ETH­NIC TEN­SIONS FRAC­TURE NIGE­RIA

In ad­di­tion to fun­da­men­tal­ist group Boko Haram’s es­ca­lat­ing acts of ter­ror­ism, the west African pow­er­house has to con­tend with hos­til­ity be­tween the Hausa and Igbo eth­nic groups, which some fear could lead to civil war

CityPress - - News - EMEKA OKONKWO in Abuja n ews@city­press.co.za

While Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari’s re­turn from the UK af­ter a lengthy ab­sence due to ill health has al­layed fears of a coup, Nige­ria is pan­ick­ing that eth­nic ten­sions could lead to civil war. Die-hard mem­bers of the ma­jor­ity Hausa tribe have is­sued an ul­ti­ma­tum for the Igbo tribe to leave the north­ern parts of the coun­try at the end of this month.

Au­dio and video footage urg­ing the north to at­tack the Ig­bos in the re­gion have been cir­cu­lated on the in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia, spark­ing fears that this could lead to a Rwanda-like geno­cide.

Over four months in 1994, mem­bers of the Hutu ma­jor­ity in that coun­try mur­dered hun­dreds of thou­sands of mem­bers of the eth­nic Tutsi mi­nor­ity.

Now, in ad­di­tion to Is­lamic fun­da­men­tal­ist group Boko Haram’s es­ca­lat­ing acts of ter­ror in the coun­try, Nige­ria has to con­tend with un­sta­ble in­tereth­nic re­la­tions. More than 20 000 civil­ians have been killed – un­of­fi­cial fig­ures sug­gest the toll is closer to 100 000 – and about 2 mil­lion have been dis­placed due to the ter­ror­ism.

At the cen­tre of the brew­ing con­flict are the Hausa (largely Mus­lim) and the Igbo (pre­dom­i­nantly Chris­tian) eth­nic groups.

The Hausa is the largest, mak­ing up 29% of Nige­ria’s 190 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion. The Igbo is the third-largest, with 18%. The Yoruba is the sec­ond-largest tribe (21%). Nige­ria, which is Africa’s big­gest coun­try by pop­u­la­tion, has more than 500 tribal groups.

The Hausa-lan­guage au­dio mes­sages urge north­ern Nige­ri­ans to de­stroy the prop­erty of Igbo peo­ple and kill any­one who re­fuses to leave by Oc­to­ber 1.

The date given in the ul­ti­ma­tum has been at­trib­uted to the Ig­bos’ per­sis­tent de­mands for se­ces­sion. It was is­sued by a coali­tion in­clud­ing the Arewa Cit­i­zens Ac­tion for Change and the North­ern Eman­ci­pa­tion Net­work.

The eth­nic ten­sion has put Buhari in a dilemma be­cause he is a mem­ber of the Hausa eth­nic group. It has openly threat­ened dire con­se­quences for those ig­nor­ing the cam­paign.

The tribes have a bru­tal his­tory. Their ten­sions have been play­ing out in bloody clashes be­tween the pre­dom­i­nantly Hausa no­madic herds­man and mostly Chris­tian farm­ers.

The Arewa coali­tion’s ul­ti­ma­tum, is­sued in Kaduna, is be­lieved to be a re­ac­tion to the resur­gence of se­ces­sion­ist de­mands or­ches­trated by two groups: the Indige­nous Peo­ple of Bi­afra and Move­ment of the Ac­tu­al­i­sa­tion of the Sov­er­eign State of Bi­afra. The two groups have re­cently been en­grossed with the idea of re­al­is­ing a sov­er­eign state of Bi­afra, which was deemed un­ac­cept­able to most Nige­ri­ans.

Bi­afra, an Igbo strong­hold, was in­de­pen­dent from Nige­ria un­til it was an­nexed af­ter a civil war that lasted from 1967 to 1970.

