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Northern Nigeria Background To Conflict Essay

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NORTHERN NIGERIA: BACKGROUND TO CONFLICT
Africa Report N°168 – 20 December 2010

TABLE OF CONTENTS
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ...................................................................................................... i I.  INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................................. 1  II.  COMMUNITIES, ISLAM AND COLONIAL RULE ................................................... 2  A.  THE PRE-COLONIAL ERA..............................................................................................................2  1.  The people of northern Nigeria and the early spread of Islam .....................................................2  2.  The Sokoto Caliphate ...................................................................................................................3  B.  THE COLONIAL ERA.....................................................................................................................4 

III. THE NORTH SINCE INDEPENDENCE I: POLITICS AND ECONOMY............... 7  A.  POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS: WHAT PLACE FOR THE NORTH IN THE NIGERIAN NATION? .............7  1.  1960-1966: first republic, the Sardauna and the NPC..................................................................7  2.  1966-1999: the military era ..........................................................................................................8  3.  1999- : the return to civilian rule ..................................................................................................8  B.  ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL TRANSFORMATIONS: OIL BOOM, STAGNATION AND SOCIAL MALAISE ..9 

IV. THE NORTH SINCE INDEPENDENCE II: RELIGION .......................................... 11  A.  CHRISTIAN-MUSLIM TENSIONS ..................................................................................................12  B.  DEBATES WITHIN ISLAM ............................................................................................................13  1.  Sufis and reformists ...................................................................................................................13  2.  Sharia and hisbah .......................................................................................................................15  3.  The radical fringe .......................................................................................................................18 

V.  CONFLICT DYNAMICS AND POLICY RESPONSES ............................................ 20  A.  DYNAMICS OF CONFLICTS..........................................................................................................20  1.  Patterns, actors, instruments ......................................................................................................20  2.  Factors fuelling the conflicts ......................................................................................................21  B.  RESPONSES AND POLICY OPTIONS .............................................................................................23  1.  A limited policy response ..........................................................................................................24  2.  Toward better conflict prevention and management ..................................................................25 

VI. CONCLUSION ................................................................................................................ 27  APPENDICES
A. MAP OF NIGERIA .............................................................................................................................28 B. MAP OF NIGERIAN ADMINISTRATIVE BORDERS ..............................................................................29 C. GLOSSARY .......................................................................................................................................30 D. TIMELINE OF MAJOR EVENTS AND MASS VIOLENCE (EXCLUDING NIGER DELTA) ...........................31 E. TWO CASE STUDIES OF CONFLICT ...................................................................................................34 F. ABOUT THE INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP ....................................................................................39 G. CRISIS GROUP REPORTS AND BRIEFINGS ON AFRICA SINCE 2007 .....................................................40 H. CRISIS GROUP BOARD OF TRUSTEES ................................................................................................42

Africa Report N°168

20 December 2010

NORTHERN NIGERIA: BACKGROUND TO CONFLICT
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Violence in northern Nigeria has flared up periodically
over the last 30 years. Mainly in the form of urban riots,
it has pitted Muslims against Christians and has seen confrontations between different Islamic sects. Although there have been some successes in conflict management in the
last decade, the 2009 and 2010 troubles in Bauchi, Borno
and Yobe states involving the radical Boko Haram sect
show that violence still may flare up at any moment. If
the situation were to deteriorate significantly, especially
on Christian-Muslim lines, it could have serious repercussions for national cohesion in the build up to national elections in April 2011. To deal with the risks, communitylevel initiatives need to be reinforced, a more subtle security response should be formulated and the management of public resources must be improved. While some in the

West panic at what they see as growing Islamic radicalism
in the region, the roots of the problem are more complex
and lie in Nigeria’s history and contemporary politics.
The far north, if taken to comprise the twelve states that
reintroduced Sharia (Islamic law) for criminal cases at the
beginning of the century, is home to 53 million people.
The large majority are Muslim, but there is a substantial
Christian minority, both indigenous to the area and the
product of migration from the south of the country. The
Sokoto Caliphate, formed in 1804-1808, is a reference
point for many in the region. As West Africa’s most powerful pre-colonial state, it is a source of great pride. But for some, its defeat by the British in 1903 and subsequent
dealings with colonial and post-colonial states mean the
caliphate is tarnished with the corrupting influence of
secular political power. The impact of colonial rule was
paradoxical. While policies of indirect rule allowed traditional authorities, principally the Sultan of Sokoto, to continue to expand their power, that power was also circumscribed by the British. In the first decades of independence, which were marked

by frequent violent conflict between the regions for control of state resources, the north saw the military as a route to power and influence. But following the disastrous rule of northern General Sani Abacha (1993-1998), the return to democracy in 1999 was viewed as a chance

for the north to seek political and moral renewal. This

lead to the reintroduction of Sharia in twelve states between 1999 and 2002, although only two have applied it seriously. Sharia caused controversy over its compatibility with international human rights standards and the constitution and regarding the position of Christians in those states. It also exacerbated recurrent conflicts between

