By Chris Odinaka Nwedo
On the objectionable conflict situations in Africa, Kofi Annan remarked that “there have been only ‘modest and slow’ advances in alleviating the underlying economic and political conditions that foster tension and strife. Poverty reduction has been very slow in spite of efforts by African countries and their external partners to implement the new partnership for Africa’s development, NEPAD.1 According to Annan “concerns are rising about the levels of youth unemployment, and heightened competition over scarce resources because of demographic pressures. There also has been limited progress in the strengthening of democracy, enhancing administrative capacity, ensuring independence of the judiciary and promoting transparency and accountability in African states.2 Inter-ethnic hostilities and negative religious behaviours are craftily sustaining and creaming dreadful brands of intolerance that generate disagreements and aggression in many communities in Africa. African states in general suffer one of the world’s most derogatory conflicts and violence in the recent history. ‘The presence of competitive regional, ethnic and intra-ethnic bloc in African states culminated in rival violent conflicts on escalated scale. Ethnicity has for instance been blamed for social discontents including civil wars, in countries like Nigeria, Burundi, Liberia, Rwanda, Central African Republic and several others.3
It was like the floodgates of negativity were opened instantly after political independence in many of the conflict zones in Africa. Sadly, it appears the continent has gained nothing from the senselessness, learnt nothing in her numerous reckless conflicts except boundless damage, painful disappointments and stigmatizing denigration. Assessed objectively, uses of political tools in some instances for repression, ethnic cleansing and genocide have resulted in despicably catastrophic consequences. As a result of repression, a flagrant imbalance is created in the distribution of political, social and economic resources. Repression is constantly the motive responsible for neglect and uncaring attitudes of people in power to some cultural and or religious zones.
On June 22, 2020 leaders of Southern Nigeria dragged Nigeria’s President Mohammadu Buhari to court for marginalization and deliberate denial of economic and political expressions to the southern part of Nigeria. The south was clearly marginalized in appointments made by the administration since 2015. “The leaders sixteen of them in the suit filed on their behalf by 10 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) led by Chief Solomon Asemota and Chief Mike Ozekhome are asking the court to fine the president and three other defendants in the suit the sum of N50 billion for allegedly violating provisions of the 1999 Constitution and the Federal Character Principle. Those sued alongside the president include the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Clerk of National Assembly and the Federal Character Commission (FCC).4
According to the leaders, “the present composition of the government of the federation, and most of its agencies especially as regards the composition of the security and quasi-security architecture do not reflect the Federal Character of Nigeria but rather there is a predominance of persons from a few States and sectional groups dominating the opportunities and threatening national unity and integration.5 Other issues brought before the court for determination include “whether it was not “reckless and adverse to the interest of Nigeria”, for President Buhari to obtain a loan facility from the Islamic Development Bank, African Development Bank, the World Bank, China, Japan and Germany amounting to $22.7 billion (USD), for infrastructural development, only to allocate the bulk of the fund to the Northern region.6 The presentation of the vexatious and unjustifiable discrimination to court for interpretation was an alternative to all out violence. The leaders demonstrated hybrid sensibility that has been lacking in most cases of this nature that ended in mutual violent destruction elsewhere.
It is my conjecture that the sane world are keenly waiting for reaction from the Buhari led tribal government in Nigeria. It may surprise few if this legitimate agitations for rectification of the disparities are deliberately construed as affront or confrontation. As usual, responses to other perceived injustices of the Buhari administration came with obstinately stiffer measures, brutal suppression and occasionally outright crushing of the individuals or groups presumed to be behind the courteous reaction to anomalies. It is also usual to see crude and hostile comments and tirades from the Buhari’s kinsmen in his defense. They may not like to patiently wait for the court to make pronouncement on the issues brought before it. The outbursts from the tribesmen definitely portray the direction of the court’s response.
This is because the tribesmen occupied all the sensitive positions that can be relied upon for rational considerations of the merits of the case. The democratic politics in Nigeria has obstinately turned dictatorial under the supervision of Buhari. Freedom of expression is suffocated, politicians intimidated and haunted with Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Department of state security (DSS) or Police. The elections are militarised to create opportunities for falsification of the result. In summary, Buhari hunts anyone dissenting his imprudent governance.
