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- Postponement of Elections Hurts Democracy in Nigeria wp.me/p27dVV-qi via @LaineStrutton 1 week ago
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Tag Archives: demonstration
The BBC has reported that at least 100 people have been charged with treason in south-eastern Nigeria after a march supporting independence for Biafra, their lawyer says. Igbo members of the Biafran Zionist Movement (BZM) declared independence from Yoruba- and Haused-dominated Nigeria, raised the Biafran flag and then marched through the region’s main town of Enugu over the weekend, the Igbo stronghold during the Biafran War. Most of those arrested were young men, many sons of former Biafran fighters, but some were veterans of the war themselves. They were all remanded in custody.
More than one million people died during the 1967-70 Biafran conflict – mostly from hunger and disease. Political scientists debate whether the term “war” accurately describes the conflict. To be a “war” a certain percentage of deaths must occur on each side, and nearly the all the deaths occurred among Igbos and nearly all were due to the national government and its allies cutting off food and medical supplies to Igbo communities.
The BZM first gathered on Sunday to mark the birthday of former Biafran leader Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, who died in November 2011 and was buried in Enugu in March. His burial revived some cries for independence. The BBC (from Lagos, and not Enugu mind you) says that 45 years after the Biafran flag was first raised – an action which sparked Nigeria’s civil war – a small number of separatists still keep their dream alive, despite the threat of being charged with treason.
Biafran War 1967-1970
- 1960: Nigeria gains independence from the UK
- 1967: South-eastern portion of Nigeria secedes as Republic of Biafra on 30 May
- Biafra dominated by Igbo ethnic group
- Home to much of Nigeria’s oil
- Nigerian army blockades Biafra and more than a million people die through famine, disease and fighting
- 1970: Biafran government surrenders
Some recently released books and films have increased attention to Biafra. The war has been put back in the spotlight as the renowned Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, arguably the greatest male writer in Nigeria with Wole Soyinka, has just released his memoirs of the conflict. Igbo-American Chimanada Adichie’s amazing novel Half a Yellow Sun is being made into an American film, as this traumatic period of Nigeria’s history is set to reach a wider audience. The title refers to the flag created for the shortly independent republics of Biafra. The film stars Thandy Newton and was filmed primarily in Calabar, with my friends working as extras on set. Far less impressive, the Jeta Amata’s movie Black November is soon to be released starring Mickey Rouke, Viviva A. Fox, and Kim Basinger, which is an effort to take Nollywood mainstream to Hollywood. Based on the ridiculous trailer I almost hope no one goes to see the unrealistic portrayal of the oil conflict. Oil was a key impetus to the start of the Biafran War and control over reserves undergirded much of the struggle over Nigerian territory in the late 1960s, but I doubt the average viewer will think enough about the movie to be able to link natural resources to conflict.
- Mass arrests over Biafra protest (bbc.co.uk)
- Remembering Biafra (nytimes.com)
- ESSAY By Chinua Achebe : The Genocidal Biafran War Still Haunts Nigeria (igbokwenuradio.wordpress.com)
As mentioned in my previous two posts, last week’s start of the International Criminal Court‘s case against the former President of Cote d’Ivoire was historic. He is the most high-profile defendant to date, and the first head of state to face charges. Many Ivorians and members of the Ivorian diaspora are following the case closely, and emotionally. According to those I spoke with on Tuesday, so many people hoped to attend Gbagbo’s pre-trial that there was a sign-up list online in order to fill the 75 seats in the public viewing gallery fairly. In the 30 minutes before the start of proceedings, police escorted in groups of half a dozen people or so, and many hopeful attendees began to complain that police were using a different list than that online. The ICC’s front desk employees had told me earlier that morning that it was first come first serve, and that whoever lined up soonest would enter.
However, there was no semblance of any orderly line, and people began to argue with others waiting to enter, and then some hostility began to be directed at the police. One tearful woman approached an escorted group as they passed through the ICC’s street entrances, yelling at them that they were criminals and murders. Others began pushing their way to the front of the line, claiming a friend was saving them a place. As police tried to gently usher people away from the buildings entrance, demonstrators who had been at the pro-Gbagbo rally across the street became agitated and screamed at the police officers.
