Despite the ethnic tensions, a partition of the country is not desired by the majority of Nigerians. Ethnic equilibriums are very complex and the division of the Federation could give rise to endless conflicts.
And now the specter of Biafra comes back to haunt the spirits. Colonel Emeka Ojukwu proclaimed the independence of Biafra in May 1967 and the ephemeral republic finally died in January 1970.
The independence experiment was short-lived. It cost the Igbos very dearly. Nearly two million of them died during the conflict. Today, Biafarian secessionists still make their voices heard. Nnamdi Kanu, the most famous of them runs Radio Biafra. After two years of incarceration without trial, he was finally released on bail by the Nigerian authorities just before the anniversary of the fiftieth anniversary of the Biafran war. By 2016, demonstrations in his favor had been repressed in the blood in the Igbo country (south-east Nigeria).
Even today, throughout Africa, it is not uncommon to find maps of the Biafra independent. Some Igbos traders keep them from Lomé to Yaoundé via Cotonou. Intellectuals such as the writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are more likely to present themselves as Igbos than as Nigerians. The Igbo identity is strong. “Many of us have the impression that we are a people that are equal to the Jews, ” said Emeka Ugwu, a businessman from the south-east.
The Igbos are not the only ones to question the legitimacy of the Nigerian state. Between the Muslim north where the Hausa language prevails and the southern Christian majority that there is in common? The inhabitants of Lagos, the economic and cultural capital of Nigeria, are turned towards the West, including the American and English models. Northern Nigeria is clearly oriented towards the Arab-Muslim world.
The creation of Nigeria is relatively recent. The “amalgamation” process, as the Nigerians call it, dates back to 1914. It was decided by Lord Lugard, the British governor of the time. The idea of calling the country “Nigeria” would be the work of his mistress, the British journalist Flora Shaw. “The amalgamation” (unification) of a coastal South and a Sahelian north was intended to create an influential country. In the eyes of the British, Nigeria, “giant of Africa” also had the function of cutting in half the French colonial empire.
The Igbo country is enclaved in the south-east
Nigeria in the British era was divided into three regions: the northern Hausa-Fulani majority, southwest Yoruba and the south-east dominated by the Igbos. When Emeka Ojukwu proclaimed the independence of Biafra in May 1967, it was based on the geographical division made by the British. This geographical division is very advantageous for the Igbos since it allows them to dominate the region which constitutes the ” oil sponge ” of Nigeria. Since the late fifties, the country has become a major producer of black gold.
The military situation of the independent Biafra quickly became critical. The federal system was supported by the British, the Americans and the Soviet Union. Among the great powers, only France stood at the sides of the Biafra. But what condemns the young republic to a slow death is the rapid loss of access to coastal cities. The Igbo country is enclaved in the southeast. Coastal ethnic groups do not support the rebellion. Like the writer Ogoni, Ken Saro-Wiwa, they most often fear to be under the tutelage of the Igbos.
A federation of more than 300 ethnic groups
The Western media constantly speaks of the three major ethnic groups of the country, the Hausa, the Yoruba and the Igbos, but Nigeria has more than 300 ethnic groups, all competing for political, economic and cultural power.
Even today, ethnic and geographical antagonisms are very strong. The Igbos are not the only ones to express their dissatisfaction. The ethnic groups in the oil zone, including the Ijaws (the ethnic group of former President Goodluck Jonathan ), are demanding a larger share of the “oil cake”, resulting in more pipeline sabotage.
The inhabitants of Lagos have the impression of producing economic wealth that the north will squander. The city of Lagos alone is home to 22 million people. This mega pole has a GDP equivalent to that of Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon and Senegal combined. ” In Lagos, Abuja is not perceived as a real capital, but as the capital of the north. The Lagos regard Abuja as a parasitic city that plundered the rest of the country and lives on its back, “said John Awolowo, a teacher in Lagos.
A North / South divide
Created from scratch, some twenty years ago Abuja has struggled to establish itself as a true capital in the eyes of the Southerners. The north is sinking into crisis and the south is developing, which contributes to the rise of regional tensions. Yet very few Nigerians openly wish for a partition of the country. Well-off Nigerians have little concern for ethnic conflicts. Originally from the city of Kano (North) Aliko Dangoté, the richest man in Africa, lives in Lagos since the early eighties. His yacht moored in the lagoon. He built his most effective business and political networks in Lagos, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a native of the south-west.
In Lagos, inter-ethnic marriages are multiplying. A sign of the times, the greatest commercial success of Nigerian cinema, The Wedding Party narrates an inter-ethnic marriage between Yorubas and Igbos. A fiction that joins a reality more and more frequent. In Lagos, a large part of the population originated in Igbo. She speaks Igbo like Yoruba. Great travelers, Igbos traders have no interest in a partition of the country. They are very present throughout the Federation, including in the north. The big cities of the north have neighborhoods largely populated by Igbos.
Another major question is how to partition the Federation into a country with so many ethnic groups? Nigeria has already given priority to regional particularities by creating 36 States. Once elected, the governors of these states have broad powers.
Nigerians know well that partitioning on ethnic bases would have dramatic consequences. How to determine the territory of each of the 300 ethnic groups? What weight would a Nigeria so split? The endless conflicts in South Sudan and their share of atrocities are not conducive to partition.
“The concept of an independent Biafra or an independent Yoruba country can make a fantasy. But it is not realistic. Of course, the borders of Nigeria have an artificial side. But at the bottom, it is a lot of all the borders. Now we have to live with it for want of something better, “says Emeka Ugwu, a professor at Nsukka University. Lucid, he adds: ” It is still better to live together rather than plunge into endless wars.”