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  • ‘Igbo have so much investment in the north. You don’t expect us to leave ‘
  • Okechukwu Ugo has been left in a predicament
    after an ultimatum was issued for all southern
    Christians of Igbo heritage to leave Nigeria’s
    Muslim-majority north.
    “I was born in Kano,” the building materials
    salesman told AFP in Sabon Gari, a Christian
    enclave on the edge of the country’s biggest
    northern city.
    “My father relocated to Kano from the east more
    than 60 years ago. I don’t have any other place
    to call home apart from Kano.”
    Since the call was made by a Muslim group, the
    Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), on
    June 8, the federal government in Abuja has
    repeatedly called for calm.
    But the notice to Igbo to leave the north by
    October 1 has brought to the fore barely-
    concealed ethnic and religious tensions across
    Africa’s most-populous nation.
    In the Igbo-dominated southeast, the Indigenous
    People of Biafra (IPOB) movement, led by the
    charismatic Nnamdi Kanu, has been increasingly
    saying it wants to go its own way.
    Ugo, however, wants nothing to do with any of
    it.
    “The government should end all these calls for
    secession in the east and quit notice to Igbo in
    the north for national cohesion,” he said.
    – Biafra blamed –
    Rising communalism and anti-Igbo sentiment
    has been blamed on IPOB, stoked by memories
    of 1967 when their predecessors declared an
    independent republic of Biafra in the southeast.
    The declaration led to a brutal 30-month civil
    war and more than one million deaths, most of
    them Igbos, from starvation and disease.
    Stanley Obiora, a 40-year-old Igbo trader in
    Kano, has like Ugo lived all his life in Sabon Gari
    and said Kanu and his ilk don’t speak for him.
    “The northern youth said they issued the
    ultimatum in reaction to the Biafra agitation
    which we, the Igbos in the north, are not party
    to,” he added.
    “We call on our elders on the east to caution
    our youth from making reckless utterances that
    put their kinsmen in the north at the receiving
    end.
    “The Igbo have so much investment in the
    north. You don’t expect us to leave and
    abandon all that we worked to build overnight.”
    – North-south divide –
    Nigeria is roughly evenly split between the
    Muslim-majority north and the largely Christian
    south, but the country is made up of more than
    250 ethnic groups.
    The biggest is the Hausa-speaking Fulani in the
    north, the Yoruba in the southwest and the Igbo
    in the southeast. Many have relocated for
    economic reasons over the years.
    The veteran Nigeria specialist Dmitri-Georges
    Lavroff has described the north as “quasi-feudal
    and under-developed”.
    Northerners feel “alien to the urbanised,
    commercial and industrial south, inhabited by a
    willingly expansionary people.”.
    They “have the impression they were
    economically ‘colonised’ by the Igbo traders
    from the south”, he wrote in a research paper
    “On the path of national unity”.
    Fifty years ago, there was a massacre of Igbos
    in the north in retaliation for a January 1966
    military coup d’etat seen as orchestrated
    predominantly by Igbo army officers.
    That led to the Igbo declaration of secession.
    Obiora pointed out there had been previous quit
    notices in the north, adding: “I hope it all comes
    to pass, as previous quit notices.”
    With memories long and the history of what
    happened next not forgotten, the authorities are
    also keen to avoid a repetition at all costs.
    – Unity at stake –
    This week, Nigeria’s Vice-President Yemi
    Osinbajo met state governors and appealed to
    them to calm tensions, warning that “careless
    expressions… may degenerate into crisis”.
    Osinbajo, deputising for President Muhammadu
    Buhari who has been on sick leave since early
    May, said there was a need to “speak up… and
    ensure that we protect our democracy”.
    He added: “From all of the consultations… we
    agreed that Nigeria’s unity should not be taken
    for granted, no-one wants to see us go down
    the path of bloodshed or war.”
    The AYCF made its statement in Kaduna, a
    powder keg of simmering ethnic and religious
    tensions that has previously erupted in deadly
    violence.
    The state’s governor, Nasir El-Rufai, was not at
    the meeting.
    For Nigerian security specialist Don Ekereke the
    issue demonstrated an increasing disconnect
    between politicians and the people.
    “They (the politicians) seem to only care about
    winning elections and their personal
    aggrandisements,” he told AFP.
    “Now that the president is sick and not running
    the show, his northern constituency is agitated
    and not happy.
    “I think this somehow contributes to the rising
    tensions and explains the political brinkmanship
    by untouchable Arewa youths.”

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