Muslims and Christians. But it was supported by many
Muslims, and some Christians, who had lost faith in secular law enforcement authorities, and it also stimulated much open and democratic debate over the rule of law.
Tensions over the issue have declined in recent years.
Debates among Muslims in the region tend to divide those
who respect the established religious and secular authorities and their two-century-old Sufi heritage from those who take a “reformist” view. The latter cover a very wide range of opinion, from Salafist-type anti-Sufism to Iranian-inspired Shiite movements, and combine anger at the establishment’s corruption with a promise of a more individualistic religious experience. Typically, some end up being co-opted by both religious and secular authorities,

largely due to the latter’s control over public resources. But others maintain a hostile or rejectionist stance that in some isolated cases turns into violent rejection of public
authority. As in the south, religion provides a sense of
community and security and is increasingly public and
political. In combination with more polarised communal
politics, this has led to clashes over doctrine and political and spiritual authority.
Violent conflict, whether riots or fighting between insurrectional groups and the police, tends to occur at specific flashpoints. Examples are the cities of Kaduna and Zaria,
whose populations are religiously and ethnically very
mixed, and the very poor states of the far north east, where anti-establishment groups have emerged. Many factors
fuelling these conflicts are common across Nigeria: in
particular, the political manipulation of religion and ethnicity and disputes between supposed local groups and “settlers” over distribution of public resources. The failure of the state to assure public order, to contribute to dispute settlement and to implement post-conflict peacebuilding measures is also a factor. Economic decline and absence of employment opportunities, especially as ine-

Northern Nigeria: Background to Conflict
Crisis Group Africa Report N°168, 20 December 2010

quality grows, likewise drives conflict. As elsewhere in
Nigeria, the north suffers from a potent mix of economic
malaise and contentious, community-based distribution of
public resources.
But there is also a specifically northern element. A thread
of rejectionist thinking runs through northern Nigerian
history, according to which collaboration with secular authorities is illegitimate. While calls for an “Islamic state” in Nigeria should not be taken too seriously, despite media hyperbole, they do demonstrate that many in the far north express political and social dissatisfaction through

greater adherence to Islam and increasingly look to the
religious canon for solutions to multiple problems in their
lives.
Much local-level conflict prevention and resolution does
occur. For a vast region beset with social and economic
problems, the absence of widespread conflict is as notable
as the pockets of violence. Some state authorities have
done good work on community relations, but the record is
uneven. At the federal level, clumsy and heavy-handed
security responses are likely to exacerbate conflicts in the future. More fundamentally, preventing and resolving conflict in the far north will require far better management of public resources, an end to their distribution according to

ethnic identity and job-creating economic revival.
Northern Nigeria is little understood by those in the south, still less by the international community. Too often it is
viewed as part of bigger rivalries in a putative West-Islam
divide. All – from Iran to Christian evangelical preachers – need to be more careful of what they say and whom they
support. Officials in the West need to put some of their
fears about radical Islam into a much more Nigerian perspective. Reformist movements – highly diverse and fragmented – have contributed in many positive ways to debates over governance, corruption and rule of law. While some harbour real hostility to the West, for others criticising the U.S. is really a way of expressing frustration with Nigeria’s secular state and its multiple problems.

Dakar/Brussels, 20 December 2010

Page ii

Africa Report N°168

20 December 2010

NORTHERN NIGERIA: BACKGROUND TO CONFLICT
I. INTRODUCTION
This report looks at violent conflict in the far north of
Nigeria. The area considered is the twelve states that expanded the scope of Sharia between 1999 and 2002.1 The region has experienced recurrent violent conflicts, particularly since the early 1980s.2 These are the product of several complex and inter-locking factors, including a volatile mix of historical grievances, political manipulation and

ethnic and religious rivalries. However, the region has historically shown much capacity for peaceful coexistence between its ethnic and religious communities. Local conflicts are sometimes taken to represent the whole of north-

1

The twelve states are Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna,
Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara. The
history of Nigeria’s regions and states is complex and can be confusing. Nigerians frequently use the term the “North” to designate the old Northern Region, inherited from colonial powers and in place until the creation of new states in 1967 (for the situation just prior to this, see map in Appendix B, showing the delineation of the Northern Region). This region covered over half the country, going as far south as the current capital, Abuja. The term no longer has any official use. The southern part of the defunct region, including Jos and Abuja, has long been referred to as the “middle belt”. In other circumstances, Nigerians may refer to six “geo-political zones”: the north west; north east; north central; south west; south east; and south south. Although these terms do not refer to any administrative entity, they do form the basis of the geo-political zoning of the country that applies in allocation of federal employment. The concentration on the twelve states of the far north is simply Crisis Group’s choice for the scope of this report. In some respects, the conflict risks in this area are unique, but in other respects, such as Christian-Muslim tensions and/or tensions over land use, they are similar to other parts of the country, such as the Jos plateau. Problems in the Jos plateau have been well documented elsewhere, for example in Human Rights Watch reports, “Revenge in the Name of Religion; The Cycle of Violence in Plateau and Kano States”, May 2005; and “Arbitrary Killings by Security Forces Submission to the Investigative Bodies on the November 28-29, 2008 Violence in Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria”, 20 July 2009.

2
Broad background can be found in Crisis Group Africa Report
N°113, Nigeria: Want in the Midst of Plenty, 19 July 2006.
Comprehensive (although now somewhat outdated) coverage is
in Toyin Falola, Violence in Nigeria: The Crisis of Religious Politics and Secular Ideologies (Rochester, 1998).

ern Nigerian society, particularly by outside observers,
which is far from the case. Traditions of peaceful coexistence show that conflict is not inevitable, and the right mix of social and political measures can alleviate the risks.
The most prominent conflicts have been between Muslims
and Christians. Adherents of these religions generally live
peacefully together in many parts of the region. But longexisting tensions, especially between Pentecostal Christians and Islamic groups, were aggravated by the reintroduction of Sharia and came to a head in Kaduna, where hundreds if not thousands of people were killed in February and March 2000.3 There have also been conflicts between opposing Islamic sects; between anti-establishment Islamic groups and the Nigerian state; and between longestablished indigenous communities and the more recent “settler” groups. These latter conflicts, fuelled by competition for communally-distributed public resources, are common across the country.

