By Douglas Anele

Colonel Muamar Ghadaffi,  the leader of Libya, is a well-known figure in Africa and the world. He is one of the world’s longest reigning heads of state, having ruled his country for over three decades.

As Libya’s ruler, he is one of the few African leaders who have boldly challenged the neo-colonialist and imperialist policies of the West, particularly the United States and Britain. In confronting the  global imperialists, Libya has paid a heavy price, including the bombing of its capital city, Tripoli, and Benghazi by the late former Pesident of the US, Ronald Reagan.

In addition, Libyans were held responsible for the Lockerbie bombing of 1988 in which over 200 people died. In recent times, however, having renounced its desire to acquire nuclear weapons, pledged support for the war against terrorism, and accepted to pay compensation to the families of victims of the Lockerbie bombing, Libya is gradually finding its way back into the good books of the West.

The process is gaining momentum already, because of the lucrative oil deals in Libya and other economic advantages of doing business with the West. Recently, the Libyan leader put forward a controversial  suggestion about how the recurrent internecine conflicts in Nigeria can be resolved. In his view, Nigeria should be divided into two countries, namely, the north (for the predominantly muslim population there ), and south (for the Christians). Ghaddafi hinged his suggestion on the approach adopted in the creation of India and Pakistan between 1947 and 1948. Pakistan, according to him, was created out of India in order to avoid religious clashes between the predominantly muslim population that eventually belonged to Pakistan, and the overwhelmingly Hindu population which dominated India. Ghaddafi spoke in response to the recent violence in Jos  that  claimed hundreds  of lives, and in which properties worth millions of naira were destroyed.

The history of senseless destruction of lives and property in Nigeria as a result of religious and ethnic intolerance is almost coeval with the history of the country since independence. Several factors are responsible for this. To begin with, there is intra-  and inter-ethnic suspicion and rivalry among the ethinic nationalities in Nigeria. Notwithstanding continued pretences to nationhood, Nigerians from different parts still see themselves as competitors, not as compatriots.

The dichotomy between settlers and indigenes is also a frequent cause of social disequilibrium and violence. Moreover, chronic poverty and unemployment occasioned by persistent corruption and incompetence among members of the ruling elite have led to the production of an army of frustrated and disillusioned Nigerians who are very willing to vent their anger on the society that has left them out in the cold.

As a corollary, this army of discontents has been  easily  manipulated on many occasions by unscrupulous politicians and other prominent Nigerians to fight their dirty battles for them. Of critical importance to  understanding  recurrent violence in the country is the religious factor. It is completely ridiculous and hypocritical that government officials usually deny or downplay religious motivation in the equation.

Infact, most of the violent clashes in the north since the 1980s can largely be attributed to religious intolerance, to the failure of religious fanatics to accommodate religious differences between muslims and christians. Atrocious and inhuman acts based on religion, typified by the Akaluka tragedy, is a stark reminder that religion, contrary to the claims of top government officials, is still a potent divisive factor in the country.

Finally, successive federal governments have failed woefully to apprehend and punish the influential people behind these violent clashes. It is an open secret that the flotsam and jetsam directly involved in violence were always sponsored by influential and powerful members of the society. In typical fashion, the law enforcement agencies have failed to unmask the big men (and thick madams, perhaps) behind  the recent Jos crisis. Unfortunately, in Nigeria sacred cows get away with almost anything, and the situation contributes to the recurrence of violence in different parts of the country.

Having identified the major causes of violent clashes in Nigeria, let us appraise Ghaddafi’s suggestion that Nigeria should be bifurcated along religious lines to reduce inter-religious tension and violence in future.  We begin with a brief survey of Nigeria’s political evolution to see whether there is a patina of truth in the proposal.

Nigeria is a British creation, specifically the handiwork of Lord Lugard and his lieutenants who correctly saw that amalgamating the northern and southern protectorates would be beneficial to British imperial interests. Pioneer nationalists such as Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, H.R. Abdallah etc did not challenge the amalgamation. Rather, they worked within the political framework created by the British in the belief that a strong, united, Nigerian nation would emerge later.

By 1951, the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) was the only all-Nigeria political party. But before then,the Richard’s Constitution of 1946 which divided  Nigeria into three legislative regions created the environment  for pernicious ethnic nationalism. However, representatives of the three regions (north, west and east) co-operated at the constitutional conference in London between 1957 and 1958 and adopted constitutional reforms which allowed self government for any region that wanted it but within the entity, Nigeria.

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