How Nigeria's Islamic Sharia crises will affectthe U.S.

Special to USAfricaonline.com and NigeriaCentral.com

SUMMARY OF ESSAY


The possibility of another civil war in Nigeria isarguable within the context of the violence and negative forcesunleashed by the latest Islamic Sharia related crises and killings ofthousands of Christians, especially Igbos, Akwa Ibom indigenes, andothers. It is a frightening reality with personal implications for meand hundreds of thousands of Nigerians in the U.S., thousands ofAmericans whose husbands, wives, and friends are Nigerians. I am achild survivor of that first Nigeria-Biafra civil war (1967-1970),who's still healing from the scars of those hellish, unpredictabledays I suffered alongside millions of other "Biafran babies" andNigerians, alike.

As I started to write this commentary, I paused, and took a fewminutes to send a solemn 'Thank You' letter to an elderly CanadianJew, author Betty Nickerson. The honorable madam is one of many whoworked tirelessly in the the late 1960s and 70s to keep "Biafranbabies" like me alive from the officially sanctioned "starvationpolicy" imposed by then war Nigerian government which they called "alegitimate instrument of warfare." In another sense, the resistancein the Igbo heartland of Aba is also a resolute way of saying "NeverAgain!" should a Nigerian be killed because of his religion(Christianity or Islam). I find some understanding in the will ofeveryone to live and resist oppressive and murderous force. Moreso, Ifind understanding and will, eternally, do my part, to foster theundying will and natural right of the Igbo man or woman to securetheir bio-physical and geo-political sense of being. I shall do samefor all peace-loving and fair-minded Nigerians, and human beings. Ifind understanding as someone who has suffered the inequities ofreligious bigotry and ethnic discrimination in the past. I find somemore of such understanding as a reflection of the rugged, republicanand anti-oppression ethic of my Igbo upbringing. For historical anduseful context, let me add that I was born in that commercial city ofentrepreneurial quests and historic, nationalist struggles, Aba. Abais the spearhead of many strong-willed, progressive activism againstcolonial rule, robust resistance to local neo-feudalistic efforts, anunfailing opposition zone to soldiers and other local goons ofcorruption and injustice in Nigeria. Typically, the Aba christiandoes not, usually, turn the other cheek. He/she will slap back, notonce, but.... Go figure.



If you think that a violent, religion-driven conflict between Muslimsand Christians set an increasingly deadly ethnic showdown in a westAfrican country, Nigeria, is of no serious interest to Americans,think again. The city where I reside in Houston (Texas), such placesas Dallas, New York, San Francisco's Bay area, Washington D.C.,Chicago, Baltimore and Los Angeles, will, somehow, deal with thedirect consequence(s) of the three-week old killings and religiousbigotry being played out on a weak, reemerging democratic governmentin Africa's most populous country, Nigeria. The demand and actions ofthe fundamentalist movements in that country for "strict IslamicSharia legal codes and way of life, or nothing" approach, hascomplicated Nigeria's future. It may get worse. Here's why recentevents, especially the slaughter of almost 3,000 Nigerians(predominantly the Christian Igbos of southeastern Nigeria) byIslamic zealots in Kaduna, Sokoto and other northern cities haveimplications for our city and the U.S:

First, hundreds of Houstonians will lose their jobs insideNigeria, and here in Houston, due to the certain dislocations theconflicts will inflict on the oil and gas-related industry. many willlose multi-million dollars in investments if (and when) the flaringflames of religious fundamentalism burst into an uncontrollableinferno of raw, unmediated religious wickedness and outright war.Some of the world's leading oil corporations are based here. Forexample, Shell's major revenue source is Nigeria. Also, Conoco,Texaco, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, and other petroleum services companiesand their employees, engineering services and medical servicescompanies, the Port of Houston, the Greater Houston Partnership, andthe city (as a corporate entity) have benefited, more or less, fromthe resources of that environmentally-despoliated riverine area ofNigeria.

This also seems an appropriate time to look beyond dollars andcents to ask a community interest question, just before the conflictsget out of hand: what oil and gas/energy-related corporations havesupported the military dictators who ruined the once-promising andbright destiny of Nigeria? On whose side will any such company(ies)be this time.

Second, Houston is home to the second-highest number of Nigeriansin the U.S. Houstonians are not likely to be indifferent andunaffected by the family pressures and human needs of their folks(Americans and Nigerians) who live in different parts of Nigeria.

Third, violence which undermines Nigeria's ability to supply its"sweet" Bonny Light crude oil to the U.S., will add to the simpleeconomic arithmetic where a shortfall in supply will drive up cost ofa barrel of petroleum. The cost of gas at Houston's Galleria andFifth Ward neighborhood stations should go up by another 8% sinceNigeria is among the top five suppliers of petroleum to the U.S.

