Deadly Ethnic Riots in Nigeria: Need for a Good Micro-level Early Warning and Early Response Mechanism

By Tadakazu Kanno (PhD candidate, the department of war studies, King’s College London)

A deadly ethnic riot took place in Nigeria again. According to the BBC , the riot took place near the city of Jos in Nigeria early in the morning on the 7th of March and claimed over 500 people’s lives. Many of the dead in the villages of Zot and Dogo-Nahawa, largely inhabited by Christian members of the Berom community, are reported to be women and children. It is reported that the attacks were reprisal killings for violence in January, when an inter-communal clash between the Hausa Fulani settlers (Muslim nomadic herders) had claimed at least 326 people’s lives and the most of the victims were Hausa-speaking Muslims.

The IRIN report on the 1st of February actually gave an early warning by saying that “if the Nigerian authorities fail to punish those responsible for the latest intercommunal violence, they are only paving the way for further bloodshed”.  According to the BBC, there was a proximate warning as well. The governor of Nigeria’s Plateau State had warned the army about reports of suspicious people with weapons hours before they attacked, but they failed to take action.

I’m not an expert of Nigeria and the information I have about the situation of the inter-communal clashes is quite limited (the BBC and IRIN only). So, I may not be qualified to talk about the ethnic riots in Nigeria and my analysis may not be really accurate. But, I guess that one of the reasons for the failure of taking rapid actions to prevent the violence was that “who does what” under an emergent situation was unclear. Without preparation and plan, it is difficult to take the right action immediately. Early warning demonstrates its highest ability when it is systematized and well-connected to responders. I was wondering if the latest riot could have been prevented and many of the lives could have been saved if they have had a good early warning and early response system.

David Nyheim’s report on early warning and early response, which was prepared for OECD, shows that now there is consensus of a “good” early warning system, which is one that: (1) is based “close to the ground” or has strong field-based networks of monitors; (2) uses multiple sources of information and both qualitative/quantitative analytical methods; (3) capitalizes on appropriate communication and information technology; (4) provides regular reports and updates on conflict dynamics to key national and international stakeholders and; (5) has a strong link to responders or response mechanisms.

Suppose they have had a good early warning system which meets the criteria. A wide network of monitoring could have caught some symptoms of the attacks much earlier than the governor came to know them. Then, the right information could have been passed to the right person at the right time to take rapid action for averting the tension. Before the eruption of violence, the tension could have been averted through multi-stakeholder dialogue and the plan to attack might have been shattered. If these things failed, as Casey Barrs states, people may need to flee to protect themselves. As a result of a couple of safety nets, the 500 lives – at least some people’s lives – could have been saved.

Micro-level early warning and early response mechanisms, often called “citizen-based early warning” or “third generation early warning”, are a new wave in the field of conflict early warning. One of their characteristics is that they meet all the criteria of a good early warning and early response system (perhaps, the most notable system was the Foundation for Co-Existence’s early warning and early response system in Sri Lanka which operated from 2003 to 2009). They cover specific areas within a country and attempt to prevent riot-type violence.

As the number of civil wars has been decreasing dramatically since the early 90’s (I don’t mean by this that the traditional macro-level early warning systems are less important. They have their own niche.), more attentions need to be paid to the micro-level early warning and early response mechanism as a tool to prevent riot-type violence. Although I don’t have any good statistics regarding the number of deadly riots (If someone has it, please let me know), we have already witnessed the riot in the Moluccas (Indonesia) which claimed 4000 lives in 1999, that of Gujarat (India) in 2002 which claimed 850 lives, that of Kenya which took place from the end of 2007 to the beginning of 2008 and claimed over 1000 lives and the sporadic ethnic riots in Nigeria.

Although a good early warning and early response system is not a panacea for the prevention of ethnic riots (of course, long-term approaches are needed to address root causes along with early warning and early response), this kind of micro-level early warning and early response mechanism will certainly enhance the capacity to prevent ethnic violence in Nigeria.


8 responses to “Deadly Ethnic Riots in Nigeria: Need for a Good Micro-level Early Warning and Early Response Mechanism

  1. Dear Kanno

    Lord Buddha had already told that the world will end one day because of our ill mind like killing, violence, inhuman behavior, wars and so on. We can see several examples in the world. Deadly Ethnic Riots in Nigeria is one of the examples. There are types of conflicts. I.e. Man Vs. Man /Man Vs. Nature/Man Vs. Self/Man Vs. Society/Man Vs. Supernatural ects. There must be several reasons for those types of conflicts. The subject of conflict resolution has now become an art and 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation conflict resolution system has now come forward. All those are not permanent solutions for any conflicts in the world. If anyone wants permanent solution to the conflicts please read the following link and follow it…

  2. Halo,am thomas a final yr student of sociology, university of conducting research on inter-communal conflict in nigeria..thanks to your work..i have been provided with the various links.thank you.

  3. You are right about early warnings. However, I think that the problem is more severe in Nigeria. I think it has to do with a high level of purposeful sponsorship of violence in the name of religion. I think that the real solution is a long term one: education.

    • Thank you for leaving your comment.

      I see early warning as a temporary (short-term) solution to prevent violence. I totally agree that we need a long term solution too in order to transform the structure which causes violence. Altough I’m not an expert of Nigeria, I can imagine that the problem is more severe and deeper since a great number of factors are intertwined in any violent conflict.

      Early warning actually can help a long term conflict transformation approach by preventing violence. A long term approach such as confidence building between different identity groups is very sensitive. Even a small violent incident can destroy all the efforts that have been taken for transforming the conflict situation.

      If killings still continue when people take education, it’s not very difficult to imagine that it’s hard to change people’s attitude and behavior towards a peaceful relationship. So, I believe that a violence prevention mechanism such as a community-based early warning and early response systems is an important factor for a successful long-term approach.

  4. Hi Thoman, I’m happy to hear that you found it useful.

  5. Thomas. I really appreciate your concern and profound comments on early warning and early response mechanism in nigeria. Beyond the surface, most of the ethnic violence in Nigeria are caused by political bigotry. Most of the retired military officers who have ruled the country suddently metamorphose into strong politicians. They have access to illegal and sophisticated weapons which they use to prove a point to their opponent. The porous borders where arms are smuggled into the country makes many of these riots deadly with heavy casualties. The early warning and response mechanism, will only work when ‘insiders’ in the law enforcement agencies see the nation beyond their personal, ethnic and religious affiliation. The case you cited in Jos, the govenor is a Christian and an indigene of Plateau. While the General officer commanding the army is a moslem and Hausa speaking. He gives orders when he deems fit. That is the dilemma of the peculiar Nigerian situation.
    Bigotry, Ignorance, poverty, pride, low sense of the worth of the sanctifty of a human life are the bane of early response.

  6. oladosu Durodola . M.A peace and conflict studies

    I believe we have all said it all. but I want to draw our attention to the sincerity of nigerian govt in the fight against all these odds. I agree that our boarders are obviously porous bt the fact is, is the govt really committd to effect changes?.. many times we hear about massive importatn of deadly arms and amunition and nothing is done to prosecute those ppl involved.. if we keep ignoring the essence of scape goating,one day we will successfully make Nigeria a new pakistan..

    • Thank you for the comment. I can learn so many things from these comments left in this blog. A lesson learnt from them is that this type of community-based (micro-level) early warning and response mechanism would not work properly under the condition of impunity. More research needs to be done though…

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