Why do ordinary people participate in ethnic violence, given the potentially high risks and costs of such behavior? To answer this question, this project draws on an original survey of 800 individuals who chose to (or chose not to participate in two large-scale Christian-Muslim riots in Nigeria, one in the city of Kaduna in 2000, and one in Jos in 2001. The survey was conducted in 2007 and 2008 and contains direct questions about past participation in violent events, makes use of new methods to protect respondent anonymity, and relies on an innovative sampling strategy in order to locate rioters and elicit honest responses from them. This paper presents an original argument about the sources of riot participation, and tests it against competing explanations in the violence literature. Three results emerge consistently from the survey. First, economic grievances by themselves are generally weak predictors of riot participation. Second, membership in certain types of neighborhood-level social networks makes rioting more likely, and third, the interaction between grievances and network membership dramatically increases the likelihood of riot participation.
Grievances and membership in neighborhood-level social networks should jointly increase a person’s propensity to riot. Indeed, in Kaduna and Jos, not all aggrieved people actually took to the streets to ?ght. I argue in my dissertation that grievances themselves are insufficient to produce large numbers of rioters. What distinguishes the broader class of people with grievances from actual rioters is the “pull” factor of neighborhood-level social networks. People who are centrally embedded in local social networks are more likely to be pulled to the battlefront than people who are relatively marginalized in their communities.
No religious riot had ever occurred in Jos before 2001, and no religious riot had occurred for more than ten years when the riots broke out in Kaduna in 2000. The main causes run from networks and grievances to rioting rather than the other way around. Economic disadvantage—income, education, and father’s education—to test the argument that economic deprivation drives individuals to riot may not induce riot. Education levels do seem to matter, however, as lower levels of education (measured in years) increase respondent propensity to riot. These inconclusive results could indicate that objective measures of disadvantage are poor proxies of grievance. Grievances can be seen as a “push” factor, giving people the motivation to riot.
The interaction between grievances and networks that dramatically increases the likelihood of riot participation, once a riot trigger has occurred. While grievances may increase a person’s willingness to riot, it is centrality in certain types of neighborhood-level social networks that transforms potential rioters into actual rioters. Riot participation enliven certain condition; including the state with sufficiently weak security personnel or with little selective police presence on the ground during day-to-day neighborhood life. Weak police capacity is important because it produces security arrangements at the grassroots level that ultimately feed into mobilization for rioting. This scope condition is met in many developing countries, where police are often so poorly trained and understand that they are unable to respond to even routine crime. For example, a report by the U.S. State Department on human rights practices in Nigeria’s middle Belt describes widespread public frustration among Jos residents with the inability of police to identify and arrest burglars.
Once the violence got underway, there were retaliatory attacks by Muslims on Christians. Many of these were against isolated, and therefore vulnerable, individuals. Christian property and Christian families were largely spared, though as many as a thousand Christians were made homeless in the aftermath.
To save lives and property, this government should have acted immediately to defuse passions and prevent violence. Some officials tried to act, but they were overruled, overwhelmed, or simply “promoted” away to another posting. The general response of the state apparatus was to lend support to well-organized, systematic attacks against the entire Muslim population of Jos.. This serious charge is confirmed by the reports issued by Human Rights Watch, the European Union, the British High Commission, Arizona-Ogwu’s nigeria4betterrule, the Editor’s Guild of Nigeria, Amnesty International, and Nigeria’s own National Human Rights Commission, among others.
Most people expected the violence to rage for a few days. It continued for days and then weeks. More than 2,000 Christians were killed and over 100,000 Nigerians made homeless; more than 60,000 may have left Jos. Camps for “internally displaced persons” that were set up by a few nongovernmental organizations came under considerable pressure from the Plateau State government to close within weeks. Conditions were miserable. Children stopped going to school and had to skip final examinations. While Plateau State Commissioner for Works, Mr. Solomon Zang, quickly offered compensation to victims of the violence, Christians were to receive twice as much as Muslims. And Mr. President, Umaru Yar’Adua, did pay a visit to Jos once the initial fury had passed, expressing his distress at the level of the violence. This gesture was canceled out, however, by remarks he made shortly afterward: “Wherever there are Muslims they do not want to live with others. Instead of living peacefully, they want to preach and propagate their religion by fear and terror….” Many of the several thousand mostly Muslim refugees still in the camps as of this writing have nowhere to go. All remain terrified and traumatized. Many children have been orphaned.
We have no confidence in violence-for-violence. What I’ve talked about above basically aims at uncontrollable violence. It could be argued that it may be a good thing to use “controllable” violence to get rid of the dictatorship and then go on to establish a democracy. Sounds good! But who is going to believe that such a capable power in Plateau State council poll with a force of violence will be willing to subject itself to people’s checks and supervision? Our democracy as a whole has a moral upper hand in comparison with us, but each individual in this country, Nigeria, does not necessarily have it comparing with individual government officials. Or maybe I should say everyone is equal in front of morality. Therefore, it’s hard to convince people that they should count on any promise after overthrowing a regime by violence.
Then what can we do to arrest the situation? The urgent thing, seems to me, is to promote a movement of non-violence protests in Nigeria. We know this country has evil laws, policies and regulations as well as corrupted, vicious and cruel government officials. People in such a corrupted, vicious and cruel system should form their groups and organizations for non-violence protests. They should have their own professional associations that can openly show their interests to the public to force compromises from the authorities. Of course, non-violence protests will be cracked down, but violence will only be suppressed much more brutally. Cracking down on non-violence protests will place the authorities in a more unjustifiable position and trigger more protests, domestic or foreign. It may even split apart the ruling party into different factions. This will generate more and more pressure on the regime and more and more opportunities for political changes in Nigeria. There are plenty of works overseas about non-violence protests, in theory or practice. I feel that one of the important things the overseas democracy movement should do is to introduce these works to Nigeria.
If this is done uniformly and transparently, people’s confidence in the administration of justice will be enhanced. This will promote respect for the rule of law and foster peace. In a period of relative peace, democracy will be consolidated along with the achievement of social justice, economic development, safe environment and a substantial reduction in the level of violence and political instability. From the religious perspective, when people attempt peacemaking and conflict resolution in diverse societies, efforts should be made to apply the Muslim view of resolving conflicts. The Muslims believe that conflicts have a co-dependent origination and mutual cohesion and, therefore, there are no single actors. To resolve conflicts, there has to be shared responsibility for the causation of conflict so a joint problem-solving mechanism should be applied. Sir Isaac Newton observed that for each action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
The political clashes in Jos are a multi-faced problem with many actors. Blame should not be laid on one particular group. Fighting groups must have a reason for fighting and it is the origin of the quarrel that should be discovered and redressed. The argument between the minority tribes who feel oppressively excluded from the Valley, which they regard as their native land, and others who argue that property ownership should be free, has to be addressed according to Nigeria’s Constitution.
Christianity has a more advanced conflict resolution mechanism based on the philosophy that dialogue is continuous and that it has no beginning and no end. Even in situations of relative peace, dialogue must continue at all levels at all times. It appears that conflict managers have a lot to borrow from religion. The Islamic view is that there should be responsible well-being for all. The Christian faith insists on forgiveness and love of one’s neighbour. If all people followed the Ten Commandments, peace would prevail in the world. Again, from a traditional perspective, the federal ministry of Culture, within the government should promote peace-culture among the different ethnic communities, in order to prevent conflicts. Some tribes have traditional symbols of peacemaking tools such as honey, milk, beer, grass, feathers, doves and green twigs, and ceremonies to promote love, peace and unity.