ETHNIC MILITIAS AND SUB-NATIONALISM IN NIGERIA: A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF MASSOB AND OPC
1:1 Background to the Study
Subnationalism in Nigeria is as old as the country and stems from the character of the Nigerian state which cannot be dissociated from the role the colonialists played in the creation of the country. Before the intrusion of the British into what is now known as Nigeria, the various ethnic and cultural groups that make up the country existed as autonomous political entities. These entities had their own political systems, social and religious values distinct from one another (Okafor 1997). The aim of the colonialists in bringing these entities together was purely for exploitation of capital. To facilitate this, they employed divide and rule tactics so as to consolidate and preserve British foothold with little interest in the social, economic or political development of the country or its people (Asia 2001).
Consequently, British colonial policies, were not tailored to foster unity among the disparate groups that constitute Nigeria, rather it was intended to exploit the varied differences, create distrusts, suspicions and cleavages among them (Uzoigwe 1996). The entrenchment of these differences and competition among the ethnic groups to control the soul of the Nigerian state led to several violent confrontations between them prior to the country’s independence (Okafor 1997). The post-colonial regimes that succeeded the colonialists, instead of carrying out comprehensive reforms of the Nigerian state so as to reduce subnationalism, had largely continued the pattern of the receded colonialists (Adejumobi 2002). These successive post independence regimes failed to initiate far-reaching policy measures to coalesce ethnic differences into positive ventures that could create a pan Nigerian identity. Instead, most of the policies undertaken were rather aimed at suppressing ethnic consciousness and minimize the challenge it poses to the legitimacy of the state or the authority of the incumbent regime. The result of this is the heightened hegemonic contest for power at the centre by the ethnic groups that make up Nigeria.
This competition for ethnic domination has over the years, assumed varying forms in the politics of Nigeria. At one time or the other, the ethnic groups that are disadvantaged in this game have either attempted secession or had threatened to secede from the country. For instance, the attempt of the Igbo dominated former Eastern Region to transform into the Republic of Biafra between 1967 to 1970 was crushed by the Federal government, thus consigning that ambition to history. But since the end of that war, the Igbo who used to be part of the tripod on which the Nigerian state was established has been crying of marginalization and exclusion from full integration into the Nigerian society (Nnoli 2008). In the Niger Delta region, the minority ethnic groups perceive themselves as second class citizens of Nigeria, and have been crying out for recognition (Osaghae 1995, Ikelegbe 2001). This cry for recognition preceded the country’s independence, but the Ogoni uprising of the 1990s gave impetus and fillip to the agitations in that region and from which other groups have taken cue from. The same applies to the Yoruba where perception of injustice against the group, stems from the annulment of the presidential election held in June 1993, which was widely believed to have been won by a Yoruba man in the person of Chief Moshood Abiola. The natural effect of all these developments is the emergence of groups as offshoots of these perceptions of marginalization portraying their activities as attempts to redress the marginalization of their particular ethnic group.
But the Nigerian state has been a violent institution right from inception because it has sought to maintain control and hegemony in society through violent means as exemplified by the pattern of administration of the colonial and military regimes that dominated governance for the most part of the country’s history (Uzoigwe 1996, Obi 2004). Subnationalism tendencies were therefore suppressed because peaceful agitation and popular movements were visited with official violence and repression (Uzoigwe 1996).
Presently, the use of arms is not restricted to the state and as it is beginning to manifest in Nigeria because there is a tendency within the political society to use violence as an instrument of achieving political ends. Examples abound on how the political parties of the first and second republics recruited armed thugs, as a strategy to win elections. As such, the prevalence of violent ethnic movements which now seem to be flourishing is not new after all, as portrayed in some literature and commentaries. According to Madunagu (2000), the widespread resort to violence by primordial groups in Nigeria as a means to achieve their ends, stem from the nature of politics which compels every political organization at a certain stage of its development to acquire an armed wing. Some ethnic groups take advantage of their entrenched position in the government, to deploy the national army, the police and other security operatives as armed wings to further exclusive group interests. So whether it is called youth wing of a political party or cultural association, thugs, intelligence officers or bodyguards, these militarized forms have been used directly to push for power and political objectives. And so the background and precursor to the militarization of some civil society organizations sometimes referred to as ethnic militia groups, was the militarization of the state and politics in Nigeria (Udogu 1994, Adejumobi 2002). These varied organizations that are referred to as ethnic militias have different histories, goals and present action, their objectives range from the motive of drawing attention to the perceived marginalization of their ethnic group, serving as social pressure to influence the structure of power to redress perceptions of marginalization of their group or the extreme goal of outright dismemberment from the Nigerian political family. The implication of the statement above is that new forms of ethnic assertiveness have emerged. This new dimension of sub-nationalism is epitomised by ethnic movements that believe in violence as means to furthering parochial interests (Jason 2006). The point being made here is that ethnic consciousness has escalated from simple agitation of loose ethnic associations to the level where organised violence oriented groups with the audacity to carry arms are asking questions and demanding answers, thus directly challenging the legitimacy of the state.
