More than ever, the dividing lines have made themselves apparent, and we are yet again, as a nation, discussing issues that have plagued our political and socio-economic landscapes for decades. The recent tension between herders-farmers and kidnappers –villagers in the South has led to a national outcry about the country’s level of insecurity and pointing fingers at the ethnic group most responsible for these problems. Also, the laxity with which security agencies have been handling issues in the country has brought up conversations about whether the government exists for all parties’ interest.
The ethnic violence currently escalating precede Nigeria’s formation as a country, and likewise, scepticism about the truism of the ‘unity in diversity’ phrase has always been raised in national discuss. Chief Awolowo, in 1947, had been the first to voice out, describing Nigeria as “a mere geographical expression” rather than a nation. He stated further that the Nigerian identity is merely one that exists to differentiate those who live within the country from those who do not, and not an identity that births a sense of commonness and belonging.
In the same vein, Sir Tafawa Balewa had made known the gap between the two provinces – southern and northern – then. He referred to Nigeria as a country that had “since the amalgamation of the southern and northern provinces in 1914 existed as one country only on paper…It is still far from being united. Nigeria’s unity is only a British intention for the country.” These statements shed some light on religious and ethnic nationalism leading to conflicts about control of state power, unequal allocation of resources, citizenship issues, state collapse, economic decline and ethnoreligious clashes.
While it is everyday news that Nigeria’s formation as a country was merely for administrative efficiency in exploiting resources, there are other countries that are heterogeneous, and they have found ways to overcome their differences. The escalation of ethnic violence in the country has its roots in historical events that still influence the pervasive ethnic mistrust in the country. From the 1953 Kano Riot, the 1966 Coup D’état, the 1966 Nigerian counter-coup, to the 1967 Nigerian Civil war, it is without doubt that ethnic related violence has constituted a more significant part of our history.
As much as the issue of ethnic violence is one that came about as a result of the unholy matrimony created by the British, much of its sustenance has been as a result of the government’s lackadaisical attitude towards quelling this violence. It is still surprising that ever since the herders-farmers conflict gained national attention, there hasn’t been any decisive action on the government’s side other than reassurances and mere play on words. What this has done is to breed a level of mistrust in the affected groups towards the government as one that would only favour their kinsmen, which to an extent is the truth. The same government that pled clemency with governors affected by marauding Fulani herders pillaging their farms was quick to threaten those who sought to evict the Fulani herdsmen from their villages.
Furthermore, as people start to notice these diving lines and the government’s failure to manage the country’s diversity with a sense of fairness and equity, tensions will continue to rise. The Shasha market violent clash between Hausa and Yoruba traders is a notable example. For people who had cohabited peacefully for years, it took just a little misunderstanding between a cobbler and a cart pusher to light a violent clash that resulted in mayhem with many businesses reduced to ashes. It is, therefore, vital that decisive actions are taken in the right direction.
Solutions to Ethnic Violence
In addressing ethnic related violence, the stereotyping of a particular ethnic group to a particular crime needs to be stopped. To the northerner, all fraudsters and drug smugglers in the country are southerners, and to the southerners, every kidnapper, herdsmen and bandit is a northerner. While these statements bear some atom of truth, criminal actions shouldn’t be given an ethnical identity or be viewed with bias. The government should confront criminal activities dispassionately and as intelligently as possible, which should apply to state-led security operations. If security forces can be deployed to stop the eviction of Fulanis from the South, then the government should employ equal force in addressing the indiscriminate killing of farmers by the herders.
The government should be proactive in dealing with insecurity issues before it escalates beyond their control. Their inability to perform this role has created a dangerous vacuum that is increasingly filled by citizens taking self-defence measures to safeguard themselves. When such happens, there is the possibility of such people to take irrational decisions. In the case of a farmer whose farm had been destroyed, any Fulani onsite is a possible target for retribution. The same applies to herders bearing arms to protect themselves against rustlers and bandits.
Also, much of ethnic mistrust and violence happens because of the fear of domination by a particular group or sect. While the structural composition of the country into States allays that fear, the states have been rendered almost powerless in delivering expectations. The Federal Government as the central authority is too powerful and that has rendered the States ineffective. Thus when someone ascends into power, there is immediately the fear of domination in other ethnic groups. Hence the reason why the Presidency is rotated amongst the three regions as though it was written in the constitution to do so. If the concept of regionalism is promoted, with states still in existence, each state will be able to handle its own affairs without having to turn to the federal government for help or support.
Furthermore, there should be massive enlightenment of the people on the ills of ethnic violence and how it halts national progress and development. The recent clashes should be cited as examples of how much ethnic violence would cost the economy and even the country itself, in terms of how much people co-interact to make things work well within the country. This way, people will understand the negative effect of the actions they take and be well informed on how to handle situations that could lead to ethnic violence.
With all this rising tension and distrust, the Nigerian identity which unites us all still makes itself apparent. The Premium Times had reported how during the Shasha clash in Ibadan, some Yorubas had protected Hausas and how Hausas had protected Yoruba in the aftermath of the Shasha killings. Similar stories about the same occurrences happening during the Nigerian Civil War has been shared too. These stories lend credence to the fact that differences, be it ethnical or religious, shouldn’t create a divide between us because we are all humans at the end of the day, and humanity supersedes all. And all it takes is for the nation’s diversity to be approached with a sense of equitability and fairness in all national affairs.
In conclusion, the recent ethnic violence has made evident the widening dividing lines between the South and the North and the need for issues fueling this divide to be addressed. It also represents a call to action for the government to be proactive in ensuring people’s safety and security, without sentiments influencing decisions being taken. If done, this could lead to the rebirth of a patriotic nation and proud in its identity. Still, failure to do so will bring nothing but a total collapse of the country and the possibilities of ethnic cleansings.
Abdulrasaq Ariwoola is currently a 400 level law student at the University of Lagos. He has interests in creative writing and has previously published one of his short stories on The Kalahari Review. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org