The Nigerian government has said that at least 55 people have been killed in an eruption of communal violence in the Kasuwan Magani area in the north-central state of Kaduna. Twenty-two people were involved in the fatal clashes between two communities that inhabit the region. In a statement on Saturday, issued by President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman Garba Shehu, the president condemned the violence, saying that “The frequent resort to bloodshed by Nigerians, over misunderstandings that can be resolved peacefully, is worrisome.” After the violence broke out, a 24-hour curfew was imposed by the government and a special police force was deployed to key areas in the state.
Devastating, and often deadly, violence has become an all too common occurrence in central Nigeria over the last few years due to ethnic and religious differences between the groups living in this region. As Africa’s largest nation continues to grow, with a current population of 190 million, local resources are becoming increasingly scarce, creating tension amongst the people who live there. This is exacerbated by the fact that there is no strong religious majority – the country is almost equally divided between a Christian south and a Muslim north.
In June, a weekend of vicious clashes between Fulani Muslim herders and Christian farmers in Plateau state left 86 dead. Reports claimed the armed herders opened fire on a Christian village and that people were even shot to death while asleep in their beds. It marked one of the deadliest episodes of violence this year and sparked a string of revenge killings. The catalyst for the violence is said to have been the killing of some herders accused of disturbing cattle in the region. A statement from the president’s office at the time declared that “Less than 24 hours later, violence broke out. Some thugs then took advantage of the situation, turning it into an opportunity to extort the public, and to attack people from rival political parties.”
Communal violence has been an on-going political issue in Nigeria while the death toll of incidents, similar to that in June, continues to increase. In April, Nigeria’s upper and lower houses of parliament urged President Buhari to find ways to address this problem. Now, despite criticism of inaction from Buhari’s opponents, violence has broken out amidst the lead-up to a presidential election set for February 2019 in which Buhari will run for a second term. The incident has demonstrated why security has become an increasingly important campaign issue for the candidates.
West African leaders met earlier in the year at the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) summit in Abuja, Nigeria. Back then, Nigerian Interior Minister Abdulrahman commented, saying “We are aware of the recent escalation of the conflicts between herders and farmers, but there is no doubt that such conflicts are a common phenomenon in most parts of Africa.” Members collectively acknowledged that the issue is not simply a Nigerian phenomenon; many nomadic groups from the area move across borders. Leaders cited a need for greater investment into managing livestock and ensuring the livelihood of herders in order to prevent such outbursts of tensions between groups.
The question remains as to what measures could be implemented to address the causes of this violence, rather than just to manage the catalyzing factors. As instability continues to mar the region, Islamist extremists from Boko Haram are attacking both military forces and civilians in the northeast. All across the country, incidents of kidnappings, both of prominent public figures and of ordinary civilians, continue to rise.
In Kaduna, the governor has urged citizens to strive for “peace and harmony despite ethnic and religious diversity.” However, as the population grows, extremist groups rise in popularity and religious differences continue to cause friction. The prospect of these violent outbursts ceasing without government or international intervention seems unlikely.
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