Cover Image
close this bookCountry Report Nigeria - ICRC Worldwide Consultation on the Rules of War (International Committee of the Red Cross , 1999, 56 p.)
close this folderBreakdown of limits
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentErosion of restrictions
View the documentRegional tensions
View the documentConfusion and doubt
View the documentCycle of violence leads to dilemma

Cycle of violence leads to dilemma

Once the rules had been broken, it became difficult or nearly impossible for combatants to observe the rules of war. In this environment, confusion and partisanship merged, and a war culture took over from civil culture as the medium of daily life. Participants said that once the situation had escalated to this point, they felt resignation more than rage or revenge. For them, civilians being attacked had simply become "part of war".

It is part of war. In war they have their tactics. They have their ways of getting at their enemy. (IDI, journalist, Lagos)

When there is a war it is necessary to do it but it's not right.
[Moderator: Is that wrong or part of the war?]
It's part of the war. (IDI, primary school teacher, Lagos)

War is war, once you are fighting a war, you are planning of how to destroy your enemy. (FG, journalists, Lagos)

Well, that is part of war. Once that happens it becomes a choice between allowing them to stay in [a] populated area and inflicting damage on you or going after them in those populated areas and weaken that resolve and killing civilians in the process. But this is war, and in war sometimes sticking to principles and basic moral rules may not work... (IDI, soccer player, Lagos)

This cycle of violence often brought out the worst in people. Many focus group and in-depth interview participants noted that the war gave those with the desire to wreak destruction and commit acts of cruelty full license to do so. One woman likened combatants with battle lust to drug addicts, who search out their next murder as an addict would search out his next fix. (FG, medical workers, Port Harcourt) Sometimes, knowledge of the rules and the wisdom of years failed to make a difference:

[Moderator: Are there any laws or customs that say you should not...]

No law! No law! No law! No by law even the commander will be happy... For instance, if the civilian, if he use tactics to get rid of you, you are not with them, you can take the law into your own hands, then you massacre them.
[You are saying it is good?]
It is good! It is good! (IDI, former combatant, Lagos)

When asked about the causes of war and why combatants often break laws or inflict cruelty on their fellows, many respondents were flatly fatalistic, often leaving it in the hands of God, the devil or other metaphysical powers. Fatalism allowed them to explain the unexplainable, as one woman stated about what happened to her in the war, "I don't understand the wrong that I could have done." (FG, women who lost children during the war, Enugu) Similarly, one participant wondered aloud at whether violence and war were not simply just human nature:

A war is created and everybody begins to die simply because somebody intended to cling to power... we find examples in Liberia, close to us in Benin Republic, you find it in Ghana, you find it in all parts of African countries and one begins to wonder if something is really wrong with the way and manner we govern ourselves as human beings. (IDI, scholar, Lagos)