Thursday, August 23, 2012

Southern Nigeria Splitting Apart Too as the Muslim North Burns

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
But in southern Nigeria there are even profounder fault lines appearing, especially within the past month, as Igbo, Ijaw, Ogoni, and Efik nationalists have begun to press for more autonomy or, in some cases, outright secession.  Keep reading ...

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.

Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa at 170 million and soon to be the third-most-populous in the world by the middle of this century (with a half-billion, exceeded only by China and India), is one of the world’s most multi-ethnic states.  No ethnic group has a majority.  The three largest, the predominantly-speaking Hausa (some classify them with the Fulani) in the north, the predominantly-Christian Yoruba in the southwest, and the predominantly-Christian Igbo in the southeast, are in an uneasy balance; their rivalries fueled a string of coups and counter-coups in the years after independence from the United Kingdom in 1960.  But these three are only two-thirds of the population: literally hundreds of other ethnic groups, ranging in size from millions to mere dozens, are distributed throughout the country as well.  Though the trauma of Biafra made separatist sentiments illegal and unthinkable for decades, ethnonationalism began to reeemerge in the 1980s and ’90s.

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
Bayelsa State, President Goodluck Jonathan’s home state in the south-central Niger Delta region, decided on August 8th to adopt its own flag, coat-of-arms, and anthem (as reported on at the time in this blog), a move its governor, Seriake Dickson, explained: “In line with the vision of the founding fathers of our dearly beloved state and given this admnistration’s stand on Ijaw mobilization, Ijaw integration, and the need to promote Ijaw fundamental interest, which clearly is not subordinate to any other interests, the government of Bayelsa State has given its approval to have a state-owned emblem mark and strengthen our sense of identity as a state.”  Understandably, given that rhetoric, critics see this as a move down the road toward some sort of separatism.  Some editorial-writers have demanded that Jonathan distance himself from such expressions of regional ethnic distinctness.

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.
In Nigeria, flags other than the Nigerian national flag are considered provocative.  Most of Nigeria’s 36 states do not have flags.  The nine exceptions are: Lagos, Oyo, Ondo, Ogun, Ekiti, and Kwara—all in the Yorubua-dominated southeast—and Cross River and Rivers states, in the southeastern “Biafra” region of the Igbo, and, most recently and most controversially, now, Osun and Bayelsa, which are Ijaw country.  So Jonathan is now in the position of being urged by Igbos and northerners to reject and counteract the centrifugal forces in the southwest, which he has so far seemed uninclined to do.

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 people of the south-central Niger Delta region have made the most dramatic strides toward separatism in the years since the Biafran War.  In the 1990s, Ogoni activists rose up against the Nigerian dictatorship’s policy of essentially allowing Royal Dutch Shell to run the oil-rich Delta as its own colonial-style quasi-state.  The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and its push for more self-government, cultural and linguistic rights, and local stewardship of the environment garnered global support from human-rights and environmental activists, especially after the arrest and execution in 1995 of their celebrity spokesman, the novelist Ken Saro-Wiwa.  Though the military junta that carried out those atrocities is now replaced by a far more democratic regime, there is still widespread alarm throughout the rest of Nigeria at any noises that resemble Ogoni separatism.

The Ogoni flag flies in front of the grave of a murdered activist.
Thus, an August 2nd “declaration of autonomy”  by MOSOP has once again raised the stakes in the Ogoni struggle.  “By this declaration of political autonomy,” MOSOP’s leader Goodluck Diigbo, said in a radio broadcast, “we, the Ogoni people, are determined to enforce the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous People, without fear or retreat.”  The announcement also invoked an Ogoni Bill of Rights declared in 1990 and 1991 at the height of the Ogoni struggle—as well as 272 village councils in six Ogoni kingdoms: Babbe, Eleme, Gokana, Kenkhana, Nyokhana, and Tai.  It remains to be seen how serious this new development is and how the central government will respond—if, with its preoccupation with the crisis in the north, it will be able to respond at all.

This is the flag that the Nigerian government would like the Ogoni people to pay allegiance to.
Biafran nationalism is rearing its head again as well.  Igbo activists are quick to point out that, in areas like the Middle Belt, Igbos are disproportionately victimized by Boko Haram’s Muslim-on-Christian terrorism, and they feel that a government still wary of Igbos is doing far too little to protect them.  More extreme voices see this as Muslims and southeasterners uniting to “ethnically cleanse” Nigeria of Igbos.  Though the Nigerian government tries to crack down brutally on all expressions of Igbo separatism, even banning the display of the Biafran flag, the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) is active and has much popular support in the southeast.  A smaller and somewhat mysterious organization, the Biafran Zionist Movement, has also recently announced it will declare independence on November 5, 2012 (as reported on at the time in this blog), and has applied to join the United Nations (also reported on here)—but MASSOB disavows any connection with them or their proactive stance.  Still, a November 5th declaration of independence might light some kind of fuse.

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.
And now, on August 6th of this year, just four days after the Ogoni declaration (see above), the Bakassi Self-Determination Front (B.S.D.F.) founded Dayspring Radio on a small island, also called Dayspring, off the coast of the Bakassi Peninsula, and declared a Republic of Bakassi.  They hoisted the Bakassian red, white, and blue flag, dotted with stars to represent islands around the peninsula.  Meanwhile, the Ambazonia People’s Congress (A.P.C.) also declared this month that due to technicalities in the transfer of the peninsula in 2006, Bakassi is indeed, in strictly legal terms, a sovereign state (though their arguments are unconvincing on legal grounds).  (Note to readers: I have had trouble finding a good image of the Republic of Bakassi’s flag.  Below is one from the B.S.D.F.’s Facebook page.  It fits descriptions from news reports, but I doubt the word Bakassi is part of the actual flag.  If anyone knows or is able to learn more, please send me a message.)

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.

Bakassians protesting
It is not clear how many Bakassians support independence.  On August 21st, local leaders gathered to complain of the Cameroonian government’s unilateral changes to Efik place names, as well as heavy taxes, police beatings, and government seizure of boats and fishing nets.  It would seem that the central government has already been pushing Bakassians about as far as they can be pushed.  The ball seems now to be in Cameroon’s court, and if they decide to move militarily against the Bakassians, it may light yet another fuse in an already volatile Nigeria.

Between the Ijaw, the Efik, the Ogoni, and the Igbo, soon there may not even be a Nigeria for Boko Haram to secede from.

[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.]

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