Category Archives: Nigeria

Vigilante Justice in Nigeria

From A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa, by Alexis Okeowo (Hachette Books, 2017), Kindle pp. 84-85:

So it surprised everyone when, in June 2013, a mild-mannered taxi driver named Lawan Jafar apprehended a Boko Haram member in an area of Maiduguri called Hausari. With a few other men in tow, Jafar went to the home of a man he believed was involved with the terrorists. They found him in possession of a gun, and turned him over to the security forces. News spread of the citizen’s arrest. People talked about how Jafar was a hero, a simple man who had done something even the military couldn’t do. It was inspiring. Men, and some women, in other quarters then banded together.

Elder considered Jafar a would-be martyr who had truly sacrificed himself, and enviably become a leader in the process. He set out to emulate him. His neighborhood was the fourth to join. “We knew the Boko Haram members who were living in the neighborhood with us. We just started getting them in the night. We would catch them and then bring them to the authorities,” he said. He was the oldest of the group he joined up with back then, a loose association of men who lived near each other. They used sticks and cutlasses to defend themselves.

The very first day, they went after three young men, named Shehu, Usman, and Bukar, who they suspected of being militants. The suspects all lived with their parents in the neighborhood. Elder and the thirty other men were organized. They headed on foot to the suspects’ houses. At the first house, they didn’t find anyone. At the house of the next one, they found all three of them together. The relatives of the second man were also there. They watched, stunned, as Elder and the group crashed into the main room and tied the hands of each man behind his back, and then led them outside. “They didn’t say a word,” Elder recalled. “Because they know the habits of their boys.” He told the young men that he knew who they were and what they did with Boko Haram. The suspects were laughing. They had tried to run when Elder and the rest came in, but had nowhere to go. They had known the vigilantes would be coming after them, but seemed to be in a state of disbelief. The men said they weren’t the only Boko Haram members in the area. They started calling out names, people Elder and his group would pursue in the following days.

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Achebe on the Nigerian Pogroms of 1966

From: There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra, by Chinua Achebe (Penguin, 2012), Kindle Loc. 1307-1326:

Looking back, the naively idealistic coup of January 15, 1966, proved a terrible disaster. It was interpreted with plausibility as a plot by the ambitious Igbo of the East to take control of Nigeria from the Hausa/Fulani North. Six months later, I watched horrified as Northern officers carried out a revenge coup in which they killed Igbo officers and men in large numbers. If it had ended there, the matter might have been seen as a very tragic interlude in nation building, a horrendous tit for tat. But the Northerners turned on Igbo civilians living in the North and unleashed waves of brutal massacres that Colin Legum of The Observer (UK) was the first to describe as a pogrom. Thirty thousand civilian men, women, and children were slaughtered, hundreds of thousands were wounded, maimed, and violated, their homes and property looted and burned—and no one asked any questions. A Sierra Leonean living in Northern Nigeria at the time wrote home in horror: “The killing of the Igbos has become a state industry in Nigeria.”

What terrified me about the massacres in Nigeria was this: If it was only a question of rioting in the streets and so on, that would be bad enough, but it could be explained. It happens everywhere in the world. But in this particular case a detailed plan for mass killing was implemented by the government—the army, the police—the very people who were there to protect life and property. Not a single person has been punished for these crimes. It was not just human nature, a case of somebody hating his neighbor and chopping off his head. It was something far more devastating, because it was a premeditated plan that involved careful coordination, awaiting only the right spark.

Throughout the country at this time, but particularly in Igbo intellectual circles, there was much discussion of the difficulties of coexisting in a nation with such disparate peoples and religious and cultural backgrounds. As early as October 1966, some were calling for outright war. Most of us, however, were still hoping for a peaceful solution. Many talked of a confederation, though few knew how it would look.

In the meantime, the Eastern Region was tackling the herculean task of resettling the refugees who were pouring into the East in the hundreds of thousands. It was said at the time that the number of displaced Nigerian citizens fleeing from other parts of the nation back to Eastern Nigeria was close to a million.

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Achebe on The Cradle of Nigerian Nationalism

From: There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra, by Chinua Achebe (Penguin, 2012), Kindle Loc. 727-64:

Here is a piece of heresy: The British governed their colony of Nigeria with considerable care. There was a very highly competent cadre of government officials imbued with a high level of knowledge of how to run a country. This was not something that the British achieved only in Nigeria; they were able to manage this on a bigger scale in India and Australia. The British had the experience of governing and doing it competently. I am not justifying colonialism. But it is important to face the fact that British colonies, more or less, were expertly run.

