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Thursday, 18 February, 1999, 18:04 GMT
Nigeria's ethnic divisions
There has been rioting in the towns of Abeokuta, Ibadan and Lagos
By Foreign Affairs Correspondent Fergus Nicoll

The violent demonstrations in Nigeria following the death of Chief Moshood Abiola illustrated the continuing mistrust of the military leadership, as well as the sectarian and communal divisions that still cause tensions.

Post-colonial Nigeria has seen a succession of military coups and sporadic assassinations. Even the brief interludes between periods of military rule have been plagued by corruption and intermittent communal violence.

Nigeria's federal system was designed in 1947 to balance power between the country's leading ethnic groups: the mainly Muslim Hausa and Fulani in the north; the mainly Christian Yoruba in the south and west; and the mainly Christian Ibo in the east.

North-South tensions

demonstrators
Demonstrators accused Hausa military of killing Abiola
But hostility between north and south has remained an undercurrent - visible this week in much of the post-Abiola street violence directed against the military government.

Many of Nigeria's military dictators have been either from the north or northern-backed - and in the nation's southern economic power-house, Lagos, young Yoruba men frequently complain that northerners benefit from government patronage and get all the best federal jobs.

Some demonstrators have even suggested that the unequal distribution of wealth and influence can only be redressed by a renewed formalising of Nigeria's regional identities.

Ugly memories

But such calls raise ugly memories of the bitter three-year Biafra war from 1967 to 1970, when the east announced its secession from the federal republic and hundreds of thousands died.

Nobody wants such a trauma to be repeated, and the administration of General Abubakar has to take communal factors into account as it decides how best to move Nigeria forward.

Unfortunately, the civilian infrastructure has been compromised by many years of subordination to military rule - and many believe its effectiveness has been greatly undermined.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
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Antony Goldman of The Economist's Intelligence Unit: Abukabar has shown a desire to be more inclusive
BBC News
Watch a graphic explanation of the issue
BBC News
Ayo Obe of the Nigerian Civil Liberties Organisation talks about how likely a repetition of the civil war might be
See also:

09 Jul 98 | Africa
09 Jul 98 | Africa
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