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Nigeria’s Government Struggles to Restore Order after Massacre

March 9, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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The Nigerian military is asking for patience as it tries to contain the escalating violence that left as many as 500 people dead Sunday. Gwen Ifill talks to American University's Patrick Ukata and the president of The Fund for Peace, Pauline Baker, about the political and sectarian violence in Nigeria.
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GWEN IFILL: For more on developments there, we turn to Patrick Ukata, a professor at American University’s School of International Service, and Pauline Baker, president of The Fund For Peace, a nonprofit organization devoted to preventing war.

We’re talking about politics. We’re talking about religion. We’re talking about resources. What are the driving forces, Professor Ukata, behind what we’re seeing now in Nigeria?

PATRICK UKATA, professor, American University’s School of International Service: I mean, I will say a lot of it is economic, actually. There’s a very acute struggle for existence that has been exacerbated by the fact that all of the oil revenue that Nigeria is known to have accumulated over the years hasn’t really triggered any kind of measurable development for the rank-and-file members of society.

And, so, everyone sees their existence as just made up of whatever efforts they can make on their own. But that pits between — I mean, with each other.

GWEN IFILL: And the religious part of it, the Christians vs. the Muslims, that is just a byproduct of the economic…

PATRICK UKATA: I think it’s a byproduct of economic and political issues.

GWEN IFILL: What do you think about, Pauline Baker?

PAULINE BAKER, president, The Fund for Peace: I agree.

I also think there is a distinction between indigenous forces and the so-called foreigners, the people who move in. The people who did the attacks were Hausa Muslim who are herders. And there’s a competition for land. And the people who were attacked, the Christians, were farmers and settled in the villages.

So, when you have resource scarcity and competition over land, and, as Patrick said, poverty all over, then it spills over into ethnic and sectarian identities.

GWEN IFILL: Can you explain to me the region we’re talking about? It’s called, variously, the Plateau region, the Middle Belt. Is it a fertile region? What is it?

PATRICK UKATA: I mean, Jos itself is not that fertile. It actually used to be an old tin mining town.

But the areas surrounding Jos are fertile. As Pauline has said, the land around it is actually farmed by those that will be considered indigenes. Of course, that’s inland, is used for grazing. And so that is where the conflict actually — actually arises.

GWEN IFILL: So, tin mining is no longer something that is…

GWEN IFILL: … people are fighting for?

PATRICK UKATA: Not very much. Not very much.

GWEN IFILL: Tell me a little bit about the history of this, because we saw in January, just for a better way of — not — lacking a better way of describing it, the Christians attacked the Muslims at that time.

PAULINE BAKER: Right.

GWEN IFILL: This is not the first time that this has happened. In fact, there’s a history…

PAULINE BAKER: No, and this happened before January also. This is a zone in Nigeria which has had a history of conflict. The thing is, it’s not the only zone where there’s conflict in Nigeria. So, it’s happening at the same time that you have the insurgency in the Niger Delta which is reaching a peak, and you had an amnesty program which may or may not be successful.

You have it at the same time there’s a power struggle at the center. And, recently, also, there was another uprising among Islamic sects in the north. So, you have got several different kinds of conflicts that are beginning to come together and evidence themselves in Nigeria.

GWEN IFILL: Well, then, the U.N. commissioner for human rights, human high commissioner, said today, or yesterday, this is something the government should be stepping in and — and fixing.

PAULINE BAKER: Right.

GWEN IFILL: They should see this coming, precisely because of this history. Is that even possible?

PATRICK UKATA: I think that is partly why the acting president, Jonathan Goodluck, has decided to fire the national security adviser and install someone else. It seems this was something that should have been predicted. At least, the security forces should have been prepared to protect lives. And so it’s a failure of leadership.

GWEN IFILL: Was the firing of that national security adviser, was that about politics, or was it about what happened in Jos? Because I have seen conflicting reports.

