By Labaran Yusuf
Nigeria Sailing Towards Uncharted Water: The Rise Of Yugoslav-like Nationalism With the drums of ethnic nationalism growing louder by the day, the Nigerian society is facing an unprecedented level of polarisation within an already suspicious ‘fabric’ that make up Nigeria.
Ever since the Cold War ended, there have been a significant increase in ethnic conflicts across parts of Asia, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and Africa, all of which had a disastrous effect on world peace and security.
Conflicts in the Balkans, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Rwanda, Darfur, Zaire, Central African Republic, Burundi and lately South Sudan, are among the deadliest and most familiar conflicts of the late 20th and early 21st centuries – that are often accompanied by gross human rights violations, such as genocide and crimes against humanity, and by economic decline, state failure, environmental problems, and refugee flows. The aforementioned ethnic conflicts are usually not about ethnic differences themselves, but sometimes are over political, economic, social, cultural or territorial matters.
Nigeria, synonymous with deep divisions, an outlying factor, which since independence have cause major political matters to be vigorously and violently contested along – ethnic, religious and regional lines. Also, because of a complicated network of politically silent identities, coupled with a history of protracted and seemingly stubborn ethno-religious wars and instability, Nigeria ranks top on the list as one of the most unstable states in Africa.
In this column, Nigeria will be compared and contrast simultaneously with the former Yugoslavia, the reason being that both nations are multiethnic in nature, with populations holding deep cultural, religious, and social loyalty and identity towards their ethnic groupings. And also, both countries have experienced a tide of ethnic nationalism which is a major cause of suspicious and distrust among the respective populations.
Firstly, Nigeria and Yugoslavia are both heterogeneous societies. However, Nigeria is a populous country, with a population of over 180 million people. Nigeria also has a total number of over more than 250 different ethnic identities, of which three ethnic groups constitute somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of the population. The Hausa-Fulani ethnic group counts for 30 percent of the population, the Yorubas about 20 percent and the Igbos about 18 percent. These three major ethnic groups have dominated the Nigerian political spectrum since independence.
In Yugoslavia, for example, the ethnic groupings weren’t so much diverse compared to Nigeria’s. Former Yugoslavia was composed of – Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, Montenegrins, Macedonians and Slovenes, which were all under the control of former statesman, Josip Tito, a communist that established an almost united Yugoslavia, after leading resistance to German occupation during World war II. Following his demise, ethnic nationalists were emboldened and eventually lead to the fracturing and later disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991.
Just like Yugoslavia, in Nigeria, the religious factor cannot be ignored. The Hausa-Fulani and other smaller ethnic groupings that inhabit the North are Muslims while the Igbos and other smaller ethnic groups in South are primarily Christians. In the middle comprise a mixture of Christians and Muslims, while the Yoruba found in the Southwest are almost half Muslim and half Christian. This Muslim North and Christian South cleavage enhances ethnic fractionalisations in Nigeria, especially in Northern Nigeria, where Islamic identity plays a dominant role (Panden 2007:8; Okpanachi).
Also, in both Nigeria and Yugoslavia, identities have historically played a significant role in instituting and executing socio-economic strategies and applications. The emergence and aggravation of “us” versus “them” syndrome, where Muslims were pitted against Christians, Northerners against Southerners, Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo against each other, and so on. Just as Christian Serbs and Croats were pitted against Bosnian Muslims in the Balkans.
During his ascent to the dictatorship of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler mastered the art and use of propaganda, raising both the Public’s hatred of non-Aryans and its loyalty to himself and the Nazis, this is evident in his book Mein Kampf, the “bible” of the Nazi party. Events in the war-torn former Yugoslavia illustrate how propaganda can ignite ethnic fighting. As Yugoslav-born religious studies professor Paul Mojzes writes,” Even the most cursory reading of the politicians statement, indicates that each [ethnic] side liberally provoke the other. The name-calling was belligerent, the speeches and articles untruthful and incendiary. All lie [d] massively” As a result of bitter ethnic hatred, hundreds of Croats, Muslims, and Serbs have been killed or wounded and more than three million have been left homeless.
Tragically, this brutal type of ethnic hatred and violence seems to be intensifying around the world. In Africa – Burundi, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Nigeria, ethnic nationalism is spiking, with high stakes and array of consequences. Little more than two decades ago, the Rwandan genocide, committed by the Hutus against the Tutsi population, of which more than a million people were killed and thousands more displaced, one of the most brutal acts on the African continent is off people’s minds. The same kind of ethnic rhetoric employed during the Rwandan conflict are being used again. We here the infamous word ‘go-to-work’ that was used by the Hutus to order Tutsi killings in Rwanda being repeated in Burundi to stir up tensions and incite violence. Social media monitoring sites, have reported a surge in nationalistic sentiments and hate speeches across Nigeria. This is evident even on city streets and campuses in certain parts of the country.
It has been 50 years since the proclamation of Biafra, pro-secessionist voices are growing louder, calling for the secession of South-eastern Nigeria. An adamant supporter of such a cause is Nmandi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), who was recently released from prison, have being a figure-head of the pro-Biafra movement. This in turn, have giving rise to a new nationalistic group, Coalition of Northern Youth Groups, whose recent ultimatum for the Igbos living in the North to leave within 3 months gave the group prominence and public notice.
Unity of Nigeria is what is most needed at this crucial time, not Milosevic-like nationalistic leaders calling for secession. Let’s not forget the Srebrenica massacre, Rwandan genocide and the siege of Sarajevo, which all brought misery and brutal effects on humanity.
Finally, the government should use all possible initiatives to prevent the disintegration of Nigeria. And also the youths should play an important role in peace building and peace making for a better and prosperous Nigeria.
Labaran Yusuf writes in from Jos, Plateau state.