The Jos, Plateau State, in the center of Nigeria, has been wracked by conflict between nomadic Muslims from the north and local “indigenous” farmers since the 17th century. The conflict has flared up in the last two decades. After several commissions failed to bring the warring communities to the table, HD began working in Nigeria in early 2013 to try to end the violence and facilitate reconciliation.
Drawing on its successful experience in supporting the Nakuru Peace process in the Rift Valley of Kenya in 2012-2013, HD engaged leaders of the five main communities in Jos —the Afizere, Anaguta, Berom, Fulani, and Hausa—as well as the State and Federal Governments in an inter-communal dialogue process for the first time. Three additional community groups – the Igbo, Yoruba and South –South – were also brought on board in December 2013.
The dialogue process included a total of eight sessions carried out over a period of ten months, during which the communities discussed the issues they view as the causes of the inter-communal violence, and came up with recommendations to be shared with both the State and Federal Governments for action.
For the past twenty years, Jos has been the centre of a bitter dispute between the, mostly Muslim, Hausa/Fulani and the, mainly Christian, Berom, Anaguta, and Afizere who are the local indigenous groups. The political crisis over indigenous rights and government representation in Jos has developed into a protracted communal conflict affecting most parts of the state. Over 4,000 people have been killed in inter-communal violence since 2001 and only the heavy presence of the military and police forces currently ensures a fragile calm in the city and surrounding Local Government Areas.
Deep mistrust and even hatred now exists between the different groups, who are vastly polarized and mostly live in separate guarded communities in the city. Tensions remain over the allocation of resources, electoral competition, fears of religious domination, and contested land rights. These issues are further exacerbated by poverty and unemployment as well as the emergence of armed groups and the proliferation of weapons. If the underlying roots of the crisis are not addressed, there is a serious risk of future large-scale violence.
HD held initial consultations with key stakeholders including leaders of five community groups, Federal and State Government officials, women’s representatives, religious leaders, civil society, the business community and youth groups, to seek their buy-in for its initiative. The consultations served as an avenue to gather the perspectives of the community leaders on the nature and structure of the future dialogue process. The proposed approach was well received by the communities who saw this as a community-driven process thus giving them a direct involvement in finding solutions to their concerns. Initial consultations also helped reduce their fears of repeating previously unsuccessful peace initiatives.
The State Government in Jos and the Federal Government in Abuja (especially the Offices of the National Security Advisor and the Secretary to the State Government) expressed willingness to participate in the dialogue sessions and continue to show interest in, and support for, the process. HD met religious leaders, such as the Chief Imam of Jos, the Catholic and Anglican Archbishop of Jos, as well as representatives of civil society to ensure they were engaged in helping to find solutions to the problems in Jos. Interfaith groups were also involved through meetings, which have fed into the dialogue process. HD also engaged youth groups who pledged their support for the dialogue process and committed themselves to ensuring peace prevails in that city.
Following initial consultations with representatives of the community groups, HD facilitated bilateral discussions to help them detail their issues and grievances in position papers. Those were ultimately endorsed by each community during outreach visits. As a result of the position papers and the extensive outreach campaign, 30 issues were distilled into one document entitled a Roadmap/Agenda for Discussion, to serve as an outline for the dialogue process. The latter included eight sessions over a ten month period between August 2013 and June 2014, with each lasting six to seven days. The eight community groups were the principal participants in the dialogue sessions along with State Government officials who participated as observers.
HD launched the inter-communal dialogue process (HD’s Jos Forum) with an official ceremony attended by members of eight communities, Federal and State Government officials, religious leaders as well as representatives from women’s and youth groups, business community and civil society.
To date, HD has carried out eight dialogue sessions on various issues, including two interim sessions to deal with emerging tensions in the countryside around Jos. The issues covered in these sessions have included: trust building and religious tolerance, rebuilding places of worship, burial grounds and issues relating to youths, governance issues and access to services, traditional rulership and the renaming of places, land annexation, displacement of people and insecurity in the countryside, issues of indigeneship, impunity, reparations and compensation, securing of lives and property and public apologies. Following each dialogue session, the Jos Forum developed and endorsed recommendations on the issues discussed. These have ultimately formed the basis of follow-up actions by the Government, the communities, and civil society and development actors. In addition, the women through their own steering committee presented a Declaration of Peace to the Jos Forum, demonstrating their efforts towards ensuring the success of the dialogue process. The declaration was received by the Jos Forum with overwhelming enthusiasm. Likewise the idea was welcomed to include the women’s suggestions and additions in the Jos Forum’s final recommendations.
HD will continue to support the communities in the implementation of the recommendations in co-ordination with the Federal, State and Local Governments and civil society. The implementation phase of the dialogue process will serve as a catalyst linking the Jos Forum to the more long-term peacebuilding actors including international and local development actors, relevant government bodies and broader civil society.
There has been an important turnout from both the Federal and State Governments at the dialogue sessions which has allowed for a candid and useful exchange with community Elders, as well as genuine signs of goodwill and a co-operative spirit.
HD would like to express its gratitude to the Canadian Government for its continued support to the organisation’s work in Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria.