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Ethnic rifts return to haunt delicate Nigeria

Story from: CAJ News Africa

hausa igbo2From EMEKA OKONKWO
ABUJA, (CAJ News) – PALPABLE tension is prevailing in Nigeria, which is on the edge precipice in the wake of ultimatums and counter-provocations between some major tribes, each ordering the other to vacate some parts of the conflict-prone country.This has heightened calls for the partitioning of Africa’s most populous country along ethnic lines to resemble the pre-colonial era.The tensions emanating by rising calls for the Biafra, a state formerly independent from Nigeria until it was incepted after a civil war 47 years ago, have worsened this week as the so-called Niger Delta Watchdogs,threatened all Northerners to quit Niger Delta region.The oil rich region south of the country has coincidentally suffered severe militancy in recent months as resurgent radicals target foreign-owned companies extracting the product in the country.
More worryingly, this week, another unnamed group went to the extent of harvesting from the internet, a horrific accident scene, for the purpose of making it look like a site of massacre of Igbo ethnic group by Northern youths, according to the country’s secret police service, the Department of State Services (DSS).
The counter-ultimatums and allegations are the aftermath of the some youth in the north of the country gave citizens of Igbo extraction residing in the region to relocate within three months.
The Arewa Citizens Action for Change, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum,Arewa Youth Development Foundation, Arewa Students Forum and Northern Emancipation Network gave the ultimatum in the Kaduna State a fortnight ago.
The youths, mostly Hausa, the biggest tribe in the West African country of 190 million with some 500 tribes, gave the directive to the Igbos, the third most populous, also behind the Yorubas.
Hausa (29 percent of the population), (Yoruba (21 percent) and Igbo (18percent) are the biggest ethnic groups.
Recent threats emanate from the Nnamdi Kanu-lead Radio Biafra, which is advocating for the independence of the region.
It is accused of fanning hate speech and propagating Igbo (southern)supremacy in its advocacy for the autonomy of the Biafra. The government of President Muhammadu Buhari, ironically said to be facing a coup along such ethnic lines, has quashed such campaigns.
Although Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State quickly issued an arrest order on the leaders of the Arewa youths, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) leaders reacted by ordering Igbo people to immediately embark on an exodus out of the north.
Police have since the threats and counter-ultimatums beefed up security around the country.
“The Nigeria Police Force sees this ultimatum by the above mentioned groups as illegal, unlawful, provocative and capable of causing breach of the peace currently being enjoyed across the country,”said Jimoh Moshood,Force Public Relations Officer. Igbos in the north have also been assured of their safety.
“The Command under my watch is fully committed towards providing a safe and secure environment for all the citizens in the state irrespective of tribe of religious affiliation,” said Bauchi State police commissioner,Garba Baba Umar. He spoke this week after meeting the leadership of Igbo community in the state.
The Department of State Services (DSS), which said it had watched with the trend “keen interest” blamed “desperate” and “mischievous” elements bent on “steering the ship of our nationhood to calamity and irretrievable destruction.”
“Those involved in these misleading and despicable acts have since been warned to desist from anything capable of causing disaffection and stoking nationwide tensions,” said Tony Opuiyo, DSS spokesman.Opuiyo condemned the call for relocation of anyone to places against their wishes.
“Such relocation order is not only illegal, but it is strongly viewed to be against the spirit of our Constitution which allows for freedoms of movement and association among others.”
He advised citizens to disregard persuasions by “tribal jingoists” to turn Nigeria to “a theatre of the absurd and bloodletting.”
Analyst Jude Ndukwe warned prevailing tensions were, “forestalling an impending cycle of violence that could further worsen the already fragile socio-economic and political situation of the country.”
The history of rifts between Hausa and Igbo is long and deep but has been dormant until recently.Among the contentious historical events is the 1966 coup and assassination of northern top elite, including prime minister Abubakar Balewa.
It is the first post-colonial episode of serious major trigger that provoked Hausa-Igbo sentiments.There are episodes of the killing of the Igbo community by northern youth.
It is argued the British colonisers purposefully sowed seeds of conflict between the two groups.
In 1914, the British Empire joined the Southern with the Northern Nigeria Protectorate to form the single colony of Nigeria.
The unification was done for economic rather than political reasons as the north had a huge budget deficit. The colonial administration sought to use the budget surpluses in the south to offset this shortfall.
As such, proponents of cessation, such as the Igbo Ekunie Initiative (IEI) have advocated for a referendum it hopes would pave way for the partitioning of the country.
Acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, who has denounced the resurgent tensions,has ruled out such a possibility.
Recently, Osinbajo, who is acting in the absence of ailing president Muhammadu Buhari, was reportedly facing a coup from northern hardliners in the ruling All Progressive Congress bent on blocking his ascension in the event of the resignation or demise of Buhari. Osinbajo is a Yoruba southerner and Buhari a Hausa from the north.
The acting president on Monday declared he had agreed with northern traditional rulers that Nigeria should not break up.The same agreement was reached with traditional rulers from the south earlier.
“A lot of blood has been shed on account of the unity of our country and our faithfulness even to the lives of those who have made the supreme sacrifice to this country, demands that we do everything on our part to keep this country together,” Osinbajo said.
– CAJ News

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