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Nigeria / Disturbances - 2001-11-07


The ethnic and religious clashes that have hit Nigeria over the past two years are being described as a bad omen for the country’s democracy. A Nigerian analyst says a sovereign national conference should be convened to decide Nigeria’s future. Reporter Tony Tamuno has the story from Port Harcourt.

TEXT: Many Nigerians are concerned about their country’s future, as outbreaks of violence continue. Austin Nnoyelu heads the Sociology Department at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka, southeastern Nigeria. He says the various crises that have hit Nigeria during the past two years are a carry-over of pent-up emotions from past military governments.

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"I think basically all of these crisis could be seen as a reflection of the time - the democratic period that we are in. Most of what you now find is what I call belt up emotions being expressed under a democratic government. So I think it is still healthy to some extent that people are now expressing their grievances which has been bottled under military regime."

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Mr. Nnoyelu says although people are free to exercise their rights under a democratic government, what is happening in Nigeria could be dangerous to its system of government.

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"The way it is going currently could be dangerous to the polity and it is reflecting the malignant ethnicity that we have in this country because Nigeria is a poly-ethnic, poly-cultural society. But I also know that most other developed societies are poly-ethnic and poly-cultural. So I will like to look at it from the background of the historical and colonial enterprise in this country where colonialism created artificial boundaries and imposed on the people foreign and alien systems of government, borders and all others. All of these are now being challenged by the people."

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He says Nigerians need to come together to articulate their differences.

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"I think the government should do something urgently to stem the tide by first. If necessary, convene a sovereign national conference where the component units of this federation and the cross section of Nigerians will come together to articulate their points. The modus vivendi of their existence, agree on the terms of… (JOSIE, IS SOMETHING MISSING HERE?)

Mr. Nnoyelu says Nigeria is still not a nation state. He says most people are loyal to their ethnic groups or religion. Most analysts like Mr. Nnoyelu say it would not be easy to convene a sovereign national conference. Some say such a conference might lead to the break-up of the country. And some suggest that the presidential committee on national security set up last week by President Olusegun Obasanjo may find a solution to the crisis.

But Mr. Nnoyelu says he’s not optimistic.

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"The committee on national security may not solve these problems. Some of these problems are deep seated unless they look into the prejudices held by people and seek ways of addressing them. It is not a military solution. It is not something that you just invite the military to come. You will only postpone the evil day. The better Nigerians will have to come together in a round table, discuss our grievances and even agree whether this country will continue as one or not."

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Mr. Nnoyelu says when Nigerians agree on the future of their country, the outbreaks of violence will end.

For VOA Africa, this is Tony Tamuno in Port Harcourt.

Signed.

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