Nigeria - Crisis prevention and conflict management












September 16, 2008



In Nigeria, the large number and high intensity of manifest or potential violent conflicts dominate both the political culture and the people’s everyday lives. Since the beginning of the democratisation process in 1999, the number and intensity of violent conflicts has tended to increase rather than decrease.

One of the central conflicts, influenced by ecological, economic and social factors, involves petroleum and natural gas production in the Niger Delta and the distribution of profits. A second conflict which has escalated dramatically since 1999 is the introduction of the Islamic Sharia in Nigeria’s northern states. On the one hand, this is a religious conflict between the country’s Muslim-influenced North and Christian-influenced South. Tensions between members of the different religions repeatedly lead to violent conflicts and protests, many of which are caused by a lack of understanding for the respective other religion. On the other hand, however, political influence and the distribution of power are at stake as well. The victims are those whose fundamental human rights are being threatened or violated. Women in the Muslim-dominated states are particularly affected.

In various regions and cities of the country, ethnic militias threaten the legitimate power monopoly of the state, whose institutions (such as the security sector) can no longer tackle basic societal responsibilities because of their weakness and inefficient functioning.

The activities of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in the "Crisis Prevention and Conflict Management" component of the Nigeria country program focus on civil-society actors in crisis prevention. Its work addresses structures of local conflict prevention in Lagos, the problem of ethnic militias, and the topics of human and women’s rights under Sharia law.

In the area of human rights and the Sharia, the Heinrich Böll Foundation follows a media-oriented approach to conflict management. In order to avoid contributing to an escalation of the conflict with its own measures, the country office currently does not fundamentally question the legitimacy of the Sharia as a legal form. Rather, the key is to clarify the problems and risks inherent in Sharia law – especially for women – to expose them, formulate concrete suggestions for improvement, and monitor corresponding measures for their implementation.

The Foundation provides support for the establishment of a "Sharia Information and Documentation Project" in Kano to make available independent information specifically on the situation of human and women’s rights in states subject to Sharia law. Funding is also provided for conferences and workshops which bring together women’s and human rights groups with legal experts from northern and southern Nigeria, help to build trust, and contribute to working up concrete suggestions to improve the legal situation of women.

Following a phase of study of the internal structures and motivation of members of ethnic militias in co-operation with the "Centre for Development and Conflict Management Studies" (CEDCOMS), a research institute affiliated with the Obafemi Awolowo University Ife-Ife, the Foundation will concentrate in the future on communication processes and trust-building measures to de-escalate conflicts between local militias. The Foundation strives to counter abuse of the militias by politicians and political parties.

In the area of local conflict prevention, the Foundation specifically supports measures that focus on de-escalation and management of local, community, ethnic and religious conflicts. Processes of understanding take place within the framework of informal local structures, which include local political leaders, traditional rulers, trade organisations, ethnic militias, leaders of women’s market organisations, etc. The actors’ activities are complemented by training sessions in the area of conflict management and mediation as well as systematic press work. Contacts to the police and local administration strive to provide the local initiatives with more legitimacy.

To promote local conflict prevention in the metropolis of Lagos, the Heinrich Böll Foundation supports the NGO "Inter-Ethnic Forum" (IEF) in establishing local councils in the city’s districts.