In fact political, social and economic marginalization are triggering resurgence of tribal related sentiments or activities beyond Nigeria. It is always the case that major stimulus package for unrests in Africa is injustices. Cultural pluralities or religious disparities have no role in crisis even in Nigeria but failing and unscrupulous politicians use them as masks to kill and destroy the opponents and supporters when election results do not go their way. Average Christians and Moslems are friends and business associates but the mutually caring relations are endangered and damaged on the altar of deeply wrong political choices. One of the most remarkable thing wrong religious ideas have done for vast majority of Nigerians are that they made them idiotically vulnerable to violent and evil minded politicians. Ordinary Nigerians remember the nation’s ethno-religious fault-lines only during election. Besides, Boko Haram’s campaigns of meaningless murders, a more recent development in Nigeria, every other violence with heavy tolls of deaths and displacements were politically motivated. It baffles that Nigerians are super smart and indomitable anywhere except at home. It is paradoxical that the more valiant a Nigerian is offshore the more vulnerable he or she becomes in the face of the world’s most dim-witted politicians at home.
Ethnicity or the solidarity in multi-ethnic polity is more profound and bolstering when people no longer have confidence in the capacity of their government to protect, provide and care especially if the people perceived themselves as the victims of unjust treatment. It is then that succour is found in primordial groupings. The feeling of safety comes with distrust and resentment towards the non-group members. The cynicism is potent trigger for conflicts that are ‘resolved’ by means of continuous sequences of violence.
In Nigeria, violence in Jos Plateau state in 2008 appeared clearly as confirmations of propositions above. The violence was triggered by ethno-religious distrust. Within the three days of the tumultuous violence hundreds of lives were decimated and properties worth billions of dollars were destroyed. It was common knowledge that the catastrophe was unnecessary and avoidable but for mutual cynicism it occurred. Discretion was the only device for prevention of the reprehensible sectarian violence but the incidence and the intensity of it demonstrated that it was absent. ‘Nothing can possibly justify the recurrent descent to violence or politics of hate in some of our communities by people who have lived together peacefully for centuries. 7
The nagging question is can the authorities in Nigeria honestly evolve policies and measures that would significantly discourage sectarian violence in the body polity. Statistically, ninety-eight percent of the violent crises that rocked Nigeria as a country are from the north. If it is not in Kano, Kaduna, Kastina, Sokoto, Borno, Bauchi, Jigawa, or Benue it is in Plateau. It is condemnable that this dastardly act of taking lives immorally and illegally has been cultivated and allowed to fester unchallenged. The deaths of fellow Nigerians in these senseless circumstances are heart breaking, they are painful, regrettable, abominable and capable of spreading reprisal effects with the potential of disintegrating the relative cohesiveness of the polity.8 Because we are seriously pained by these deaths let us put our voices together to condemn the insensitivity of the government which did not do anything in earnest to arrest the dastardly act from happening. I have always wondered why our security agents do not go to curb the crisis before they escalate into bloodbath. Were we to be in a saner clime, the state governor would have been forced to resign or get impeachment? That hardly happens here because of primordial beliefs of our people.9
It is revolting that Nigerians still attach very deep primordial sentiment to politics in this age and time. This is the reason for the numerous ridiculous hostilities in the country. It is also the reason that bad politicians and treacherous rulers are thrown up at the end of the charades called elections. It is high time Nigerians start redefining their goals as a people. We have to imbibe progressive ideas that are productive to our continuous co-existence.
For centuries, communities have fought themselves in delusive wars for peace. We have endless histories ofcrusaders hacking one another to death. In our day, religious warriors campaign for religious and cultural supremacy with their deadly swords and battle-axes. The events of the last 19 years show that these religious warriors are all the more determined to kill and have their hands soaked with the blood of their innocent victims. The current stream of religious extremism and terrorism brought forth a new ideology. This new ideology, total violence, is defined by pervasive insecurity, death and destruction. The extremists are determined to dictate for all governments and peoples irrespective of clime and boundaries. They are resolutely determined to achieve the objective by extreme violence. Religious intolerance and the spread of monstrous sects are further inflicting heavy damages on a world already degraded and disparaged. The seeds of religious terrorism astounded the world in 2001 with attack on US al Qaeda terrorists. This terrorists’ attack in US is remarkable because all other strings of attacks across the globe drew inspirations from it.
