Background – Cries of Victimisation and Ethnic Profiling
In the wake of the controversy around the purported eviction order to Fulani herdsmen by the Ondo State government, in January 2021, Nigerian social media was full of messages with all manner of allegations of unfair victimization against sections of the country. Choices of messages being shared depend on ethnic background, such that almost every major ethnic group in the country had messages that seek to expose cases of victimization. For instance, among many others, there was this message supposedly written by one Price Ifeanyi Sunday who claimed to be disturbed about the case of victimization against Hausa-Fulanis with the submission that “If Tunde commits a crime in the North they will tag the culprit Tunde, if Emeka commits a crime in Lagos they will blame only Emeka but if Musa commits a crime in the East or South West they will tag the crime Hausa-Fulani, nobody will mention Musa. The victimization of Hausa-Fulanis in southern Nigeria is going out of hand. It is time for the Northern elites to speak up”
Such messages are conveniently presented with the often hypothetical identity of Nigerians bearing them. In this particular case, Prince Ifeanyi Sunday, who from the name, appears to be an Igbo man from southeast Nigeria, is the bearer. Whether there is a person bearing that name or not, the objective is simply to demonstrate that there is victimization against Hausa-Fulanis and if Prince Ifeanyi Sunday, an Igbo man can acknowledge it and speak out, why are the Northern Hausa-Fulani elites keeping quiet? The choice of Prince Ifeanyi Sunday as the bearer of the message may have to do with the fact that the trigger of the clamor about the victimization of Hausa-Fulanis is from the Yoruba populated South West based on the tension between the Yorubas and Hausa-Fulani communities given the sad criminal activities of people allegedly identified as Fulani herdsmen. The case of a hypothetical Igbo man is coming few weeks after alleged attacks on Fulanis in Ebonyi State, southeast Nigeria, an allegation that is hardly resolved before the controversy of the purported eviction notice to Fulani herdsmen by the Ondo State government.
The message in question by Price Ifeanyi Sunday can only be interpreted to mean inciting the Northern elites against the Yorubas in the South West. There are similar inciting messages against the southwest political leaders suggesting that those of them that are members and leaders of APC have sold out. Even PDP leaders may not be free from such accusations. Interestingly, there is also the underlying tension between Yorubas and Igbos living in the South West. Just recently, following the unfortunate destructions that happened in Lagos State as a result of the EndSARS protests, there were wild allegations against the Igbos living in Lagos alleging that they are the ones that carry out the destructions. Reports of the so-called agenda to destroy Lagos, Yorubas and the South West were all over the place.
In the midst of all these, there are also cries of victimization against the Igbos and people from the South East, which is always a subject of political debates in the country. The question of political marginalization of the Igbos is a constant item for leadership negotiation across all our parties. Similar to the cases of inciting messages aimed at mobilizing leaders from the South East to initiate political responses, which could strengthen the political influence of the region in national politics, there were so many instances of media reports accusing leaders of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and other political leaders in the South East of betrayals championed by the separatist group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Therefore, ideally, every discerning Nigerian should have been able to situate the projected solidarity by an Igbo person (Prince Ifeanyi Sunday) to Hausa-Fulanis in the context of all the dynamics of ethnic relations in the country. Recalling that since the mid-1960s, following the overthrow of the First Republic and the civil war that followed, relations between the Hausa-Fulanis in the Northern part of the country and Igbos in the South East region of the country is anything but cordial. Tense relations between our major ethnic groups are responsible for why at different times and in many instances, there are cases of ethnic and communal violence, often resulting in ethnic profiling of criminals. Even activities of criminals are now very common reasons for profiling our ethnic groups thereby associating them with some crimes. The case of Nigerians accused of illegal drug businesses with cases of arrest and execution of convicted Nigerians in other countries are there. There are also cases of cybercrimes involving Nigerians both locally and internationally.
Ethnic profiling in the country is a moving target both in terms of the trigger and the ethnic group affected. At different times, virtually all our major ethnic groups were profiled in relation to crimes committed by Nigerians identified to be from particular ethnic groups. While it was the issues of drugs and cybercrimes with respect to non-Hausa-Fulanis, the case of criminal activities of some bandits and kidnappers among the Fulani herdsmen is the issue today that has led to the profiling of Fulanis in the country. With time, this may shift to other crimes with possible other ethnic groups or even the same Hausa-Fulani groups as the focus.
Failed attempts to Correct Injustice
Problems associated with ethnic profiling get compounded by problems of injustice as a result of repressive circumstances especially during periods of military rule. Recalling all the frustrations associated with failed political transitions of the military, both under Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Gen. Sani Abacha between 1985 and 1998. Although problems of political tension between our ethnic groups could be said to be less volatile than what obtains today, reckless and brazenly repressive conduct by the military leadership heightened ethnic tension in the country. Twice, the political transition program initiated by the military was disrupted with hardly good justifiable reasons. Even when the process, in June 1993, was leading to the emergence of a President who would have successfully won votes from all sections of the country, notwithstanding the fact that both the candidate, Chief M. K. O. Abiola, and his running mate, Amb. Babagana Kingibe were both Muslims, the military leadership of Gen. Babangida provocatively went ahead to annul the election without any convincing reason.
