Nigeria in the shadow of Sudan or Rwanda: A Political and Social quagmire

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Africa, in recent years, has seen a spate of violent clashes among populations that have co-habited since time immemorial. Inter-communal tensions have been one of the major causes of civil strife in Africa, and more often than not, politics, which is to help curb this growing trend, has made matters worse. Although recent religious clashes and renewed violence in the central and northern regions of Nigeria, respectively, can neither be compared with the Sudan crises nor the events that led to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, among others, the only culprit here is the lack of political will that could help curb these conflicts. Politics in Africa has all too often been linked to partisanship, which runs on ethnic lines and thrives on nepotism.

The legendary Nigerian religious multiculturalism is under a serious threat. Although very complex, communal violence in Nigeria has always evolved around land, resources, power and, until recently, religion. And despite the fact that the Nigerian constitution protects multiculturalism, politics, which is traditionally founded within ethnic boundaries, has done little to protect national cohesion. In a country where democratic governance is seen as an opportunity to enter into a system where public ‘contracts’ are doled out on partisan basis and former ruling party ‘contracts’ frozen, an ethnic group or an area that does not appear on the party map is cast away. It is no wonder that communal violence in Nigeria has seen people who claim to be ‘indigenes’ fighting against ‘settlers’. Very little has been done to foster a wider national cohesion. So do Nigerians see each other as strangers?

Recent demands by the Militants of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) brought important questions to the fore: Was the distribution of wealth in Nigeria fair? Who was really benefiting from the spoils of the Niger Delta? The questions revealed a substantial level of nepotism in Nigerian politics. The oil producing areas are, in fact, among the dismally poor areas in the oil dependent economy. The fact that Nigerians were split by the demands of the MEND should have led to a more serious examination of the militant group’s demands. Instead, months and even years went by without any tangible negotiations, thereby educating the Nigerian populations to hold on to violence to obtain their demands.

About 3000 people were killed in the northern state of Kaduna, in the year 2000, when the anti-constitutional Sharia law was enforced in 12 out of 36 states. Widespread violence was recorded when non-Muslims protested against the Islamic law. A year later, riots between Christians and Muslims saw over a thousand people killed. In 2004, another fight broke out between the two communities in the central region town of Yelwa in the Plateau state, killing 900 people. In 2006, 200 people were killed when Muslims protested against publications of the Prophet in a Danish newspaper. In 2008, over 300 people lost their lives in the central state city of Jos after word was spread that unreleased local government election results showed that a Christian majority party had won. The Boko Haram Islamist group from the north, also known as the local al-Qaeda, in its turn has demanded Sharia for the whole country, irrespective of ancestry, ethnicity, place of origin or creed and a ban on western culture, including education!

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Fifty years after independence, the level of development in the West African country is questionable. Torn between party lines, which were mainly founded according to ethnic groupings, political progress to enhance national cohesion and influence a fair distribution of wealth was not only painfully slow but became murkier as political parties fought to control and benefit from resources that were out of their ethnic boundaries, while remaining ‘tribalistic’ (as termed by Nigerians). The civil and military strife that followed taught Nigerians a lesson, then. There could only be national cohesion if political parties reached out across the ethnic and religious divide.

Recent conflicts have seen groups from defined areas fighting for fair distribution of wealth, religious identity or control of land. Is this proof that Nigeria has failed in holding its legendary multiculturalism together? Experts have claimed that by protecting their party base while consolidating their singular and unadulterated cultural masses, the three main ethnic groups (Hausas in the north, Igbos/Ibos in the east, Yorubas in the west) in Nigerian politics could control national wealth and better the lives of their own, thus garnering massive votes and ensuring a return to power. If this is so, the culture of separatism is, indeed, being nurtured. Should it therefore come as a surprise when one group opposes another? The culture of ethno-political impunity, which has served Nigerian politicians well, is breeding inter-communal hate and wrecking havoc to/and eroding the envious social fabric of the oil rich west African country and its poverty stricken populations.

For now, Nigeria can be best described as two hostile countries with the central states serving as a disputed land and the Niger Delta an occupied territory. It should be remembered that after several centuries of peaceful co-habitation, the Hutu and Tutsi populations of Rwanda and Burundi were split because of partisan politics. The resulting factor was genocide. The mainly Muslim and light skinned (Arab) people of northern Sudan against the Black African and predominantly Christian south have registered large scale deaths and horrors due to religion and partisan politics. To get out of this quagmire, there is the need for political parties to mix, to find a blueprint for social cohesion as well as review institutions that affect the Nigerian society at large, irrespective of ethnicity or religious beliefs. Then only can Nigerians see themselves as siblings together in one united country, rather than the eerie feeling of alienation from the nation, which gave the Boko Harem the impetus to seek foreign help to butcher their fellow countrymen. The reliance of the Nigerian government on the military to enforce law and order is commendable, but if national cohesion is not consolidated with political cohesion, the military which is made up of citizens from various parts of the country… ahem. The clock is still ticking, but if wishes were horses, beggars would certainly ride.

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