On January 15, 1966, soldiers successfully staged a coup in Nigeria. Known as the “Nzeogwu Coup,” the gang leader, Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu from Kaduna, alongside some Igbo officers led the coup in which the then Sultan of Sokoto (Ahmadu Bello) and several other Nigerian leaders were killed. According to Chinua Achebe in his book, There Was a Country, at first, the news of the military coup was well received; however, it was also quickly termed an “Igbo coup.”
Achebe, in order to clarify why what could have easily been labelled a ‘military coup’ was labelled a ‘tribal coup’ said: “Part of the way to respond to confusion in Nigeria is to blame those from the other ethnic group. One found some ethnic or religious elements supporting whatever one was trying to make sense of.” In weeks following the coup, Easterners were assaulted and attacked in what could be termed a pre-planned pattern. “There seemed to be a lust for revenge which meant an excuse for Nigerians to take out their resentment on the Igbos,” Achebe wrote. It was this hostility that degenerated into the civil war in 1967 which lasted till 1970, which Nigeria is yet to fully recover from.
Not much has changed. Although, about 250 tribes still coexist under the same national umbrella called Nigeria, it cannot be said that all the inhabitants possess a singular national identity. There are still cracks in the wall of the nation and the country often feels like the slightest bit of pressure (either ethnic, religious or political) will force a rupture that will devastate an already unstable foundation.
On Tuesday, 1st of March 2016, in the Agiliti area of Mile 12 in Lagos State, a Hausa motorcycle (Okada) rider was driving against traffic. Although, okada riders drive against traffic all the time, this particular one was challenged by some of the residents of the area because he almost hit a pregnant woman. The bike rider, who could not comprehend what was being said, attacked his challengers and before anyone could react, a simple misunderstanding which could have been amicably settled by the parties involved, degenerated very quickly into a violent tribal conflict.
By Wednesday, the conflict had turned into a mini war. One of the residents of Mile 12 claimed that the Hausa man apprehended a Yoruba motorcyclist, who had also committed a similar offence, and attacked him. “The Hausa people dragged him on the tarred road and I saw how his skin peeled while he raised the alarm. People told me to keep quiet that it was ordinary motorcycle they were dragging. But when they took a closer look and discovered it was a human being, they tried to rescue him but he was dead,” he said. Later that night, some Yoruba residents reportedly attacked the Hausa residents, and one person allegedly died. By Thursday, no one could calm the warring parties, 27 cars have been burnt, countless houses set on fire and not less than 15 people lost their lives in the chaos.
Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode immediately deployed security officials in the area and imposed a curfew in order to ensure people’s safety. He also made a speech in which he assured residents that the state would not be tainted by ethnic conflict. “Let me assure Lagosians that the state is home to every tribe and ethnic group and nobody should give this disturbance any ethnic coloration whatsoever. Every law abiding citizen should go about his/her normal businesses.” But then, Ambode failed to realize that ethnic conflict cannot be wished away, it has been and will always exist until we learn to live with one another and embrace our national identity as Nigerians first.
In 1967, when the Igbos were frustrated with the targeted violence, especially after the 1966 pogroms (where tens of thousands of Igbos were killed in the North), they decided to be more proactive. Under the leadership of late Lt. Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, they decided to break away from Nigeria and declared the independence of the Republic of Biafra.
Nonetheless, this has done little to solve our national problem.
Agreed Igbos are citizens of Nigeria again, but the shadow of our various ethnic identities as Nigerians still haunt us. Everywhere in this country, the complaint of marginalization still abounds and hatred for other ethnic groups is still very much in our minds. This is evident in IPOB (The Independent People of Biafra), led by Nnamdi Kanu, which over the past nine months has continued to gain strength and supporters in its call for another secession of the Igbos from Nigeria.
In some of its broadcasts, the IPOB referred to Nigeria as a zoo, and the group promised bloodshed if Nigeria does not allow Biafra to secede. Although history has taught us that splitting along ethnic lines will do us no good, the IPOB has pointed out our age-old sore as nation.
Indeed, today, virtually all parts of Nigeria are on fire. In the Niger-Delta, militants are back wrecking havoc on oil installations. In the North Central, Fulani Herdsmen are killing innocent Nigerians, and nobody, including Mr. President (a fellow Fulani man and Cattle owner) is talking.. In the North East and North West, Boko Haram terrorists and Shiites are terrorizing, kidnapping and maiming people while the Oodua Boys are in charge in the South West.
In each tribe and region exist militia groups in full control of security and properties. In several parts of this country, before you lay foundation for a building or buy goods in the market, you must ‘settle’ the local boys. You must equally employ their services as security men and women, give them contracts and upon that pay their leaders monthly allowance, else, nothing works. And we still say we are one Nigeria.
In 1914, Sir Fredrick Lugard, British Governor- General of the colonial Nigeria, decided to merge three major tribes (Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba) with a host of other minority tribes (who did not see it fit to join in with the larger ethnic groups) together. However, the British colonial masters soon discovered that the amalgamation fostered an intense struggle for power and autonomy. This led them to divide the country into three major regions (Northern, Southern and Eastern) in 1951 which provided each with its own legislative houses.
However, Nigeria’s colonial masters failed to realize that each tribe also had religious and cultural affiliations, therefore by merging them, they also encouraged ethnic and religious hostilities as each tried to gain a certain level of control over the other.
In There Was A Country, Chinua Achebe notes that in 1967 he was one of the last to flee Lagos. He felt that “the problems of the Nigerian federation were well known, but [also] felt that perhaps this was part of a nation’s maturation and that given time we would solve our problems.”
At the moment, it appears we’re still stuck in 1967, where division seems like a viable solution to ethnic dispute, but rather than allow fragmented ethnic groups to go their separate ways, the colonial masters brought Nigerians together in a violent display of possession, where we’re simply damned if we break away, and damned if we don’t. Given the fact that Nigeria is presently fragmented, to ensure lasting peace, shouldn’t we split into ethnic lines?

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