The starting point of efforts to resolve these conflicts
must be a better understanding of the historical, cultural
and other contexts in which they take place. This report,
Crisis Group’s first on the region, seeks to provide that
background. Based on around 100 interviews with people
from all walks of life, many conducted in the local Hausa
language, it explains the context of the conflicts, then focuses on the first three of the main categories (conflicts between indigenous and settler groups are not considered
in this report). It concludes by examining the strategies by which stakeholders, including Nigerian governments and
security agencies, civil society organisations and the international community, have sought to manage these conflicts and the limited results they have had.4

3

Figures for casualties resulting from violence in northern Nigeria, as elsewhere, are highly unreliable. Official and unofficial estimates sometimes exaggerate, but more often underplay them. 4
See Appendix E for detailed case studies of violence in Kaduna and recent violence in the far north east.

Northern Nigeria: Background to Conflict
Crisis Group Africa Report N°168, 20 December 2010

II. COMMUNITIES, ISLAM AND
COLONIAL RULE
To better deal with conflicts in northern Nigeria, it is vital to understand the histories of the region’s ethnic and religious communities. In particular the “centre-periphery” model of the Sokoto Caliphate has had a profound impact

on community relations and debates on the position of
religion in the region’s politics.

A. THE PRE-COLONIAL ERA
1. The people of northern Nigeria and the early
spread of Islam
The far north is home to numerous ethnic groups and religious communities.5 Largely rural, it also includes historically important urban centres such as Kano, Sokoto, Zaria, Maiduguri and Kaduna. These cities have been famous centres of learning in the Islamic world for centuries.6 The predominant groups are the Hausa, Fulani and Kanuri, but there are also about 160 smaller groups. The

three largest are predominantly Muslim, while many of
the smaller are Christian or animist. Muslims are the majority in most of the far northern states, in some cases (Sokoto, Borno) overwhelmingly so, while states such as
Kaduna are more mixed. Since British colonisation in the
early 1900s, these have crystallised into what are commonly referred to as “majority groups” and “minorities”, with further complexity added by the arrival of substantial numbers of mainly Christian immigrants from the country’s south.

Across much of the region, but not all (especially not the
north east, where the Kanuri dominate) the Hausa and Fulani are considered the majority group or groups, which is a reflection of political hegemony as much as pure numbers. Neither the Hausa nor the Fulani is a rigid lineage group – one can become Hausa by adoption or conversion

to Islam, although in doing so one enters at the bottom
rung of a highly stratified society. As large Islamised ethnic groups closely associated with the nineteenth-century

Page 2

Sokoto Caliphate, the Hausa and Fulani are often seen as
dominant in the region and grouped together as a single
Hausa-Fulani group. This is encouraged by Nigeria’s
politics of communal rivalry and to some degree reflects
their own political strategies. However, Hausa and Fulani
are distinguishable in terms of names and languages and
consider themselves distinct. While nearly all Fulani in
the region speak Hausa, the region’s lingua franca, not all Hausa speak Fulani.
The earliest peoples in the region consisted of many
smaller groups, organised in autonomous or communitybased polities. Most had only rudimentary state structures, no imperial rulers and apparently no expansionist ambitions.7 The Hausa, who partly came from migrations and partly formed in-situ, became an identifiable (and selfidentifying) group in roughly the twelfth century. Internal rivalries inhibited the formation of a unified empire, but

they established seven major city-states and seven other
associated-states – collectively now known as Hausaland
– extending into what is the present-day Niger Republic.
By the thirteenth century, these states had gained control
over much of the region, incorporating some smaller groups
into multi-ethnic, Hausa-speaking polities.8 Initially surrounded by the Bornu Empire to the east and the Songhai Empire to the west, it was not until the seventeenth century that the Hausa Empire flourished, by gaining control of significant trans-Saharan trade in salt, gold and slaves. The Kanuri originated from the Kanem Empire that

emerged by the ninth century in what is now south-western
Chad. Internal instability forced them westward across
Lake Chad. Subduing the local people, they established the
Borno Kingdom, distinct from the Hausa states, in around
the eleventh century. Assimilating and inter-marrying with
local ethnic groups, they became the largest ethnic group
in the north east.
Fulani migrated from present-day Senegal, through the
Mali and Songhai empires, to Hausaland in the thirteenth
century and Borno in the fifteenth. Though mostly nomadic
herdsmen, the scholars among them found appointments

7

5

This region covers about 469,000 sq km, 51 per cent of Nigeria’s land mass, and its 53 million people account for 38 per cent of the country’s total population. Located mainly in the Sahelian belt south of the Sahara desert, most of the region is arid, with a low population density of 113 inhabitants per sq km. Figures from the 2006 national population census, available on Wikipedia.

6
Background on the city of Kano can be found in Bawuro
Barkindo “Growing Islamism in Kano City since 1970”, in Louis Brenner (ed.), Muslim Identity and Social Change in SubSaharan Africa (Indiana, 1993). For more general context, see Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, Histoire des Villes en Afrique noire (Paris, 1993), Chapter IV, “Les Villes de l’Islam”.

On the ancient history and ethnic composition of the area, see J. F. Jemkur, Aspects of Nok Culture (Zaria, 1992), pp. 1-20. The largest of these smaller ethnic groups are the Gbagyi, Bajju, Bakulu, Atyap, Ham, Ninzo, Kagoro and Karama.

8
For general background on the concomitant emergence of
Hausa identity and the beginnings of Islam in the region, see Mervyn Hiskett, The Development of Islam in West Africa
(London, 1984); Toyin Falola and Mathew Heaton, A History
of Nigeria (Cambridge, 2008), chapters 1 and 2. These seven
Hausa states were Biram, Daura, Kano, Katsina, Gobir, Rano
and Zazzau (or Zaria). The seven other associated states, Zamfara, Kebbi, Yauri, Gwari, Nupe, Kwararafa and Ilorin, were referred to as Banza Bokwai, a somewhat derogatory term
meaning not perfectly Hausa.

