Sharia-related killings andcarnage in Kaduna reenact deadly prologue to Nigeria-Biafra war of1967

The killing of an estimated 750 Nigerians (mostly Igbo Christians,other south easterners and some Yorubas) and wanton destruction ofproperty generated and spawned by the Islamic Sharia laws anddemonstrations against it Kaduna by Christians in northern Nigeriahave set Nigeria on a perilous course. It has caused what many say isthe retaliatory assault and death of 55 others, mainly northernNigerians in the area. The fact that this fighting between Christiansand Muslims has reached the Igbo heartland of Aba is a major causefor worry; as regards the overall state of security and stability ofthe country. To be sure, Aba, is the pulse point of anystrong-willed, robust resistance and activism in south easternNigeria, especially, in Igbo land. I was born in that commercial cityof entrepreneurial quests and historic, nationalist struggles.

The initial killings in Kaduna have forced thousands of Igbos,many of whose kith and kin were killed in the late February 2000Sharia conflicts, to flee the northern region, in what seems areenactment and familiar pictures which preceded the 1966-1970 civilwar and declaration of the Peoples Republic of Biafra. According tothe AP "The trouble began when the corpses of local people wereshipped home from Kaduna, where battles between Christians andMuslims killed at least 300 people last week. Local residents in Aba,furious over the deaths, attacked Muslim Hausas who live in the townand burned the mosque."

NigeriaCentral.com and USAfrica The Newspaper reporters note thatmany of them, with other south easterners are leaving in huge numbersfrom the predominantly-Islamic Katsina, the commercial city of Kanoand the city of Kaduna (where the latest Sharia-related violenceerupted). Many of them have lived in those cities for well over 28years; some long before the civil war. Ikenna Israel Obidigbo, a65-year Igbo businessman told USAfricaonline.com reporter that hisdecision to "move finally" derived from the Igbo adage whichinstructs that "it is only a tree trunk which stays in the face of anaxe wielding murderer. My brothers were killed in 1966; another onewas brutally cut on February 24. What am I really doing here? We'vehad enough." He sighed, and continued another effort to relocateamong his kith and kin. He shut his successful motor-parts andgroceries shop to seek "safety of my children and my dependents."

Mrs. Mary Okoronkwo, an Igbo resident in Kaduna toldUSAfricaonline.com that "We're a part of this community. We supportthe people and have contributed to its development. Suddenly, ourneighbors turned against us. With knives and guns, they startedattacking us. Three of my family members are dead. Why? Why?"

Ibrahim Yusuf, a school teacher and a Muslim, condemned "the cycleof violence. You better believe Islam is not a religion for theviolent. Some hooligans are responsible for these horrible killingsof other Nigerians. It's unfortunate this has forced many of my Igbofriends to leave." Most of them have gone to the banks to withdrawtheir savings, paying doubled transportation fares, and hurriedlyabandoning assorted investments. For millions, a garish and painfulreminder of the vents of 1966 when an initial 23,000 Igbos and othereasterners were killed in Kano, Kaduna, and other major cities of thelargely Muslim northern Nigeria. As the civil war raged, almost 1.8million Igbos were killed, and an estimated 100,000 Nigerians (mainlysoldiers) lost their lives.

Meanwhile, the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR),has accused Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, himself a retiredarmy General, for failing to act decisively to halt the violence oreven make any categorical statement on the controversial issue ofSharia. "No doubt, the Obasanjo-led administration is to be heldsolely responsible for the senseless carnage in Kaduna," in astatement signed signed by Chris Fajemifo, the publicity secretary ofCDHR. He cautioned that Nigeria's Christians and Moslems in shouldrealize the country is still "a secular state."

The leader of the Biafra republic, then Gen. Odumegwu Emeka Ojukwuspoke about similar circumstances which caused the declaration of theshort-lived but remarkable republic of Biafra during an exclusiveUSAfricaonline.com and NigeriaCentral.com interview. Recently, on the30th anniversary of the formal folding of Biafra's fight forsurvival, he warned that "None of the problems that caused the(Biafra-Nigeria)war has been solved. None.''

Reuters correspondent in Kano, Mike Oboh, notes that "Disaffectionhas grown further since President Olusegun Obasanjo &endash; a civilwar commander on the government side &endash; took office last May toend 15 years of military rule. Although he won massive electoralsupport from the southeast he is accused by many Igbos of favoringcandidates from Nigeria's other regions in key appointments. Lastyear Igbo leaders demanded $87 billion in government compensation forboth the damage caused by the civil war and years of subsequentmarginalization."

In the wake of the brutal killings and burning of buildings overthe introduction of the Islamic traditional Sharia laws, the Movementfor the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB)warned that its members will retaliate against Hausas/northerners(especially those who live in the southern part of the Nigeria).According to the MASSOB's leader Ralph Uwazuruike, several killing ofIgbos, and destruction of their property in the Kaduna should not betaken lightly. He said that "Igbos resident in Kaduna, in particular,and the North in general, should use every amount of force availableto defend themselves, with any ammunition in their possession as wasdone in Kano during the (late Gen. Sani) Abacha regime."

From Washington D.C., U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albrightsaid her country "continue to be very concerned about what is goingon and believe that this kind of violence is counter to whatPresident Obasanjo needs to do in order to be able to take hiscountry through this important transition.... We are talking to theNigerians and hope very much that he (Obasanjo), is going to be ableto get control of it because it certainly is the kind of conflictthat complicates his work."

Dr. Lateef Adegbite, Secretary-General of the Nigerian SupremeCouncil for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) has called to all concerned toheed the appeals for peace. "Some other states have peacefullyadopted new laws on Sharia within their territories. Why should theadoption process in Kaduna State generate violence and loss of livesand properties." The Human Rights Africa (HRA), said "we stronglybelieve that the least the Federal Government (of Nigeria) should doto dissolve the evolving confrontations and hostile sentiments is totest the constitutionality of states' adoption of Sharia in ourcourt, especially with contradictory legal opinion being proffered inrecent times." Similarly, the pan-Igbo organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo,called on President Olusegun Obasanjo to uphold Nigeria'sConstitution, especially in Section 10 which states that "governmentof the federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as statereligion." The statement was released by its Secretary General andworld famous scholar on constitutionalism, Professor Ben Nwabueze(SAN).

President Obasanjo, a Christian from the southwest Yoruba, held ameeting February 29, of the Council of State, including all ofNigeria's 36 state governors, top security officials and federalpoliticians. Vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, a Muslim from the north,has announced that "In order to restore normalcy and createconfidence among all communities it was decided and agreed that asfar as Sharia is concerned we will now revert to the status quo."Essentially, the Sharia law would be suspended in three states -Zamfara, Niger and Sokoto.

The reaction of the fundamentalist elements and traditionalistswho demand an "all Sharia or nothing" approach. With the latestdevelopment, Nigeria's transition to civilian rule has been put onits most critical and combustible test. How the civilian classhandles this constitutional and religious issue will define, to alarge measure, the stability and future of ethnicrelations in the country of 110 million.
ChidoNwangwu, Founder & Publisher of the Houston-basedUSAfricaonline.com, USAfrica The Newspaper, The Black BusinessJournal, BBJonline.com,and NigeriaCentral.com,is the recipient of the Journalism Excellence Award, HABJ 1997, andadviser on international business (Africa) to Mayor Lee P. Brown,city of Houston, Texas. He is writing a book on the experiences ofrecent African immigrants in the U.S. He also covered U.S PresidentBill Clinton's visit to parts of Africa, March-April, 1998.
(Additional reports from USAfricaonlineand NigeriaCentralreporters and agency reports). February 29, 2000



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