BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Africa
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Thursday, 25 May, 2000, 13:28 GMT 14:28 UK
Nigeria's year of turmoil
Soldier and burnt buildings in Kaduna
Kaduna has seen some of the worst fighting
By Barnaby Phillips and Eniwoke Ibagere

Nigeria's first year of democracy began and ended in scenes of terrible bloodshed. Within days of President's Olusegun Obasanjo's inauguration on 29 May 1999, violent ethnic clashes erupted in the southern oil town of Warri.

Youths fought running battles for several days, leaving dozens dead. Exactly one year later, it was the northern city of Kaduna which was once again in a state of shock, as fighting between Christians and Muslims in the poorer neighbourhoods resulted in at least 100 deaths.

We now live in perpetual fear because of the incidents of terror unleashed by rampaging youths

Kaduna resident Kate Obosa
Appropriately, because the scenes in Warri and Kaduna have been repeated on so many occasions, in so many different parts of Nigeria, in the intervening 12 months that they have almost become the defining characteristic of the latest attempt to install democracy in Africa's most populous nation.

More than 2,000 have died in ethnic or sectarian violence in the past two years.

Where the violent clashes occurred, there were killings, burning of cars, properties, private businesses, churches and mosques, and looting of shops.

Resorting to army

"We now live in perpetual fear because of the incidents of terror unleashed by rampaging youths in their battle to ensure Islamic sharia law is in operation in the city," said Kaduna resident Kate Obosa. "I don't stay out beyond six in the evening."

Boy and soldier in Kaduna
2,000 people have died in a year of strife
And frustrated Nigerians have noticed that, all too often, the new civilian authorities have been forced to call on the army to restore order.

The reasons for the numerous outbreaks of violence have been bewilderingly varied. In the commercial capital Lagos, the nearby town of Sagamu, and the northern city of Kano, it has been tensions between the country's two biggest ethnic groups, the Yorubas and the Hausas.

In Kaduna and the south-eastern city of Aba, religious differences between Christians and Muslims have merged with ethnic rivalries.

As long as we are thrown together in this way the painful friction is bound to continue

Activist Ayo Obe
The violence has left many people in Nigeria bewildered. Rivalries between different groups which were kept under wraps, or were even deliberately exploited, during military rule, are now erupting with a vengeance.

Calls for devolution

While still celebrating the new freedoms associated with the restoration of democracy, Nigerians have been forced to think long and hard about the country's future. In most parts of the country there is a now a clamour for a greater devolution of power to the regions, and to the many ethnic groups which were carelessly thrown together by the British colonialists to form modern-day Nigeria.

Since May 1999, several ethnic and pressure groups have emerged or gained prominence in Nigeria. They include Odua Peoples Congress (fighting for the south-western Oduduwa States), Arewa Peoples Congress (protecting the interest of ethnic northern Nigeria) and Middle Belt Forum (canvasing for their geographical identity which is distinct from northern Nigeria).

We must see that the future lies in Nigeria becoming a union of nationalities

Chief Anthony Enahoro
Among others are Egbesu Boys and Ijaw Youth Council (seeking increased share in Nigeria's wealth for the impoverished oil-rich Niger Delta region), Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign States of Biafra (fighting for the separatist eastern Biafra State which had resulted in the 1967-70 Nigerian civil war) and Bakassi Boys (fighting against social ills in Nigeria).

"It's as if there is no cartilage between the bones; for as long as we are thrown together in this way the painful friction is bound to continue" argues Ayo Obe, a leading Lagos human rights activist..

Obasanjo unpeturbed

When Nigeria's last remaining prominent political exile, Chief Anthony Enahoro, returned home in April he delighted many by calling for a sovereign national conference as a first stage in the creation of a federation of loosely bound ethnic groups.

Refugees shelter in a school
People have lost their homes or fled for their lives
At a welcoming rally in Lagos, he told an excited crowd, "We must not fear radicalism or radical ideas... surely we must see that the future lies in Nigeria becoming a union of nationalities".

Amid the clamour for reform, and the cries of dismay at the wave of violence, President Olusegun Obasanjo appears remarkably unperturbed.

He says he will never countenance any loosening of the bonds that hold Nigerians together. "Its like when you have a wife" said the President earlier this year in a BBC interview, "if there is friction between you and your wife the solution is not separation - the solution is how do you work out the best way to smoothen the relationship".

And the president says he is not surprised by the upheavals of the past 12 months, arguing that it was inevitable that corrupt and powerful vested interests would try and undermine his administration.

"What we are going through is a revolution of some sort, and we expected those people who have done wrong in the past will probably fight back," he told the BBC.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

27 Jan 00 | Africa
The many faces of Sharia
17 Feb 00 | Africa
Nigerian flogged for having sex
20 Jan 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Islamic law raises tension in Nigeria
22 Feb 00 | Africa
Nigerian troops tackle rioters
28 Feb 00 | Africa
Obasanjo visits riot city
25 May 00 | Africa
Kaduna settles down
24 May 00 | Africa
'200 dead' in Kaduna riots
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Africa stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Africa stories