Northern Nigeria: Background to Conflict
Crisis Group Africa Report N°168, 20 December 2010

in Hausa royal houses, as advisers, scribes, judges and tax
collectors, and gradually gained great influence among
Hausa nobles.
Beyond migrations and early settlements, the initial interactions were also shaped by wars, slavery, commerce and the spread of Islam. Many states waged wars to expand
territorial claims and acquire slaves for working feudal
plantations or export to North Africa. The Hausa states
allied intermittently but occasionally fought each other;
they also suffered invasions, notably by the Borno king,
Idris Alooma, in the late sixteenth century.
Commercial transactions created other links. For instance,
as Hausa merchants travelled southward, they established
mid-way bases that later became permanent Hausa settlements amid other peoples. This led to the establishment of Hausa towns that often became the focal points of economic, political and administrative life in their respective areas. Moreover, as the capitals of the Hausa states and of

the Borno Empire were major southern entrepots of transSaharan trade, they served as conduits for spreading North African and Arab ideas and culture in the region.
The most significant interactions, however, were forged
by the spread of Islam, which occurred in two broad
phases. Between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries,
Islam was introduced largely peacefully, by clerics and
merchants (often the same individuals) from North Africa
and the Arab world, and from across West Africa. The
rulers of the Borno Empire were the first to convert, in
the eleventh century. With the coming of Wangarawa
traders and scholars from Mali at the end of the fourteenth
century and increase in trade with the Songhai Empire in
the fifteenth, Hausa kings followed suit. Already by the
fourteenth century, Muslim scholars from Mali occupied
important administrative posts in the Hausa city-states.9
The second phase started as a revivalist revolution at the
dawn of the nineteenth century: a Fulani preacher, Shehu
Usman dan Fodio, led a jihad initially aimed at purifying
Islamic practices in the region and ultimately at installing a new righteous leadership. With support from the nomadic Fulani and disgruntled Hausa peasantry, who had all suffered under the despotism and corruption of the

Hausa kings, the jihad overran the by-then fourteen Hausa
states between 1804 and 1808 and replaced their chiefs
with Fulani emirs. Only Borno, conquered for a limited
period (1808-1812), was never fully subdued by the new
regime, the Sokoto Caliphate.

9

On this period, see Roman Loimeier, Islamic Reform and Political Change in Nigeria (Evanston, 1997); M.G. Smith, Government in Kano (Boulder, 1997); and John N. Paden, Religion and Political Culture in Kano (Berkeley, 1973).

Page 3

2. The Sokoto Caliphate
The new empire derived cohesion from Islam but consisted
of autonomous emirates, each with its emir and administration. At the apex was the caliph, based in Sokoto, who doubled as both political leader and spiritual guide. The
caliphate retained the pre-jihad feudal system, replacing
the Hausa aristocracy with royal Fulani families. Communities paid tithes to the emirs, who in turn paid tribute to the caliph. Between the capitals of the emirates, trade
flourished, transport routes were relatively secure, and the cities attained considerable wealth.10
The Fulani rulers entrenched Islamic values and practices
in most of the region.11 Although this was sometimes met
with passive resistance from sections of the population,
it was crucial to fostering a common culture that transcended ethnicity and held the caliphate together. Sharia was applied “more widely, and in some respects more rigidly ... than anywhere else outside Saudi Arabia”,12 and indigenous religious practices, such as traditional Hausa

ceremonies (Bori), were suppressed, or at least became
less visible. However, the Fulani rulers also assimilated
many elements of Hausa culture, thus creating the basis
for what some see as a progressively homogeneous HausaFulani identity. A prominent scholar observed that the caliphate also promoted a culture of “knowledge and intellectualism”, such that “education became the yardstick for all opportunities in the state and knowledge a ladder

for climbing heights of respect and dignity”.13
Yet, the caliphate was not an ideal kingdom. Resistance
to Fulani rule, including resistance from Fulani nobles
who felt excluded from emerging power structures, and
more general insecurity, especially along its periphery,
continued throughout the nineteenth century. While Islam
helped to consolidate political rule, it also inspired re-

10

On the Sokoto Caliphate, see H.A.S. Johnston, The Fulani
Empire of Sokoto (London, 1967); A M Kani and K A Gandi
(eds.), State and Society in the Sokoto Caliphate (Sokoto,
1990); and Johannes Harnischfeger, Democratisation and Islamic Law (Frankfurt, 2008). 11
An example of how Islam was used as part of the construction of the caliphate is that the Islamic notion of charity (zakat) was employed for tax collecting. See Steven Pierce, “Looking like a State: Colonialism and the Discourse of Anticorruption in Northern Nigeria”, Comparative Studies in History and Society, 2006, p. 902.

12
J.N.D. Anderson, Islamic Law in Africa (London, 1955), cited in Philip Ostien and Sati Fwatshak, “Historical Background”, in Philip Ostien (ed.), Sharia Implementation in Northern Nigeria 1999-2006: A Sourcebook (Ibadan, 2007), also available online at www.sharia-in-africa.net, p. 3.

13
Muktar Umar Bunza, “The Sokoto Caliphate after 200 years:
A Reflection”, conference paper, Usman dan Fodio University, Sokoto, 2004.

