Victor Adetula is the newly appointed leader of the NAI research group focused on conflicts in Africa. He is currently engaged in fieldwork in Nigeria, where he is examining people's attitudes to national citizenship as opposed to other notions of belonging.

Ethnic agitation in Nigeria

Ethnic agitation is becoming increasingly common in Nigeria. However, according to NAI researcher Victor Adetula it is seldom about ethnicity but involves, rather, local elites negotiating for power. Nonetheless, with the large numbers of unemployed youths available as a recruitment pool, such agitation is dangerous.

In recent weeks, young people in several parts of eastern Nigeria have taken to the streets to protest. This is the region where civil war occurred in the late 1960s, when Biafra demanded independence from Nigeria. Ever since, there has been the perception of neglect among the region’s dominant Igbo ethnic group. The current protesters are critical of the Buhari government, and have also made demands for an independent Biafra.

“The protests have not been violent, but, alarmingly, government representatives have stated that the army is both entitled to and has the duty to quell any rebellion. Should the military be deployed, the situation could deteriorate”, Adetula adds.

Radio Biafra

A radio station called Radio Biafra has been the main source of agitation for the protests. It was until recently based in London but is now operating from inside Nigeria. During the civil war, another radio station of the same name transmitted information --  or propaganda, depending on who you ask -- for an independent Biafran state.

“Growing ethnic agitation is a worrying trend in Nigeria. Many groups in the country have never felt represented by the central power. Local elites play on these emotions for their own personal gain. This is particularly dangerous in a country with a large number of idle youths who can be recruited for violent purposes. Boko Haram leaders and elites in the Niger Delta have been playing the same game”, Adetula states.

Political extortion

The people of eastern Nigeria felt sidelined when President Buhari appointed his government. Many saw these appointments as rewards for those who voted for him and punishment of those regions that supported Goodluck Jonathan, the previous president.

“I do not think those agitating for an independent Biafra really want a new war of secession. Instead, this is how local elites try to create greater political space for themselves. It is a kind of extortion. However, a division among the Igbo is being reported. A section of the Igbo elites feels the youths have gone too far, but the youths feel they are the real victims of marginalisation of the Nigerian project”, Adetula remarks.

A neglected area

According to him, the eastern parts of the country have been neglected ever since the civil war. The infrastructure and job-creating investments have never been a priority there. Consequently, people are disappointed and as long as there is the self-perception of marginalisation and neglect, the  protests will continue.

“Ultimately, it’s about identity and citizenship as well as youth employment. People must be able feel they can influence their own futures. The government needs to devise a clear policy regarding those things people are in need of. Then they must communicate that policy and involve the people affected”, Adetula concludes.

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