The Igbo face a few of the factors that might encourage protest. The group has a history of persistent protest; they face some amount of political and cultural restriction; and Nigeria is a new democracy. The group also faces some, although very limited, repression. The Igbo also face harassment and occasional violence from the Muslim Hausa/Fulani, and the Ibo have retaliated with violence. If the Igbo and others continue to perceive themselves as marginalized, they will continue to fight the state and one another for greater political power.
Like the other ethnic groups found in present-day Nigeria, the Ibo (also known as Igbo) have been in the region for thousands of years. The group is concentrated mainly in the southern states of Rivers, Imo, Anambra, Cross River, and Akiwibom, although some have moved throughout the country (GROUPCON = 2). The majority of the group is Christian, and they have different customs and traditions compared to the other large ethnic groups in the country.
The British practiced indirect rule in Nigeria as they had in much of the rest of their colonial states. The Ibo were early opponents to British rule. However, they took advantage of missionaries to become educated and many converted to Christianity, especially Catholicism. They were then selected by the British to fill low-level civil service and business positions, and military posts. Favoritism by the British led to further conflict with other groups when the Ibo were placed in authority positions in the north and southwest.
As the press for independence intensified, the Ibo came to support the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. The Yoruba mainly supported the Action Group (AG), and the Hausa/Fulani supported the Northern People's Congress (NPC). The NCNC and NPC formed a coalition that led the country to independence in 1960. The AG was largely marginalized from the federal government during the early years of independence, which led to a renewal of Yoruba factionalism. In January 1966, an Ibo-lead coup took control of the government. After the coup, there were anti-Ibo riots, and many were killed in riots that pitted the Ibo against the Hausa/Fulani. In July, northerners staged a counter-coup, and Ibo living in the north began to flee. Northern militias and civilians massacred those who did not escape.
In 1967, disputes between the eastern Ibo region and the government led to a declaration of secession by the eastern region. The independent state of Biafra was declared on May 30, 1967. Led by Lt-Col Ojukwu, the Biafra war lasted until January 1970, when Biafran troops surrendered (REB65X = 7). It is estimated that 100,000 casualties resulted from the war itself, and that an additional 500,000-2,000,000 civilians died, mainly from starvation, as a result of a blockade by the federal government.
Following the Biafra war, the Ibo were further isolated from government positions, even though Yakuba Gowan attempted to re-integrate them into the greater Nigerian society. Civilian rule was restored for a brief time in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Power became more and more entrenched in the hands of northerners during the 1980s and 1990s. On December 31, 1983, Muhammad Buhari led a military coup and banned all political activity in the country. The new military government was popular with northern Muslims. In August 1985, Ibrahim Babangida took power in a peaceful coup. During the 1980s, religious overtones became more and more important in the rivalries between the Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba and Ibo.
By 1987, Babangida announced that he was preparing to turn the government back to civilian rule. During the preceding two years, unrest was growing between Muslims and Christians, and there were sporadic outbreaks of violence. In June 1993, presidential elections were held in the country. Two parties were allowed to contest the elections: the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The former was led by a northerner Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa, an economist and businessman. The latter drew large support from the Yoruba community and was led by a prominent Yoruba businessman, Moshood Abiola. Voter turnout was reportedly low, but the elections were thought to be free and fair. When it became apparent that Moshood Abiola, a prominent Yoruba businessman from the south, was going to be the victor, Babangida declared the elections null and void. Abiola declared himself president, but later fled the country in the wake of death threats against him. Violent protests and strikes took place over the next two years in an attempt to return Abiola to power. He eventually returned to the country and was subsequently arrested on charges of sedition. Nigeria plunged into its worst crisis since the Biafra war from 1967-70. Babangida resigned in August 1993. The government was taken over by an interim council, but the real power was in the hands of General Sani Abacha, then secretary of defense. He led a very oppressive regime under which thousands were jailed and countless numbers killed, particularly in the Niger Delta, where the Ogoni people began protesting against the destruction of their land by oil companies and the lack of oil revenues returning to the region. Violence against Ibo in the north continued, including one incident in which a man was beheaded for supposedly defaming the Koran.
Sani Abacha died in June 1998. Within a month of taking power, the new military leader, Abdusalam Abubakar, released some political prisoners, held talks with opposition groups, and announced that general, multi-party elections would be held in order for a civilian president to take over. As of 1999, Nigeria had been under civilian rule for only 14 years since independence. Presidential elections were held in March 1999 in which former military leader and Yoruban Olusegun Obasanjo was declared the victor. The Ibo boycotted the legislative elections in February 1999 and urged their kin to vote against Obasanjo in the presidential elections, claiming that he could not represent Ibo interests. Shortly after the election, he set up a panel to investigate the abuses of the previous 15 years of military regimes. In the Delta region and the Muslim north, thousands were killed in communal conflict or anti-state activity during the 1990s.
The Igbo's situation has improved somewhat since the Biafran War; however, there is considerable discrimination and prejudice against the group, which has led to the group being under-represented in the military and civil service. While the Ibo do not face any cultural restrictions, there is a growing sense of religious tension in the country. The Ibo are Christian, and the majority of the north of the country is Muslim. In 1999, one northern province attempted to introduce Sharia law. While this was eventually revoked, it is clear that there is the potential for conflict and restrictions. In 1999, sporadic attacks by the Yoruba led to some Ibo fatalities and in 2000, attacks by the Hausa/Fulani also led to Ibo fatalities. In the period 2001-2003, there was continuing tension with the Hausa/Faluni, which led to sporadic violent clashes (COMCON01 = 5, COMCON02 = 3). In the period 2001-2003 the group faced some amount of government repression. There were reports of group members and leaders being arrested; occasionally, government authorities also killed protestors
The Eastern Mandate Union and the People's Democracy represent the Ibo politically. A new, more militant group called the Ijbo People's Congress has recently formed. This group was formed in reaction to the development of other groups representing various Nigerian ethnicities, such as the Yoruba-based Odua's People's Congress. The Ijbo People's Congress claims to represent the interests of the Ibo, and it threatened to protect those interests with violence if necessary. There is no evidence that the Ijbo People's Congress has been involved in any protest or militant activity yet, although it is possible that they were involved in the conflicts between the Ibo and Hausa/Fulani in 2000. In 2001-2003, there has been a large increase in conventional organizations representing the group from 4 in 2000 to 16 in 2003.
One of the Ibo's key demands was addressed when the military rule of Nigeria ended in 1999, but the group still hopes to gain more political rights. As mentioned above, there are increasing threats to the Ibo's religious freedoms, particularly in the North, where the situation is becoming of greater concern. Finally, the group also seeks protection from other ethnic groups that they have been in conflict with since Nigeria's independence.
The Ibo have been involved in small-scale protests long before Nigeria became a country. This pattern has continued throughout the 20th century, and into the 21st, with protests reported in the south over the use of the Sharia law in the northern regions of Nigeria. Apart from the late1960s and early 1970s, when the Ibo lead a successful coup against the government and attempted to secede from the state, there have been no reports of militant activity by the Ibo.
Africa South of the Sahara. 1995. Published by Europa.
Lexis/Nexis. 1990-2003. Reports from various news services including BBC, Reuters, Inter Press Service, Africa News Service, Xinhua News Service.
Nigeria, A Country Study. 1992. Helen Chapin Metz (Ed.). Library of Congress.