There was a distinct order during this time. I recall the day I traveled from Lagos to Ibadan and stayed with Christopher Okigbo that evening. I took off again the next morning, driving alone, going all the way from Lagos to Asaba, crossing the River Niger, to visit my relatives in the east. That was how it was done in those days. One was not consumed by fear of abduction or armed robbery. There was a certain preparation that the British had undertaken in her colonies. So as the handover time came, it was done with great precision.

As we praise the British, let us also remember the Nigerian nationalists—those who had a burning desire for independence and fought for it. There was a body of young and old people that my parents’ generation admired greatly, and that we later learned about and deeply appreciated. Herbert Macauley, for instance, often referred to as “the father of Nigerian nationalism,” was a very distinguished Nigerian born during the nineteenth century and the first president of the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), which was founded in 1922.

The dawn of World War II caused a bit of a lull in the organized independence struggles that had been centered mainly in the Western Region of the country up to that time. Across the River Niger, in Eastern Nigeria, I was entering my teenage years, bright-eyed and beginning to grapple with my colonial environment. At this time most of the world’s attention, including Nigeria’s, was turned to the war. Schools and other institutions were converted into makeshift camps for soldiers from the empire, and there was a great deal of local military recruitment. A number of my relatives quickly volunteered their services to His Majesty’s regiments. The colonies became increasingly important to Great Britain’s war effort by providing a steady stream of revenue from the export of agricultural products—palm oil, groundnuts, cocoa, rubber, etc. I remember hearing stories of valiant fighting by a number of African soldiers in faraway places, such as Abyssinia (today’s Ethiopia), North Africa, and Burma (today’s Myanmar).

The postwar era saw an explosion of political organization. Newspapers, newsreels, and radio programs were full of the exploits of Nnamdi Azikiwe and the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC, which later became the National Council of Nigerian Citizens) that was founded in 1944. Azikiwe built upon lessons he had learned from earlier forays in political activism and successfully persuaded several active members of the Nigerian Youth Movement to form an umbrella group of all the major Nigerian organizations.

By the time I became a young adult, Obafemi Awolowo had emerged as one of Nigeria’s dominant political figures. He was an erudite and accomplished lawyer who had been educated at the University of London. When he returned to the Nigerian political scene from England in 1947, Awolowo found the once powerful political establishment of western Nigeria in disarray—sidetracked by partisan and intra-ethnic squabbles. Chief Awolowo and close associates reunited his ancient Yoruba people with powerful glue—resuscitated ethnic pride—and created a political party, the Action Group, in 1951, from an amalgamation of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, the Nigerian Produce Traders’ Association, and a few other factions.

Over the years Awolowo had become increasingly concerned about what he saw as the domination of the NCNC by the Igbo elite, led by Azikiwe. Some cynics believe the formation of the Action Group was not influenced by tribal loyalities but a purely tactical political move to regain regional and southern political power and influence from the dominant NCNC.

Initially Chief Obafemi Awolowo struggled to woo support from the Ibadan-based (and other non-Ijebu) Yoruba leaders who considered him a radical and a bit of an upstart. However, despite some initial difficulty, Awolowo transformed the Action Group into a formidable, highly disciplined political machine that often outperformed the NCNC in regional elections. It did so by meticulously galvanizing political support in Yoruba land and among the riverine and minority groups in the Niger Delta who shared a similar dread of the prospects of Igbo political domination.

When Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, decided to create the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) in the late 1940s, he knew that the educationally disadvantaged North did not have as rich a source of Western-educated politicians to choose from as the South did. He overcame this “shortcoming” by pulling together an assortment of leaders from the Islamic territories under his influence and a few Western-educated intellectuals—the most prominent in my opinion being Aminu Kano and Alhaji Tafewa Balewa, Nigeria’s first prime minister. Frustrated by what he saw as “Ahmadu Bello’s limited political vision,” the incomparable Aminu Kano, under whom I would serve as the deputy national president of the Peoples Redemption Party decades later, would leave the NPC in 1950 to form the left-of-center political party, the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU).

Sir Ahmadu Bello was a schoolteacher by training. He was a contentious and ardently ambitious figure who claimed direct lineage from one of the founders of the Islamic Sokoto Caliphate—Shehu Usman dan Fodio. It was also widely known that he had “aspired to the throne of the Sultan of Sokoto.” By midcentury, through brilliant political maneuvering among the northern ruling classes, Sir Ahmadu Bello emerged as the most powerful politician in the Northern Region, indeed in all of Nigeria.