The unfortunate violence in the name of God spared neither “the innocent, vulnerable women nor children. In 1995, there was a terrorist attack on Oklahoma City, U.S.A., among the 168 people killed were 19 children, some of them in diapers. Like a blast of wind on the flickering candles the bomb instantly ended those tiny lives. The terrorists’ act stole their right to be children, to play and laugh and cuddle in the arms of their mothers and fathers.10
The enthusiasm of religious zealots did no good but proliferation of terror, violence, pain, anguish, destitution and estrangement. It appeared demonstrated that the contemporary terrorist violence was explicitly driven by monstrous ideology. The phenomenally bloody history and decades of sanguine confrontations in Northern Ireland, the isolated lethal shootings and Qaeda deadly suicide attacks that exterminated about 3000 lives of defenceless innocent victims in North America were inspired by ideology of hatred and religious xenophobia. The bombings and extraordinarily deadly explosions in Bali, bombings, assassinations, suicide attacks in Pakistan, India, France, Germany and Egypt, regular deadly riots in Northern Nigeria, train bombing in Spain and London with hundreds of lives extinguished were motivated by religious piety.
In the Northern Nigeria, the devious religionists and their agents vent their anger at will using every reason to attack kill, maim and destroy properties of ‘infidels’. The Islamic fundamentalists do not pretend their irritation of, and enmity against every other religious groups especially Christians. The ruthless archenemies attack their soft targets in churches and homes. All the crisis in the Northern Nigeria come in religious covers, and each of the crisis simmers down after massive violence, massacre and destructions abhorrent to reason and morality. The role of religion as tool of destruction in Nigeria can be explained in the contexts of events in the Arab world.
Religion has been used to the detriment of and against the principles of Nigeria’s federal enterprises. Nigeria population wise consists of predominantly Muslim North and predominantly Christian South. The north has always been mainly the source of ethnic and politico-religious conflicts in Nigeria. This situation is not helped when a government itself consciously gives prominence to one religion as against another. Previous constitutions, and the more recent 1999 Nigerian constitution incorporated the principle that ‘the Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as state religion.11
The resort by a section of northern politicians to fan the embers of religious division in year 2000 was an introduction of Shari ‘a legal system. By encouraging and allowing some state governors to officially adopt Islamic laws as state policy for political ends indicates that these politicians have learnt little from the country’s recent history. Sharia controversies in the northern Nigeria have divisionary implications even as they pose greatest threat to northerners who are not Muslims by faith. In the understanding of Gaye D.C. ‘these laws, just like the Christian Cannon Laws, are reactionary and were written in the middle ages. They are not divine laws, they were written by men, just like the reactionary Christian Cannon Laws. These laws violate aspects of the fundamental human rights and are aimed at reversing the various gains of the working class movement.12
According to Gaye, the launching of sharia law and declaration of Zamfara an Islamic state were subversive and the laws clearly violate the fundamental human rights of everybody whether Muslim or Christian; women and children are to be grossly discriminated against.13 For Gaye, the actions of the Zamfara state government was clearly an attempt to divert attention from the main issues at stake. The regime cannot pay the workers a descent wage, provide free and qualitative education and health, develop industries, provide accommodation and end poverty, etc. what the regime wanted to do was to split workers and peasants farmer along religious lines, in order to divert their attention away from the main issues. 14
Nigerian public live in existential reality of constant manipulation by a handful elites who use religion and ethnicity as weapons for maintain endless advantage over the rest of the citizens. “The gap between the rich and the poor has never been greater. While the rich got richer, the condition of the majority has deteriorated with the income of single individuals equalling and surpassing the combined income of millions of Nigerians.15 Nigeria’s greatest challenge is not reproduction of many laws secular or religious but the implementation of the existing ones. Ours is a society where the rulers live and rule above the law. The challenges are lack of prudent leadership, manipulation of ethnic and or religious sentiments through incitements of violent confrontations among the citizens by deeply corrupt elites. The rulers deliberately exploit the venoms of existential religious and ethnic detestations as means of keeping Nigerians alienated and diverting their attention away from a curse of colossal expropriation of the nation’s resources and indiscretion in leadership.
