Tribal intolerance has become a major issue in Nigeria today. People have died on this course. Nigeria remains shackled by local riots and wars, due to tribal intolerance. The 1967 Igbo massacre, the civil war, local tribal disputes between herdsmen and farmers, and so on, are perfect examples of these tribal wars. As it stands now, another war is due to be added to that list.
On the 6th of June 2017, a Northern group, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), issued a three months ultimatum for the Igbos in all the nineteen northern States in Nigeria, to vacate the region. Failure to comply to this, will result into a removal-by-force action, which can inevitably lead to a war. The Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF) is a conglomeration of socio-political groups in northern Nigeria. According to the group’s National President, Yerima Shettima, this decision to eradicate the Igbos from the North, was triggered by the sit-at-home protest recently held by the Igbos, to commemorate the death of about three million people during the Biafra secessionist war (1967-1970).
Going down memory lane, in the wake of the Nigerian civil war, Igbos were being mercilessly killed by northerners in the North. The northerners simply did not like the Igbos due to political and tribal reasons. Due to this, the Igbos began to flee from the North to their home town in the East. In fact, the military Governor of the Eastern Region, Colonel Chukwuemeka Ojukwu who was completely distressed and unhappy about what was happening to his people, feared this might become genocide. Chain of events like this, led to the Nigerian civil war.
Even a blind man can vividly see the dangerous parallels between the AYCF declaration and the 1967 massacre. The “removal-by-force” action hinted at by the group’s National President, indirectly means restaging the 1967 Igbo massacre. Who knows, perhaps this current tribal crisis would be the last straw that breaks the Camel’s back, and Nigeria will eventually descend into anarchy. To prevent this from happening, it might seem the only way is for each ethnic group in Nigeria (Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo) to embrace each other and tolerate each other as one Nation. But for how long will Nigerians keep hearing that? Nigeria is at a brink of collapse. Something needs to be done now, to prevent the country from imploding. Perhaps the best course of action to take is correcting the mistakes of the British and our early nationalists.
As at 1900, Nigeria constituted a British crown colony, the southern protectorate and the northern protectorate. In 1914, these three areas were amalgamated to form one Nigeria. But with the tripartite policy of the Richards constitution of 1946, Nigeria was divided along ethnic lines, the Northern, Western and Eastern Regions; each representing the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo tribes respectively. That was a giant mistake by the British.
Intelligent Nigerian nationalists at that time, could clearly see that the country was heading for the rocks. To be precise, a delegation led by Obafemi Awolowo and Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, petitioned the British Government to amend the Richards constitution. In response to this, the British appointed the Willink Commission in 1959 to look into the issue. Unfortunately, the report of the commission made it clear that a constitutional amendment was completely unnecessary. With this, Nigeria entered her first Republic on the 1st of October 1960. That day was not only an independence day for Nigeria, it also marked the beginning of Nigeria’s downfall. The tribal tension and intolerance that Nigeria is experiencing today, is as a result of the chain of events that ensued before independence. Nonetheless, after independence, Nigeria had an opportunity to correct the mistakes of the British.
During the European occupation of Africa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Europeans amalgamated several territories and tribes, so as to make colonization easy for them. But from the year 1945 downwards when these European-made territories got their independence from their Colonial Masters, they began to break up, and form new Nations, born out of common tribes and ideologies. Examples of these Territories include;
• British East Africa Territory (BEA), which broke apart to form Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda in 1960.
• French Equatorial Africa (FEA), which became Gabon, Congo, Chad and Central African Republic, in 1960.
• French West Africa Territory (FWA), which broke up and became Mali, Senegal, Ivory Coast (now Côte d’voire), Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Niger, Guinea, Dahomey (now Benin Republic), and Mauritania, in 1960.
This territorial rearrangement, was not only peculiar to Africa, it also happened in Asia. An example of this was the British India Territory (BIT) which broke up and became India and Pakistan, in 1947.
With all these territorial rearrangements going on, where was Nigeria? Perhaps we should ask, where were Nigeria’s intelligent nationalists? Why was the British-made Nigeria, not broken up like other European-made territories at that time? Unfortunately, what Nigeria’s nationalists failed to do, led to the issue of disunity and tribal intolerance, that has continued to dug Nigeria till today. So the question remains, what is the way forward?
The story of Nigeria is similar to the tale of three friends with different backgrounds, languages, ideologies and cultures, who could not stick together, but others keep advising them to find a way to stick. Eventually, they will kill each other. That is exactly what is happening in Nigeria today. Examples of this “killing each other” includes; the Igbo massacre of 1967, the Civil War, the current tribal tension between the northern Arewa Group and Igbos, and so on.
Given this plight, perhaps the best way forward is to embark on a mutual and peaceful breakup of the three tribes in Nigeria, with each territory having it own peculiar natural resources to sustain it. Just like Sudan who recently broke apart and formed North Sudan and South Sudan in 2011. Perhaps also, another way forward is to continue to preach peace and unity which has never worked since independence. Whichever choice Nigeria decides to make, one thing is certain; the problems of Nigeria can only be fixed by Nigerians.
On a final note, Nigerians should wake up from their slumber and make the right decision now. Decision-making defines a country, whether Good or bad. Great Nations today emerged as a result of the decisions made by great men. It is time Nigerians stopped deceiving themselves. People have died on this platform of self-deception. Hence, the issue of tribal intolerance, must be stopped now before it becomes too late.