This development has been observed across the country. For instance, the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) founded in 1999 is an Igbo dominated ethnic movement, the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) is predominant in the Yoruba area and predates the return to democracy in 1999, but became more visible thereafter in their quest for a repositioned Yoruba nation in the politics of Nigeria. In the Niger Delta, the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni Peoples (MOSOP) founded in the 1990s, sparked the formation of loose armed groups that are based in that region such as the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF) and the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND). These organizations are not only struggling to call attention to the despoliation of the environment of the delta due to oil exploration, but are also demanding that a good proportion of the resources exploited from their region be retained there so as to right the wrongs of years of deprivation.
In the North, the story remains the same, violent ethnic movements and militant Islamic bodies dot the area and these developments stem from the perception of marginalization and non-accommodation of pure Islamic way of life by the Nigerian political system. Prominent among these organizations in the North are the Arewa People’s Congress (APC) which emerged to counter the OPC, the ‘hambada’ and ‘hisbah’ which enforce sharia compliance in northern states.
Repression has formed the hallmark of the Nigerian government response to these manifestations of subnationalism. Instead of specifically looking at each of the cases, they have often been bunched into a basket and same treatment applied. This approach of the government to managing subnationalism does not permit the expression of grievances on discussion table but had rather tended to escalate the situation resulting in the frequent clashes between these groups and security operatives that often culminate into loss of lives. Government strategy has also centered on clampdown on the leadership of these organizations. Such reactions have not succeeded in abating the activities of these organizations but have rather intensified the spate of ethnic nationalism in Nigeria.
Therefore, the study aims at a comparative examination of ethnic militias as a form of subnationalism expression in Nigeria. Specific cases that were examined are the MASSOB and OPC which draw their membership from two of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria. The study attempted to find out if these organizations emerged from spontaneous development in the political system or isolated cases emanating from different circumstances.
The study also probed the factors that led to the emergence of these groups, the motivation, participation and membership of the organizations. It examined the profile of the rank and file members and the strategies of recruitment into the organizations. The study also examined the tactics employed by these organizations to realize their professed objectives and attempted to ascertain the level of support of the two organizations from their publics whose interests they purport to project. Though Nigeria is the main focus of the study, similar developments in other parts of the world were highlighted. The aim is to draw lessons useful for nation building and better management of ethnicity for the country.
1:2 Statement of the Problem
The concept of ethnic militia in the context of Nigerian political development as a form of subnationalism expression is new; it wasn’t a surprise therefore that apart from popular media characterization, the body of literature that focuses on the subject is very scanty. It is this fact that makes it difficult to establish an acceptable criterion to determine which of the groups that parade the Nigerian landscape falls under the categorization of militia. But that apart, some of the ethnically based organizations in Nigeria have exhibited certain attributes of militia organizations, especially the tendency for violent behaviour and hierachical organization. Though these organizations spread across the country are diverse in nature and do not pursue the same agenda, the common thread that runs through all of them is the manifestation of subnationalism. For instance, Adejumobi (2002:2) sees these organizations as ‘youth based formations that emerged with the intention of promoting and protecting the parochial interests of their ethnic groups and whose activities sometimes involve the use of violence’. But sub nationalism in Nigeria is not a new phenomenon and not restricted to particular sub-national groups in Nigeria, but rather applies to all sub-national groupings in the world. The locus for this has been pointed at the contradictions that attended the formation of the country. The coercive integration of disparate groups with diverse ways of life and orientations makes the expression ‘sub-nationalism’ natural.
The proliferation of violent ethnic formations and groups in Nigeria raises the question of factors responsible for this development. The reasons advanced by the various ethnic militia groups making varying demands on the Nigerian state as justification for their activities relate to perception of injustice and marginalization of their ethnic groups within the context of the Nigerian political system. The realization of this has compelled the government to come out with measures aimed at addressing what is popularly referred to as the ‘national question’, which has been the reason for the persistence of sub-nationalism in the country. The containment approach of military administrations aggravated subnationalism and created the condition for its transformation into forms championed by emboldened ethnic organizations using violence as a means to accomplish their objectives. Included in these are MASSOB and OPC which purport to promote the interests of Nigeria’s two major ethnic groups of Igbo and Yoruba respectively. Establishing the degree of variability of these manifestations is imperative so as to identify, analyse and explain similarities and differences.