Northern Nigeria: Background to Conflict
Crisis Group Africa Report N°168, 20 December 2010

volts, particularly where people suffered more intensive
taxation. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, many
communities, especially at the eastern margins of the
caliphate, had been devastated by revolts inspired both by
economic grievances and differences over religious doctrine. As the caliphate’s prosperity was based in part on plantation labour, warriors from the emirates constantly
raided and looted peripheral regions, regarded as heathen
territory, to capture slaves.14 Memories of that era still
haunt relations, especially between the Fulani and the
smaller groups the raiders plundered.
The late years of the caliphate were marked by increasing
tensions between the two major Sufi brotherhoods (Tariqa)
– the Qadiriyya and the Tijaniyya. The Qadiriyya, present
in the region from the fifteenth century, became the dominant (and official) order of the caliphate. However, in the nineteenth century, the Tijaniyya, whose social base was
among the newly rich traders and bureaucratic classes,
became more popular and over time associated with resistance to the ruling aristocracies of the region, and of Sokoto in particular.15
In the late nineteenth century the British government established its control of southern Nigeria as a protectorate (with Lagos as a colony). In 1900, it began extending its
holding northward, proclaiming that region also a protectorate. Frederick Lugard, appointed High Commissioner of Northern Nigeria, slowly negotiated with the emirs to
accept colonial rule. Most cooperated, their kingdoms
already weakened by internal dissent following the end of
the once-lucrative Atlantic slave trade. Those who resisted
were defeated, from Bida in 1901 to Sokoto in 1903. The
killing of the fleeing Caliph Attahiru I, in July 1903,
marked the end of the caliphate as a sovereign political
formation.
The Sokoto Caliphate occupies an important, but ambivalent, position in the consciousness of Muslims in northern Nigeria. Its history is a source of pride, and its legacy
gives a sense of community and cohesion. This includes,
unusually for West Africa, an indigenous African written
text, Hausa, which is still widely used. It has also left behind a structure of traditional governance, centred on the caliphate emirs and their inheritors. This pride is rein14

Exact figures for slave numbers are hard to verify, but scholar Paul Lovejoy claims that at the end of the nineteenth century, slaves accounted for between 25-50 per cent of the caliphate’s total population, making it the second largest slave society in modern history after the U.S. “Problems of Slave Control in the Sokoto Caliphate”, in Philip D. Curtin and Paul E. Lovejoy (eds.), Africans in Bondage: Studies in Slavery and the Slave Trade: Essays in Honour of Philip D. Curtin (Wisconsin, 1986), p. 236; also see Paul E. Lovejoy, Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa (Cambridge, 1983), p. 195.

15
Roman Loimeier, op. cit., pp. 19-25.

Page 4

forced by the fact the caliph did not surrender to British
rule, but fought to the death.
However, that very defeat was traumatic for the region.16
The fact that the caliphate continued to exist under British sovereignty for nearly 60 years has given its heritage
much ambivalence. Equally, attitudes to the caliphate and
its heritage differ greatly in different locations, following the centre-periphery structure of the entity itself. Over the decades, it has become, in the eyes of many, the locus of
a northern Muslim “establishment” that is vulnerable to
accusations of selling out to non-Muslim outside powers
and, more generally, of moral or material corruption.

B. THE COLONIAL ERA
From the colonial proclamation of 1900 to independence
in 1960, the British controlled Nigeria through indirect
rule. This practice, already well tested in other parts of the empire, involved restructuring local traditional authorities and deposing those office holders who resisted, so as to
create a compliant local power base that furthered British
interests. Local rulers were used to control the populace
and raise revenue but were supervised by British officials
who could veto their decisions. Although they restructured many emirate authorities, seeking more compliant office holders, the British also sought to avoid any direct
disruption of the region’s social structures, including its dominant religion and culture (slave owning was only
finally abolished in 1936). Yet, colonial rule introduced
significant political, judicial and cultural changes.
Politically, the defeat of the caliph and establishment of
Kaduna as the region’s new capital diminished the authority and influence of the sultan in Sokoto. He retained spiritual leadership of all Muslims in the region, but a partial transfer of power from the aristocracy to a new political

class had begun. Several decades later, in preparation for
independence, the colonial administration, seeking to separate judicial from traditional powers, introduced reforms that further reduced the influence of traditional authorities. In 1959, for example, the British governor announced that

the sultan and the emirs would thenceforth be subject to
ministerial decrees. They were thus stripped of the power
to appoint and discipline Islamic judges.17
While colonial policy curtailed the powers of the emirs,
it paradoxically relied on them for indirect rule. This had
important consequences. Indirect rule worked in the emir16

The defeat of the caliphate by a British force composed mainly of southern Nigerian colonial troops was also the starting point for the common association of southern Nigerians with foreign Christian powers that remains an important aspect of northern Nigerian thought today.

17
Johannes Harnischfeger, op. cit.

Northern Nigeria: Background to Conflict
Crisis Group Africa Report N°168, 20 December 2010

ates that already had fairly well-established administrative systems, but not so effectively in other areas where emirate administration had never penetrated successfully, largely due to resistance by minority groups. As indirect

rule in some ways reinforced emirate administration,
many minority areas were further subordinated to emirate
power with little regard for their own distinct identities.
Conversions to Christianity, often in reaction to the perceived power of the emirate administration, were common among the minority (ie, non-Hausa-Fulani) groups. These smaller groups expressed fears of domination in a

post-colonial Nigeria, but a 1958 commission largely dismissed their concerns.18 Nevertheless, colonial rule facilitated the domination of Hausa and Fulani elites, especially in areas that minority groups had historically considered

their exclusive domains, and sowed the seeds for conflicting claims to political space, economic rights and societal values.
The British retained the Islamic law established by the
caliphate but over time limited it to civil cases. They restricted the application of punishments such as lashings and subsequently scaled down enforcement of Sharia to
the jurisdiction of local-level native courts. Throughout
the colonial period, a somewhat vague division of labour
operated between the emirate legal councils, which applied common law principles to issues such as commercial property, and the Islamic judges (locally called Alkali), who ruled on family issues. Islamic principles of compensation for violence and murder were frequently applied.19 In the final period of colonial rule, in 1959, the British expunged Sharia content on the grounds that some of its provisions were incompatible with the rights of all citizens in a religiously plural society. Under pressure from the

