By Airi Price
Jos, the capital of Nigeria, has come to represent a proximal asylum for rural Nigerians fleeing from persecution. With the city rapidly expanding into a humanitarian state, a blended community of Internally-Displaced Persons (IDPs) and non-displaced populations has manifested.
Jos is located in north central Nigeria, situated within what is known as the Plateau State. Once boastful of its ethnic and religious diversity, the state has now succumbed to tensions born out of such differences. According to ACAPS, conflict erupted between farmers and herders in January of 2018 over disputes in land use. The violence, however, was fueled by more than just occupational resentments. As conditions escalated, it became increasingly clear that ethnic and religious friction served as underlying motives.
Since 2009, Nigeria’s northeastern region has struggled against the ominous campaigns of Boko Haram, one of Africa’s most prominent Islamist militant groups. Their aggression reached its peak in April of 2014, when the international community became aware of Boko Haram’s kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls. Negotiations with the Nigerian government resulted in the release of 103 girls thus far.
Yet, fluctuations in key oil revenue, widespread corruption, and outbreaks of violence in other regions has obscured the government’s capacity for further mediation with Boko Haram. The Council on Foreign Relations reports that as of November 2021, an estimated 350,000 have been killed and 3 million people have been internally displaced in northeastern Nigeria.
In addition to Boko Haram’s unyielding hostility in the northeast, progressively arid land has pressured herdsmen south towards farmlands in the country’s “Middle Belt” region. The religious status of the predominately Muslim herdsman and Christian farmers have come to characterize the struggle over scarce resources.
The main perpetrators of the conflict are said to be Fulani Herdsmen. The Fulani, mainly residing in Nigeria, are considered one of the world’s largest nomadic group. From the beginning, the Fulani have established themselves as a dominant political and social presence throughout West Africa. Contrarily, the indigenous farmers of the contested land are a part of the predominately Christian group, the Berom. At their most operational in 2014, the Fulani were thought to be executing an “ethnic and religious cleansing” of Christians in the Middle Belt, per WorldWatch Monitor.
Despite Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s reluctance to publicly condemn the murders, national terrorism rates experienced a significant reduction in recent years. According to The Institute for Economics and Peace, Nigeria’s 83% decrease in terrorist-related deaths (from 2014 to 2020) is attributed to the decreased activity of Fulani extremists.
The grueling violence has nevertheless left families exiled from familial land. Perhaps its proximity to the Middle Belt and urban anonymity established Jos as a common place in which to seek refuge. While there exist 31 refugee camps in the Plateau State, IDPs residing in Jos work and live amongst the non-displaced population. Given that most of the displaced are farmers, adjustments to urban livelihood has proved challenging. The inability to utilize their skillset in Jos has resulted in displaced households earning just half of what the average non-displaced household earns, as estimated by The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.
Financial woes of IDPs have been, in part, remedied by hospitable attitudes in the city. Some non-displaced Jos residents reported paying extra in living expenses to provide resources for IDP neighbors. Though all residents retain lingering fears of external attacks, The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reports that overall IDP sense of security has increased due to the broad presence of security personnel in the city. However, common challenges of displacement still persist.
Photo by Andrew Moore
As farming households often owned their own property, the shift from isolated land plots to congested residential environments has resulted in the lessened quality and availability of water, electricity, and plumbing services. In regards to wellness, IDPs have suffered declines in both physical and mental health. As recorded by IDMC, 37% of surveyed IDPs in Jos have experienced increased symptoms of anxiety and depression. In addition to psychological distress, lower standards of living and diminished accessibility to food and medication have raised the risk of infectious disease.
Aside from few reports of increased rent and price of goods, non-displaced residents in Jos have remained largely unaffected in terms of health, housing, or livelihood. However, it is rather unclear how a future surge in IDPs would affect attitudes towards refugees and lifestyle conditions in Jos. The relative inactivity of Fulani extremists in recent years have provided some reassurance of bettering, rather than worsening, conditions in Nigeria. Yet, in the midst of Nigeria’s mediation of IDP resettlement, Boko Haram’s threats in the northeast persist.
The non-displaced population of Jos is predominately Christian, sharing a commonality with IDPs from the Middle Belt. Historically, religion has been deeply entrenched in ethnic, social, and political identity; and the weaponization of religious identity has become an unfortunate symptom of conflict on interspersed land. Thus, it is imperative to acknowledge Muslim populations that also face displacement from ongoing violence in Nigeria, and their additional difficulties of resettlement in majority-Christian environments.