Perry Brimah: The long history of fighting between Hausas and Igbos

by Perry Brimah


You read Hausa handles call Igbo’s ‘baby factory products,’ ‘wife-killers,’ ‘armed robbers,’ ‘traitors,’ and the like and on the other side, you read Igbo-sounding handles labeling Hausa-like names, ‘Fulani cattle rearers,’ ‘Boko Haram,’ ‘terrorists, ‘ ‘Almajiri’s,’ ‘illiterates,’ and ‘the usurpers and problem of Nigeria.’

‘Two is fighting’ is a common Nigerian expression that fits the hard to deny and ignore fact that a significant proportion of Nigeria’s Hausa’s and Igbo’s on the online community are fighting. A history of strife has undoubtedly existed among members of these two large ethnic groups in the country. What also is apparent is that not really much has been and is being done to resolve this apparently intractable crisis that potentially strains Nigeria’s hope for progress. Perhaps those of us who are not direct partakers are not bothered, feel there is nothing we can do or are benefactors of the tension.

Nigeria has a buoyant youth population. 45% of Nigerians are below 14 years. 35% of the population of the nation are between the ages of 15 and 35. Combined, this represents about 80% of Nigerians who can be considered youth, below 35 years. What this also means is that most Nigerians today are 80s and up babies. Born way after much of the tensions between these two groups first started, and only inheritors of the relayed ‘traditions’ that created and sustain these tensions.

For those unfamiliar with the problem being discussed; once a look is taken at commentaries on Nigerian blogs or websites, immediately the observer recognizes significant segregation, affinities and revulsions, leading up to stark insults and threats.

You read Hausa handles call Igbo’s ‘baby factory products,’ ‘wife-killers,’ ‘armed robbers,’ ‘traitors,’ and the like and on the other side, you read Igbo-sounding handles labeling Hausa-like names, ‘Fulani cattle rearers,’ ‘Boko Haram,’ ‘terrorists, ‘ ‘Almajiri’s,’ ‘illiterates,’ and ‘the usurpers and problem of Nigeria.’

You cannot avoid the hostilities online. They are loud and appear to increase in pitch daily. Ethnic tensions have been at a highest in years under the current Nigerian political dispensation. Undeniably, addressing issues of corruption is obstructed due to this accidental or purposeful prevalence of ethnic suspicion and frank tribalism. In a recent case of grand corruption, the former minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah case, it was clear that Igbo’s especially defended her of her exposed crimes. In the case of whistleblower, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi of the Central Bank, who was accused of his own mismanagement at the Central bank, it also appears that a significant amount of the support he got was particularly among the Hausa’s. Can a nation move forward with this type of distraction?

Though the differences between these two cases is obvious. One, the Aviation minister, was caught by the media, stealing with hand in pot and was embraced by the government for as long as they could; while the other blew a whistle of billions of dollars being stolen by the government and was immediately fired and had his passport seized, the public reaction to both cases was clearly tinted with ethnic markers. Some people who refuse as yet to strongly clamor for the recovery of Nigeria’s missing billions as exposed by the former CBN governor, were quick to ask for his head and to react to the allegations against this ‘Hausa/Fulani’ man, while others who were loud in accusation against Stella caught stealing, have been less vocal in supporting clear investigation of Sanusi so long as this does not distract from and obscure the full audit and recovery of Nigeria’s missing billions of dollars he exposed. Similar postures are noticed in the Jonathan Government honoring of Abacha an unquestionable thief.

Opinions are allowed and healthy. Personally for instance, I support positive reconciliation for Nigeria’s thieves. Blow a whistle, expose a bigger thief and we can decide to pardon you completely or grant you exile-pardon. But I must not impose my opinion on others and use my opinion to obscure justice. Nigerians must strive to come together with positive analysis, honest condemnation and a quest for true justice, else, we the poor 112 million will continue to suffer at the mercy of a handful of wicked, united cabal.

History of Tensions

It is noted that the alleged tensions between these two groups especially developed long before most of those active online were born and many do not know or care to know the history of the tensions. Many agree that the Igbo have been significantly sidelined in Nigeria’s governance history. This is noted to have followed the Biafra 1967 threat of secession; a type of punishment and distrust. What is also true is that the Hausa’s are the poorest of Nigerian’s despite being accused of having held on to power the longest. But the truth of the matter is far from much of what has triggered and sustained the tensions most prominent between these two groups.

The amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914 undoubtedly laid an environment for possible crisis, but amalgamations of this nature do not always lead to crisis. There are similar amalgamations of identically heterogeneous peoples across Africa, as close as neighboring Ghana and Cameroon which also have northern Hausa speaking populations, which do not bear the Nigerian typical conflict hallmarks. Many historians agree that the British purposefully sowed seeds of tension between the two groups.

