THEATRES OF WAR: Democracy and Violence in Contemporary Nigeria by Peter M. Lewis


This paper discusses patterns of collective violence under democratic rule. Two decades ago, when Nigerians welcomed the transition to civilian government, the change of regime arrived with a promise of broader representation – through elections, civic voice, and adaptable federalism.

Yet the country has seen an escalating trend of inter-group and anti-state violence, including the emergence of two large insurgencies. At least 70,000 Nigerians have been killed in these conflicts.

This raises a central dilemma: Why has democracy been accompanied by growing polarisation and conflict? Why have mechanisms of political incorporation failed so conspicuously?

Despite the prospective openings offered by democratisation, political reforms have manifestly failed to assuage distributive pressures or contentious identities, yielding a more violent political landscape. The study (discussed in the book) seeks to understand the complex patterns of violence across this diverse country.

Episodes of strife are seen across the territory, yet intensive conflicts have been concentrated in only a few areas and complexes, with very different social and economic attributes. What accounts for the timing and location of large-scale collective violence?

In this account, patterns of collective violence are broadly framed as a problem of incorporation under an electoral regime. Conflict is more particularly explained by the interaction of three factors: POLITICAL EXCLUSION, ELITE AUTHORITY, and STATE VIOLENCE.

Conflict has been most acute in areas where sectional groups have not perceived meaningful representation or economic opportunities, notably communities at the margins of the inter-group social compact that framed the post-independent Nigerian state.

Violence has also arisen in areas where secondary elites lack the influence to effectively bargain for distributive gains, and where youth have become alienated from traditional authorities.

In circumstances of marginality and dissension, provocative actions by state security forces have radicalized groups and escalated conflict.

Join the author, Prof. Peter Lewis (SAIS, Johns Hopkins University) and Dr. Okey Ikechukwu, mni to discuss this issue raised in the forthcoming book. Wednesday, May 22, 2019 at 5 Kikuyu Close, off Nairobi street, Wuse 2, Abuja from 4:00-6:00pm.

Live streaming of the discourse will start at 4:00pm prompt on

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s