1:3 Objectives of the Study
The broad objective of this study is to:-
- Carry out a comparative study of MASSOB and OPC as consequences of subnationalism in Nigeria
Other objectives are to:
- Examine the nature, character and modus operandi of MASSOB and OPC as militia organizations.
- To determine the extent to which MASSOB and OPC represent the aspirations of their publics.
- Examine the relationship between socio-economic conditions and the motivation of membership of MASSOB and OPC.
1:4 Research Questions
- What are the factors responsible for the emergence and persistence of ethnic militia groups in Nigeria?
- What are the nature, character and modus operandi of MASSOB and OPC?
- To what degree are MASSOB and OPC representative of the aspirations of their ethnic groups?
- What socio-economic conditions created avenues for these groups to persevere and how similar are the motives that drive joiners?
1:5 Research Propositions
- The non resolution of the Nigerian national question is significantly responsible for the transformation of subnationalism into forms expressed by MASSOB and OPC.
- By their nature, character and modus operandi, the degree of variations between MASSOB and OPC are not significant.
- The motivation of joiners of MASSOB and OPC varies significantly from each other.
- The response of OPC’s public to their activities varies significantly from MASSOB’s public.
1:6 Significance of the Study
The study contributes to the literature on ethnic militia. It will open new vistas of knowledge on the subject, thus providing concerned stakeholders opportunity of understanding the causal factors of subnationalism as it relates to the Nigerian context.
The study also brings out the role or contribution of subnationalism to nation building in Nigeria. This is significant in the sense that it shall establish factors that pull towards ethnic conflict and sub-nationalism within the peculiar Nigerian milieu which in turn will guide the management of ethno-national tendencies for a multi-national society.
1:7 Research Methodology
This study adopted the comparative study method and so applied comparative analysis. This implies that the focus of the study centred on the discovery of uniqueness and similarities that relates to the manifestations of ethnic militia and subnationalism. The reason behind the adoption of comparative method which incorporated aspects of qualitative and quantitative data gathering techniques for this study were to interrogate phenomenon of ‘ethnic militias’ as a consequence of subnationalism in Nigeria. Therefore, data collection for the study was through a combination of primary sources such as survey and key informant interviews and secondary sources from books and other documentary materials’, especially periodicals.
1:7:1 Research Population
The population of this study comprises ethnic militia groups in Nigeria. The criterion for membership is restricted to ethnicity and other primordial considerations. They are violence-oriented and profess narrow agenda that promotes interests of sub-unit groups at the expense of the general interests of the state and those of other groups in the state. Their activities and methods of operations fall outside the confines of state laws. From the Literature and popular media, such organizations include the Oodua Peoples Congress, the Niger Delta Volunteer Force, the Egbesu Boys of Africa and the Arewa People Congress. Others includes, Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, the Yandaba,the Bakassi Boys, Hisbah and the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta. The rationale is to find out the relationship between the phenomenon of ethnic militia movements and subnationalism in Nigeria.
1:7:2 Sample Size
The study is based on the sample size of two organizations drawn from different regions and cultural settings in Nigeria. The two organizations are the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) and the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).
The choice of the OPC is based on the fact that it was the first violence-oriented ethnic militia organization in Nigeria. The OPC which has arrogated certain functions to itself, has collided with security operatives several times since 1998. The organization draws its members from the Yoruba ethnic group which is one of the largest ethnic groups in the country. It is therefore justifiable that in a study of this nature, the OPC must fall naturally into the sample.
The other sample organization is MASSOB, whose selection is premised on the fact that the group is dominantly constituted by Igbo people of the Southeast of Nigeria. Igbo people were at the receiving end of the civil war of 1967-70 after the former Eastern region dominated by the Igbo ethnic group was transformed into an independent state of Biafra. This choice is justified also because just like the Yoruba, the Igbo from where MASSOB draws most of its members are one of the major ethnic groups in southern Nigeria. The justification for choosing these organizations stems from the fact that their activities challenge the authority of the state which has remained fragile since the creation of the country.
1:7:3 Sampling Techniques
Given the nature of the subject which does not make probalistic sampling possible as there would be no way of distinguishing who is a militia or not, non-probalistic sampling technique becomes necessary, because of its advantage to reach a target sample quickly. As such, purposive sampling was adopted for the survey.