colonial government,20 and in a context where the Alkali
had become somewhat discredited by playing an increasingly political role against the new pro-independence parties, the Northern Region’s government accepted a compromise code (called the “Penal Code”) that established a Sharia court of appeal with jurisdiction only for Muslim

personal law. Many northern Muslim leaders viewed those

Page 5

changes as elevating Christian jurisprudence over their
own Islamic judicial heritage.21
Culturally, the colonial administration generally discouraged Western innovations. It allowed Christian missionaries and their schools only in the non-Muslim fringes of the defunct caliphate. Even so, it introduced Roman script

to replace ajami for writing the Hausa language and established a European-style education system alongside the Islamic system. All this jeopardised much pre-existing
scholarship and diminished the status of clerics and others
unlettered in English.22 With time, these educational and
cultural policies sharpened the older cleavages between
Muslim Hausa and Fulani and smaller groups.
Colonial developments also altered the region’s economy
and demography. The construction of railway lines from
Lagos to Kano, between 1898 and 1912, and amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Nigeria protectorates, in 1914, attracted an influx of southern migrants responding to the emerging economic opportunities in Kano, Kaduna and Zaria. In many respects, interaction between the resulting plurality of ethnic groups has been productive

and peaceful. The railway, for example, gave a great boost
to agriculture, especially the production of cash crops.
However, this migration did not lead to greater interethnic integration in all cases. This was partly because the ruling aristocracies from the caliphate era were territorial and not willing to let “strangers” into their areas. It was also partly a result of the British policy of preserving the north’s Islamic identity and avoiding potential inter-group tensions. Thus, the British discouraged the movement of

non-Muslim migrants into the core Muslim areas of some
of the region’s cities, pushing them instead into the sabon gari (strangers’ quarters).
Over time, the distinction between locals (“indigenes”)
and strangers emerged as a key feature of Nigerian social
and political life. These multiple and overlapping mechanisms of communal identification, or “associational ethnicity”, provide support networks that are especially important for new immigrants.23 But, combined with segregation, they have sharpened ethno-religious identities and reinforced discriminatory practices that continue to influence relationships between the Hausa and the Fulani and other urban dwellers.

18

See “Nigeria: Report of The Commission Appointed to Enquire into the Fears of Minorities and the Means of Allaying Them”, Colonial Office, London, July 1958, pp. 52-73.
19
See Allan Christelow “Islamic Law and Judicial Practice in Nigeria: An Historical Perspective”, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, vol. 22, 2002. See also Philip Ostien, op. cit.; M. Sani Umar, Islam and Colonialism: Intellectual Responses of Muslims of Northern Nigeria to British Colonial Rule (Leiden, 2005). 20

Ahmadu Bello later said he was told in very clear terms that the region would never be able to attract the foreign investment it needed for development, unless it amended its laws in accordance with Western principles of justice.

21

Crisis Group interview, former history lecturer now publisher, Kaduna, 15 July 2009. 22
Ibrahim Ahmad Aliyu, “Shariah Implementation So Far”, The Journal of Islamic and Comparative Law, vol. 23, Centre for
Islamic Legal Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, 2002, p. 35.
23
Chiamaka Jacinta Nwaka, “Dynamism of Conflict in Kano,
Response to a Threatened Identity”, Conference paper, Berlin, June 2008.

Northern Nigeria: Background to Conflict
Crisis Group Africa Report N°168, 20 December 2010

The period leading to independence witnessed the initial
major instances of inter-ethnic violence. For instance, in
1953, the Hausa and Igbo migrants clashed in Kano over
the attempts by southern parties to hold anti-colonial and
pro-independence rallies. That riot, which officially left at least 36 people dead (21 Igbo) and more than 200 injured,
reflected the opposition to independence of northern politicians, who feared that an end to British rule would mean domination of the north by the more developed south.24 It
also demonstrated local resentment of Igbo economic
domination, for example in petty commerce.
The colonial era was likewise marked by religious tensions, even conflicts. In the eyes of the authorities, the greatest threat came from “Mahdism”, a trans-Saharan,
Muslim-based anti-colonial movement that originated in a
messianic doctrine according to which a Mahdi would
emerge at the turn of each century, with the powers to attract a large following, strengthen Islam and make justice triumph. While Mahdists undoubtedly had an anti-colonial
influence,25 and clashes occurred, their importance was
often exaggerated by panicked colonial officials. However, an important consequence was to drive the British and the indigenous ruling classes closer together in the
face of a common threat.
The later years of the colonial era also saw the deepening
of tensions between the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya brotherhoods. As the ruling aristocracy in Sokoto (predominantly Qadiriyya) aligned with the colonial rulers, its members
were increasingly accused of collaboration, amassing
power and wealth and condoning decadent Western influences. In reaction, leaders in different parts of the region began to align with Tijaniyya, attracted by the brotherhood’s apparent anti-colonial and anti-Western stance.26 Initially the tensions between the two orders were confined to scholars and the political elite. However, by the early 1940s, as Ibrahim Niass, the highly influential

Senegalese Tijaniyya leader, and his ally, Emir Muhammad Sanusi of Kano, began to transform Tijaniyya into a more influential mass movement with extensive political
and economic networks, the conflict grew into direct confrontation.

