Last month, a fight between two men in Shasha market in Ibadan – a Yoruba cobbler and a Hausa cart pusher – triggered a wave of conflict that spilled out of the market and into the host community, with the Yorubas targeting northerners. In protest of the killing of their people, northern traders blocked the movement of food items and cattle southwards, pushing food prices upwards.
The year began with recurrent incidents of herdsmen killings and kidnappings in several parts of the southwest. Since most of the herders are from northern Nigeria, the indigenes in the southwest – who are mostly Yoruba – fought back.
“The crisis happening between the northerners and the Yorubas in Southwest Nigeria cannot be disconnected from the heightened security challenges facing the country,” says Kazeem Gani, a resident of Kishi in Oke Ogun, Oyo State. “Those of us living in Ibarapa and Oke Ogun axis have recently been having face-offs with them but that started recently.”
The violence has prompted calls of secession from Yoruba historian Banji Akintoye, and the populist leader Sunday Adeyemo. “There should be no reason why we cannot all work together to extricate ourselves from this rubble that Nigeria has become,” Akintoye says in a recent video.
Local regional politicians have a different response. The Oke Ogun axis in Oyo State, southwest Nigeria, is among the region’s hotbeds of violence, prompting Governor Seyi Makinde to deploy 200 Amotekun troops, a regional security force.
The ethnic tension brewing in Oyo state is disgusting!! The videos I just watched is making me want to vomit. 💔
— Mohammed Jammal (@whitenigerian) February 13, 2021
Kazeem Gani says he used to share an apartment with people from the Hausa-Fulani tribe in the past, but things have changed. “The fear now is that we no longer trust ourselves again.”
A North-South balancing act
Nigeria is almost evenly divided between the mostly Christian south and Muslim north. Such divisions are often exploited by the political class who use populism to consolidate power. In 2017, for example, some northern groups issued a three-month ultimatum to the Igbos of southeast Nigeria living in the north to leave the region. The groups accused the Igbos of undermining the country’s unity by their frequent calls for secession.
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Ashiru Babangida, a public affairs analyst, says the recent incidents in the southwest are a case of the northerners being served a dose of their own medicine – and that Northern political leaders could have helped avoid the worst.
“The northerners protesting are quick to forget. They have forgotten that in 2017, 16 northern groups gave Igbo residents [a] three-month ultimatum to vacate their region when they were clamouring for secession in the South East region for a Republic of Biafra,” he says.
“[The] Kaduna Governor, Nasir El-Rufai ordered the arrest and prosecution of members of the group but nothing happened. That is the same thing we are witnessing currently in some southwest states.”
The host community appears to have been stretched beyond its tolerating limit. The reason for this isn’t far-fetched; the continuing atrocities committed by suspected Fulani shepherds are to blame 4 the bad blood b/w Hausa&Yoruba at the Shasha market in the ancient city of Oyo.
— Ibitayo Adefemi (@AdefemiIbitayo) February 15, 2021
Bala Sadouki is a Kano indigene who ran a cow business in Akure, Ondo State, before Governor Rotimi Akeredolu ordered herders to vacate the state’s forest reserves.
“I lived in Akure for roughly 10 years before the directive of the governor. There is no way you can stop cows from not eating crops. If I tell you there is a solution to that, then I am telling lies,” says Sadouki, who now lives in Ibadan, Oyo State.
He believes the solution is for cattle herders to pay farmers for what is eaten, something he himself has done.
“People from our side always feel cheated by the Yorubas when they poison our cows but that’s not the case,” says Sadouki. “Ethnic crisis kills more than Boko Haram crisis. We just need to shun that.”
Adeniyi Samuel, a crop farmer, blames the current incidents on the impending 2023 general elections.
“Rather than fight ourselves, we all need to come together and ensure that we fight our common enemies,” says Samuel, who lives in Ekiti, southwest Nigeria. “Even husbands and wives have issues at home. Will you say because you have issues with your husband or wife, you will not provide food for him or her?”
Lax security enforcement leads to chaos
There are political leaders who are trying to bridge divides.
“The [Niger State] governor has always been chosen among his peers to be part of reconciliation,” says Mary-Noel Berje, Niger State Governor’s spokesperson. “You could see he was among people that visited Oyo during Sasha crisis. This is what all leaders should do regardless of tribe. We should be friend to Bolaji, Abubakar and Nnamdi.”
Beyond words, actions are needed, says political scientist and public affairs analyst Funmi Alabi. She believes insecurity is threatening Nigeria’s unity and the solution is to rework the country’s security architecture, else vigilante action will lead to chaos.
“Yes, Section 41(1) of the 1999 Constitution provides that every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry into any state,” says Alabi.
“But what happens when authorities fail to take responsibility? When the governments did not abide by the law that mandates them to protect lives and properties, residents will try to sort that themselves”, she says.
With the Buhari administration arriving on campaign promises of restoring order, the failure to tackle insecurity risks becoming a lightning rod for criticism of the president.