On the Brink: Déjà vu 1999, Nigeria

“The only thing we have learnt from experience is that we learn nothing from experience.” — Chinua Achebe

“Every society must attempt to answer questions about how it should be organized, usually on the basis of its own historical experience but sometimes also on the experiences of other societies.” — Thomas Piketty

Photo by Ayanfe Olarinde on Unsplash

On the 17th day of July in 1999, over sixty Nigerians mostly Hausas and Fulanis were murdered and hundreds of shops, houses et mosques were torched as ethnic violence sparked off in the Yoruba town of Sagamu in Ogun state. As anticipated, reprisal attacks ensued in northern Nigeria — close to 70 Nigerians of the Yoruba ilk were murdered on the 22nd day of July, 1999 in the city of Kano just as hundreds of houses and shops were torched by irate arsonist mobs.

The years that followed 1999 in Nigeria would bring forth the most widespread metastasization of ethno-religious violence in Nigeria since the anti-Igbo pogrom in 1966, particularly years 2000, 2001 and 2005. Precious lives were lost, new fissures across ethnic and religious lines were found and the failure of the Nigerian statecraft glaringly accentuated.

The year is 2021 with a global pandemic and a national economic recession hitting hard — the climes are eerily similar to mid-1999.

On the 19th day of the year in January, Sunday Adeyemo Igboho issued a 7-day ultimatum to Fulani herdsmen to vacate Ibarapa North local government in Oyo State sparking both mass outrage and an unsurprising outburst of anti-Fulani sentiments mostly bellowing from southwest Nigeria. In predictable fashion, after an ensuing upsurge in ethnocentric bile post-Igboho’s anti-Fulani outburst, the Hausa and Fulani communities in both Akinyele local government area and Shasha market (Ibadan) all in Oyo state were at the receiving end of targeted violence this past weekend — according to Premium Times, at least six people have since been confirmed dead, with several houses and market shops razed. Unconfirmed reports of Hausa and Fulani residents in the Moniya area of Ibadan city in Oyo state being targeted and dragged off cars/buses only to be butchered to death have also surfaced — in a swift response to the unfortunate events of last weekend, Nigerians mostly from the northern parts of the country are currently trending the #StopKillingNortherners hashtag on social media.

Like in the early noughties, it is glaringly obvious that Nigeria has failed to learn its lessons — I’ll go further and add that Nigeria is currently far more ill-equipped as a state to quell these ethnically incensed spats when compared with how the frail nation-state attempted addressing them back in the early 2000s.

Reprisals? If you’re conversant with how Nigeria functions especially with regards to the ethno-religious crises’ industrial complex, reprisals almost always ensue an initial ethno-religious spat — I profusely hope that this is not the case this time around.

The tension all over Nigeria at the moment is palpable. You can literally feel that — well, I can feel it, that’s for sure. A few more days of this particular upsurge in ethnocentric bile in our conversations (offline and online) and Nigeria will fall into complete anarchy: mass ethnocentric violence, increased banditry and terrorism, mass looting due to mass starvation (some parts in Nigeria are on the brink of a stage 5 famine) and mass protests.

Like usual social conflicts, the easiest cop out for the petite bourgeoisie ethno-nationalists à la Sunday Igboho in Nigeria is to otherize & promote hate. The herders’ fueled conflicts in Oyo state are predominantly due to a complete failure in governance and a clash over scarce resources — true to the history of human civilization and most especially true to the history of ethnoreligious violence in Nigeria.

Also, at the core of the ethno-religious chasm throughout Nigeria’s history till date is both a routine clash over access and/or control over scarce material resources as with the chronic ineptitude of the Nigerian political elite class in administering basic governance.

Ethnocentrism is a political tool used to extract mass adherence to mis-truths about the rationale behind unequal socio-economic outcomes in society — i.e. “we can’t let the Igbos dominate everything else we won’t have jobs and our people will remain poor” or “the Hausas are the major forces holding us back from progressing as a country” and etc.

When everything else fails, ethnocentrism as a political tool otherizes a people, then directs hate towards them to hoodwink their already sinking electorate — most times, this leads to the justification of the dehumanization of these ‘particular’ targeted people. It’s like fascism, aestheticizing politics that doesn’t positively affect the material conditions of the citizenry.

I argue that the Nigerian political elite class are the most effective mobilizers of ethnocentrism in the global south — it’s how they have managed to ruthlessly mis-govern Nigeria since 1955 when the British colonial class begun sinewing their transition from brute imperialism to a subtler neo-imperialism epoch with a replacement of the British colonial Bourgeoisie by a Nigerian post-colonial Bourgeoisie class.

I also argue in an almost Gramscian manner that ethnocentrism has seeped deep into every single superstructure in Nigerian society from the Nigerian political elite class in an almost surgical manner — from our educational institutions, to the dominant narratives deployed by our fourth-estate (media/press), to places of religious worship as well as the foundational units of our society i.e. families et al.

The biggest cause of concern in a Nigeria that is currently on the brink of an all-out ethnically incensed nationwide Armageddon is the growing tendency among its politically literate middle-class in the north and south to overheat the polity above all else — to treat these initial sparks of violence as a call to reprisals as seen in the outbursts replete on social media, radio and newspaper articles — which counters the basic democratic and human values of restraint, tolerance and healthy dialogue.

In this regard, I profusely appeal to every single Nigerian that comes across this article to please exercise restraint in speech, further healthy dialogue, stay consistently searching for the facts and avoid incendiary outbursts that may degenerate into counterproductive mayhem.

While we may be at the mercy of abjectly poor governance from the Federal Government of Nigeria and its sub-national governing units — in stemming the widespread violence and restoring peace and order — we must rise to the occasion of thawing the mass ethnic tensions with an utmost sense of responsibility and collectivism to ensure that no further lives are lost and that we also unite to fight the real enemy — the oppressive Nigerian political establishment who are at fault for the current socio-economic violence we are all currently enduring.

Just as we know that the history of civilization is the compendium of class struggle over scarce resources, I implore that we should put this in cognizance in our collective struggle for a better Nigeria by identifying the #ENDSARS movement as our unifying cause and deploying it as the key vehicle of the struggle — for the benefit of the many, not the few.

“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.” — Assata Shakur

Basil Abia is the author of the forthcoming book After the Revolution, what next? (2021)