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ICRC activities in response to the violence in Nigeria

15-11-2001 Operational Update





 Executive summary  

  • Since the beginning of 2001, Nigeria has been plagued by a marked increase in intercommunal tensions and violence, which have caused the deaths of hundreds of people and displaced tens of thousands of families, mainly in the states of Kaduna, Nassarawa, Plateau, Bauchi, Kano, Benue and Taraba.

  • The ICRC has been supporting the efforts of the Nigerian Red Cross to assist the many victims of the violence, providing essential non-food items, food assistance, supplies of water and urgent medical assistance.

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 General situation  

Since the beginning of the year, Nigeria has been plagued by a marked increase in intercommunal tensions and violence, which have caused the deaths of hundreds of people and displaced tens of thousands of families, mainly in the states of Kaduna, Nassarawa, Plateau, Bauchi, Kano, Benue and Taraba.

Recent clashes took place between the Tiv and Jukun communities in eastern Taraba State. A history of often extreme violence exists between the two ethnic groups, principally over issues of power and the control of land. The Tiv community are the majority in Benue State, but have also settled in Nassarawa and Plateau states. Meanwhile, the Jukun are the largest community in Taraba State. Over the last few months, there have been rumours of growing tension between the Tiv and Jukun, and in September, Nigerian army reinforcements were sent from Bauchi to intervene.

The situation deteriorated dramatically following the abduction and killing of 19 soldiers on the Taraba-Benue border between 12-15 October. Thousands of Tiv from villages in Benue State close to the where the soldiers had been killed fled towards Makurdi, the Benue capital, out of fear of possible army reprisals. These displaced people are additional to those in Taraba State (both Tiv and Jukun) resulting from the intercommunal violence of the last few weeks.

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 Humanitarian situation  

Since the renewed clashes between Tiv and Jukun, more than 200 people have been killed as a direct result of the violence or from their flight under difficult conditions. Several villages have been completely destroyed and more than 40,000 people displaced in Taraba and Benue states, staying in areas thought to be safer.

In evaluations carried out in Taraba State, Nigerian Red Cross Society (NRCS) teams have registered a total of 3,035 displaced families (17,000 people) who are generally staying in the four main towns (the capital Jalingo, Mutum Biu, Bali and Wukari). There are also more than 500 families living in nomadic residences.

Although the Benue authorities claim to have registered 20,000 displaced people, Red Cross teams have only been able to register about 10,000 people (5,000 staying in a camp at Agasha and 5,000 in four different village schools). Nevertheless, it is important to bear in mind that fear has caused numerous people to hide in the bush and several villages are difficult to access, with roads that are unsuitable for motor vehicles. When the situation calms down and aid distributions arrive, the number of victims is very likely to increase.


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 Initial Red Cross emergency response  

At the outset of the crisis, NRCS volunteers from Taraba State evacuated two dozen sick and seriously injured patients to Mutun Biyu and Sankara hospitals and handed over medical materials. They also looked after families arriving at Jalingo camp and at Mutum Biyu and provided first-aid, and the National Society organised distributions of clean water. At Benue State, they also facilitated the evacuation of 1,700 people from Gboko to Makurdi.

Irish Catholic missionaries were able to quickly reach Jalingo and Bali, however, their capacities are limited. Nevertheless, like the authorities, they have been able to distribute several sacks of rice to the displaced at Mutum Biu.

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 Additional planned Red Cross activities in Benue and Taraba states  

The NRCS is traditionally active in crisis situations but often lacks the necessary means to meet identified needs. The ICRC works closely with the NRCS to provide expertise in evaluating needs and offering logistics resources in emergency situations. In accordance with these working procedures, the NRCS, with ICRC support, is currently carrying out an initial distribution of non-food items to 25,000 people, of whom 17,000 are staying in 7 camps in Taraba State and 8,000 in 7 camps in Benue State. A more detailed evaluation of the numbers of displaced and their needs in the accessible camps in Benue State will then be carried out. Thereafter, the ICRC/NRCS will implement a second assistance phase, consisting of a one-off one-month food distribution to 25,000-30,000 people according to the situation. At present, it is planned that each family receives 10 kg of rice, 5 kg of beans, 0.5 kg of salt and 1 litre of oil. These foodstuffs are designed to meet the population's basic needs in this still unstable context and prevent any inequalities between the displaced and neighbouring communities who are also in chronic need of aid.