Sir Ahmadu Bello was able to control northern Nigeria politically by feeding on the fears of the ruling emirs and a small elite group of Western-educated northerners. His ever-effective mantra was that in order to protect the mainly feudal North’s hegemonic interests it was critical to form a political party capable of resisting the growing power of Southern politicians. Ahmadu Bello and his henchmen shared little in terms of ideological or political aspirations with their southern counterparts. With the South split between Azikiwe’s National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) and Awolowo’s Action Group, his ability to hold the North together meant that the NPC in essence became Nigeria’s ruling party. A testament to its success is the fact that the NPC later would not only hold the majority of seats in the post-independence parliament, but as a consequence would be called upon to name the first prime minister of Nigeria.

The minorities of the Niger Delta, Mid-West, and the Middle Belt regions of Nigeria were always uncomfortable with the notion that they had to fit into the tripod of the largest ethnic groups that was Nigeria—Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba, and Igbo. Many of them—Ijaw, Kanuri, Ibibio, Tiv, Itsekiri, Isang, Urhobo, Anang, and Efik—were from ancient nation-states in their own right. Their leaders, however, often had to subsume their own ethnic ambitions within alliances with one of the big three groups in order to attain greater political results.

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Naipaul on Religious Conversion in Nigeria

From The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief, by V. S. Naipaul (Knopf, 2010), p. 79:

Adesina’s father was born in 1904. To understand a little of his history was to understand the important history of conversion (to Islam or Christianity) in Nigeria. He did not go to school. He converted first to Catholicism, but he was unhappy with it. He didn’t understand the church service, which was in Latin. Later he met Arabs who had come to northern Nigeria with the trans-Sahara trade. These Arabs were teachers and missionaries. They translated the Koran into Yoruba, and they also preached in Yoruba. This was much easier for Adesina’s father and he converted to Islam. He always wished after that to be a good Muslim; he didn’t think Adesina was a good Muslim, and so he didn’t eat in Adesina’s house. But he was open-minded. He let people in the family read the Bible and he liked to debate with friends who were Jehovah’s Witnesses.

It seems from this that religion had become a kind of intellectual activity, perhaps the only one, in the newly educated house. Adesina’s father’s younger brother stayed a Christian, while the third brother remained firm in the traditional African religion. Adesina, growing up, had the full range of available Nigerian belief to choose from. He was technically a Muslim, following his father, but he liked the uncle who practised the traditional religion because this uncle was a great one for sacrifices and in that house Adesina was always given meat from the sacrifices to eat. His parents disapproved and beat him, but still he went to the unconverted uncle’s house. He would go and watch the sacrifices, eat his meat, and come home to a beating.

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Khanya on African Anglicans and Homosexuality

Through a pingback to my WordPress blog, which attracts a lot more readers interested in religion than my older mirror site on Blogspot thanks to WordPress’s tag aggregator, I discovered Khanya, a South African blogger who converted from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy, and who remains hard to pigeonhole politically. (That last characteristic I find most refreshing.) Khanya notes a very telling piece of historical perspective on African Anglican attitudes toward homosexuality, a perspective that seems little understood by many Anglicans outside Africa (or anybody else):

I’ve been watching from the sidelines as the Anglican Communion is tearing itself apart over homosexuality. The debate seems to generate more heat than light, and both sides seem to be talking past each other.

It seems to be a war of polemical slogans. The African “intransigence” has provoked a storm of racist bigotry in the Western homosexual lobby, with some bloggers being quite free with racist insults. The West [in turn] is accused of immorality and decadence, but very few have looked at the deeper issues.

An exception to this is a piece by Rod Dreher, St Charles Langa and African homosexuality, which looks at some of the missiological underpinnings of the African attitudes at least. Rod Dreher in turn quotes an article [in TNR] by [noted scholar of religious history] Philip Jenkins, in which he says

The Muslim context helps explain the sensitivity of gay issues in one other key respect. In the region later known as Uganda, Christianity first arrived in the 1870s, when the area was already under Muslim influence and a hunting ground for Arab slave-raiders. The king of Buganda had adopted Arab customs of pederasty, and he expected the young men of his court to submit to his demands. But a growing number of Christian courtiers and pages refused to participate, despite his threats, and an enraged king launched a persecution that resulted in hundreds of martyrdoms: On a single day, some 30 Bugandans were burned alive. Yet the area’s churches flourished, and, eventually, the British expelled the Arab slavers. That foundation story remains well-known in the region, and it intertwines Christianity with resistance to tyranny and Muslim imperialism–both symbolized by sexual deviance. Reinforcing such memories are more recent experiences with Muslim tyrants, such as Idi Amin, whose victims included the head of his country’s Anglican Church. For many Africans, then, sexual unorthodoxy has implications that are at once un-Christian, anti-national, and oppressive….