The goal of the survey was to reach the rank and file membership of the two organizations under study and administer sets of questionnaire to them about their profiles, life histories, motives and activities. This exercise which targeted a sample population of two hundred (200) was conducted in Lagos and Ibadan for the OPC and Onitsha and Okwe for MASSOB. The cities chosen are appropriate because Lagos is the place where OPC was formed, where most of their activities are more profound and where the headquarters of the organization is located whereas Ibadan is the biggest Yoruba city, once the regional capital, and it is similar to Lagos as a cosmopolitan city where the Yoruba of different dialects are found. On the other hand, Onitsha has become notorious for MASSOB activities and where most of the violent clashes with security operatives occurred, whereas Okwe near Owerri is the location of MASSOB’s headquarters. Okwe is important because it is the host of monthly national meetings of the MASSOB which is rotated in terms of attendance for all administrative regions of MASSOB.
1:7:4 Sampling Frame
In this study, 200 copies of the research questionnaire were administered to rank and file members of the two organizations, hundred (100) copies each for the OPC and MASSOB. For the OPC 50 copies each were administered in Lagos and Ibadan. Here attempts were made to ensure that the rank and file membership belonging to the two main factions of Gani Adams and Fredrick Faseun were captured as equally as possible even though the rift in the organization has been settled at the time the questionnaire was administered. The cities where 50 copies of questionnaire were administered to MASSOB members are Onitsha and Okwe, the headquarters of the group which is visited monthly alternatively by the various branches for their meetings. The number is adequate to guarantee the confidence level that the study requires. It is a non-probability arbitrary choice because the population size of both organizations is not known and their claim to membership strength cannot be verified and moreover it is not easy to distinguish members of the group from sympathisers. But the parameter used in this type of study to reach a large number of members was through their meetings. Participation in meetings suggests commitment and so the individuals who were reached through this way are reliable members of the group and approximate active members of the organizations. The questionnaire addressed issues such as the socio-demographic profiles and biographies of the members of the organizations, their motive for enlisting into the organizations, the organization’s process of recruitment as well as their activities.
In addition, there were series of key informant interviews with four prominent actors within the two organizations. The target interviewees were the leaders at the top echelon of the two organizations. They include, Dr Fredrick Faseun, the founder and National Chairman of OPC, Otunba Gani Adams, National Coordinator of the OPC and factional leader, Chief Ralph Uwazurioke, founder and the National Leader of MASSOB and Mr Benjamin Onuegbu, Western Zonal Coordinator of MASSOB. The aim was not only to gather information about their ideology and vision but also to find out from them the structure of the organization, finance and mode of operation. Attempt was made to record their experiences, thoughts and feelings about their struggle vis-a-vis their professed goals and objectives. Other opinion leaders in Owerri and Okwe were also interviewed as a measure to gauge perception that led to the establishment of these organizations. The interview form used was the one–off type which was unstructured in order to be more in-depth and also to allow the interviewee room to fully express themselves. The unstructured interview lets the interviewee tell their story and so determines to some extent, the flow of the dialogue. However, the interview, in spite of this fact revolved around the key theme as expressed in the research questions.
The study also relied on secondary sources such as books, reports of dailies and periodicals describing the activities of the two organizations and their leaders which were reviewed and critically analysed updated. Government publications, conference papers, seminar reports, etc were also reviewed. Data from these sources were used mainly to support the views and provide insights into the data derived from the primary sources. We also used materials from secondary sources to address some of the questions that have to do with conceptual issues as well as provide the solid bases for qualitative analysis of empirical outcome.
1:7:5 Validity and Reliability of Survey Instrument
The concern of any researcher is to ensure that the instruments designed for the collection of data are dependable. This process is important in any research endeavour so as to measure accurately and obtain the right responses intended. In this regard, the questionnaire was given to experts at the Department of Political Science and International Relations overseeing the project for their inputs and criticisms. Furthermore, to ensure reliability and validity of the survey instrument, the study pre-tested the instruments in Okota-Lagos for the OPC and Ijeshatedo-Lagos for MASSOB where ten sets of questionnaire each were administered.
This was determined through the correlation of the score for each item with the total score for each individual, and comparing that to the variability present for all individual item score. In other to accomplish this, the study employed the Test-re-test reliability for the questionaire administered to the selected 10 respondents of each of the organizations with the help of leaders of the organizations at Okota and Ijeshatedo in Lagos state. This exercise was carried out twice within two weeks interval of each other with the result showing a higher correlation between the two exercises. This showed clearly that the instrument we employed in our study was reliable and valid.
