Peace Falls Apart. The Emergence of Self Determination Groups in Nigeria
Judgments by Self Determination Groups (SDG) in Nigeria are becoming increasingly problematic in recent years, especially those groups that adduct vigilantism. Some of these self-determination groups emerged due the increasing crime rate within the country and, the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), inefficiency and ineffectiveness in carrying out their constitutional duties, which was initially to maintain peace and order. The Police and other enforcement agencies particularly the State Security Service (SSS), have earned a bad reputation as organizations that are highly corrupt and managed by dishonest superiors who would use their positions to compromise the truth. In the past, the Police had argued that they were not equipped with new improved technological equipments and training, which has adversely affected the way their duties are being carried out. However, the public would also argue that the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) has funded numerous training programs for law enforcement official both within the country and aboard, and that the government has invested in procuring technological equipments for their operations. Despite, they remain delinquent in their operations and in reducing the crime rate.
As a result, some individuals and groups have capitalized on the ineffectiveness of the Police and have established themselves as “Self Determination Groups”. But some were initially formed on a genuineness to assist the society and others, on self-enrichment strategies. Some of these self determination groups have taken laws into their hands and are responsible for numerous human rights abuses, murder, execution, illegal detention, unlawful arrest, rape, extortions, illegal judgments, terrorist activities, etc. Among these self-determination groups (SDG), there are those who have extended their operations throughout the entire country and they are regionally or ethnically based groups. Some of these groups are the Bakassi Boys, O’odua Peoples Congress (OPC), Movement of the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Arewa People Congress (APC), Oodua Liberation Movement (OLM), Revolutionary Council of Nigeria (RCN), Igbo Peoples Congress (IPC), Ijaw Youth Congress, Ijaw National Congress, the Hisbah groups, Egbesu Boys, among others. All these groups lay claims to different organizational and societal objectives.
Bakassi Boys are active in the southeastern region of Nigeria and were initially created by traders to fight the criminals in the industrious town of Aba, Nigeria. They are actively operating in Abia, Anambra, Imo states and with the full blessing and support of the respective states governors. They are responsible for illegal detention, unlawful arrest, and execution of opponents of the respective state governors. They have murdered innocent citizens without the option of a legal trial or judgment and their membership compose of criminal elements. They practice and administer the same thing; they claim to be the reason why they were established initially.
O’odua Peoples Congress (OPC) is a Yoruba ethnic militia group which are active in the southwestern region of Nigeria namely Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Kwara, Ondo, Oyo, Ekiti, Kogi states, and was initially created to uphold the autonomy of the Yoruba people but after a breakout of a faction within the group. It then extended their activities to crime fighting and vigilantism. Dr. Frederick Fasehun, a medical doctor originally founded the OPC with others and had genuine intents for the organization. However, shortly the organization was hi-jacked by an internal faction called the “Gani Adams Faction” which membership comprise of hardcore criminals and disenfranchised youths of the Yoruba society. The operations of this faction are fully funded by influential sympathizers and they used them to settle political scores. They are responsible for murders; ethnic clashes particularly with the Hausa community and the Police. They are highly tribalistic in their operations and activities within the Yoruba land.
Movement of the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) is based in the southeastern region of Nigeria and was initially created to advocate a separate state of Biafra for Ndi Igbos, who has been disenfranchised since the end of the Nigerian civil war in 1967 – 1970. At the beginning, they claimed to be a non-violent movement and had no interest in the politics of Nigeria. But their leader, Ralph Uwazuruike affirm their decision not to allow elections in the southeastern region during the 2002 presidential election if an Igbo man is not allowed to be the president and later, they withdrew their position publicly. Recently, it had been involved in violent clashes with the Police on unlawful assembly and violent confrontations with other self-determination groups particularly the Bakassi Boys. Nevertheless, MASSOB does not enjoy the support of the Igbo elite, “Ohaneze Ndigbo” the apex body of Pan-Igbo groups and have fully expressed their opposition for this group. Most ironically, Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, who led the succession of Igbo’s during the Nigerian civil war in 1967, had initially refused to support the group. Despite, their violent clashes with law enforcement agencies, MASSOB need to reengineer their operations and activities to reflect their initial organizational objectives and abide by the standard of human rights.
Egbesu Boys are the militia organization of the dominant Ijaw ethnic group in the Niger Delta region and are active across six states namely; Bayelsa, Rivers, Edo, Delta, Ondo, and Akwa Ibom. They are considered the military wing of the Ijaw National Congress, which has vowed to fight against the exploitation of the people of the Niger Delta by oil multi-nationals and the Federal Government of Nigeria. The activities of the Egbesu Boys consist of kidnapping foreign oil workers for ransom, sabotaging oil installations, and attacking law enforcement agents. Influential politicians use them as private armies and for settling political scores. They are popular for the ultimatum they issued in December 1998, called the “Kaiama Declaration” which demanded for the immediate withdrawal of all military personnel in the Niger Delta. The youths declared that any oil company that employed the services of the armed forces of the Nigerian Government to protect its operation would be viewed as an enemy of the Ijaw people. In confrontations with Government and members of the Nigerian Armed Forces, the Egbesu Boys have destroyed entire communities such as Odi and Umuechem. They possess sophisticated weapons, which are reportedly provided by retired military officers and enforcement agents within the region.
Some of these self-determination groups have used vigilantism as part of their operations and activities. In the past, such groups were created in Nigeria to help complement the police in identifying and handing over criminal elements to the appropriate authorities. However, the recent emergence of some of these new groups was a direct result of the high unemployment, widespread corruption, poor relationship between the Police and the public, and mainly the lack of trust and confidences in Police and other law enforcement agencies. These self-determination groups are flourishing because influential political figures particularly senators and state governors are using these groups as a political instrument to settle political scores.
Since the introduction of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, the states have been more empowered with revenue and economic opportunities for self-enrichment. They use these self-determination groups to selfishly defend their so-called “treasures” vigorously. These groups have in steeled fear and helplessness among the public and the public has refused to oppose the SDG’s because they have experienced similar brutality from past military governments and in the hands of the law enforcement agencies. However, we should not fail to understand that there are still few honest officials within the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) and other enforcement agencies particularly the State Security Service, who have and would continue to uphold the rule of law and defend the judicial processes in Nigeria. There are also genuine self-determination groups, whose missions are legitimate and non-violent in nature. But the facts still remain, that UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCE should any individual or groups have assess to the right to trial or judge or torture or execute or administer punishment to any suspect without the appropriate judicial processes or be allowed to exercise the constitutional power that legitimately belongs to the government.
Quoting from This Day (Lagos) newspaper, April 10, 2002, the president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo sought to dissolve all ethnic militia groups by sending a bill to the National Assembly and concerned entities were troubled that such power would affect genuine self-determination groups (SDG) from expressing their constitutional rights particularly those that oppose the current government. Many Human Rights organizations particularly Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) have exclusively made recommendations and suggestions to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and hoping that the government would implement those recommendations. Lastly, Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, and Arewa Consultative Forum the apex body of the Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa respectively should provide advisory support to genuine self-determination groups (SDG) within their regions and to reengineer their programs to accommodate the Nigerian society of the 21st century.
Roy Chikwem is a Delaware based member of Amnesty International, USA and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). He is a political activist and the author of Fundamentals of Salesmanship.