Manipulation of religious consciousness under terrible conditions gives rise to periodic explosion of unilateral violence. Religious hostilities, jihadist warfare are putting serious pressure on cooperate Nigeria. In the religious assaults “all kinds of barbaric activities take place including burning of houses and killings in various styles. For example, it is not uncommon for babies, as young as seven days old to get their heads cut off or for older ones to get their stomachs ripped open in the course of such assaults.16 Lack of true leadership is a principal challenge to Nigeria as a nation. Since what seemed to be catastrophic demise of patriotism and service, we have been devoid of insightful and competent leadership. Absence of visionary leadership has been the biggest dilemma for Nigeria. Our leaders have always served their own vested interests and are running Nigeria aground. In such conditions, unity and tolerant coexistence among the ethnic assortments have suffered a lot and are still suffering. The malignant intentions of our political spearheads, have not only encrusted the image of Nigeria before the globe, but have also proved fatal for her cooperate existence. There is therefore very little doubt that Nigeria’s federalism faces very grievous challenges, which have to be addressed collectively in the search for a more acceptable arrangement.
In Pakistan and indeed many states in Arab world, the root of many conflicts and violence is religion. Many founding fathers of Pakistani state relied on Islam for most of the supports they wanted. For instance, “devoid of a democratic constituency, Zia turned to right-wing Islamic elements for support. In fact, his attempt to create an Islamic polity and society was an attempt to gain legitimacy. These goals subsequently coalesced with the national security goal of building close linkages with the Afghan Mujahedeen after the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979.17 During the eighties, “a complex network developed between Afghan Mujahedeen, domestic religious groups in Pakistan and the state of Pakistan. And with a generous supply of weapons from the United States, there was a rapid spread of violence from Afghanistan to Pakistan itself.18 Persistent violence, suicide attacks and assassinations are attributed to upsurge in activities of Islamic religious groups, freedom fighters, martyrs, and violent missionaries.
In fact, astronomical increase in the number and expansion of madrasas remained significant threat to peace and stability in Pakistan. ‘In 1957, there were just about 150 such schools functioning in the country. The number now exceeds 5500, with nearly 4500 having come into existence after 1980. Half of these madrasas are in the Punjab. Madrasas were directly or indirectly connected with sectarian violence in Pakistan, and 810 of the students of various madrasas were wanted in cases of terrorism. Again, patterns of retaliatory killings in Pakistan in the recent past suggested some involvement of Iranian establishment in the conflict, in solidarity and support to Shia minority.19 It is not doubtable that madrasas supply appropriate ideological frame work and some material resources pulverizing the polity by means of violence and terror activities. ‘The linkage between the madrasas and the militants is further established by the fact that most shoot-outs and bombings originate from or occur at mosques housing these schools. A significant proportion of those killed in sectarian violence are students of these schools.20
- Report of United Nations Secretary General to the Security Council, NY, Oct. 4 2004 p.1
- See Balogun O.A. op.cit. p.276
- ‘Appointment: southern leaders drag Buhari to court over alleged breach of federal character’ in ThisDay newspaper June 22, 2020.
- See Tell Dec. 22, 2008 p.27
- See Adoke Kasim in The Nation Dec. 29, 2008 p.14
- Awake magazine(quotation missing)
- Osita Agbu(2004)’Re-inventing Federalism in Post-Transition Nigeria: Problems and Prospects in Africa Development, Vol. XXIX, No. 2, 2004, pp. 26–52 © Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, 2004
- Gaye D.C.(1999) Ethnic clashes in Nigeria a nightmare vision of what capitalism has to offer’@www.marxist.com/Africa/Nigeria_ethnic _conflics.html 15/03/2009
- Oke Ogunde (2002) ‘National Question in Nigeria: Ethnic Cleansing or Socialist Revolution’ @www.marxist.com/Africa/Nigeria_ethnic _conflics.html 15/03/2009
- Quoted in Nwedo C.O. (2007) Impact of Violence in Development unpublished article p.7