Danger signs for Nigeria's democracy mount as Yorubas and Hausas battle, again, in Lagos;
Renewed conflict and riots involving Hausas-Fulanis and Yorubas (two of Nigeria's three major groups- the third being Igbos) have led to the killing of an estimated 110 people in Lagos, derived from official numbers and investigations by USAfricaonline.com and NigeriaCentral.com reporters in the former capital of Nigeria and operational headquarters of the Yorubas.
Many Northerners are leaving Lagos and the Ibadan areas, fleeing, they say, for "our safety." The violence which erupted on Thursday November 25, 1999 in the Mile 12 market area of the Ketu district has led to an order by the embattled Nigerian president, former army general, Olusegun Obasanjo that the local police should shoot rioters on sight. According to him, "The issue as I see it is an unacceptable issue of criminality, lawlessness, murder and arson which no government can tolerate.... We cannot allow this country to be overtaken by hoodlums and criminals.... When people decide to behave like animals they must be treated like animals.''
Meanwhile Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka has criticized President Obasanjo's order "to shoot the killers on sight."
Obasanjo, like many Lagosians, have pointed to the militant Yorubas from the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) in Lagos for their roles in the violence. He said "The police have instructed that any criminal should be shot on sight. Anyone who calls himself OPC should be arrested and if he doesn't agree he will be shot on sight.''
A major danger in the unfolding conflict is not only the safety of Nigerians in the area but that of Nigerians abroad and expatriates who are flying in for Christmas to join their families without any knowledge of the breaking down of law and order in yet another part of the country.
At the time of the news of the conflict, many Nigerians were involved in the American Thanksgiving celebrations while others were packing their bags to leave Friday morning. Some were already at the George Bush International Airport, Houston, JFK Airport in New York, and other major cities, enroute "home for Christmas and other end of year festivities."
Johnson Adetunde informed USAfricaonline and NigeriaCentral.com that "we all need to give peace a chance in Nigeria. I'm tired of my fellow Yorubas and Hausas killing each other. No one should die over minor disagreements. I'm not willing to put myself in the line of some rioters. I just want to go home for Christmas and see my folks."
Also, Michael Orji, a Houston-based network engineer and Special Projects manager for USAfrica Digital Media Networks faced the dilemma of sending his mother-in-law to fly into Lagos late in November fearing she "uncertainties and conflicts which we do not want to expose her to do." He sought to route her flight into Port Harcourt.
Other Americans have called USAfricaonline.com editorial headquarters (713-270-5500) to inquire about the "news of the violence there."
Reuters reporter in Lagos Matthew Tostevin writes that "The latest eruptions of violence continued a pattern of bloodshed since President Olusegun Obasanjo took office in May with a promise of new hope for Nigeria after 15 years of crippling military domination. Many northerners complain that Obasanjo has favored his own Yoruba kinsmen in making appointments, despite the fact that the former military ruler scored very poorly in Yoruba regions in his February (1999) election victory and much better in the north", and even better in the predominantly Igbo south east.
Those constitute a part of Obasanjo's challenges. Governor Diepriye Alamieyeseigha of the oil producing Bayelsa State and his citizens are mourning the killing of an estimated 200 Ijaws especially those he identified as "the people of Odi. They never came together to decide to kill policemen or soldiers." In the Niger Delta, militant members of the Ijaw ethnic group have given Texaco an ultimatum to close its facilities in the Niger Delta by December 2. Texaco's Pennington light crude exports of about 50,000 barrels per day (bpd) is its major revenue earner. The Ijaws warn that after December 2, "we will be compelled to escalate force to effect the closure of the said facilities,'' the statement faxed to news agencies said.
Without a doubt, some caution needs to be shown regarding travels and movement around the Ketu, Abule-Ijesha and Ojota parts of Lagos. Potentially, too, visitors and citizens should exercise some discretion as they move around in some key cities in the former the northern Nigeria, predominantly the Muslim areas of Kano, Kaduna and Zamfara (the latter recently introduced the Islamic Sharia codes of law and order amidst controversy). It will be recalled that in July this year about 100 people were killed in another showdown which started in the Yoruba town of Sagamu between Hausas and Yorubas. Apparently, Nigeria's march towards a peaceful, stable democracy has been stained and punctuated by ethnic violence and excessive use of force by the government. There are some Northern Nigeria politicians who continue to claim that Obasanjo does not have the capacity to keep and maintain law and order and the safety of all Nigerians. Although, such a view seems an overstatement of the challenges of the Obasanjo government and a society in transition, these lingering conflicts between Hausas and Yorubas who were allies in the 1966-1970 war against the Igbos and other south easterners (who formed Biafra), hold critical dangers to the overall progress and stability of the renewed hope of Africa's giant, Nigeria. We'll be watching, closely.
Nwangwu, recipient of the Journalism Excellence Award, HABJ 1997, is the Founder & Publisher of USAfrica The Newspaper, USAfricaonline.com (first African-owned U.S-based professional newspaper to be published on the internet), The Black Business Journal,www.BBJonline.com and NigeriaCentral.com. He covered U.S president Bill Clinton's visit to parts of Africa, March-April 2, 1998. He is writing a book on the experiences of recent African immigrants in the U.S.