The history is long and deep. There is much that happened, political appointments, army predominance’s and other historical stuff. There are also significant events that triggered episodes of beef especially among the political and military elite class. There is the 1966 Kaduna Nzeogwu coup and assassination of northern top elite, which was the first post-colonial episode of serious aggravation and has been viewed by some as a major trigger that provoked Hausa-Igbo sentiments. There are the rampant episodes of pogroms particularly targeted at the Igbo community in the north in which thousands were killed by rampaging northern youth.

But the truth of the matter is, as much as much of the past holds episodes of pain, distrust and betrayal, many of us youth have no choice but to move ahead and put the bitter parts of our past that we possibly have skewed details of behind us. Today in the media we see so much lies and misrepresentations of events of the day, talk less during those days of paper and verbal media. How many lies have we been told? How long will Nigeria’s youth continue to hold grouse for things they probably have adulterated stories of?

Take for instance the bane of this article. Hausa- Igbo. That in itself holds so much lies it is ridiculous. Who are the Hausa and who are the Igbo?

Growing up, many of us literally believed Nigeria had only three ethnic groups. Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. These were the days of WaZoBia. For some, it was reading history of the Biafra war when the Ijaw walked out on the Igbo that made them realize the South was not all Igbo, but had Ijaw in it. For some, it was only when the current President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was elected President and many Igbo still claimed they had not yet really held the top seat that they recognized Ijaw as different from Igbo.

Let’s take a look at the Hausa too. Many do not know that the difference between the Hausa and Fulani is just like the difference between the Igbo and Ijaw. Saying, Hausa/Fulani is like saying, Igbo/Ijaw.

A good deal of young Nigerians do not know that the Hausa as an ethnic group, who are about 20.6% of Nigeria have never been President of Nigeria. Balewa was Bageri, Murtala was Berom, Abdulsalami and his adopted brother, Badamosi Babangida were Gwari, Abacha, Kanuri, and Buhari, Shagari and Yar’Adua are Fulani (Fulani are 9%, Igbo’s are 18% while the Yoruba’s, 21%, are the largest ethnic block).

A Way Forward

There was a time when Nigerians thought we had only a little over 200 ethnic groups and languages. Today we know we have over 500! Can the nation survive on ethnic rotated rule? Is this important at this stage in our history? Does rotation of power make any sense? Does indigene vs. non indigene dichotomy have any place in Nigeria today… when several people have inhabited regions far away from home as long as they can remember and have lost all attachment and significance at home; why can these sons of the new soil not become governors of their adopted states, like Obama, the son of a Kenyan father is President of America? Frankly, the fighting makes us look stupid.

It is a fact that continuous hostilities and what appears to be targeted killings of groups in Nigeria continues to feed and fuel ethnic frustrations. When Boko Haram attacks a Church in the north, some Igbo’s publish the event as Igbo targeting. This is exactly the position Boko Haram craves. The truth is however far from this. The problem is the failure of our government to treat all such mob and terrorist crimes as serious offenses and to protect life. Boko Haram for instance kills just as many Muslims and northerners as anyone else. These are mad killers. All civilian killers are mad, and mad no matter how rampant, does not have religious, ethnic or other social identity.  It is a thing of the devil and it is the responsibility of the State to arrest it. Should we play into the terrorists hands? When certain Nigerian elite call on the youth to riot and kill others, it is the duty of Nigeria’s government to seize such ‘elders,’ arrest them and accost and capture any rampaging ethnic warrior youth. If this were done properly, the intractable suspicion and beef will have subsided long ago in Nigeria. The truth as has been pointed out is that we the youth are being exploited and used by the politicians who sustain this environment of fake hostility. There is as much or even more ethnic tension and frank hate in the United States for instance, but the government does not exploit this as ours do, but ensures that all those who get extreme are promptly locked up and not allowed to gather violent fans and disciples.

Our verbal and physical violence to each other is not accidental, but is the plan and program of the ‘elite,’ in all regions who harvest the dividends of this tension to garner political clout and pay to keep us in conflict and consequently distracted while they loot us silly.

It is time we drop the dagger. A new government may give those of us who want, a true Sovereign National Conference (SNC) where the progressive youth can sit together and discuss our coexistence, regional governance and resource utilization. The status quo hurts us all while the elite remain in power, become world acknowledged billionaires, as our people in the North remain some of the poorest in the world and people in the East remain marginalized, with no bridge.

Do we stay stuck at ‘who is to blame?’ or do we ask, ‘how do we resolve this?’ Tribalism is not only a crime, it is a sin. Will we, the poor, defeat it now or will we continue to allow it defeat us?



Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija


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