Nigeria is a multi-nation country housing about 250 ethnic group or nations. Twenty out of these ethnic nations are big enough to exist as full-fledged countries. Somehow, that has not been the case despite bouts of attempts by some ethnic nationalities to secede. The Nigerian Biafran Civil War was the first of such attempts, which left no fewer than 3 million Igbos dead. More recently, there have been strident calls for an independent Republic of the Yoruba ethnic group. Over the decades, the absence of a multicultural/ethnic policy that grants indisputable equality of access to all ethnic groups to national resources and political positions has continued to frustrate fiscal policy and attendant programs. The ethnic-based struggle to control the economy ruthlessly distorts fiscal programming as budgetary activities, and plans are no longer dependent on economic imperatives but the satisfaction of ethnic allegiance. The consequence is poor economic performance and stunted growth that reinvigorates the rivalry for the thinning resources. Theoretically speaking, there seems to be an indirect relationship between ethnic and cultural diversity and countries’ real output growth. Nigeria is one of the twenty African countries that are most ethnically diverse and perform poorly socioeconomically.
Generally, ethnic groups do not necessarily approximate a nation. The case is different in Nigeria as the politicization of cultural togetherness and primordial kinship seems to satisfy nationhood requirements. The solid political elements embedded within the shared language, history, culture and, more recently, security infrastructure make many of them qualify as nations. The sense of nationhood and the attendant patriotism becomes significantly elevated as each nation vies to control Nigeria’s economic and political structures. Inequity in resource allocation and the nigh-otiose federal character principle has also resulted in some of these nations’ apparent marginalization. Indeed, each of the constituent nations somehow suffers from some form of marginalization. While the South appear to be more prosperous per capita, the North continues to have a firm grip on the political structure and governments machinery. Bouts of discontentment arising from these also resulted in the gradual emergence of militias seemingly defending the interests of their various ethnic nationalities. For example, many ethnic groups in the southern parts of the country appear to be militarily fortifying themselves against the Muslim North’s alleged Islamization and land grabbing agenda. Other security challenges for which ethnic security groups have risen to thwart include banditry and hostage-taking.
In January 2020, six Yoruba states constituting the Yoruba ethnic nationality came together and set up a commonly owned and operated security outfit called Amotekun. Despite the government’s hostility to the group and its branding of the security outfit as an illegal operation not backed by the Federal Republic’s Constitution, Amotekun continued to operate. Sequel to further negotiations between the Federal Republic’s vice president, who also hails from the ethnic group, the regional security outfit gained the support and collaboration of the Nigerian Police, which earlier warned that it would arrest the operatives of the organization found illegally possessing arms. The founders of the security outfit claimed that Amotekun was born out of government security outfits’ ineffectiveness in containing the insecurity in the geopolitical zone. Again, that singsong seems to be losing tempo since the emergence of Sunday Igboho’s campaigns against the terrorist Fulani herders. The militia led by Sunday Igboho appears to be more manifestly present in championing the protection of the Yoruba nation than the security outfit set up by the six states’ governors.
Unfortunately, the Igbo ethnic nationality is not that lucky. Precisely about the same time that the governors of the Yoruba states announced the establishment of Amotekun, governors of the five states of the southeast geopolitical zone equally presented sketchy details of a supposed but comparable regional security outfit. One year since the announcement, there is no such outfit in existence. But like the Southwest geopolitical zone, the Southeast geopolitical zone suffers tremendous bouts of insecurity. There is incessant kidnapping, armed robbery, and herders’ attacks across the zone’s five states. However, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra [IPOB] controvertibly branded a terrorist organization by the Nigerian government, appear to have leveraged this vacuum to set up the so-called Eastern Security Network. Again, while Sunday’s militia in the Southwest enjoys some political protection, several media reported the federal government’s Police helicopter gunships search for and the Eastern Security Network operatives’ hound in the forests and wilds of the southeast geopolitical zone.
Most security outfits of various ethnic nationalities claim to fight three significant threats and infractions. The first is the marginalizations and inequities arising from the imbalances in the country’s political and economic control with the attendant power-sharing and access to economic resources. Since independence, Nigeria’s Muslim North dominated the country’s political machinery and invariably determined the extent and how other geopolitical zones benefit economically. That quasi-political hegemony was heinously tragic because most of those that ruled the country until 1999 were military officers who came to power via coups, summarily suspended the Constitution and practically dictated by decrees how the country was to progress or otherwise. Four decades of dominant and discretionary control of the country’s political and economic structures strengthened the financial, king-making capabilities and capacity of these military rulers to mutate into democratic leaders at the millennium turn effortlessly. Other ethnic nationalities who neither shared nor benefited from those political and economic control opportunities are today fighting to undo many of those periods’ entrenched injustices.
