Finding solutions to violent boundary disputes


RECURRING violent boundary clashes across the country demand urgent solutions to achieve lasting peace. A report that 676 persons were killed in various communal and boundary disputes in Nigeria between January 2018 and August 2022 is deeply concerning and underscores the gravity of the problem. This calls for drastic and more effective measures acceptable to all affected communities and parties. The federal and state governments and the relevant statutory agencies should take this task seriously.

Nigeria currently faces serious insecurity challenges from an assortment of criminals; blood is flowing, and property is being destroyed on a war scale. This puts greater pressure on the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and the state governors to collaborate to resolve the various boundary disputes across the country.

The report stated that no fewer than 444 houses were destroyed in boundary-linked clashes during the five-year period. With the country also battling banditry, terrorism, militancy and other violent crimes, the boundary crises deserve emergency interventions.

The National Boundary Commission said most of the clashes involved unresolved age-long disputes over boundaries, farmland, and natural resources. Of the 86 disputes it is currently handling, NBC Director-General, Adamu Adaji, said the North-West has 15 interstate disputes; North-Central 15; North-East 14; South-West 14; South-South 14 and South-East 14. Though it has established functional boundary committees in local government areas across the country; erected boundary pillars, and embarked on enlightenment campaigns, these have not quelled agitations and subsequent instability in many communities.

Boundary disputes, local and international, occur worldwide. This, says experts, is largely because all borders are artificial. Many countries experience boundary disputes. India’s central government disclosed in December 2021 that 11 of the country’s 28 states and one of its eight Union Territories had active boundary disputes that sometimes result in protests and violence. Border disputes have broken out in post-Apartheid South Africa too.

In Nigeria, boundary problems arise from several factors. Some are colonial-related; others from geographical, socio-political, economic or governmental factors. Nigeria’s administrative borders were created by the British colonial administration without much regard to the history and culture of ethnic nationalities or groups. Boundaries were delineated artificially with several multiple sub-ethnic cultures, languages or loyalties arbitrarily lumped together.

Consequently, constant border changes were undertaken, often without consultation with the affected groups. The inability to resolve this accounts for the conflicts among settlements, states or LGAs, especially after state or local government creation. This has negative consequences on national security.

Geographically, boundaries within Nigeria are contained in the 1936 boundary description and its international boundaries in the Definition of the Countries Proclamation of 1954 where parameters such as river courses and distances, existing farm boundary and meridian turning points were used. The colonial administrators were not accurate; most boundary descriptions were ambiguous and difficult to interpret, thus fuelling disputes.

They also arise from socio-cultural and political reasons. Some border communities protest when they are merged with states with which they have no cultural affinity. An example is the Imo-Cross River states boundary that was re-drawn in compliance with Decree 23 of 1985, where three border villages in Ukwa and Arochukwu-Ohafia LGAs were transferred to Cross River. Such decisions have provoked unresolved conflicts and security crises. Between October 2020 and September 2021, violent border-related clashes accounted for 14 of the 890 conflicts recorded in the country, and 80 of the 3,3787 casualties.

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Despite the interventions of the NBC in interstate boundary disputes, violent clashes among disputing communities persist, particularly in mineral-rich areas, an indication that the resolution methods are not exhaustive. The NBC should therefore approach the disputes with urgency. An efficient boundary resolution mechanism is a potent tool for national security.

Experts have suggested simplicity, participation, adaptable flexibility, relevance, and comprehensiveness in the deployed mechanism for dispute resolution.

Wide consultations and buy-in by all stakeholders are essential. Researchers also recommend concise and regular public sensitisation/enlightenment campaigns to shape the citizens’ perception of boundary management, erection of boundary walls in volatile segments, and an all-inclusive resolution method.

At the international boundaries, the removal of boundary pillars has led to skirmishes between some Nigerian communities and their foreign neighbours. Such removal has pitted Nigeria against Benin Republic. The two countries had an understanding on the earlier delimitation instrument. However, Benin wants a reversal of the treaty. This has instigated disagreement over their common borders in the oil-rich Toungegi Island and in the Igbokofi/Towe sector. Reports say the ungoverned region is being exploited by hoodlums carrying out illicit trade in firearms and drugs.

Also, a boundary issue with Niger Republic has been reported. In the case of Nigeria and Cameroon over the Bakassi Peninsula, implementation of the International Court of Justice judgement has also run into hitches despite the remarkable progress achieved so far. To resolve outstanding issues, both countries have agreed to return to the ICJ for clarification of some grey areas. The court had in October 2002 upheld Cameroon’s claim to the area.

Diplomats say negotiation and settlement are integral to boundary dispute resolution, which should be utilised effectively in line with global best practices. Identification of root causes of issues is equally crucial to avoid re-emergence of crises. Nigerian authorities should adopt the United Nations Charter format that encourages parties in any boundary dispute to seek resolution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means.

Aside from regular engagements with the communities, the NBC, in collaboration with the National Orientation Agency, should undertake intensive enlightenment campaigns to change the perception and orientation of the people about boundaries. The states’ and local boundary committees should be involved in addressing disputes at the grassroots before they snowball into violent exchanges.

More importantly, the FG should develop a policy on equitable sharing of straddling resources between affected countries, states, local government areas and communities. The NBC should prioritise and develop a quick response capability on boundary issues that threaten the peace and security in Nigerian communities. ,

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