South African Anglicans seem to have been fairly neutral in the battles being waged elsewhere in the Anglican Communion, and the account above gives a lot less information than that of Philip Jenkins. The protagonists in the Anglican battle, on the African side, seem to be Uganda and Nigeria, both countries on the border of Muslim and Christian Africa. South Africa is far removed from the tensions in those countries.

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A White Nigerian?

“Where are you from?” I ask, directly, for this is what I have learned to do in North Carolina whenever I hear someone from West Africa. She answers, “We live in Cary,” once a town outside Raleigh but now a tidy upscale suburb.

But this isn’t what I mean. “No,” I correct her. “Where are you from originally?” And she sturdies herself. “I am from Africa,” only it’s more like Ah-free-ka, with the emphasis on the Ah and the ree vibrating on her tongue. Still she doesn’t take me seriously. “No.” I venture, more sternly this time, “what country?” And now she says, relaxing, “I am from Nigeria.” She draws it out: Nigh-jyyy-rria.

Tears come to my eyes and then my body warms, as if I have had a transfusion. “I know,” I tell her, I was born in Ogbomosho.” Every Nigerian knows Ogbomosho, in Yoruba land.

“Ah,” she replies quietly, as if this is a mystery, and we stand for a moment in recognition of a kinship impossible to speak. She is from Ibadan, just down the road from my original home. Her name is Joanna. Finally her husband approaches, for he is in no hurry at all; he wears one of those West African print shirts with the embroidered necks and sleeves to the elbows, and you can see his stomach protruding slightly. “Johnny,” she calls out, “this woman is a Nigerian.” I am as happy as the child was moments earlier.

So few people know me. I am white. I have blonde hair and blue eyes. I teach American literature in the English department of North Carolina State University. No one in my neighborhood would imagine that I grew up in Africa. For years, even I forgot where I am from. So I am thankful for Joanna’s discernment. In Nigerian thinking, anyone born in Nigeria is Nigerian. She may be a bad Nigerian or a lost Nigerian, but she is still a Nigerian.

SOURCE: Gods of Noonday: A White Girl’s African Life, by Elaine Neil Orr (U. Virginia Press, 2003), pp. 2-3.

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To Keep Nigeria One Is a Task That Must Be Done

On August 16 [1966], my father’s birthday, the Biafrans reached the Ofusu River Bridge which marks the border with the Western region, our region. On my birthday, August 19, the Biafrans were continuing to advance. All around, the savannahs were quiet; there was a lull in the rains. The air was as dry as a stone. Around that beautiful dining room table, I had a birthday party with our little compound clan. I was thirteen and my mother made a white cake with yellow icing and on it she placed a ceramic Siamese cat as a decoration. I wore a dress pink as a carnation. My birthday gift appeared in a small box, a birthstone ring–peridot–in an oval setting, rather plain really, like my face. I didn’t like it. I was disappointed. My mother explained that we were in a war and it was not a good time to buy record players when we were so uncertain of our immediate future. She said this to me in our living room after the party and I stared at the philodendron as she spoke, determined not to look at her or signal the least agreement. She could speak if she liked; I would not listen.

The Yoruba had finally got off the fence and appeared to be aligned with the North in its mission to keep Nigeria unified. This was a blow to the Igbos. On the radio you could hear the refrain, To Keep Nigeria One Is a Task That Must Be Done.

The next day, August 20, the Biafrans attacked Ore, putting them within 130 miles of Lagos and about 90 miles from Oshogbo where I was unhappily viewing my new ring in its box, for I would not wear it. If they reached either Ibadan or Lagos, the Federation of Nigeria would fall like a bulleted elephant. But just as Gowon was about to flee, the British and Americans intervened. Who knows what happened in Ore. We never knew. But the war turned around. Perhaps today there is an old woman in Ore who was there that day, who saw what happened when the Biafrans stopped and then backtracked. Her eyes may hold the secret.

SOURCE: Gods of Noonday: A White Girl’s African Life, by Elaine Neil Orr (U. Virginia Press, 2003), pp. 238-239.

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