A new report issued Monday by the Nigerian government says three million people have lost their homes since the return of democracy seven years ago.   The report also says that sectarian violence has increased during that time.  Civil liberty activists say government policies are to blame for the displaced people and the upsurge in violence.

The report says the worst hit areas are the oil-rich Niger Delta region and the North-Central area surrounding Abuja, Jos and Kaduna.  These are areas where different ethnic, religious and political groups live in close proximity, and tensions frequently erupt into open and sometimes deadly conflict.

There is a debate to what extent the government is to blame for the violence and millions of displaced people.  Civil liberties groups say authorities believe the government has a role in fomenting the unrest because the subsequent crackdowns weaken the opposition.

A director of a civil liberties group in Jos, Steve Alukodanye, says the crackdowns are part of a campaign by President Olusegun Obasanjo to stay in power.

Some ruling party lawmakers are currently trying to change the constitution to allow him to run for a third-term in next year's elections.

The government report released Monday said the problem of internally displaced people is worsening on a daily basis, and Alukodanye says it is mainly people who openly oppose the president whose homes are destroyed by government supporters.
"It is a deliberate policy of the government to pull down structures of those who choose not to be supporters of a third term," he noted.  "The worst of it is that these houses are pulled down without making adequate provisions for people to resettle themselves and integrate themselves back into society."

But the secretary-general of the Nigerian Red Cross, Abiodun Arebiyi, says the government is trying to find homes for those displaced.

"The government is supposed to finalize a policy on IDPs [Internally Displaced People] and take it to the National Assembly for endorsement, so that there will be a strategic approach to solving the problem of IDPs in Nigeria, not the haphazard system we have in place now," he said.  "That is why the board is being charged with coordinating IDPs in Nigeria."

Steve Alukodanye says the Nigerian government needs to provide people with more protection.

"It has to do with the government abdicating its responsibility as regards to the protection of life and property. This has resulted in a number of cases of ethnic violence and religious intolerance," he said.

The government says it is doing everything it can to stop the violence.  It also accuses opposition groups of trying to use violence to undermine democracy.