A series of attacks in central Nigeria, believed to be the work of Fulani tribesmen, has prompted the army to announce imminent raids.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), more than 5,500 people in central Nigeria have fled their homes this month following attacks in Plateau State. The attacks mainly targeted Christian villages and were carred out by gunmen believed to belong to the Fulani ethnic group. The army has announced an imminent raid on suspected militant hideouts to flush out those responsible for the attacks that killed more than a hundred people. Fulani groups say the army's operation is a deliberate effort to drive them out of the region. For an assessment of the situation and the army's response, DW turned to Professor Ali Mazrui, a well-known academic and political writer on African and Islamic studies, who is based in New York.
Deutsche Welle: Professor Mazrui, how does the Nigerian army hope to succeed in apprehending the suspects after warning them that the soldiers are coming?
Professor Ali Mazrui: The Nigerian army has had a major dilemma and so does the Nigerian government. They weren't sure how to protect citizens without aggravating the confrontations between Muslims and Christians beyond Plateau State. You may go in just to solve the Plateau State and then you are sowing the seed of further explosions in Kaduna, in Kano, in Maiduguri etc - places far away from Plateau State. In general, the whole government system has been very cautious about how to handle reactions of this kind. It has created a sense of abandonment among citzens. They say their government is not protecting them. So this is the first real attempt to use force or at least to threaten force as a way of dealing with the problem. It is risky, that's true, but on the other hand, just letting the situation drift aimlessly is unfair to those who expect to be protected by their government.
How concerned are you about the prospect of human rights abuses taking place during this military operation?
That's a major risk, partly because the Nigerian armed forces have not been trained to deal with their own fellow citizens in ways which respect human rights and the rights of protesters. It needs a special type of training to handle your own citizens. But if you have an army that is theoretically intended for war with another country, it's not very well equipped to do police work. That's one of the worries we have. We do want the Nigerian government to intervene and stop this sectarian and ethnic violence. At the same time, they need to start thinking of having their armed forces trained to deal with their own citizens in humane and respectful ways.
Apart from military intervention, do you think there's any other way of solving this division in central Nigeria?
Absolutely! The military intervention is just to deal with the immediate problem. You still have to handle the causes. These are partly, in the case of Plateau State, issues of land and who has what rights. We still have to make convincing divisions of rights about that issue. Secondly, many of those who join (Islamist terror group) Boko Haram are unemployed, northern Muslims and there is no effort on the part of the Nigerian authorities to get together with people to find out how best to contain the anger of young people who feel abandoned by their own society.
Interview: Chrispin Mwakideu
Editor: Mark Caldwell