Ethnic Militia Violence in Nigeria: The Case of the O'odua Peoples' Congress (OPC)

Article excerpt

This paper examines the destabilizing upsurge in ethnic militia movements in Nigeria and its consequences for the security and well-being of the Nigerian state. It discusses the phenomenon of ethnic militia violence as exemplified by the O'odua Peoples' Congress (OPC) and highlights the crisis in multi-ethnic relations that is currently destabilizing the Nigerian political economy.

Key Words: Nigeria; Ethnic violence; Ethnic militias; Ethnic militia violence; Nigeria's O'odua Peoples' Congress.

The rise and growth of ethnic militia groups in contemporary Nigeria can be traced to the internal contradictions and dialectics of the Nigerian political economy. Nigeria is a multi-ethnic state that since its inception has been ruled by political leaders who have sought to maintain hegemony by resorting to violence. This became acute under direct military rule. Ken Saro Wiwa, the poet and environmental activist who was killed by the Abacha-led military junta, openly protested that,

The Nigerian military dictatorship survives on the practice of violence and the control of the means of violence.1

Any agitation by the people or divergent popular movement is likely to be met with official violence and repression. Apart from the state perpetuating the political pedagogy of violence, the tendency for the political society as a whole has been to use armed politics as one of the instruments for achieving political ends. Most of the political parties, right from the first republic in 1960, have displayed a predilection for violence in the pursuit of political power. A careful review of previous elections in Nigeria, including the 2007 general elections, shows a festering culture of violence and anarchy. In fact, the unprecedented ' spate of violence and bloody clashes between political parties which characterized the 2007 election campaigns portend grave danger to the survival of democracy in Nigeria. Apart from widespread cases of arson and hostage-taking, a disturbing number of people including policemen and soldiers were killed. Edwin Madunagu, a former university lecturer, notes that,

The nature of politics, whose ultimate form is the struggle for power, compels every political organisation at a certain stage in its development to acquire an armed detachment, or be militarised. Some political organisations, utilising their entrenchment in the state, use national armies, the police and other security forces as armed wings.2

The argument being made here is that the militarization of society and politics in Nigeria was the background and precursor to the rise of the civil organizations now called ethnic militia groups. These do not exist in isolation, but are deeply rooted in the internal contradictions of the Nigerian state and its political economy.

Ethnic militia groups first emerged in Nigeria in the 1990s when the nation was in the throes of a powerful military dictatorship.3 Specifically, the context for the rise of these groups was the Babangida and Abacha regimes. The character of these regimes deepened the contradictions and crises of the Nigerian state, which resulted in the rise of ethnic militia groups as one of the consequences of that process. There are three salient features of those regimes that reinforced militarism and promoted primordial loyalties throughout the country.

The first is the phenomenon of personal rule and the high concentration of power perpetuated by those regimes. S. Adejumobi, a political science lecturer, argues that,

Evidently, that concentration of power in the hands of an individual entity, whether in a military or civil regime, has a strong potential of promoting ethnic tension in the society as such individuals usually construct an ethnic state access map through which they distribute social goods and scarce resources and create polarisation and division amongst ethnic groups in order to perpetuate their rule.4

The logic of divide and rule is primary in personalized regimes. …