RLPB 422. Nigeria: Muslim Youths ‘Beat Drums of War’
BACKGROUND: Initially, the British colonialists who arrived in Nigeria in the late 19th and early 20th centuries favoured the northern Hausa and Fulani Muslims, describing them as fair-skinned, fine featured, organised and civilised. Like the northern Muslims, the British viewed the southern Yoruba (in the West) and Igbo (in the East) as black savages, fit for little more than slavery. However, whereas the northern Hausa and Fulani Muslims resisted all things British, the southern Yoruba and Igbo embraced British education and Christianity. At independence (1960) more than a million educated and mostly Christian Igbos were living in the Muslim north, dominating administration and business. Needless to say, the Hausa-Fulani Muslims were not impressed. After the 29 July 1966 Hausa-led military coup, a campaign of ethnic cleansing targeting the Igbo was unleashed across the North in which some 30,000 Igbo were killed and a further 1.3 million were forced to flee. It was not the first anti-Igbo pogrom to hit the North, but it was the worst, leaving the Igbo convinced they had no future in a Hausa-Fulani dominated Nigeria.
On 30 May 1967 the Military Governor of Eastern Nigeria, Lt-Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu announced that the region formerly known as Eastern Nigeria would from now on be known as the independent, sovereign Republic of Biafra. Considering oil had been discovered in Eastern Nigeria’s Niger Delta in 1956, it is unsurprising the rest of Nigeria did not approve the secession. The resulting Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) — also known as the Biafra War — claimed the lives of some 100,000 mostly Muslim Nigerian military personnel and between 500,000 and two million mostly Christian Igbo civilians, most of whom perished from starvation during the Nigerian military junta’s blockade of Biafra.
NIGERIA: MUSLIM YOUTHS ‘BEAT DRUMS OF WAR’
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970), also known as the Biafra War. This was a war in which Nigeria’s mostly northern Muslim Hausa-Fulani-dominated military junta crushed a separatist rebellion by the mostly Christian Igbo of Eastern Nigeria. Frustrated and marginalised by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, pro-secessionist Igbo groups have again been escalating their secessionist rhetoric. In response, a coalition of Northern Muslim youth groups held a press conference in Kaduna on 6 June in which their spokesman, AbdulAziz Suleiman, issued a chilling ultimatum: Igbos would have until 1 October to leave the North, after which time they will be forcibly ejected. As all Nigerians know, this threat has a precedent because in 1966 an ethnic cleansing campaign targeting Igbo in the North left 30,000 Igbo dead, more than 1.3 million Igbo displaced and millions more convinced they had no future in a Hausa-Fulani dominated Nigeria. As the Anglican Archbishop of Jos, the Most Rev Benjamin Kwashi told Global Christian News (15 June 2017), ‘Nobody, who is watching history, thinks this is a joke.’
For more information see:
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 6 July 2017.
Since the 6 June ‘Kaduna Declaration’ anti-Igbo hate speech has proliferated across Northern Nigeria, spreading like wildfire on social media. Of particular concern is the emergence of hate songs, some of which call for the Igbo to be killed, others of which call for the break-up of Nigeria with the Igbo cut adrift in a reduced, oil-less ‘Biafra’. One song which has become extremely popular vilifies the Igbo, blaming them for everything from drugs to terrorism. It includes the following chorus (which is repeated eight times): ‘Igbos are a curse to Nigeria, whose existence and birth as a people in Nigeria is useless, that abortion is greater than the birth of the bast**ds.’
Though the federal government vowed to arrest those responsible for the Kaduna Declaration, no arrests have been made, allegedly on the grounds that it could jeopardise Nigeria’s fragile security, i.e., it could trigger widespread Muslim rioting. Nigerian leaders, including President Buhari, have expressed concern over the growing amount of hate speech, noting that the same phenomenon occurred in Rwanda before the 1994 genocide there. At a press briefing in the capital Abuja on 24 August, the spokesperson for the coalition of northern Muslim youth groups, AbdulAziz Suleiman, ‘suspended’ the group’s 6 June quit notice and affirmed the unity of Nigeria while continuing to vilify the Igbo. On Sunday 3 September Nigeria’s top Muslim spiritual leader, Sa’ad Abubakar condemned the Kaduna Declaration, openly declaring his opposition to it.
Yet, despite all efforts to calm the situation, Muslim youths across the North continue to ‘beat the drums of war’ and insist all Igbo must leave before 1 October. A group of UN experts has expressed ‘grave concern’ about the possibility of ethnic bloodshed, ‘especially considering the previous history of such violence’. Few doubt that a crisis is looming and that efforts to defuse it have been half-hearted at best.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO:
* intervene in Nigeria to calm the brewing storm; may the whole Nigerian Church unite in prayer — nationwide, across denominational and ethnic lines — to petition the Lord for peace and mercy.
‘By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth … who by his strength … stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.’ (From Psalm 65:5-8 ESV)
* grace Nigeria’s political, religious, civic and youth leaders with wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
* guide and protect his vulnerable Church in the Muslim-dominated North in the face of escalating anti-Igbo hostility. (Isaiah 40:10-11)
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
NIGERIA: MUSLIM YOUTHS ‘BEAT DRUMS OF WAR’
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Biafra War (1967-1970), a war in which Nigeria’s Muslim-dominated military junta crushed the separatist aspirations of the predominantly Christian Igbo. Whilst the Igbo are indigenous to the south-east, they live and work all over Nigeria, excelling in business and administration. On 6 June a coalition of Northern Muslim youth groups warned all Igbo in the North to leave before 1 October or be evicted forcibly. The threat has a precedent — in 1966 an ethnic cleansing campaign targeting Igbo in the North left some 30,000 Igbo dead and more than 1.3 million displaced. Tensions are soaring once again. Anti-Igbo hate speech is proliferating across the Muslim North. Many fear a crisis is imminent. Please pray for peace in Nigeria and for its Christians.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).