Nigeria on brink of violent implosion:Soyinka

Nigeria on brink of violent implosion:Soyinka

ABEOKUTA – Oil exporter Nigeria is heading for a violent implosion that would dwarf the crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region, Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka said on Thursday.

A wave of mass killings in May this year was just a precursor to the balkanisation of Africa’s most populous nation, he said, as rival ethnic and religious groups vie for dominance. “I consider that Nigeria is on the verge, on the brink of a massive implosion that will make what’s happening in the Sudan child’s play,” Soyinka said in an interview at his home in a tropical woodland about 80 km north of Lagos.”We know there are movements for secession in this country.We know that everybody is preparing for the contingency of breaking up.International organisations are also studying the situation,” said Africa’s first Nobel Prize winner for literature, who will celebrate his 70th birthday this week.More than 1 000 people were killed in a month of tit-for-tat fighting in central and northern Nigeria in May, heavily armed militia clash frequently in the Niger delta, and a political dispute in central Benue state has killed 150 this year alone.Analysts say Nigeria’s death toll from violence of at least 10 000 since democracy returned in 1999 puts the world’s seventh largest oil exporter on a par with high intensity conflicts in Colombia and Chechnya.But the complexity of Nigeria’s wars, each with a unique set of ethnic, religious and political undertones, made them more difficult to understand than the “massive, uni-directional violence” in Sudan, Soyinka said of the crisis in Darfur where more than a million black Africans have been driven from their homes by Arab militias.The United Nations has called the situation in Darfur the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.VIOLENT MONOLOGUESThe recurring massacres around Nigeria, Soyinka said, were “violent monologues” reflecting a deep imbalance in its make-up that could only be resolved in a fundamental rethink by the country’s ethnic groups in a Sovereign National Conference.This idea first gained currency in Nigeria’s south after the annulment of elections in 1993, deemed to be the fairest in Nigeria’s history, which southerner Moshood Abiola was on course to win.It has since become a rallying cry nationwide for civil rights groups, which recently joined under an umbrella body called Civic Forum, set up by Soyinka.”The Sovereign National Conference would throw all the pieces of this country in a basket and try to bring a discernible feature out of it,” he said.Nigeria’s 130 million population is roughly equally divided between Muslims and Christians, but most Nigerians define themselves according to their ethnic origin.There are three main groups, each speaking different languages, and hundreds of smaller tribes scattered across the country.”This nation state was cobbled together by the British.Was it in the interest of the people who inhabited this space, or was it in the British interests?” Soyinka asked.PROBLEMS OF ‘SPACE’President Olusegun Obasanjo has opposed the formation of a sovereign conference, arguing that could lead to disintegration.”We are heading that way already,” said Soyinka.”This is already a divided country.””If it is going to cost millions of lives to keep an entity together, I don’t want any part of it.It is better that you break peacefully.”Nigeria’s civil war in 1967-1970, over a break-away eastern region known as Biafra, killed at least a million people.The introduction of Islamic law in 12 northern states, with punishments including stoning for adulterers and amputation for thieves, was already a “defiance of the integrity of this nation”, Soyinka said.Soyinka said he favoured keeping Nigeria intact, but would keep an open mind pending the findings of the conference.Some analysts have argued that the idea of the sovereign conference is really a way for southern Nigerians, many of whom feel they have been dominated by the mainly Muslim north since independence in 1960, to achieve more power.Soyinka, who is a member of the Yoruba ethnic group that inhabits the south-west of the country, said this could be true, but the idea was gaining popularity among people in the north.”The important thing is that people should choose exactly what they want,” Soyinka said.”Let us say now we are inhabiting one geographical space.Let us find reasons to continue to do so and let us find a structure that makes it possible to do so without one section fearing that it is being cheated by another.”- Nampa-Reuters”I consider that Nigeria is on the verge, on the brink of a massive implosion that will make what’s happening in the Sudan child’s play,” Soyinka said in an interview at his home in a tropical woodland about 80 km north of Lagos.”We know there are movements for secession in this country.We know that everybody is preparing for the contingency of breaking up.International organisations are also studying the situation,” said Africa’s first Nobel Prize winner for literature, who will celebrate his 70th birthday this week.More than 1 000 people were killed in a month of tit-for-tat fighting in central and northern Nigeria in May, heavily armed militia clash frequently in the Niger delta, and a political dispute in central Benue state has killed 150 this year alone.Analysts say Nigeria’s death toll from violence of at least 10 000 since democracy returned in 1999 puts the world’s seventh largest oil exporter on a par with high intensity conflicts in Colombia and Chechnya.But the complexity of Nigeria’s wars, each with a unique set of ethnic, religious and political undertones, made them more difficult to understand than the “massive, uni-directional violence” in Sudan, Soyinka said of the crisis in Darfur where more than a million black Africans have been driven from their homes by Arab militias.The United Nations has called the situation in Darfur the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.VIOLENT MONOLOGUESThe recurring massacres around Nigeria, Soyinka said, were “violent monologues” reflecting a deep imbalance in its make-up that could only be resolved in a fundamental rethink by the country’s ethnic groups in a Sovereign National Conference.This idea first gained currency in Nigeria’s south after the annulment of elections in 1993, deemed to be the fairest in Nigeria’s history, which southerner Moshood Abiola was on course to win.It has since become a rallying cry nationwide for civil rights groups, which recently joined under an umbrella body called Civic Forum, set up by Soyinka.”The Sovereign National Conference would throw all the pieces of this country in a basket and try to bring a discernible feature out of it,” he said.Nigeria’s 130 million population is roughly equally divided between Muslims and Christians, but most Nigerians define themselves according to their ethnic origin.There are three main groups, each speaking different languages, and hundreds of smaller tribes scattered across the country.”This nation state was cobbled together by the British.Was it in the interest of the people who inhabited this space, or was it in the British interests?” Soyinka asked.PROBLEMS OF ‘SPACE’President Olusegun Obasanjo has opposed the formation of a sovereign conference, arguing that could lead to disintegration.”We are heading that way already,” said Soyinka.”This is already a divided country.””If it is going to cost millions of lives to keep an entity together, I don’t want any part of it.It is better that you break peacefully.”Nigeria’s civil war in 1967-1970, over a break-away eastern region known as Biafra, killed at least a million people.The introduction of Islamic law in 12 northern states, with punishments including stoning for adulterers and amputation for thieves, was already a “defiance of the integrity of this nation”, Soyinka said.Soyinka said he favoured keeping Nigeria intact, but would keep an open mind pending the findings of the conference.Some analysts have argued that the idea of the sovereign conference is really a way for southern Nigerians, many of whom feel they have been dominated by the mainly Muslim north since independence in 1960, to achieve more power.Soyinka, who is a member of the Yoruba ethnic group that inhabits the south-west of the country, said this could be true, but the idea was gaining popularity among people in the north.”The important thing is that people should choose exactly what they want,” Soyinka said.”Let us say now we are inhabiting one geographical space.Let us find reasons to continue to do so and let us find a structure that makes it possible to do so without one section fearing that it is being cheated by another.”- Nampa-Reuters

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