Causes and consequences of violence in Nigeria

At its worst, violence is the use of intense force, often with the use of some weapons, to coax, threaten, or fatally harm others in order to get them to surrender their property, themselves, or even their lives. In its milder form, as discussed below, violence may not involve the use of physical weapons but may still inflict harm in some other ways.

As a universal phenomenon, violence is not unique to Nigeria. However, there are three peculiarities about violence in the country. One, there are far too many agents of violence as discussed below. Two, these agents spur violence more or less concurrently, leading to a high rate of violence in the country. Three, sadly, there is neither a coordinated effort to curb violence nor a discernible plan to address the causes of violence perpetrated by the different agents. The result is a high rate of insecurity with all its consequences on personal safety and the economy.

Three types of violence are prevalent in Nigeria. The most common and easily recognisable type is physical violence, which involves the use of physical force, including the use of weapons. This is the type of violence exercised by various destructive agents, including insurgents, notably Boko Haram; marauding herdsmen; armed robbers; kidnappers; cultists; political thugs; security agents, especially police and the army; and randy men, who rape their female victims.

Another type of violence, much less recognisable than physical violence, is verbal violence. It involves the use of abusive, derogatory, divisive or otherwise demeaning language. This type of violence is common during election campaigns when political opponents haul invectives at one another, peddling misinformation and outright falsehoods.

The third type, symbolic violence, popularised by French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, involves the use of power or a powerful tool, such as a dominant language, and social mechanisms to impose an ideology and control over a given society. It is also possible to view political corruption as a form of symbolic violence because it allows those who have access to national resources, such as politicians and civil servants, to appropriate such resources and use them to control others, while depriving them of access to appropriate political goods.

True, Nigeria has witnessed the most extreme type of violence in the form of a civil war; nevertheless, at no time than now in the country’s history have the various agents of violence mentioned above concurrently perpetrated the present scale of atrocities on innocent victims.

The most devastating consequences of their violent actions involve fatalities and extensive property damage. Boko Haram alone has killed over 20,000 since 2009, while suspected Fulani herdsmen have killed over 4,000 within the past three years alone. Apart from fatalities, millions have also been displaced from their places of residence.

Of particular significance is the impact of herdsmen’s atrocities on food security. It is estimated that food production dropped by as much as 90 per cent in some villages in North-Central Nigeria and by an average of 40 per cent overall in the affected states. Reduced production of cash crops has also affected the nation’s export earnings. These developments do not bode well for a country in which agricultural export is being touted as an alternative to oil export.

Yet, no respite is in sight for these atrocities, because the Federal Government has no coherent policy of action on curbing the menace. Rather, it has been applying ad hoc solutions, mostly by word of mouth, which have not led to verifiable results.

Worse still, the government has not even begun to address the underlying causes of violence in the country. There are basically social, economic, and political causes. The social causes include ethnic and religious differences as well as illiteracy and its consequences, including ignorance. These social differences generate tension when social inequalities and injustice are mapped onto them.

The economic causes range from poverty and unemployment to corruption and overall mismanaged economy. Clearly, there is a correlation between a poor or mismanaged economy and rising unemployment just as there is a correlation between rising unemployment and poverty levels, on the one hand, and the rise in the level of violence, on the other hand.

Politicians are largely responsible for the political causes of violence, by breeding thugs and arming them. Take, for example, the scale of violence in Rivers State alone since the 2015 general election. Every election cycle in the state has been turned into a battle in which people are killed and property damaged as rival teams of thugs go at each other. Little or no attempt has been made to curb the atrocities in a single state. Imagine what it may be like during the general election in all 36 states in 2019.

Clearly, the passivity of President Muhammadu Buhari, the non-prosecution of offenders, and the lack of a coherent strategy of containment of violence have also led to its escalation. It is high time the government embarked on a comprehensive plan to contain violence from various sources, if the 2019 elections were to hold peacefully.

Such a plan should begin with some short-term measures to address the underlying causes of violence, especially in the most violence-prone areas, while a robust strategy is being developed to curb violence. Such a plan cannot be a mere top-down strategy. All stakeholders must be involved, from schools to college campuses; from market women to businessmen; from traditional rulers to religious leaders; from security agents to judicial officers; from political office holders to public servants; from professional groups to civil society organisations; and the list goes on.

The starting point is massive public education about the evil of violence and the need to avoid it. Some of the money being spend on self-promotion by political candidates, especially sitting governors, could go into public education about the evils of violence. Such education should include workshops and seminars to be organised state by state, involving a cross-section of the citizens in each state.

Simultaneously, the security agencies should commence a nationwide operation to mop up arms and ammunition across the country. Possible targets of the operation should include herdsmen, political thugs, cultists, and armed robbers. They might even be enticed with compensation, if they voluntarily surrender their arms.

Above all, the government must take steps to address the major causes of social inequality in Nigeria by creating opportunities for communities to realise their potential within their states. Perhaps, no better measure could be employed to create such opportunities than the restructuring of the country. If well-planned, restructuring should allow for power devolution, fiscal federalism, and the creation of state police. These are measures that could ultimately limit unemployment, reduce poverty, and even encourage a rise in literacy level as no state would like to be left behind.

Whatever measures are taken, the goal should be to reduce the scale of violence in the country ahead of the 2019 elections. Unless some concrete measures are taken in this direction, we may have a different story to tell than desired about the 2019 elections.


Credit – Niyi Akinnaso (The Punch)