Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Kaduna Declaration: Nigeria in the shadow of Biafra


By Elizabeth Kendal

Nigeria is home to "over 520 ethnic groups" (Operation World 2010). The three largest ethnic groups are roughly distributed by geography and defined by religion. Northern Nigeria is dominated by the Hausa-Fulani Muslims, while the south is mostly non-Muslim and predominately Christian, with the Yoruba in west and the Igbo in the east.

THE KADUNA DECLARATION

On Tuesday 6 June, at a press conference in Arewa House, Kaduna (in Nigeria’s volatile Middle Belt), a coalition of sixteen northern youth groups delivered a chilling ultimatum.  As spokesperson for the Coalition of Northern Youths (CNY), Alhaji AbdulAziz Suleiman delivered the terms.

“With the effective date of this [Kaduna Declaration], which is today, Tuesday, June 06, 2017, all Igbos currently residing in any part of Northern Nigeria are hereby served notice to relocate within three months and all northerners residing in the East are advised likewise.”

In a lengthy statement, Suleiman railed against the “ungrateful, uncultured” and “cruel Igbos”, accusing them of exhibiting a “reckless disrespect for the other federating units”. He charged the Igbo (collectively) with having “stained the integrity of the entire nation with their insatiable criminal obsessions”, and insisted they be held “responsible for Nigeria’s cultural and moral degeneracy”. He even claimed that “Igbos masquerade as Fulani herdsmen to commit violent atrocities” from which they reap political gain.

After thoroughly vilifying the Igbo collectively as a people, Suleiman complained that “northern leaders have adopted and have been dragging its people into a pitifully pacifist position in order to sustain an elusive national cohesion that has long been ridiculed by the Igbos.”

He then laid out the solution as proposed by the Coalition of Northern Youth: ethnic cleansing and separation.

“Since the Igbo have clearly abused the unreciprocated hospitality that gave them unrestricted access to, and ownership of landed properties all over the North, our first major move shall be to reclaim, assume and assert sole ownership and control of these landed resources currently owned, rented or in any way enjoyed by the ingrate Igbos in any part of Northern Nigeria.

“Consequently, officials of the signatory groups to this declaration are already mandated to commence immediate inventory of all properties, spaces or activity in the north currently occupied by the Igbos for forfeiture at the expiration of the ultimatum contained in this declaration. In specific terms, the groups are directed to compile and forward an up-to-date data of all locations occupied by any Igbo in any part of Northern Nigeria including schools, markets, shops, workshops, residences and every other activity spaces.

“We are hereby placing the Nigerian authorities and the entire nation on notice that as from the 1st October 2017, we shall commence the implementation of visible actions to prove to the whole world that we are no longer part of any federal union that should do with the Igbos. From that date, effective, peaceful and safe mop-up of all the remnants of the stubborn Igbos that neglect to heed this quit notice shall commence to finally eject them from every part of the North.”

Full statement can be read here:
Biafra: North give Igbos 3 months to leave zone, say they are ungrateful, uncultured
By Amos Tauna, Daily Post (Nigeria), 6 June 2017

NIGERIA: IN THE SHADOW OF BIAFRA

On 30 May 1967, Lieutenant-Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwa (34) became the first and only leader of the Republic of Biafra. His declaration of Biafran independence from Nigeria is remembered annually by many Nigerians, primarily because of the horrendous civil war which followed it. The Nigerian Civil War – also known as the Biafran War (1967-1970) – claimed the lives of some 100,000 Nigerian military personnel and between 500,000 and two million Igbo civilians, most of who perished from starvation.

This year, to mark the 50-year anniversary of the outbreak of the Biafran War, pro-secessionist Igbo groups such as BNYL (Biafra Nations Youth League), MASSOB (Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra), IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) and others, decided to turn up the heat.

Ostensibly to protest (1) the neglect and marginalisation of the Igbo by the government of Muhammadu Buhari (a northern Muslim), and (2) escalating Fulani (northern Muslim) violence and southward territorial expansion (jihad), IPOB issued a “sit-at-home” order for 30 May 2017. The order was of course illegal, as IPOB has no authority to issue such an order. Regardless, in cities and towns throughout the south-east, schools, churches, banks and businesses closed their doors, primarily on account of fear and a desire to avoid retaliation from belligerent, militant IPOB youths.

It must be noted that pro-secessionist IPOB has escalated its rhetoric and its actions over recent years, especially since its leader, Nnamdi Kanu was arrested on charges of treason in October 2015. While many IPOB rallies have turned violent, the response of the Nigerian security forces has been equally so, resulting in many deaths, drawing the ire of human rights groups such as Amnesty International. Kanu was released on bail in April (2017) and is still awaiting trial.

As it turned out, 30 May 2017 passed relatively peacefully. Though some IPOB youths did wreak havoc, seemingly in the hope of triggering a clash with Nigerian military personnel, the state was well prepared. Having secured potential flash-points ahead of time, the military retired to the barracks on the evening of 29 May, leaving local police to handle local incidents.

Unfortunately, that was not to be the end of it. The secessionists rhetoric emanating from pro-secessionists Ibgo youths has inflamed latent ethnic-religious hatreds in northern Hausa-Fulani Muslim youths.