1:7:6 Data Presentation and Analysis
The study employed the descriptive statistical technique to analyze the data sourced from the administration of questionnaire, key informant interviews and documentary sources. The data were presented in simple percentages using tables and charts as illustration comparing the two organizations. Categorization of social events and content analysis of the recorded responses and diary of events as they occur within the study period were also undertaken. The results of the study were therefore presented in descriptive, narrative form which implied descriptive account of selected trends and developments derived from the data. Information was synthesized on key themes and issues as our units of analysis which were derived from the objectives of the study. This was imperative because comparison can lead to fresh, exciting insights and a deeper understanding of issues.
1:7:7 Units of Analysis
To realize the objectives of this study, our unit of analysis was anchored on the following variables;
- Objectives and goal of the organizations, where we looked at how those ideological orientations that informed the formation of MASSOB and OPC conform to sub-nationalism tendencies.
- Traits of militia organization; enabled us address one of the objectives of the study that attempted to look at the nature, character and modus operandi of MASSOB and OPC. This was accomplished by analysing information that examines the features of militia organizations so as to establish the degree by which either of the groups comforms with the characterization.
- Predictors of enlistment; this is another important variable considered as our unit of analysis for this study. The purpose was to make an outlay on what drives individuals to joining the two groups under consideration. Was it ideology that is propelling folks to join or was it the prevailing economic condition that those individuals were facing that is responsible?
- Mobilization strategy of membership; this variable was also employed to compare the two organizations from the perspective of grievance, xenophobia or greed as the elements that attract and sustain membership mobilization. This was derived from the objective that seeks to examine the modus operandi of the two organizations.
- The profile of recruits; this variable probes the characteristics of members who were recruited into the two organizations. This centred on their age, educational attainment, and occupational status. The aim was to establish whether there were differences in our study between the two organizations in terms of the kind of people who constitute them and derived from the objectives that seek to examine the relationship between socio-economic conditions and motivation of membership.
- Derivatives of membership; here our attention was focused on the perception of individual members of the two groups as it relates to gains and benefits derivable from membership, whether it is economic, psychological or otherwise.
- Determinants of cooperation; this variable was used to compare the two organizations in terms of the factor that binds the members or factors that ensures cohesion in the organizations. We considered whether it relates to coercion, or is it interest, values, personal bonds or even social capital that is of vital importance in either of the organizations. This was derived from the objective that seeks to examine the nature and character of the two organizations.
- Micro-Group Response; this is another vital variable that was employed as a unit of analysis in the study to determine the relationship of MASSOB and OPC with their publics (the Igbo and Yoruba respectively). To further this, our concern was focused on the marital status of individual members of the groups, family ties, and their place of abode among other factors that revealed the level of attachment the group has established with the micro-group and the support base the organizations command with their publics in terms of acceptance of their activities and the corresponding response from their publics.
1:8 Scope of Study and Delimitation
The study covered socio-political developments in Nigeria dating back to the formative period to the point sub-nationalism manifestation became appropriated by militant ethnic organization. The focus of the comparative study was that of the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra and The Oodua People’s Congress. Access to information was naturally difficult, given the nature of the subject of study. For instance, the process of spotting a militia or members of the groups or penetrating the two groups was not easy and so obtaining accurate and confidential information was indeed very difficult.
1:9 Operational Definitions of Terms
1:9:1 Sub-nationalism; is the movement of people to exit or pursue independent statehood or regional autonomy within a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state. We also refer to sub-nationalism as a movement or revolt of peoples against the unitary nature of state, reinforced by indigenous rights and contention of power. Sub-nationalism leans to mobilization and ethnocentrism for political and economic advantage of one ethnic group against another.
1:9:2 Ethnic Militia; are organised violence-oriented groups populated by diverse elements, cutting across different age strata, but drawing membership exclusively from an ethnic group and established to promote and protect the interests of an ethnic group. Ethnic militias is an extreme form of ethnic agitation for self-determination and occurs when the ethnic group assumes militant posture. They serve as a social pressure group designed to influence the structure of power to the advantage of and call attention to the deteriorating material condition or political deprivation and perceived marginalization of their group or social environment.
1:9:3 National Question; refers to the tensions and contradictions of the Nigerian federalism and inter-group relations pivoting around issues of marginalization, domination, inequality and injustice in the distribution of resources, citizenship rights, representation and access to power and political offices.
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