Nigeria’s Igbo tribes are staging a mass evacuation of women and children from the north due to violence blamed on the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram.
Nigeria’s eastern Igbo leaders are calling for tribal families living in the north to immediately return home so avoid being killed or injured.
At a series of meetings this weekend in Enugu State, tribal elders asked women and children living in the north to travel south to minimize their risk, while the men stay to look after their businesses.
The Igbo community is setting up shelters in the southeast to house the evacuees returning from the north.
Igbo leaders expressed their concern and anger at the spate of killings by the Boko Haram sect and the government’s inability to neutralize the group.
This follows the latest deadly blow from Boko Haram, which staged a series of coordinated attacks, mostly on police stations and government buildings, in the northern city of Kano on January 20th that killed nearly 200 people. A separate Christmas day bombing of a church near Abuja killed more than 30. The attacks have sparked fears of a religious war in Nigeria.
Uche Okafor - a trader from the east - agrees with the decision by some Igbo leaders. “The elders are calling on our fellow brothers - the women and children should come home, and let the men stand and defend their own properties. Let the women come home to preserve the families. To preserve the community; if not they will lose everything. This is necessary because the Igbo nations have suffered a lot and we should not have to suffer like this,” he said.
But not everyone agrees. Some state governors, politicians and others in the southeast have criticized the evacuation call as unnecessary.
Ijelle Anthony Chigbo is a stakeholder of the Igbo nation and the chief executive of an Abuja company. Speaking to VOA, Chigbo says the Igbo people should stay and do business as normal.
“Those people who made that call do not represent the leadership of the Igbo people. That call is not a legitimate call. … Some people have tried to whip up sentiment but I believe what is happening is not a religious war but more of a political protest from the way we look at it. The government is doing everything to address the issue,” Chigbo stated.
Ben Chuks is a political stakeholder in Igbo land from Anambra State. He believes every citizen of Nigeria should be well protected. “I think every citizen of Nigeria should be protected wherever he finds himself within the confines of the 36 states of Nigeria. Irrespective of whether you are Igbo or Hausa or Yoruba or any other ethnic group for that matter, he said. "The security system in the country is huge and meant to protect everybody.”
Chuks adds that he is concerned that Nigerians are becoming a fragmented people.
Nigeria’s 160 million people are evenly divided between a mostly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south.
Boko Haram is based in the north but details about the group's structure, membership, and true aims remain open to question. What seems clear is that the group is fighting for establishment of an independent, Sharia-led nation in northern Nigeria. The militants recognize neither the federal constitution nor the authority of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Boko Haram first came to international attention with an uprising against the government in 2009. It gained renewed attention last year with an attack on a U.N. building in Abuja in August.
Some experts suggest Boko Haram is just another manifestation of public anger at government corruption and poverty in the face of massive oil wealth and a security apparatus which functions with impunity.
Despite the devastating attacks on Nigeria’s police and security personnel in Kano, the government - under heavy criticism for being ineffective - is sticking to its policy of treating Boko Haram as a strictly security threat.