Presidential hopeful Emeka Ojukwu arrived for his opening
campaign rally waving from the open roof of a black car barely
visible through a jubilant crowd of thousands.
Police officers had to beat the supporters back with whips and
truncheons as the candidate approached the stage. "They will
literally mob him," noted one bystander.
This enthusiastic response is not one the controversial candidate
would likely get in other parts of Nigeria. Mr. Ojukwu is best known
for his involvement in a secessionist war in the 1960s that left 1
million or more people dead.
But the magnitude of his appeal here is a revealing indicator of
the challenge facing the winner of next month's presidential
election: uniting disparate segments of a culture whose religious
and ethnic diversity has long been exploited by opportunistic
politicians, often with violent results. Some observers fear that
the candidates in the election, or their supporters, could tap these
undercurrents, exacerbating the existing unease and threatening the
stability of the country's precarious federalist structure.
"There is a definite risk," says Beko Ransome-Kuti, a leading
human rights campaigner. "It's not unexpected, because of the
experiences we have been through."
Indeed, just last week, a high-ranking member of All Nigeria
People's Party, the country's main opposition party, was shot in his
home, the third politician killed in the past month. No one has been
arrested for the murders.
Ojukwu's party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, says it
wants to close divisions that date back to 1914, when British
colonialists fused the northern and southern halves of Nigeria into
one country. A civil war, fought from 1967 to 1970, was the result
of a horrific power struggle between the poor but populous north,
and the south, where the country's oil wealth is located.
In the January issue of The Rooster, an Alliance party
newsletter, Ojukwu attacked the continued "misgovernment" of the
nation and said he does not "seek to rule but to heal" Nigeria's
Ojukwu's rhetoric is less confrontational than that of party
supporters among the Ibo ethnic group that dominates in the east.
Many Ibo speak of long-standing discrimination at an official level.
The Ibo, along with the Yoruba of the west and the Hausa-Fulani of
the north, are thought to account for more than half of Nigeria's
estimated population of 120 million. …