By Nehi Igbinijesu
Conflict is an aspect of life that is very often avoided for the fear of loss. However, conflict is a part of our human existence. It has been known to bring about all manner of outcomes from food shortages to prosperity; economic recessions to gender equality. Civil conflict has been known to leave people with little or no time to practice farming hence causing food shortages. Countries with large defense industries have been known to make tidy profits from armed conflicts across the world.
The United States of America accounted for 41% of total arms sold between 2001 and 2008, totaling $154.8 Billion. Black markets are also commonplace in conflict spots in which local entrepreneurs risk all to rake in crazy profits. The current conflict in Syria has seen many of the country’s drug makers close shop and given rise to surreptitious drug markets selling medicine at exorbitant rates to sick Syrians. Average drug prices have soared by almost 1000% putting unimaginable profits in the pockets of local drug sellers. Germany suffered an acute recession just after World War II but the same war created the opportunity for women to work in Boeing factories bringing the subject of gender equality to the fore in the United States.
Nigeria has not been without its fair share of conflict. In fact, no decade of post-Independent Nigeria has been conflict free. With several coups, general strikes and a civil war, Nigerians have had to experience some of the most sordid tragedies arising from difference of opinions and distrust. Here are five causes of conflict in Nigeria:
From as early as the 1950s, the avid desire to favour members of one’s tribe surfaced among the ruling class of Nigeria. Coupled with the autonomy of each region, politicians and top civil servants favoured their kith and kin when it came to appointments, contract awards and national politicking. Merit seemed to lose appeal in the face of ethnocentricism when decisions bordered on overall national interest.
The riots in the Western Region and the events of 29 May 1962 in which the House of Representatives deliberated and approved a State of Emergency in the Western Region were the first symptoms of ethnocentrism. The Region’s Premier, Obafemi Awolowo cited that the government of the day had been discriminatory towards the Yorubas in declaring a State of Emergency when it did nothing of such in the Northern and Eastern Regions when similar riots occurred in Tiv and Okrika Divisions previously. The saga deepened and led to the eventual arrest of Chief Awolowo and Chief Enahoro.
Having become displeased with the political class and the growing dysfunctionality of tribal politics, a group of five military officers (mostly Easterners) struck on 15 January 1966. It was a very bloody insurrection in which no principal officer of government from Igbo extraction was killed. The coup was dubbed an “Igbo Coup”. The Northerners retaliated with a bloodier reprisal coup in July 1966 which flagged off what many historians would call, short of genocide. Igbos living in Northern Nigeria were very many times singled out and butchered from that time, warranting Governor Odimegwu Ojukwu’s request that they return home to safety. Decrying the treatment meted the Igbo people, Ojukwu announced secession from Nigeria in May 1967 and on 6 July 1967, a civil war broke out. Many claim that tribal interests played a major role in the defeat of the Igbos as the Igbos had previously failed to rally behind Awolowo in his quest to be Nigerias’ first Prime Minister. The civil war was payback time. The Yorubas, especially Awolowo were deemed to have helped foiled the Igbo attempt at self-determination. Even in today’s Nigeria, so many ethnocentric sentiments are whipped up by politicians and divisive elements to sway electoral votes particularly at national executive level.
2. Resource Control
The yearning to control resources locally as against the current federal manner in which the resources are administered has been another source of conflict in Nigeria. On February 23, 1966, one Isaac Adaka Boro and his militia group, The Niger Delta Volunteer Force declared the Niger Delta Republic. They were crushed by the Nigerian Armed Forces after 12 days of intense fighting. In his autobiography, The Twelve-Day Revolution, Adaka believed the people of the Niger Delta deserved a fairer share of the proceeds of the oil largesse. Kenule and eight other Ogoni activists lost their lives in the quest for resource control on 10 November 1995 causing Nigeria’s suspensions from the Commonwealth of Nations. In 2001, Alhaji Muhaji Asari Dokubo under the auspices of the Ijaw Youth Council began to clamour for “Resource Control or Self Determination By Any Means” and then, he took to armed struggle, founding the Niger Delta Volunteer Force which picked up the’ militia baton’ from where Boro left off, and eventually started an evolution of several splinter groups in the region, all fighting for resource control. The chaos lasted till 26 June 2009 when President Umaru Yar’Adua announced the granting of an unconditional 60-day amnesty from 6 August 2009 to 4 October 2009. The 60-day period package offered the unconditional surrender of arms and ammunition in exchange for training and rehabilitation by government.
Resource control remains a highly controversial issue in the Nigerian polity, especially in answering the constitutional questions of what true federalism means in the Nigerian context.
From as far back as one can remember, religious intolerance has been a source of prolonged and conflagrated conflict particularly between Christians and Muslims. The Kano Riot of 1 May 1953 was the beginning of a series of violence against non-muslims inspired by bigotry. Though closely linked with the misgivings of political leaders from time to time, religious intolerance has over the years been the fundamental cause of conflicts in Nigeria. The instituting of Sharia as a main body of civil and criminal law in Twelve Northern Nigerian States, is a clear pointer to an aspiration for a purely Islamic society among some of the political class in northern Nigeria. However, the implementation of Sharia has often sparked national controversies since the days of its proposal in 1999 by Zamfara Governor, Sani Ahmad Yerima. Christians have also been known to instigate attacks particularly in Jos, which has won the reputation for bloody conflict between both religions since the early 1990s. The country has also witnessed the rise of radical groups like the Maitatsine, Darul Islam and Boko Haram movements over the last four decades. Within the ranks of Christendom in Nigeria, many splinter groups have been known to emerge from minor doctrinal disputes, leading to the nascence of several denominations.
4. Land Disputes
Land disputes have generated a lot of conflicts across the country. The communities of Aguleri and Umuleri in Anambra State, and the Brass and Nembe communities of Bayelsa and Rivers States are typical examples of fratricidal conflicts emanating from prolonged boundary disputes that ensue between these neighbours. Even the Bakassi Peninsula international boundary dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon almost evolved into a war when Cameroonian gendarmes opened fire and killed Nigerian soldiers patrolling the River Apka Yafi on 16 May 1981. Cameroun apologized but later won the dispute at the International Court of Justice at the Hague in 2001. In a recent development, Nigeria refused to appeal the ICJ’s judgment before the expiration of the time given for an appeal sparking off calls for self-determination by many indigenes of the disputed peninsula.
5. Trade Related Disputes
On 18 November 1929, the Aba Women’s’ Riot broke out. It was a dispute that emanated from taxation by the colonial authorities of that time. Exactly 20 years later, on 18 November 1949, 21 coal miners were shot by colonial policemen during a peaceful wage protest. General strikes shroud the 60s, 70s and 80s but it was not until 1993 that a general strike felled a government. The Chief Frank Kokori-led NUPENG strike of 1993 largely contributed to General Ibrahim Babangida’s “step-aside”. The Fourth Republic under President Obasanjo also had its fair share of industrial actions, most of the strikes being fallouts of hikes in the price of petrol. January 2, 2012 was the start of the mother of all trade related disputes in modern Nigeria. The “Occupy Nigeria” movement was a response to the social injustice of another removal of fuel subsidy by the government of the day. The movement witnessed demonstrations at home and abroad that raised so many unanswered questions that linger till today.
In the end, I think that conflict is good. It tells us we have a different view to life, faith and love for our country. It also poses a question to all of us; a question of maturity in the context of these five causes of our many conflicts:
“When will we stop running and deal with these five that make us fight?”