Saturday, October 6, 2012

Abuja Rallies, Cameroon Crackdown in Run-Up to Anniversary of Bakassi Cession; Ogoni Trials in Washington, Johannesburg; Achebe on Biafra: Nigeria Separatism Update, 30 September - 6 October 2012

Bakassian Activists Rally for Appeal of Nigerian Cession to Cameroon as Deadline Looms.  As the clock ticks down to the October 10th deadline for appealing the 2002 International Court of Justice (I.C.J.) decision ceding the Bakassi Peninsula from Nigeria to Cameroon—a step Nigeria’s central government has said it will not take—indigenous Bakassians, mostly from the Efik ethnic group, held demonstrations on September 30th in EnglandGermanyFrance, and the Netherlands, as well as in Lagos, Nigeria, in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, and in Calabar, in southeastern Nigeria, seat of the precolonial Efik-dominated Calabar Kingdom.  One Bakassian activist, Ani Esin, said that the Nigerian government’s lack of interest in pressing its claim has emboldened the authoritarian government in Cameroon to send troops into the Bakassi region, where Efik activists on August 6th declared an independent Republic of Bakassi, and a retired admiral and former vice-president of Nigeria, Adm. Mike Okhai Akhigbe, said that if any government “fails to appeal the judgment, it should be considered as treasonable felony,” adding, “It is a shame that a country like Cameroon will outwit Nigeria on issues like this.”  Late in the week, Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, formed a committee to address the I.C.J. question and also the needs of displaced Bakassians, but it may be too little too late in the view of many.  (See my recent article on Bakassi and Ambazonia for a more detailed discussion.)

Cameroonian Forces Round Up Southern Separatists on Anniversary of Annexation.  In Cameroon itself, in Buea, capital of the Southwest Region that includes the Bakassi Peninsulasecurity forces stormed churches and other venues on the morning of October 1st and rounded up more than 100 suspected activists in favor of the secession of the larger “Southern Cameroons” region from Cameroon.  Activists say that in other towns scores were arrested in a crackdown across several cities leading up to October 1st, which is the date in 1961 when the formerly-U.K.-administered Southern Cameroons territory was forcibly attached, in the view of activists, to the new francophone-dominated Republic of Cameroon.  Those arrested include Nfor Ngalla Nfor, who is vice-chairman of the Southern Cameroons National Council (S.C.N.C.), and Augustine Ndangam, who is vice-chairman of the Southern Cameroons Peoples Organisation (SCAPO).  Both the S.C.N.C. and SCAPO, the group from which it split in the 1990s, have at times declared the formerly British parts of Cameroon and independent republic variously called Ambazonia or Ambazania.  There are also reports that the separatist flag has been raised at the envisioned boundary between the southern republic and Cameroon proper.  (See my recent article on Bakassi and Ambazonia for a more detailed discussion.)

The flag of Ambazonia
Nigerian Immigration Officer Confesses to Boko Haram Ties, Fingers Others.  In Nigeria, an immigration officer has been arrested after confessing to be a member of Boko Haram, the radical Islamist terrorist group operating in the north of the country.  The officer had been impersonating an army officer, the military says, and his arrest led to the arrests of others as well.  An army colonel told media, “He also confessed to having been trained alongside 15 other members of the sect on weapons handling, assassination, and special operations in Niger.”  The officer, Ahmed Grema Mohammed, had been arrested last month on his way to carry out an assassination in Borno State when he was arrested by the federal government’s anti-terrorist Joint Task Force (J.T.F.).

In Video, Boko Haram Leader Reports Arrest of Spokesman, Denies Peace Talks.  The supposed leader of Boko Haram revealed in a video uploaded to YouTube on September 30th—the 52nd anniversary of Nigeria’s independence from the United Kingdom—that its spokesman, Abu Qaqahas been arrested by Nigerian security forces, adding, “I believe strongly that after this message from me they may decide to kill him this night.”  In the same statement, the alleged leader, Abubakar Shekau, denied earlier government claims that the Nigerian government is involved in secret negotiations with the group.  Speaking in Hausa, Shekau also warned of repercussions from the Coptic-American-made low-budget video Innocence of Muslims, which has caused rioting around the Muslim world.  “Everybody should wait and see what we will do regarding this,” he said.

Abubakar Shekau
5 Dead in Week of Boko Haram Violence in Northern Nigeria.  Meanwhile, violence related to Boko Haram in northern Nigeria continues.  Militants attacked an Islamic boarding school in Zaria, in Kaduna State in north-central Nigeria, on September 30th, with arms and explosives, resulting in a mêlée that left two militants dead and others injured.  The school is run by a Salafist cleric who is an outspoken critic of Boko Haram.  Two explosions October 1st in Maiduguri, in Borno State in Nigeria’s far northeast, injured at least two soldiers, but some reports say as many as seven soldiers were killed in one of the two blasts.  In Jalingo, capital of Taraba State, on October 4th, three were killed and at least 12 seriously wounded in a bomb attack at a “bush bar” (open-air pub).  (Meanwhile, this week’s massacre of at least 45 people at a college in Mubi, in Adamawa State, in the predominantly-Muslim northeast, was deemed eventually to be the result of student-government strife and not related to Islamism or Boko Haram.)