Fourth, the feeble fabric of Nigeria's colonially and artificiallyamalgamated ethnic nationalities will be torn apart and likelyexplode on the tinderbox of religion-ethnic warfare in that countryof 110 million boisterous citizens. With such a combustion will bethe biggest refugee nightmare south of the Sahara desert. It willmake Bosnia's refugee movements of 1999 seem a comparatively modestchallenge for the international community. Once the regional solutionmantra of "Africans dealing with Africa's problems" collapses underthe weight of ancient religious and ethnic hatreds, some of thoseNigerians may head to Houston, Dallas, Austin, and other parts due tovalid and legitimate familial imperatives and needs. Also, suchsmaller neighboring economies like Ghana, Benin, Cameroon with someAmerican investments will become demographically threatened.

Fifth, the possibility of another civil war in Nigeria isarguable; a frightening reality with personal implications for me andhundreds of thousands of Nigerians in the U.S., thousands ofAmericans whose husbands, wives, and friends are Nigerians. I am achild survivor of that first Nigeria-Biafra civil war (1967-1970),who's still healing from the scars of those hellish, unpredictabledays I suffered alongside millions of other "Biafran babies" andNigerians, alike.

As I started to write this commentary, I paused, and took a fewminutes to send a solemn 'Thank You' letter to an elderly CanadianJew, author Betty Nickerson. The honorable madam is one of many whoworked tirelessly in the the late 1960s and 70s to keep "Biafranbabies" like me alive from the officially- sanctioned starvationpolicy imposed by then Nigerian government which they called "alegitimate instrument of warfare."

In another sense, the resistance in Aba is also a resolute way ofsaying "Never Again!" should a Nigerian be killed because of hisreligion (Christianity or Islam). I find some understanding in thewill of everyone to live and resist oppressive and murderous force.Moreso, I find understanding and will, eternally, do my part, tofoster the undying will and natural right of the Igbo man or woman tosecure their bio-physical and geo-political sense of being. I shalldo same for all peace-loving and fair-minded Nigerians, and humanbeings. I find understanding as someone who has suffered theinequities of religious bigotry and ethnic discrimination in thepast. I find some more of such understanding as a reflection of therugged, republican and anti-oppression ethic of my Igbo upbringing.For historical and useful context, I was born in that commercial cityof entrepreneurial quests and historic, nationalist struggles, Aba.Aba is the spearhead of many strong-willed, progressive activismagainst colonial rule, robust resistance to local neo-feudalisticefforts, an unfailing opposition zone to soldiers and other localgoons of corruption and injustice in Nigeria. Typically, the Abachristian does not, usually, turn the other cheek. He/she will slapback, not once, but.... Go figure.

Sixth, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's commendationfor the "overall approach" of President Olusegun Obasanjo to thecrises) is laughable except that the situation in Nigeria is notfunny. What "approach"? U.S. misreading of the slow, costly (in termsof human and property carnage) and belated response by retiredGeneral Obasanjo's government to the threats and declaration ofIslamic laws in the northern parts of a constitutionally secularrepublic, Nigeria? Literature Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinkaargues: "I cannot believe the level of inaction, beginning from thetime of the incident at Ilorin, in which a number of churches wereburnt. For me a situation like that is far more menacing than eventhe kind of situation [in Lagos State] over which Obasanjothreatened to declare a state of emergency." U.S. misreading of suchstark reality, for whatever reason(s), necessarily, raise anotherissue: does the U.S. State Department/Clinton administrationadequately understand the dynamics and combustible elements whichhave been unleashed in Nigeria, today? I ask this question,deliberately, for historical reference and analytical deduction.

Why?

I witnessed a previous misanalysis of Nigeria's political life andtransition while I was covering U.S President Bill Clinton's visit toparts of Africa (March -April 1998). Clinton said (standing next toSouth Africa's former President Nelson Mandela) at the Tuynhuispresidential conference in Capetown, South Africa, that the late andvery brutal Nigerian dictator Gen. Sani Abacha could run andparticipate in the same election the corrupt dictator wasmanipulating in order to succeed himself as a civilian (before hissudden death, excuse the sports metaphor). After five years ofState-sponsored terror, economic pillage, thievery and an almostsatanic misrule and abuse of the rights of a majority of Nigerians,you'd wonder why the U.S. government will take such a position?Imagine the rough comparison of the U.S. endorsing the underhandcampaign of Iraq's Saddam Hussein to succeed himself through aquasi-democratic election.

Finally, an interesting, if ironic lesson from these events is thefact that while the military rulers in Nigeria abbreviated the humanrights of the populace, the civilian class of politicians andreligious zealots have brewed and patented a crass way ofmanipulating the masses to make a rather convoluted twist todemocraCy which may bet better described asdemocraZy.

Cry and pray for our beloved country . Except that this time,there will no "White man" to blame for the heady stupidities andhideous march to more rounds of ethnically defined slaughter, andkillings defined in terms of whether you read the Bible or theKoran.
Nwangwu, recipient of the Journalism Excellence Award 1997, servesas Founder & Publisher of the first African-owned, U.S.-basednewspaper published on the internet, USAfricaonline.com,USAfrica The Newspaper,NigeriaCentral.com, and The Black Business Journal,BBJonline.com.He serves as an adviser on international business (Africa) to MayorLee P. Brown, city of Houston, Texas. He is writing a book on thehistoriography of the 1967-1970 Nigeria-Biafra civil war titled,BIAFRA:History Without Mercy.'

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