An­other group, the Niger Delta Watch­dogs, told all north­ern­ers to leave the re­gion al­though no dead­line was given. Other threats have come from the Nnamdi Kanu-led Ra­dio Bi­afra, which is ad­vo­cat­ing the in­de­pen­dence of the re­gion. Kanu is the lead­ing pro­po­nent of au­ton­omy for Bi­afra. The ra­dio sta­tion is ac­cused of cir­cu­lat­ing hate speech and prop­a­gat­ing Igbo (south­ern) supremacy. tHE Igbo Eku­nie Ini­tia­tive, a coali­tion of pro­fes­sion­als in Nige­ria and the diaspora, has not taken the threats lightly and has urged south­ern­ers and Chris­tians to leave the north­ern parts of the coun­try for their own safety as the dead­line ap­proaches. “Since the north­ern-led fed­eral govern­ment is un­will­ing to pro­tect lives and prop­erty, the re­spon­si­bil­ity for such pro­tec­tion there­fore falls on every in­di­vid­ual,” the body said. The state­ment was signed by its pres­i­dent, Maazi Tochukwu Ezeoke, and sec­re­tary Lawrence Nwobu. “We urge the fed­eral govern­ment to or­gan­ise a ref­er­en­dum, where all com­po­nent units will choose if they want to re­main in Nige­ria or not, and where they will col­lec­tively de­cide on how they want to be gov­erned,” the body said. Rifts be­tween the Hausa and Igbo are long and deep, but have been dor­mant un­til re­cently. In modern his­tory, they are trace­able to the 1966 coup and as­sas­si­na­tion of the north­ern elite, in­clud­ing then prime min­is­ter Abubakar Balewa on Jan­uary 15 that year. The Bri­tish were blamed for sow­ing the seeds of con­flict be­tween the two groups.

In 1914, the Bri­tish Empire joined the South­ern and North­ern Nige­ria Pro­tec­torate to form the sin­gle colony of Nige­ria. The uni­fi­ca­tion was done for eco­nomic rather than po­lit­i­cal rea­sons.

The north had a huge bud­get deficit and the colo­nial ad­min­is­tra­tion sought to use the bud­get sur­pluses in the south to off­set this short­fall.

Three UN hu­man rights ex­perts have ex­pressed con­cerns that the his­tory of vi­o­lence could re­peat it­self. They ex­pressed “grave con­cern” about the ul­ti­ma­tum or­der­ing the Igbo to flee their homes by the be­gin­ning of next month.

The three are Mu­tuma Ru­teere (spe­cial rap­por­teur on con­tem­po­rary racism, racial dis­crim­i­na­tion, xeno­pho­bia and re­lated in­tol­er­ance), Fer­nand de Varennes (spe­cial rap­por­teur on mi­nor­ity is­sues) and Anas­ta­sia Crick­ley (chair­per­son of the com­mit­tee on the elim­i­na­tion of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion).

They said some prom­i­nent lo­cal lead­ers and el­ders had not con­demned the ul­ti­ma­tum and the hate speech.

They were con­cerned that there had been no pros­e­cu­tion or pun­ish­ment of those who is­sued the ul­ti­ma­tum, and who pub­lished and cir­cu­lated hate songs and au­dio mes­sages.

“The govern­ment must be vig­i­lant, as hate speech and in­cite­ment can en­dan­ger so­cial co­he­sion and threaten peace by deep­en­ing the ex­ist­ing ten­sions be­tween Nige­ria’s eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties,” they said.

Since it came to power, Buhari’s All Pro­gres­sives Congress (APC) govern­ment has been over­whelmed by the Boko Haram cri­sis.

It is seen as hav­ing taken its foot off the pedal in ef­forts to ad­dress fac­tion­al­ism that threat­ens its prospects in the 2019 gen­eral elec­tions.

There was alarm dur­ing the more than 100 days Buhari was out of the coun­try for treat­ment of an undis­closed ill­ness. There were ru­mours that some APC mem­bers had sought the mil­i­tary’s aid in top­pling Buhari’s govern­ment.

The al­leged machi­na­tions were sup­pos­edly a ne­far­i­ous bid by the north­ern hard­lin­ers in the party to block the as­cen­sion of Buhari’s deputy, Vice-Pres­i­dent Yemi Os­in­bajo, a south­erner, to the pres­i­dency in the event of Buhari’s death or re­tire­ment.

Nige­ri­ans warmed up to Os­in­bajo, an af­fa­ble law pro­fes­sor, while he acted as pres­i­dent in Buhari’s ab­sence.

Mean­while, speak­ing in his home town of Daura in Katsina State, Buhari dis­missed the ul­ti­ma­tum.

“Every Nige­rian has a right to live, work and thrive in any part of the coun­try, ir­re­spec­tive of their back­grounds,” he in­sisted.

– CAJ News

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