2 Nigerian Spiritual Leaders Long-Listed for Nobel Peace Prize.  Amidst the escalating violence between Christians and Muslims (mostly Muslim-initiated) in northern and central Nigeria, two local leaders, one from each of the two faiths, has made the long list for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.  Both the nominees—John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, the Roman Catholic Archibishop of Abuja, and Amirul Mumineen Sultan Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, the largely ceremonial Sultan of Sokoto, considered the spiritual leader of northern Nigerian Muslims—are critics of the violence of the Islamist militia Boko Haram.  Only one Nigerian, the late Wole Soyinka, has ever won a Nobel Prize, his for literature in 1986.

John Onaiyekan and the Sultan of Sokoto, Nobel Peace nominees
Nigeria’s “Middle Belt” Organizes to Assert Identity.  The United Middle Belt Youth Congress (U.M.B.Y.C.), which represents 144 ethnic groups in north-central Nigeria, this week asked the federal government for “a clean and everlasting break from the political oppression of the North.  Our greatest joy will be to be identified as and be called Middle Belt people the world over.”  The Middle Belt is a fuzzily defined term for the areas in Nigeria that have a mixed population of Muslims, who dominate the far north, and Christians, who dominate the southern half of the country.  Especially in the eastern part of the Middle Belt, some predominantly-Christian ethnic groups have been disproportionately targeted by terrorism at the hands of Boko Haram’s northern Muslim insurgency.  Some Middle Belt ethnic groups that are not Muslim or only moderately Muslim also live under shari’a (Islamic law) as the result of northern political pressure.

Niger Delta Separatist Goes on Trial in South Africa for Abuja Lethal Car-Bombing.  In Johannesburg, South Africatrial resumed this week of Henry Okah, a national of Nigeria who is charged with masterminding a wave of terrorist acts in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, two years ago.  Okah is the alleged leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which claimed responsibility for a 2010 car bombing that killed 12 people.  He is being tried in South Africa because that is where he fled and was eventually arrested after the attacks.  On the first day of testimony, on October 2nd, the court heard from Selekaye Victor Ben, a former MEND media liaison who stated, “MEND was created to pursue the Niger Delta cause ... to fight for resource control.  ...  We engaged in guerilla warfare such as attacking military formations and oil installation and would facilitate the abduction of expats.”

Courtroom sketch of Henry Okah
U.S. Supreme Court Revisits Suit against Shell Oil for Human-Rights Crimes in Nigeria.  The Supreme Court of the United States on October 1st began its new session by revisiting a lawsuit by 12 Nigerians against the Netherlands-based multinational oil firm Royal Dutch Shell for being an accomplice to torture, execution-style murders, and crimes against humanity carried out against Ogoni people and others in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region.  The named plaintiff in the case, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, is the widow of Dr. Barinem Kiobel, who was hanged by the Nigerian dictatorship along with the internationally renowned novelist and Ogoni-rights spokesman Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995.  Shell is accused by Kiobel et al. of assisting the Nigerian junta in the killings of over 800 people.  It will be a new test of a centuries-old law, the Alien Tort Statute (A.T.S.) that allows firms to be held accountable in U.S. courts for crimes committed overseas.  One constitutional lawyer was quoted as speculated that the Court might be unwilling to hear the case for being “afraid of some kind of backlash, what other nations will think of us.”  Which makes one wonder: what do other nations think of us?  One would think that a willingness to hold murderers and torturers accountable—unlike Barack Obama’s free pass to those who waged the illegal war in Iraq—can only improve the U.S. image abroad.

Anti-Capitalism Pranksters “Yes Men” Take on Shell Oil to Highlight Rights Case.  Meanwhile, a group of anti-capitalist pranksters and “culture-jammers” called the Yes Men , along with a group calling itself People against Legalized Murder (PALM), pulled off a stunt this week to lure tens of thousands of Royal Dutch Shell employees to a website— (also see this Shell parody site)—alerting them to the United States Supreme Court case (see story above) over their human-rights abuses in Nigeria.  Shell acted quickly to block employees’ access to the site, leading to a corporation-vs.-hacker digital cat-and-mouse game.  The Yes Men’s Andy Bichlbaum said, “Surely most Shell employees, like most people, don’t want multinationals to get away with murder just because murder’s convenient.”  PALM’s Sean Dagohoy points, out, “When it comes to things like election spending, Shell and other corporations want to have all the rights of people.  But when accused of murder, Shell conveniently argues they aren’t a person.”

Mike Bonnano and Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men, impersonating oil executives in an earlier stunt
Achebe Publishes New Memoir of Biafra War.  The world-renowned Igbo novelist from NigeriaChinua Achebehas a new book due for release next week, chronicling for the first time his family’s experience in the disastrous Biafran War of 1967-1970.  Achebe, author of the global best-seller Things Fall Apart, which portrays the Igbo experience with colonialism, was an outspoken proponent of independence for the Igbo region in southeastern Nigeria, Biafra, but after the Nigerian government brutally reconquered Biafra in 1970, at the cost of more than a million lives, Achebe spent two decades in exile in America before returning to his homeland.  The new book, There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra, appears at a time when Nigeria is subject to more secessionist pressures, in almost every region, since the Biafran War.

[Also, for those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a 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.  Look for it in spring 2013.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

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