich waters...In a separate endeavor, the United States is furnishing Nigeria’s navy with 15 patrol boats, to the delight of Nigerian Navy spokesman Captain Sinebi Hungiapuko." [Voice of America, February 1, 2005]

"Some 40 armed men wearing red bandanas and crying ‘Allahu Akba’ (God is Great) attacked two police stations and made off with looted ammunition." [BBC News, September 22, 2004]

"In November 1998, the E.U. Council of Ministers voted to repeal all sanctions imposed on Nigeria following the November 1995 executions of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other minority rights activists, except those relating to arms sales and military cooperation. In June 1999, the E.U. lifted all remaining sanctions ... With the inauguration of a civilian government at the end of May, U.S. sanctions against Nigeria were lifted, allowing for the resumption of military assistance to Nigeria, including under the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program." [Human Rights Watch World Report 2000]

"The first detachment of US Army Special Forces arrived in Nigeria last week to begin training local peacekeepers, as US President Bill Clinton visited the West African country. Some 200 troops of the 3rd Special Forces Group from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, are expected to arrive in Nigeria by October as part of a $42 million aid package to equip and help train five Nigerian battalions…The USA will also provide Nigeria with rifles, mortars, machine guns, ammunition, vehicles, medical equipment and communications equipment as well as $10.6 million to help reform the Nigerian armed forces." [Jane’s Defence Weekly, 6 September 2000]

"It has now been firmly established that some of the multinationals are also involved in the importation of arms and ammunition into the Niger Delta for the purpose of ‘protecting our staff and facilities’. Shell, confronted with the evidence of gun running said they ‘only imported 107 hand guns’....Not too long ago, Chevron was accused by the Ijaws of supplying weapons to the Itsekiri and by the Itsekiri of giving money to the Ijaws to buy weapons. ... In the Ilaje community of Ondo state, the American oil giant Chevron procured and flew in armed soldiers who came down very heavily on defenceless peaceful demonstrators who had occupied their Parabe oil facility. Two youths were shot dead and several others injured in that operation that was supervised and directed by Chevron. The Chevron public affairs manager admitted to American journalists that they called in the soldiers and that the protesters were peaceful." [Oronto Douglas and Doifie Ola, "Defending Nature, Protecting Human Dignity–Conflicts in the Niger Delta" in Monique Mekenkamp et al (eds), Searching for Peace in Africa. Utrecht: European Platform for Conflict Prevention and Transformation in cooperation, 1999, p.337]

Economic Factors:

The impact of oil multinational operations in the Niger Delta region is at the centre of community protest and conflict. The communities feel marginalized and impoverished and face environmental devastation after decades of oil production in the region. Some analysts argue that much of the sectarian violence in Nigeria is a result of economic inequalities and resource scarcity, not ideological or communal differences.The oil industry has become increasingly involved in the Nigerian conflict as its facilities have been targeted by various groups as a means to attract the government’s attention to their grievances. In 2004 militia groups demanding a greater share of oil revenues threatened “all out war” and increased attacks on oil installations. In addition, land has become a source of conflict, especially between pastoralists and farming communities, as increasing desertification has led to a shortage of arable land.

"Over the last decade, clashes between indigenous farming communities and nomadic herdsmen have increased in several parts of central Nigeria, including the country’s eastern flank. Increasing desertification in northern Nigeria has been forcing herders further south into the central region in search of pasture, raising the ire of farmers that work the land." [, February 8, 2005]

"At the heart of the violence are claims and counter-claims to the ownership of oil-rich land in a region whose inhabitants are still mostly dirt poor." [IRIN, September 29, 2003]

"Nigeria yesterday sent naval vessels to four oil rigs occupied by protesting employees ... The protest began as an industrial dispute between a Transocean and its local workers, but it is an indication of wider frustrations in the oil-rich Niger Delta. Its inhabitants say that foreign workers are treated far better than locals, and their communities receive little of the wealth generated by oil." [The Daily Telegraph, May 1, 2003]

"Nigeria, a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, is the world’s sixth-biggest producer of crude oil and the fifth-biggest supplier to the US." [Associated Press, March 28, 2003]

"Multinational oil companies have been accused of favouring one local community over another, provoking mutual rivalries, and successive governments have at best ignored and at worst repressed violently local rights activists. ... The tragedy of Nigeria is that over the past few decades its population has grown rapidly, but despite the country's vast oil wealth, the economy has failed to keep pace. Nigerians have been getting poorer by the year. And along with this, the failure of the state to provide adequate education for the vast majority of the population, has produced a frustrated and angry underclass of largely urban, unemployed youths. It is to this disempowered group that ambitious politicians and religious leaders look for support." [BBC News, May 11, 2002]


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