By Professor Chiweyite Ejike
Before now, there were the Tiv riots of the early 60s. The Tivs are the dominant nationality in the eastward flanking of the middle belt of Nigeria between the far North and the South. The story of the Tiv riots was a very sad one. This was a struggle for liberation of a very important ethnic group in the Middle Belt under the leadership of a charismatic Tiv politician known as Joseph Tarka. The purpose was to liberate themselves from the feudal system of the North. The Tivs had formed a political party, the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC), which formed a political alliance with Chief Awolowo’s Action Group and which had succeeded in winning some parliamentary seats from the Northern block, much to the chagrin of Ahmadu Bello and his ruling Northern People’s Congress (NPC). Between 1960 and 1964, unrelenting repressive actions were unleashed upon the Tiv using the coercive force and courts of the Native Authority. The Tivs fought back starting at Yandev in 1960 and spreading to other parts of Tiv Division. It turned out to be a very destructive unrest that started as an exercise in political activism and ended as an ethnic as well as religious conflict.
In September 1960, the village of Gidan Uga was razed, reportedly for it being a Muslim community with presumed NPC sympathy. The methods of operation of the Tiv activists were burning and looting of property. Another major destructive riot occurred in 1964. The Federal Government regarded the Tivs as insurgents and decided to repress them mainly through arrests and imprisonment, the latter of 3,882 persons. At the end of the 1960 conflicts, the Tivs paid dearly in economic devastation, with 19 civilians killed and 83 injured. A bloodier ethno-political conflict which was and much more difficult to supress occurred in Tiv Division in 1964.
Religious and Other Political Challenges that Destabilized the Second Republic and Beyond
The Maitatsine Religious Riots
The origin of modern Islamic militancy in Northern Nigeria dates from 1980 to 1985 when Mohammed Marwa, aka “Maitatsine” or “one who damns”, started a movement characterized by anti-government preaching and condemnation of western education and all that follows from it. Maitatsine preached against Muslim children being educated in public schools and regarded those that patronized this form of education as infidels. His philosophy and ideas were very similar to those of the current Islamic militant sect “Boko Haram”. His message resonated with the wishes of the poor and marginalized youths of the oil boom era who having been abandoned by traditional Muslim hospitality, sought succour from the preaching of this self-styled prophet. The first major Maitatsine riots occurred in December 1980, and was reported to have resulted in the death of 4,000 people. Mohammed Marwa himself was reported to have been killed in this unfortunate incident. His death did not stop his movement, for widespread Maitatsine religious riots continued in many cities in the North: Bulumkutu near Maiduguri (1982) with 3,350 dead, Rigasa village near Kaduna, Yola in present-day Adamawa State in 1984, which claimed nearly 1,000 lives, Gombe, Capital of present-day Gombe State, where over a hundred were reported killed.
Many commentators of the period had sought to unravel the cause(s) of the Mohammed Marwa (Maitatsine) phenomenon with little or no success. Some had invoked a variety of conspiracy theories involving local political opponents and even foreign powers. The rational explanation of this misadventure is that the riots had their roots in social deprivation that marked the incompetence in governance of then President Shagari’s tenure. We have no option than to accept the opinion of Justice Aniagolu’s Commission of enquiry to the effect that:
Because of the very wide gap between the rich and the poor in our society…they were more than prepared to rise against the society at the slightest opportunity. After all, they did not have much to lose….This regrettable social situation in our society ought to be remedied immediately else it will continue to provide the required recruitment potential for disenchanted men like Marwa to rebel against the society.
Not since the bloodbath of the pogrom and related violence in 1966, did Nigeria witness such scale of mass murder of innocent citizens outside the theatres of war, all in the service of misguided religious fervour.
A New Wave of Military Coups and Two Decades of Military Dictatorship
When the civil war ended in 1970, the soldiers did not return to the Barracks as “bloody civilians” had hoped; instead military [mis]rule continued, with General Gowon as the Military Head of State for another 5 years. In addition, Nigeria experienced the dubious “fortune” of a massive increase in Her oil revenue in this same period, an era that became known as the “oil boom era”, when “money was considered to constitute no problem except how to spend it”. Many Nigerians later correctly rechristened this the “oil doom” period however, in light of the short-sighted waste and incompetent leadership the sudden flood of liquid wealth and profligate excess had nurtured!
Despite the enormous increase in Nigeria’s national wealth in that period, the nation witnessed no real social stability, as civil and citizen’s rights advocates continued to demand the restoration of civilian rule and real democracy. Then came a revolving door of military coups, starting with the coups of 1975 and 1976, and then a transient restoration of democratic governance between 1979 and 1983. Though civilian rule was temporarily restored under President Shagari during this period, it was glaringly obvious to a majority of observers that the political class had learnt nothing useful about good governance since the country’s independence in 1960; their administrative weakness coupled with a disjointed and woolly sense of direction readily paving the way for a quick return of the men in khaki to well-appointed Government quarters, while the dividends of the so-called “oil boom” yet remained a mirage for the common Nigerian. So it was no surprise indeed when another military coup, the 5th in eight years of the nation’s history, occurred on 31st of December 1983.
As the nation was still struggling to adjust to the new circumstances of the Buhari/Idiagbon Military Government of 1983, yet another military coup was foisted on the people on August 27, 1985, led by General Ibrahim Babangida, whose Government held sway for a long period of 8 years. During the Babangida dictatorship, a new social culture became enforced which progressively rejected the systematic and orderly procedures of “General Orders” of normal administration, and nurtured instead a deviant form of civil and public service. Under this grotesque contrivance masquerading as governance, corruption became a systemic norm, and the very foundation of political administration. The nation reeled helplessly as its citizens watched this perverse misrule morph into a full-blown monster, waxing strong with evil impunity, and demolishing all genuine protests and civilized discourse towards an urgent remedy for a fast deteriorating situation.
General Babangida, who had adopted the title of “President”, albeit a “Military President”, had shown from the onset that he was a man of substantial cerebral ability, considerable vision and a good sense of history. He could not however resist the temptation and malignant corruption that has proved the deadly Achilles heel of countless holders of absolute power throughout history. He was also a first rate Machiavellian manipulator of men and resources, ultimately earning and openly enjoying the moniker of “Maradona”, ascribed to him by a corrupted and sycophant media, who had recognized his resemblance in governance to Diego Maradona, the great Argentinian footballer acclaimed for his unmatched prowess as a master dribbler.
*To be continued