Good governance is essential for Nigeria - with its rich ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity - to ensure minority rights, equality and peaceful coexistence for all its citizens, an independent United Nations human rights expert stressed today.
"I found evidence that in states where inclusive governance prevails and communities placed trust in their leadership, there are fewer communal fractures and concerns about minority rights," said Rita Izsák, the Independent Expert on minority issues.
"However, the exclusion of some groups, partisan politics, corruption, and the reality or the perception of bias and favouritism along ethnic or religious lines, fuel distrust, suspicion and anger," she added in a news release issued at the end of her first official visit to Nigeria.
She urged the Nigerian Government to strengthen measures to fully implement the constitutional guarantees of equality, unity and belonging, in order to protect minority rights.
The expert noted that, for the most part, minority and majority communities coexisted in harmony in Nigeria, which has over 250 ethnic groups and even more languages are spoken. At the same time, she highlighted concerns that threaten unity in several states and require attention.
"In states that I have visited, including Plateau state and Kaduna state, today there are new divisions where once was relatively peaceful coexistence," she noted. "I have been saddened to learn that violent attacks perpetrated against both Christian and Muslim communities have heightened suspicions and in some locations created a climate of fear.
"I have been deeply moved by meeting victims of violence from different communities," Ms. Izsák said. "Those who incite or perpetrate violence, including extremist elements, must be held to account for their crimes and must not be allowed to succeed in creating divisions between communities."
The expert urged the authorities to enhance the capacity, training and resources of the security forces in regions where violence has broken out, but stressed that sustainable solutions to communal violence require more than a heightened security response alone.
"Some of the tensions and conflicts that have erupted in Nigeria's northern and 'Middle-Belt' states have been framed as religious or ethnic conflicts," she noted.
"However, it is clear to me that, while they have evolved to have obvious religious and ethnic dimensions, this is far too simplistic an understanding and their root causes lie in other factors - competition for resources or unequal allocation of resources, land issues, population movement and migration, and even the gradual but important impact of climate change," she stated.
The expert welcomed local and grassroots initiatives to build bridges of understanding and trust between communities, through inter-faith and inter-communal dialogue, shared activities and education. She was particularly impressed by creative women and youth initiatives that address underlying root causes of potential conflicts and help to prevent them.
Ms. Izsák visited the Niger Delta, where she met Ogoni and Ikwerre communities who highlighted their efforts to overcome what they describe as abandonment and marginalization and the devastating effects of frequent oil spills.
She also sought information on Nigeria's linguistic diversity and urged the Government to consider formal and informal measures to protect and promote the country's rich linguistic heritage.
Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.