Page 6

The 1951 election greatly increased the political importance of both orders, as two political parties, the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) and the Northern
People’s Congress (NPC), competed for their allegiance.
As the bargaining power of the orders grew, being seen to
have religious authority began to carry political implications. In Sokoto, where the Qadiriyya felt particularly challenged by what they saw as an aggressive Tijaniyya
presence, the two clashed several times in the mid-1950s.
In spite of these developments, caliphate influence remained strong. In the run-up to independence, the main political
party, the NPC, was a predominantly Hausa-Fulani elite
organisation led by Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna
(the commonly used name for Sultan) of Sokoto and a
descendant of Usman dan Fodio.27 Although the party’s
younger and more radical elements, seeking to free the
talakawa (commoners) from the oppressive hold of the
sarauta (aristocracy), broke away to form the NEPU, it
was the NPC that led the region when the country gained
independence in 1960.
As in other parts of Africa, colonial rule in northern Nigeria led to population movements, new cities and new economic opportunities. It reinforced some existing identities while stimulating ne...

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2007 2007.113 2008 2009 2010 2011 21 217 218 22 223 229 23 236 237 24 240 25 250 251 252 259 26 261 266 27 28 29 296 3 3.6 3.7 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 365 37 38 39 3day 4 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 469 47 471 48 49 5 50 500 51 518 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 6 6.6 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 7 70 700 71 71.7 72 73 74 75 76 76.8 77 78 780 79 8 80 80.9 800 81 82 83 83.3 84 85 85.2 86 86.3 87 88 88.6 89 89.7 9 90 902 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 abacha abandon abat abba abdalla abdu abduct abdullah abdullahi abdulmatallab abdulmutallab abia abil abiola abl ablaz abolish abound abramowitz abroad abrupt absenc absolut abu abu-odeh abubakar abuja abuja-bas abus abyei academ accept access accompani accord account accountability.94 accur accus achiev ackerman acquir acr acrimoni acronym across act action activ activist actor actual actualis acut ad adam adamawa adamu addit address adelman adher adi adjourn adjust administr admir admit adnan adolesc adopt adua adult adulteri adulthood advanc advantag advic 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ethno-religi ethnoreligi eti eu europ european european-styl evalu evan evangel evangelist evanston eve even event eventu everi everyday evid evil evok evolv ex ex-governor ex128 exacerb exact exagger examin exampl except exclud exclus execut exercis exhort exist exodus expand expans expansionist expect expens experi experienc expert expertis explain exploit explor export expos exposur express expung extend extens extent extern extrajudici extrapol extrem extremist eye eysken f face facilit fact fact-find facto factor factori faculti fahlén fail failur fair faisal faith faith-bas fallen falola famili families.175 famous fan far far-reach fare farflung farmland farouk farther fashion fast father father-in-law fatima fault favour fdlr fear featur februari feder federal-level federation.28 feed feel feinstein fell fellowship felt femal femi feudal fidel field field-bas fieldwork fiercest fieri fifteenth fight fighter figur fill film final finalis financi find finish finland finnish fior 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prepar prescript presenc present present-day preserv presid presidenti press pressur pretend pretoria prevent previous price pride primarili prime princ princeton princip principl prior prioriti prison pristina privat privileg prize pro pro-el-zakzaki pro-independ pro-sharia pro-west probabl probe problem process processus proclaim proclam produc product profess profession professor proffer profil profit profound program programm progress prohibit project prolong promin promis promot prompt prone pronounc prop propag proper properti properties.161 prophet proport propos prosaic prosecut prosecutor prospect prosper prostitut protect protector protest protract provid provinc provinci provis provoc provok public publish punish punit puntland pupil purchas pure purif purifi purist puriti purport purpos pursu push put putat pär qadiriyya qaeda qualif qualiti quarter quest question quick quiet quietism quot quran r rabasa rabiu radcliff radic radicalis radio rahila raid raider rail railway rais ralli ralph ramadan ramaphosa ramo ran rand rang rank rano rape rapid rapporteur rapproch rare rate rather ratic raus re re-emerg re-establish re-form reach react reaction reactiv read readi real realis realiti realli reason reassess rebellion recal recalcitr receiv recent recept recit reckon recognis recommend reconcil reconcili reconfigur reconstitut record recruit recurr red redeem redrawn reduc reduct refer reflect refocus reform reformist refrain refug refund refus refut regard regim region region-domin region.11 region.16 region.95 regions.29 regist regul regular regulations.187 rein14 reinforc reinhard reintegr reintroduc reintroduct reject rejection rejectionist relat relationship releas relev reli reliabl relianc relief reliev religi religion religionist religios religiously-inform religiously-motiv relinquish reloc reluct remain remark rememb remind rene renew renunci reoccurr repel repercuss replac repli report repres represent repris republ reput requir research resent reserv resettl resid resist resistance.110 resolut resolv reson resort resourc respect respond respons restart restitut restor restrain restrict restructur result resurrect retain retali retaliatori retic retir retreat return revel reveng revenu revers review revitalis reviv revivalist revolt revolut revolutionari ricardo rich richard rickshaw rid ride rifl rig right righteous rigid ringlead riordan riot rioter ripost rise risk rita rival rivalri road robert robertson robin robinson rocard rochest rockefel rod role roman romi root rose rotimi rough round rout royal rttnew rudimentari ruin rule rule.179 ruler rumour run run-up runci rung rural rural-urban rush russia russian ruth rwanda réussir rühe sa sabancı sabon sabon-tasha sacrileg safe safeti sahara saharan sahel sahelian sahnoun said saidu saint sakon salafist salafist-typ salamé salari salifu