The idea of Nigeria splitting into different sovereigns has gained traction over the last several weeks. A growing chorus of local leaders in Nigeria, looking to avoid what happened in Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Sudan are urging the federal government to look at splitting the nation before there is too much bloodshed. Muammar Gaddafi notoriously said the OPEC nation should split into two distinct nations; although everyone knows his motives were not pure. Still, when one looks at what a divided Nigeria would look like, the character of the Nigerian people and the incendiary faction, along with recent political events; one finds a strong case for unity.
Religious strife has gripped Nigeria, Africa’s most populace country. As predicted, the terrorist group Boko Haram bombed churches near the capital of Abuja and another in Jos, on Christmas Sunday of last year, killing 27 worshippers. Just a couple of weeks later, the radical Islamists killed 20 more people at a town hall in Mubi, a town in northeastern Nigeria near the Cameroon border, then again in Yola, killing 12 worshippers. This is nothing new for the oil rich, West African nation. Boko Haram, whose name in the regional Hausa language means, “western education is sinful,” has been credited, and taken credit for, over 500 deaths in the past year alone.
Meanwhile, local Muslims are fearful of a Christian backlash, or more possibly, an attack by Boko Haram on their Muslim brothers. “People have seen what has happened between us and armed security agents and their accomplices who give them information about us,” Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said.
Much of the strife blamed on religious differences can be attributed, not to opposing belief systems, but to one terrorist group and one corrupt governmental system. Nigeria, to the casual observer, appears to be split down the middle between Christians in the south and Muslims in the north. Nevertheless, many Nigerian Christians are only so-titled because their father was. The same goes for many Muslims. They are neither Christian nor Muslim; yet they must be labeled something. This idea of folk religion has its roots from when these religions first came to the continent of Africa. Many African tongues do not have a Bible or Koran in their language and they must fill in any gaps with their indigenous beliefs, mostly animism.
The common Muslim on this continent has never held a Koran, much less read or listened to someone read it. Moreover, being a “Christian” is certainly a political or geographic term. In so many parts of Nigeria, Christian denominations and what is meant when one is called a Christian is as diverse as the country itself. Therefore, it would be unwise to call this a predominantly Muslim and Christian struggle.
Communal strife has also occurred. For instance, the Yoruba and Hausa peoples have been known to fight over the Hausas walking on the street at the same time as the Oro, a traditional Yoruba festival. A great deal of tribulation has been caused by incidents such as these and long-standing fights over property rights, much to the encouraging of local politicians. Nevertheless, Boko Haram has made it into a religious struggle. Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka said recently, “There are people in power in certain parts of the country, leaders, who quite genuinely and authoritatively hate and cannot tolerate any religion outside their own,” adding, “Those who have created this faceless army have lost control.”
Now, the group has said that all Christians in the north must move south and Muslims in the south should move north. They are intent on embarrassing the country’s government to show Christian ineptitude and lack of leadership. There are a growing number of people who are anticipating a split, but Boko Haram may be the only ones who see this as a good idea. It is true that Boko Haram has taken advantage of widespread corruption and preference for the south to curry favor with locals, but most Nigerians, deep down, have more of a connection to their family and community than they do a formless religious group. Even though many Christians are departing the north, they would rather not leave, plus most are not financially able to. Furthermore, in this part of the world, where a father not bequeathing land to his son is considered a sin on par with murder; one does not have a choice to leave. He must stay and have something to pass down to the next generation.
There has rarely been a split of a nation where there has not been massive bloodshed. Sudan and the former Soviet states are obvious examples, but also keep in mind the partition of India into the Dominion of Pakistan and the Republic of India in order to separate the Hindus and Muslims brought forth massive killings, homelessness, and rape.
There are achievements that come from individual nations out of the divided sum, but those success stories should conversely inspire Nigeria to stay united. South Korea turned into an economic powerhouse in East Asia. However, South Korea is flourishing for being what the other side is not: a democratic, free-market, educated, open, non-bureaucratic, western aligned country. A new North Nigeria or any newly created states would meet none of these criteria. Which is ideal: a divided Korea where one side is starving for food and attention or a united Korea that is an even bigger economic partner for the West? This is a rhetorical question, but with Nigeria being the fifth largest importer of oil to the U.S., leaders from both countries must be reminded of these obvious examples.
Those few who want to split the country into a Muslim north and Christian south say this is the only way to stop the violence between the two factions. Regardless of whether the nation is split into two or three or six, Boko Haram will still terrorize people, even if on a smaller level. Splitting the nation would hand the group a substantial victory. They would no doubt establish Sharia Law throughout the new country. The group’s name implies they do not like democracy leaving the population even less represented than before.
The nightmare scenario of splitting would be even worse than the situation in Sudan for northern Nigeria. Sudan has no oil, but has the main pipelines and a port for leverage. South Sudan has a majority of the oil, but no infrastructure. Northern Nigeria has neither the oil wealth nor infrastructure. Not unlike most of West Africa, Nigeria’s north has been left behind while the south has been developed. Although partly to blame on the north, southerners have far greater access to health care and education as proved by the differences in vaccination and literacy rates between the two regions.
Boko Haram and the utter restlessness of Nigerians is a symptom of the larger disease of corruption, favoritism and poverty. Stopping the corruption in government, along with providing and equalizing access to healthcare, education, and government positions to people in the north would take the wind out of the sails of Boko Haram and the growing minority who want to see the nation fragmented. Like the United States, Nigeria is diverse. Nigeria must learn from America and give local leaders in the north autonomy to make decisions that is best for their constituencies. Otherwise one side will always feel cheated and resort to violence. Nigeria is more unified than one might think and in a way that could end the regular killing of innocents.
With President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to end the fuel subsidy - effectively doubling gas prices - Nigerians are more unified in their frustration. While protesting in Minna, Muslims have guarded their Christian neighbors attending church. “In this struggle, we are determined to make sure that the removal of fuel subsidy will not stay; we want to send a signal by coming here to protect our Christians friends and to show that we are one…,” a leader of a local Muslim group said. Young Christians have done the same in Minna and Kano, guarding Muslims during their time of prayer.
Nigeria has a head-start on those countries that are divided geopolitically. They have tremendous oil wealth and a large population who are unified by community, spirituality, and a discontent of the status quo. All they need is for their leader to use these resources to change it.