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 The spiral of violence: Red Cross assistance to date  

  •  Nassarawa - Bauchi - Kaduna (June 2001 )

In June, central Nigeria was the scene of violent clashes between Tiv and Hausa communities, which resulted in scores of people killed and 50,000 displaced. The cause of the violence in Nassarawa is linked to accusations against the Tiv community, the minority ethnic group in the state, of being responsible for the killing of a traditional Azeri leader from the Hausa community. A manhunt was la unched by the Hausa against the Tiv using mainly traditional weapons, and forcing them to flee to the neighbouring state of Benue, where the authorities set up five camps to provide shelter.

Also, towards the end of June, other clashes broke out in the Tafawa Balewa region of Bauchi State in north-eastern Nigeria between three different ethnic groups living in the area. The arrival of Islamic legal representatives and the attempt to impose sharia law led to violent protests and the deaths of several hundred people. More than 20,000 people were forced to flee the area to stay in nearby temporary camps. At the same time, new intercommunal violence erupted on 30 June in Kaduna in central Nigeria, producing major population displacements.

The ICRC supported a NRCS assistance operation for 18,000 displaced people who had sought refuge from the violence and were staying in several camps in the states of Nassarawa, Bauchi and Kaduna. With the active support of the ICRC, the NRCS distributed essential non-food items on the arrival of the displaced at the camps, followed by food distributions (rice, beans, oil, sugar and salt) to 3,600 of the most vulnerable families.

  •  Jos - Plateau State (September 2001 )

Fighting between Christians and Muslims broke out on 7 September in Jos, the capital of Plateau State. The violence continued for a day and a half before the authorities were able to impose a curfew and deploy troops in the town. Thousands of people fled the violence, including 6,000 people who sought refuge in police stations and army barracks. After several hours calm, the situation again flared up the following day. Hospitals reported 165 people killed and 928 injured. Nevertheless, various sources claimed that more than 500 dead bodies had been found.

The NRCS is extremely active in Jos. Whilst the authorities supplied food and water to people who sought refuge in the various state structures, such as police stations, the local branch of the NRCS who received reinforcements from Benue and Kaduna states, carried out medical evacuations and gave first aid. The ICRC supplied medical materials to treat 2,000 wounded patients. An ICRC delegate travelled to the area to provide logistics support, assess the security conditions and, in particular, to draw up a plan of action to respond to the victims'needs which were not covered by the local or federal authorities or by other humanitarian actors.

The local branch of the NRCS, supported by a regional Red Cross coordinator and volunteers from the states of Benue, Kaduna and Bauchi, was active from the second day of the clashes. The local government also contributed to the Red Cross response by substantially increasing its annual contribution to the local Red Cross branch, and by also making available a vehicle, petrol and foodstuffs for the most vulnerable victims of the fighting.

On 18 September, the ICRC, in collaboration with the NRCS, began distributions of non-food items (blankets, sleeping mats, plastic sheeting, buckets, soap and kitchen sets) to 15,000 people who had lost all their possessions. These people are now living with the bare minimum in places where their safety and survival are guaranteed, however.

  •  Kano  

During October, violent clashes were reported in the town of Kano following a peaceful demonstration against the American strikes in Afghanistan. The violence spread to the Christian district of the city and continued for two days. The authorities reported that 32 people had been killed, while other sources indicated a total of 200. Some 8,000 people sought refuge in military barracks, police stations, churches, schools and at the city airport.

NRCS volunteers gave first-aid treatment to the displaced at the military barracks, while others helped hospital staff to look after the injured. The NRCS also set up a system to transport clean water to improve the water supply to those who had taken refuge at the military barracks.

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 Other ongoing ICRC activities  

The ICRC's presence in Nigeria, primarily for the dissemination of international humanitarian law and the Red Cross mandate to armed and police forces, goes back a long way. Its efforts have paid off by enabling it to establish an extensive network of contacts and to forge solid cooperation with the NRCS in a number of programmes including assistance to victims of clashes. Furthermore, the smooth coordination among the components of the Movement has greatly contributed to its image of cohesiveness and to the public acceptance that it enjoys in the country. This, in turn, has paved the way for rapid response to the needs of civilians in the event of an emergency .  


 For further information, please contact the External Resources Division.  

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