salli salt saltzman salvador saminu samuel sanction sanctions124 sandi sani santa sanusi sap sarajevo sarauta sardauna sati satisfi saudi save saw say scale scapegoat scenario sceptic schedul scheme scholar scholarship school school.48 schools.47 scienc scientif scope scribe script scriptur search season seat seced second second-class secretari secretary-gener secretarygener sect sect/yusufiyya sectarian section sector secular secularist secur see seed seek seem seen segreg seiz self self-assert self-serv selfidentifi sell semshak senat send seneg senegales senior sens sensat sensit sent sentenc sentiment seoul separ separatist septemb serbia seri serious sermon serv servant servic session set setback seth settl settlement settler settlers.151 seven seventeenth sever severe.42 sgf shagari shallow shape share sharia shariah sharpen shehu sheik sheikh sheila shekarau shell shi shift shih shiit shimbun shimon shlomo shonekan shoot shootout shop short shortcom shot show shown shun side sidelin sides.38 sieg sierra sight sign signifi signific sigrid similar simpl simpli simplist simultan sin sinc singapor singl sir sit site situ situat six sixteenth size skill slave slave-raid slaveri slaves.14 slide slogan slovenian slowli slum small smaller smith sms soar sober socal social socialis societ societi society.85 socio socio-econom sociocultur sociolog socitext sohlman sokoto solana sold sole solidar soludo solut solv somali somalia somaliland someon sometim somewhat somewher son song songhai soon sophist soro sort sortir sought sour sourc sourcebook south south-eastern south-western south.24 southern southward sovereign sovereignti sow space spain span spark speak spear special specialist specif spectacular spectrum speech spend spent spill spiritu spite split spoil spoke sponsor sporad spread sq squabbl sri sss stabil stabilité staci staff stage stagnat stakehold stalem stall stanc stance.26 stand standard stanley start state state-level state-sponsor state.57 state.58 state.77 statement states.51 station statist statoil status stay steer stem stenbäck step stereotyp steve steven still stimul stipend stir stockholm stoke stone stone-throw stonebridg stop stori storm strain strait stranger stranglehold strateg strategi stratifi street strength strengthen stress strict stricter strike strip stronach strong stronghold strongly-held structur struggl student studi style subdu suberu subject submiss submit subordin subsaharan subsequ subsidi substanti subtl suburb success successor succinct sudan sudden suffer sufi sufism suit sulaiman suleiman sultan summari summon sun sunna sunnah sunni sunni-shiit superfici superimpos superior supervis support support.130 suppos suppress suprem supremaci surfac surg surin surrend surround surviv susan suspect suspicion sustain swane swap sweden swedish swell swift swiss switzerland swollen sword sworn symbol sympathi symposium syndrom syria system sécuris tabl tactic tafawa tafsir taiwan tajikistan take taken taker talakawa taliban taliban.171 talisman talk tall tanshi tanzania target tariqa tarnish tasha task tat tax taxat taxes.122 taxi tbilisi teach teacher teachers.150 team technolog teenag tehran televangelist televis telfer temperatur temptat ten tend tens tension term termin terribl territori terror terrorist test text textil textual thailand thenceforth theolog theori therefor thin thing think third thirteen thirteenth thisday thoma though thought thousand thread threat threaten three three-day three-year thrive throughout throw thrown thuggeri thus thwart tie tijaniyya tillek time timelin times.65 timor timor-lest timothi tion tit tit-for-tat tith today todung togeth told toler toll tomb tone toni took tool top torn tortur torudag total tough tour tournant toward town toyin tract traction trade trader tradit traffic traffick train traine tran trans-saharan transact transcend transfer transform transit translat transport transsaharan trap traumat travel treat treatment tremist trevallion tri tribal tribun tribut trigger triumph troop troubl true truli trust truste truth tsiga tuchman tudun tudun-wada turaki tureta turkey turki turkish turkmenistan turn turnout twelfth twelv twelve-pag twenti twenty-year two two-century-old two-day type typic u u.s uba uff uganda uk ulama ultim umar umaru umbc umbrella un unabl unaccept unacceptable.114 unambigu uncar unchang uncomfort undat under under-employ under-fund under-report under-secretary-gener underclass undercurr undercut underemploy undergo underli underlin undermin underplay undersecretari undersecretary-gener understand understood undertak undertook undoubt undp une uneasili unemploy uneven unfair unfavour ungwar unifi uniform union uniqu unit uniti univers unless unlett unlik unoffici unpaid unreli unrest unstabl unsurpris untangl untouch unusu up upbring updat upkeep.49 upkeep.52 upon uppsala upris upublish upward urban urbanis urg us us.39 usaid use use.118 usman usual uwazi uwazuruik uzbekistan uzoigw v v.a.2 vagu valid valu valuabl vanguard vari varieti various vast vehicl vehicles.152 venezuela verifi versa vest veto vi vice victim victor victori video vidrovitch view view.100 vigilant vill villag violenc violence.103 violence.116 violence.134 violence.163 violence.188 violent violently.126 virtual visibl vision visit vital viva vivatrust voa vocal vocat voic void vol volatil volker volt volunt vote vulner wa wada wage wake wakili wal walk wallén wangarawa want war war-on-terror warden warehous warn warrior washington watch water wave way weaken wealth wealth.10 wealthi websit week weeks-long weiss welfar well well-connect well-educ well-establish well-inform went wesley west west-islam west.46 western western-styl westernis westward whatev whenev wherein whether whichev white whittl whole whose wide widely-circul wider widespread wikipedia will william wim winner wisconsin wish wit within without wive women woodyer word wore work worker workshop world world.60 worldview worldwid worri worsen worship worst would wristwatch write written wuy www.crisisgroup.org www.diafrica.org www.sharia-in-africa.net xenophob ya yahaya yakubu yan yandaba yapı yar yardstick yauri year yearn years.125 years.135 years.71 years.98 yedioth yelwa yemen yerima yet yinusa yobe yoichi york yoruba young younger youth yugoslavia yuguda yunusa yusuf yusufiyyah yves z zainab zakari zakat zakzaki zamfara zango zangon zangon-kataf zaria zazzau zbigniew zealand zeinet zelmira zimbabw zone à élector état óscar