The Coalition of Northern Youths’ 6 June “Kaduna Declaration” – in which Igbo are given until 1 October to quit the north – is but a response, a return volley to the pro-secessionist rhetoric emanating from the Igbo youths in the south-east. Coming as it does in these days of revived fundamentalist Islam and heightened Islamic zeal, the threat must be taken seriously.

screenshot: Most Rev Benjamin Kwashi,
Anglican Archbishop of Jos,
speaks to Global Christian News.
This is indeed an unfolding crisis.

If the situation is not defused; if the youths cannot be contained or reasoned with; and if security is not maintained or preferably tightened, then Nigeria could see an eruption of ethnic-religious violence leading to a new round of ethnic cleansing, culminating in a further entrenchment of hostility and division.

Tensions will doubtless escalate as the anniversaries roll by.

While 30 May marked the 50yr anniversary of the declaration of Biafran independence, 6 July marks the 50yr anniversary of the day the war actually began – the day artillery shells started raining down on Ogoja (10km south of the border with the north) and battalions of mostly northern Muslim forces started advancing on Enugu (the Biafran capital).

And of course the anniversaries will continue rolling by – battles won, battles lost – climaxing in the months between October 2018 and early 2019, when the Ibgo will remember 50yrs since the encirclement and blockade of Biafra. By the end of 1968 Igbo children were perishing at the rate of around one thousand per day on account of the decision by the Nigerian government to use starvation as a weapon of mass destruction against its own people. Most critically, the Igbo will be remembering this famine just as Nigeria heads into its next General Election, slated for February 2019.

If Nigeria manages to get through the next two years without massive bloodletting, it will be nothing short of a miracle.

Ethnic-religious cleansing not unprecedented

The Coalition of Northern Youths has given the Igbo until 1 October to quit the north. After that, northern youths will “commence the implementation” of actions to reclaim lands and properties and “mop-up” the remnants of the “stubborn Igbos” that have neglected to heed the quit notice, “to finally eject them from every part of the North.”

How likely is this scenario? 

Across Nigeria, senior community leaders are scrambling to douse the flames. Unlike the belligerent youths of the east and north, these senior leaders are old enough to have lived through the Nigerian Civil War. Driven by their nightmares, they are eager to do all in their power to avert a new outbreak of hostilities. Many are calling for dialogue to address fundamental issues such as injustice, corruption and marginalisation; as well as Boko Haram and the issue of Fulani banditry and southward territorial expansion (jihad).

In the East, MASSOB leader Ralph Uwazuruike has distanced his group from Kanu’s IPOB. He insists that pro-Biafra groups have no interest secessionist conflict. “Self-determination without violence is a fundamental right,” he said. “We must strive against sowing the seeds of discord but do all that will promote peace and justice.” On Monday 12 June, Uwazuruike travelled to Kaduna in an effort to advance peace.

In the North, Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai has ordered the arrest of all signatories to the Kaduna Declaration. Critically, on Wednesday 7 June, the governors of 19 northern Nigerian states met in Maiduguri, Borno, to publically denounce the Kaduna Declaration.  Premium Times reports: “The governors said they are in touch with heads of their security agencies and have taken measures that will guarantee the rights of all Nigerians to live in the 19 states in the three geo-political zones within the north.” Hopefully their rhetoric will translate into action.

While a return to civil war is highly unlikely, the threat posed to over a million mostly Christian Igbo living and working in the Muslim north cannot be overstated.

As the CNY deadline of 1 October approaches, the Igbo will also be remembering the massacres of 1966. On 29 May 1966 more than 3,000 Igbo were slaughtered in various northern cities, including Kaduna, Kano and Jos, in Islamic pogroms incited by the clerics and organised in the mosques.

Resenting Igbo success, the northern Muslims feared the more educated Igbo might one day come to dominate Nigeria. Then, after the 29 July 1966 Hausa-led military coup, a campaign of ethnic cleansing was unleashed across the north. Some 30,000 Igbo were killed as more than 1.3 million fled. The mass exodus of Igbo from the north resulted in a humanitarian crisis in the east as the east sought to adsorb this flood of displaced and traumatised humanity.

The massacres and ethnic cleansing of 1966 convinced the Igbo that the Muslim Hausa-Fulani would never tolerate the existence in their midst of the now-successful Igbo – i.e. an infidel people who the northerners had previously only ever viewed as savages fit only to be kept as slaves. This was also the reason why the war lasted as long as it did; for the Igbo were convinced that defeat would culminate in genocide. As it turned out, everyone was simply too exhausted for that.

Now (2017) as then (1967), the likelihood of an independent Biafra being realised is zero – after all, Nigeria’s oil (discovered in 1956) lies predominantly in the Delta region.

Today – 50yrs on from the pogroms of 1966 and the war of 1967-1970 – in these days of Islamic revival and heightened Islamic fundamentalist zeal; in these days when Islamists seem to have access to bottomless pit of career transnational jihadis and terror-funding to draw on, the question that needs to be answered is this: can Nigeria’s “Wahhabised” northern youths be contained?


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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com