The Islamist insurgency in the Muslim northern half of Nigeria, and increasingly in the “Middle Belt” region where Muslims and Christians live side by side, has been tearing this massive African nation apart (as discussed recently in a special report in this blog), with almost daily brutal violence against civilians. At the end of last year, this blog listed northern Nigeria as one of “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012.” The military and the central government’s security forces are clearly utterly helpless against this threat. The name of the shadowy jihadist organization behind the violence, Boko Haram, means “Western Education Is Sinful” in the Hausa language, but the group’s full formal name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means literally “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.” Boko Haram does not claim to want to hive off northern Nigeria, where the related Hausa and Fulani peoples predominate, as a separate state. (When out-and-out northern separatism does surface, as it does from time to time, it tends to be secular and to seek a Hausa-dominated state to be called Arewa.) If even that seems quixotic, then their actual avowed goal is utter science fiction: the extension of shari’a (Islamic law), which is in force in the northern 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states, to the country as a whole.
|Map showing the states in Nigeria where shari’a is in force|
Nigeria is only one of a whole string of states along the Sahel region spanning Africa which is to some extent split along north-vs.-south, Muslim-vs.-non-Muslim lines (as discussed in detail in an article in this blog), including also Mali, Niger, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, Chad, and, of course, the former Sudan, now Sudan and South Sudan. Senegal and Western Sahara also have regional splits that are exacerbated by the wider geopolitics of religion, and even Kenya’s Mombasa region and Tanzania’s Zanzibar archipelago have exploded into Muslim separatist violence in recent months.
The Sahel is also the line along which environmentally informed geopolitical strategists tell us the Sahara Desert is spreading southward and where we can expect future wars over water resources as global supplies dwindle.
And Boko Haram is increasingly, and worryingly, allied with ethnic Muslim insurgencies in other parts of the barely governable arid center of North Africa. In nearby Mali, the northern two-thirds of the country are a de facto separate state called Azawad, populated by Tuaregs and armed by weapons left over from the Libyan civil war, but ruled by militias loyal to al-Qaeda. Eastern Mauritania, southern Libya, southern Algeria, northwestern Burkina Faso, the northern Central African Republic (C.A.R.), and northern Niger are also plagued by jihadist militancy and religiously-inflected ethnic tensions, and the ties among radical groups in different countries is growing. Western strategists fear that the interior of the western Sahara can become the new Afghanistan, a lawless area where al-Qaeda and its allies can train and plan. So when Hillary Rodham Clinton, the United States secretary of state, visited Nigeria earlier this month (as reported on at the time in this blog), Boko Haram’s potential threat to the world was atop her list of talking points.
But while the insurgency in northern Nigeria rages, old fissures in southern Nigeria, dating to the peri-colonial days before the 1980s rise of global jihadism, are reappearing.
Nigeria is among the most separatism-scarred countries in the world. The failed attempt by the Igbo ethnic group in Nigeria’s southeast to found a separate Republic of Biafra in 1967 led to a catastrophic three-year civil war in which a million or so died—most from starvation because of the central government’s brutal economic blockade of the fledgling state.
First, in 1993, when M. K. O. Abiola, a Yoruba, was elected to the presidency but then prevented from taking office by Ibrahim Babangida, a northern Muslim of the Gwari ethnic group, Yoruba nationalism increased in appeal and more Yorubas lost faith in the dysfunctional federal model. The Oodua People’s Congress is the most prominent (but still marginal) proponent of violent Yoruba secession, but more prominent still are various autonomy movements and politico-cultural revivals throughout Yoruba country, which many non-Yorubas fear are the stirrings of separatism. The governor of Abiola’s native Osun State, for example, Rauf Aregbesola, has been quite controversially taking on more and more trappings of autonomy for his small fiefdom (as reported on at various times in this blog), and similar things are happening in other Yoruba-dominated states.
|The coat-of-arms of Osun State|
|The newly adopted flag of Bayelsa State.|
You’d think that with all the shit they’re catching for this,
they’d come up with something a little more interesting.
|The flag of Edo State. Now that’s more like it!|
See, Bayelsa? It’s your flag, you can put whatever you want on it. Just go crazy—masks, knives, whatever.
|The Ogoni flag flies in front of the grave of a murdered activist.|
|This is the flag that the Nigerian government would like the Ogoni people to pay allegiance to.|
Bakassi: the new powderkeg?
The newest expression of Nigerian ethnonationalism has emerged, however, in the far southeast, in what even in an independent Biafra would be a minority area, dominated by the Efik ethnic group—and in the adjacent area of what is now Cameroon, the Bakassi Peninsula. The Efik are descendants of the Kalabari Kingdom (also called New Calabar or the Kingdom of Calabar), a full-fledged nation-state that was absorbed by the British into colonial Nigeria in 1884, though the eastern half of it ended up in Germany’s colony Kamerun.