PATRICK UKATA: On the one hand, yes, it could be seen as part of a failure, because the January attacks were also a failure of sorts. And it was under this national security adviser’s watch.

So, I mean, it’s arguable whether he was doing it for other political reasons or this particular crisis, but, of course, the crisis provides some opportunity for a change of leadership as far as security is concerned, because I don’t think Nigeria can afford any more crises of this nature.

GWEN IFILL: Because these kinds of crises are never — there’s never just one thing. As we have discussed here already, there is the political overlay, what’s happening with the acting president, the current president, who no one has seen in some time.

PAULINE BAKER: Definitely months.

GWEN IFILL: How much is that driving this, too?

PAULINE BAKER: I think very much so. It’s not igniting the conference on the ground, but the reaction to it or even the lack of reaction to it, I think, is very much part of what’s not happening at the center.

There really is a crisis of legitimacy and capacity at the same time. Very recently, the police minister attacked the police and said they are actually carrying out non-judicial killings and executions. The police are held in very low regard in Nigeria. The military is much more experienced. They have had a lot of peacekeeping experience. So, the military is used for police functions a lot in Nigeria now.

GWEN IFILL: But explain to me. If — if Goodluck Jonathan was the vice president to Mr. Yar’Adua at the time when he took ill, were they rivals all along? Is that what we see playing out here?

PATRICK UKATA: Well, they were not rivals, per se. But as is always the case in a situation like this, Yar’Adua had trusted advisers who, of course, did not really share whatever information with Goodluck Jonathan until now.

GWEN IFILL: Yes.

PATRICK UKATA: And now it seems his rivals — I mean, his advisers are almost returning the favor.

PAULINE BAKER: There’s also the factor of a rotation at the president’s actual level, the presidential level.

The north had control under Yar’Adua, and his running mate was from the south, and particularly the Niger Delta. It was the first time anybody from the Niger Delta actually rose to that level. With Yar’Adua’s absence now, he’s coming into being acting president. And the north feels essentially the presidency has been taken away from them.

So, they have already announced — the majority party has already announced that, for the next election, they’re going to nominate a northerner, basically removing any possibility that Goodluck Jonathan can run.

GWEN IFILL: What do we know about the condition of President — President Yar’Adua? Do we know — we have heard tell of a heart condition, of other medical issues. Do we have any clue about whether he is even able to retake the reins of office?

PATRICK UKATA: From all I have heard so far, I mean, for years, he’s had kidney problems, and now heart problems.

So a combination of that, I think, makes it very difficult to begin to speculate whether or not he’s going to be able to regain power as president.

GWEN IFILL: Setting aside, Pauline Baker, a moment the idea — the whole idea of whether the politics can sort itself out, is there anything — is there anything that a president or any central government could, should be doing right now to get to the root of these massacres, which don’t seem to be winding down?

PAULINE BAKER: Well, they can prosecute. They can identify and prosecute them and stop the cycle of impunity.

GWEN IFILL: They being?

PAULINE BAKER: The Nigerian government.

They — really, whenever this happens, the killers always get away. They have arrested, I think, something like 94 people. They could even ask for international assistance to come in with their investigations to show that they’re serious about stopping this cycle of impunity.

Goodluck Jonathan also did something I thought which was very good at the beginning, and said that he had three top priorities, even though he has a very short period of time in office. And that was cleaning up the election, getting power back in Nigeria, and focusing on the Niger Delta. And if he just focused on those three, there would be a big turnaround in Nigeria.

GWEN IFILL: Is that possible, Mr. Ukata?

PATRICK UKATA: I think it is. But it requires purposeful leadership, which, at this point, it doesn’t seem as though at least the political climate is — is right for it.

GWEN IFILL: All right. Well, we will be watching very closely.

Patrick Ukata and Pauline Baker, thank you both very much.

PAULINE BAKER: Thank you.

PATRICK UKATA: Thank you.