The annulment of the June 12, 1993 election further worsened ethnic relations in the country such that although the elections produced one of the best electoral results that confirm there is still a good possibility for national unity and coexistence, campaigns for its actualization sharpened divisions along ethnic lines. This was aggravated by the tight-fisted political transition of the Gen. Abacha administration between 1993 and 1998. Chief Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 election spent the remaining parts of his life between 1993 and July 1998 under arrest.
Part of the challenge that requires proper attention in the country is the need to resolve problems of mismanagement of the country’s transition from military rule to the current Fourth Republic. Without recalling all the unfortunate details of the problems created by the annulment of June 12, 1993, it is important to recognize that more than 20 years into the current Fourth Republic, the tension created in the country is far from being resolved. Prior to 2015, the closest we came to addressing the issues, as a nation, is the appointment of the Justice Oputa Oputa Human Right Violation Investigation Commission under President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 and the 2014 National Conference under President Jonathan Goodluck. Of course, in 2005, there was the National Political Reform Conference under President Obasanjo, which eventually became embroiled in the controversy around President Obasanjo’s Third Term agenda and as a result, all the recommendations were therefore never considered.
The inability to address issues of ethnic tension in the country has continued to inflame all manner of the political crisis in the country. Coupled with the widespread systematic weakening of governance institutions in the country, especially on matters of guaranteeing the security of lives and property of Nigerians, issues of the role of political leaders in addressing the challenge became a major political issue. The problem of insurgency in the North East and the spate of suicide bombings by Boko Haram terrorists between 2010 and 2015 compounded the task of managing ethnic relations thereby creating serious security challenges in the country. Before 2015, the Boko Haram insurgents were controlling most parts of Borno, Adamawa, and the Yobe States. Weak response and excessive politicization of our national security challenges under the Jonathan administration, including the false accusation that opposition politicians were sponsoring Boko Haram, lower the approval rating of the Jonathan administration in the country, which significantly contributed to its defeat in 2015.
The merger of Opposition Parties and Renewed Hope for Justice
Perhaps, more than the low public approval rating of the former President Jonathan administration, the successful merger of the former opposition parties – Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressives Change (CPC), and Rochas Okorocha faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) – made Nigerians have stronger belief and confidence in the new party, All Progressives Congress (APC). Part of the negotiated credentials of the APC is that it is a party committed to true federalism, otherwise called restructuring as presented in the Foreword to the APC Manifesto by the former National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. Emerging as a party of change with its motto being JUSTICE, PEACE, AND UNITY as provided in Article 3 of the party’s Constitution, the Manifesto of the party, commit APC leaders to the core issues of political restructuring in the country based on reforming government with the objective of ensuring fiscal and political decentralization.
Given the fact that a good section of the leaders of the party who were in the defunct ACN was part of the political agitation in the country for restructuring and resource control, public expectation was high in terms of the kind of initiatives to be produced by the APC government. Although details of the commitment of the APC on matters of restructuring were outlined in the party’s manifesto, loose public interpretations of the specific commitment of the party to political restructuring have been the subject of national debate. Unfortunately, as a party, very little was done to popularise the true details of what the APC position and commitment to restructuring are. To some extent, this has resulted in some unfortunate campaigns against the APC, its leadership, and especially the APC controlled Federal Government led by President Muhammadu Buhari since its inauguration in May 2015.
Noting that the 2015 elections demonstrated that the APC’s acceptability in the South East is weak, it was hardly any coincidence therefore that between 2016 and 2017, the separatist group of IPOB under the leadership of Nnamdi Kanu started the so-called campaign for the creation of Biafra. The South-Eastern part of the country became the center of activities for the group. Activities of the group created so much tension in the country, and on September 18, 2017, a Federal High Court in Abuja declared the group a terrorist organization, thereby proscribing them. The group attempted to resist the proscription through some activities, which resulted in the arrest of Nnamdi Kanu and charging him for sedition, ethnic incitement, and treasonable felony.
Activities of IPOB produced an unhealthy dynamic in the country whereby youth groups from the Northern part of the country began to campaign against not only IPOB but also against the people of the South East. For instance, on June 8, 2017, a so-called coalition of youth groups from Northern Nigeria issued what they claimed as an ultimatum to all Igbo citizens in Northern Nigeria to leave the North on or before October 1, 2017. Combined activities of IPOB and a so-called coalition of youth groups worsened the ethnoreligious tension in the country. Many leaders and groups had to intervene to ensure that the situation didn’t degenerate into violent conflict in the country. Unfortunately, however, political tension associated with ethnoreligious activities of groups such as IPOB and a so-called coalition of Northern groups still dominates the polity.
…Salihu Moh. Lukman is the DG of Progressive Governors Forum, Abuja. This position does not represent the view of any APC Governor or the Progressive Governors Forum
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