The European boundary that split the Efik kingdom was always ill-defined. Things became complicated in 1918 when Germany, as a loser in the First World War, surrendered Kamerun to the victorious U.K. and France under the Treaty of Versailles. The British, western part was divided into Southern Cameroons and Northern Cameroons, two discontinuous strips of land wedged between the colony of Nigeria and the French portion. France attached the Neukamerun (“New Cameroon”) portion of the former German colony to the vast interior swath of francophone Africa called French Equatorial Africa (including what are now Chad, the C.A.R., Gabon, and the Republic of Congo), while the rest of it was set up as a separate French colony called Cameroun. When the Algerian war pushed Europe into setting its African colonies free as independent states in the late 1950s and early ’60s, it became clear that the oddly shaped British portion of the Cameroons would not make a viable state, so a plebiscite was held: Southern Cameroons, a Christian-mission-dominated coastal area, voted to join Cameroun as the Republic of Cameroon in 1961, while the predominantly-Muslim Northern Cameroons joined the new Republic of Nigeria, where it became what is now the eastern edge of the Middle Belt region, north of “Biafra.”
But some residents of the former Southern Cameroons, Protestants who were used to English as their language of administration, chafed at being part of a Catholic, francophone Republic of Cameroon. In 1972, Cameroonian moves toward political centralization inspired the founding of the All Anglophones Conference (A.A.C.), which agitated for a return to the more federal 1961 constitution. Unaccommodated, their discontent grew, until by 1995 a faction of the A.A.C.’s successor, the Southern Cameroons Peoples Organization (SCAPO), was petitioning the U.N. and organizing a referendum, in which, they claimed, 99% of locals wanted independence. In 1999, a radio station was taken over by this faction, the Southern Cameroons National Council (S.C.N.C.), and a Republic of Ambazonia was declared. This had little real effect, but Ambazonian nationalism was revived in 2006, when a small Efik-populated peninsula that had been administered by Nigeria since independence was transferred to Cameroonian control by the International Court of Justice (I.C.J.) in order to settle a long-standing border dispute. The plight of the residents of this strip of land, the Bakassi Peninsula, who did not want to be Cameroonians, inspired SCAPO to declare a Republic of Ambazania (note slight difference in spelling), which was the old Ambazonian territory, plus Bakassi.
|A map of Cameroon’s imaginatively-named provinces,|
highlighting those that were formerly British-ruled and consider themselves a separate country.
But Efiks on the Nigerian side of the border are less enthusiastic about the Republic of Bakassi. Florence Ita-Giwa, a senator for Nigeria’s Cross River State just over the border, reiterated at a press conference in Lagos on August 17th the position of her group, the Bakassi People’s General Assembly, that the peninsula is still part of Nigeria—a sentiment shared by many Nigerian nationalists, who felt burned by the I.J.C.’s decision for Cameroon in 2006, given that Nigeria had been administering Bakassi since independence. In October of this year, the window for appealing the original I.J.C. decision closes, so Nigerian ire over this issue is rising. Ita-Giwa, who is a member of Nigeria’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (P.D.P.) and a former advisor to Nigeria’s former president Oluṣẹgun Ọbasanjọ, said, “We completely dissociate ourselves from the purported declaration of a Sovereign State of Bakassi. It is our view that the issue confronting us is not served by a declaration of independence but by accelerating the resettlement of our people in the location of our choice. We have no intention to secede from the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” Her statement also invoked the shared heritage of the Efik nationality and the Kingdom of Calabar. Thousands of Efik live stateless in Nigeria and wish to be resettled on the Bakassi peninsula, as Ọbasanjọ had promised. Ita-Giwa calls Dayspring Island, ground zero of the new Bakassian independence moves, “unceded” and is where she would like Efik refugees, who include some traditional rulers, to be resettled.
Between the Ijaw, the Efik, the Ogoni, and the Igbo, soon there may not even be a Nigeria for Boko Haram to secede from.
[Related articles: “Remembering Odumegwu Ojukwu: On Biafra and on an African Continent Riven by European Borders” (Nov. 2011), “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012” (Dec. 2011), “Mali Becomes the Latest African Country to Split along North–South Lines” (Feb. 2012), “Jihadists Imperil Nigerian Unity” (June 2012), “Ambazonian Separatists Focus on Bakassi Peninsula in New Push to Split Cameroon” (Aug. 2012).]
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas. The book, which contains dozens of maps and over 500 flags, is now in the layout phase and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by early fall 2014. I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news. Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook.]