The second fight is on religious grounds. Although Islamic insurgency is affecting most of the Muslim North far much more than the Southern parts of the country, many ethnic nationalities in the latter believe that subsequent phases of the jihadist campaign may result in the Islamization of the predominantly Christian South. While both Christians and Muslims in the northern parts of the country suffer banditry and other terrorist acts, many Southerners believe that it is merely a campaign of terror to cow the Christian South into accepting Islam upon the launch of subsequent phases of insurgency. A group like the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, a predominantly pro-Igbo ethnic group with claims of historical roots to the state of Israel and consequently loyal to their God, holds this view that it considers a violation of the religious-cultural leanings of its people. The third plank is the so-called protection of ‘their people’ against potential aggressions of bandits [including Fulani herdsmen] operating in their forests and bushes. The situation is more complicated in the northern parts of the country. Most of the region’s aggressors also originate from them while also allegedly constituting themselves as aggressors to many other parts of the country.
Unfortunately, our security agencies’ failures to contain the country’s worsening insecurity and the inability of successive governments to put in place an acceptable Constitution that has the buy-in of all the constituent ethnic nationalities give a fillip to the continued operation of various ethnic militia. Despite the military’s claims to win the war against insurgency and bandits, the evidence on the ground appears to prove otherwise. In recent times school-pupil kidnapping heists where bandits kidnap an average of 300 schoolchildren and move them for hundreds of kilometres away from safety and without interruption by any of the country’s security forces into their dens of terror have been increasing. They point to the level of vulnerability of Nigerian citizens in the hands of terror evangelists. In addition to hundreds of lives lost daily in the various insurgents, herders and bandits’ campaigns of fear and death, the elected governors of Borno and Benue States whose lives should be constitutionally and unblemishedly defended claimed to have been attacked by bandits and Fulani herders, respectively. In the case of the governor of Benue State, he alleged to have run 2 km to safety.
Similarly, the sheer scale of displaced persons in various IDP camps in Nigeria also testifies to the enormity of these ugly and scary situations. There is equally no guarantee that the crisis will abate soon as our international borders remain porous. Nigerian security agencies appear to be consistently overwhelmed by illegal immigrants’ multitudes. Our land border has become a confirmed pipeline for terrorist reception. Overall, the Nigerian security forces’ failures have inadvertently given stamps of approval to the ethnic militia in the spirit of self-help and protection of their people.
Although debatable, much of the confidence behind the supposed drums of war in some parts of the country is attributable to the boost from many self-appointed militant Messiahs and leaders of various ethnic security outfits. The small Biafran country’s famed capacity to effectively engage the Nigerian Army in a war for approximately three years, fifty years ago, seems to inspire most of them. Before now, secessionist threats appear limited to Biafran agitation. In recent times, the various militia is actively advocating for political independence for their different ethnic nations. We now have vocal and active separatists’ agitations for the Oduduwa Republic, the Niger Delta Republic, and the Arewa Republic. However, there is no doubt that there will be more separatist agitations given the spate of growth in ethnic-nationality-inclined militia formation. And given the government’s seeming reluctance to decisively contain the country’s insecurity situation, those aspirations will likely crystallize.
Regardless of the scary cumulus of expectations on possible war, some regional/ethnic militia seem to receive the government’s blessings while the others do not. For instance, the Fulani herdsmen, seemingly the ethnic militia of the Fulbe tribe, which is also the tribe of the President of the Federal Republic and other influential political figures and reputed as the fourth most brutal terrorist organization globally, seem to enjoy the protection of the government. Virtually every corner of the country suffers and complains badly about the terror inflicted by AK-47 wielding pastoralists from the Fulbe tribe. Contrary to expectations, the head of these pastoralists’ organization, which is also fully aware and allegedly gives institutional coverage to the terror herdsmen, ride in cars decorated with crested seal reserved only for the President of the Federal Republic and democratically elected governors of states. An entourage of state police also protects him. At the other end of the divide is the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, an organization regarded internationally merely as a secessionist group. Even without a significant criminal record, the group was prohibited in the country and branded a terrorist organization. Its leadership is in exile. It is a sad tale of two cities where what is good for the goose is not considered as good for the gander and points to an ominous future for this country’s security and peace.