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Nigeria Crisis Deepens

While a compromise solution to the Nigerian fuel crisis seems to have been found, the deeper and more dangerous regional and religious crisis is getting worse.  Significantly worse.

Even as estimates for the bombings in Kano rose from 150 to up to 250, new attacks left churches burning in one part of the northern Bauchi state, while 11 people were killed and 12 injured in a separate incident, also in Bauchi.

Most of the dead in the recent church attacks across the country are said to belong to the Igbo people.  The Igbo are a southern, mostly Christian Nigerian group of an estimated 27 to 30 million people.  An earlier attempt at secession by the Igbo led to the establishment of Biafra, a breakaway government that was crushed in the bloody Nigerian civil war.  Since then, the Igbo (a traditionally mobile and enterprising people) have fanned out across Nigeria and the world; their presence in the North is often resented by native Muslim groups. Boko Haram has ordered all Christians to leave the North and the church bombings and other attacks seem to be part of a concerted effort to stampede them into flight.

For their part, some Igbo in their southeastern Nigeria homeland are beginning to retaliate. Chika Unigwe writes in the Guardian about the news she is getting from the Igbo heartland in former Biafra:

An Igbo group, Ogbunigwe Ndigbo, gave all northern Muslims in the region two weeks to leave or face their wrath. In Lokpanta, where my mother is from, the Muslim Hausa community – which settled there many years ago – were seen leaving in truckloads.

The Hausa are the leading Muslim people in most of the North, and as refugees from the South come North with tales of violence and fear, anger will grow.  Boko Haram appears to hope that a series of reciprocal acts of violence and ethnic cleansing will escalate, leading to a crisis that ultimately divides the country. Presumably Boko Haram would try to use that crisis to get control of the North and impose its own radical and extreme views on Muslims in the country.

Worse, the government seems hopelessly, helplessly overmatched at this point.  A suspect was arrested in the case of the Christmas church bombings; within 24 hours the suspect somehow managed to escape, still handcuffed, from his guards.  There are widespread suspicions, right up to President Goodluck Jonathan himself, that members of the security forces and the military (historically strongholds of northern influence) are secretly helping Boko Haram.

Treason might not be to blame; the Nigerian government is one of the world’s most corrupt organizations, and it is perfectly possible that prisoner escapes can be arranged if the right palms are crossed. But whether it has been hollowed out by secret terrorist sympathizers or simply eaten away by conventional corruption, Nigeria does not seem able to do much about its worst security threat in a generation. Muddle at the top; violence at the grassroots; religion, ethnicity and oil revenue in a toxic brew: Nigeria is not in a good place.

A lot of people only care about Nigerian politics when oil is involved. At the moment, production is not under threat. But while violence in the oil patch can have a direct and disturbing effect on world oil prices, the increasing stress on Nigeria’s somewhat fragile and artificial national unity ia more serious in the long run. If the center doesn’t hold in Nigeria, few sub-Saharan countries divided by language, religion and ethnicity have much hope of hanging together. If ethnically charged religious violence begins to spread in Nigeria, wider confrontations across the volatile Christian-Muslim divide across Africa cannot be ruled out.

At the moment, the Nigerian center looks distressingly weak.

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  • subrot0

    Where is all that smart diplomacy that we have heard so much about? Or is this Bush’s fault?

  • James Vaughn

    Who is paying for the arms? The world needs to put pressure on them.

  • Rob Waters

    One small point: The Ibo had been the most mobile and enterprising group in Nigeria even before the 1966: Northern massacres of Ibo following the Ibo-dominated 1966 military coup ultimately led to the Biafra secession.
    Among northern tribes, Hausa are historically the most involved in trade.

  • gringojay

    40 years ago lived in rural Africa & tribalism
    never dies. Westerners have no concept of how
    spilling blood of the “other” is not only acceptable. but there’s no squeamish remorse using any means.
    BoHaha groupies just racist misunderstanders of
    tribal lore of some messanger.

  • AD-RtR/OS!

    “…who’s paying for the arms?…”

    Well, right off the top of my head, I can come up with two strong possibilities that would benefit immensly from the subtraction of Nigeria’s output from the Global supply of oil:
    Russia, and Iran.
    But, neither of them would get involved with revolutionary/terrorist groups, would they?

  • mac

    Worked with Nigerians off and on for the last ten years. Knowing about the Muslim north/Christian (roughly) south discord and having read Lugard’s “Dual Mandate” years ago, I always asked if they thought Nigeria would remain one country. I never met one Nigerian who did. The most common comment I heard from them about the Muslims in the north was, “Those people are crazy!”

    I really don’t see much hope for Nigeria. The people are so inured to corruption they don’t have any belief at all in the possibility of decent, honest government. They don’t trust each other at all even on a personal level; the idea that some strangers could be trusted to have power and influence without using it to steal all they possibly could is, for them, simply delusional. They know that looting the treasury for their own benefit is exactly what they would do so they aren’t surprised in the slightest when someone else does so. Many of them thought the last honest government Nigeria had was the British colonial one.

    Long story short: a corrupt people can’t have honest–and democratic–government.

  • Kris

    So the Igbo cannot have their own state, and they cannot live throughout Nigeria either. They should just stay subservient in an assigned area. What’s the word for that?

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