Across the street from the Court, near the rally, perhaps a hundred riot police emerged from armored vehicles, although no riot ended up taking place. From my vantage point, the Dutch police were impressive in their professionalism. They remained exceedingly calm and respectful, even when Gbagbo supporters were not. I did not observe any excessive violence on the part of the police, and comparably speaking, I can’t imagine police in any other country showing such restraint. I noted that perhaps 1/3 of the riot officers were female, a much higher percentage than I think would be present in the U.S. in such a situation.
Right around the time when Gbagbo’s hearing was supposed to start, I looked across the street to see a young Ivorian man getting physical with another man, and then saw him take a full swing at a police officer when the officer tried to break up the fight. As soon as he tried to punch that officer, any hope of getting in to the hearing was over for all of us. The doors to the Court were immediately locked, police brought out German Shepherds, and then they began to close off the sidewalk.
Here are two clips I took of the “line” to enter the Court. The first shows the arrest of the man with the yellow bag above, and the second clip is of Gbagbo supporters getting frustrated when they were not permitted entrance. See:
- Laurent Gbagbo fit to stand trial (bbc.co.uk)
- Former Ivorian leader Gbagbo fights ICC for freedom (vanguardngr.com)
Last week was historic for the International Criminal Court. It marked the pre-trial of the case against Laurent Gbagbo, the first former head of state to ever face charges in the ICC. I arrived on Tuesday simply hoping to see the inside of the building, but instead spent the afternoon watching demonstrators clash with Dutch police, and each other.
I was familiar with the Gbagbo case before I arrived and it was a simply a coincidence that my visit coincided with the first day of his pre-trial, which he did not attend. I knew that Gbagbo was installed as President of Cote d’Ivoire in 2000 and was in power during the 2002 civil war that split the country into politically contentious north and south regions. He served for a decade, based mostly on his continual stalling of his second election, and when Alassane Outtara was declared the winner of the 2010 elections Gbagbo refused to step down. He and his supporters argued that Outtara rigged the election (which is really hard to do unless the candidate is the incumbent) and Gbagbo swore himself into office again, despite that international observers called the voting more-or-less fair and that Gbagbo had already serve the equivalent of the constitutional limit of two five-year terms. Cote d’Ivoire became an even more volatile place in November 2010 when both Gbagbo and Outtara began to use violence to ensure their respective presidencies. The post-election conflict received the most media attention when a mass grave was discovered containing the bodies of known Outtara supporters.
According to the Case Information Sheet on “Situation in the Cote d’Ivoire: The Prosecutor v. Laurent Gbagbo” provided to me at the ICC’s front desk, pro-Gbagbo forces purportedly used widespread and systematic attacks against specific ethnic or religious communities that were supporting Outtara. The ICC is alleging that murder, rape and other sexual violence, persecution, and other inhuman acts were committed over an extended time period and over large geographic areas (I’m using the ICC’s wording). Gbagbo is being called an indirect co-perpetrator for four counts of crimes against humanity. Although Cote d’Ivoire is not party to the Rome State that founded the ICC, it accepted its jurisdiction in April 2003, which was ironically under Gbagbo’s regime. Outtara reconfirmed the country’s acceptance of this jurisdiction and at the end of last year the former President was arrested in the capital of Abidjan and transferred to The Hague. He has been fit to stand trial, and after being found indigent, the Court has borne the cost of his Defense.
Based on the violence that has occurred in Cote d’Ivoire over the last decade and the 2010 election strife, I was not totally surprised to see a rally outside the ICC on Tuesday. I became confused though when I approached the demonstration to see participants wearing t-shirts saying “Free Gbagbo” and holding banners calling Gbagbo a political prisoner. I initially assumed the 200+ demonstrators were there to see justice served against a tyrant, but on the contrary, they were loyal to Gbagbo and had come to support him.
I spent an hour or so talking with various protesters. Although a good number lived in the Netherlands, most seemed to have come from all over Western Europe, telling me they spent the night on buses from London, Paris, Berlin, and Milan to attend and would turn around and get back on the bus that same afternoon. I heard a litany of reasons for their presence there, with the most simple being that Gbagbo was a family friend or that he was born in the same community as the protester. Some said they came out because they felt he would be a better ruler than Outtara, while others felt he had been a scapegoat for an out-of-control military that acted of its own accord. Many voiced anger that Gbagbo’s inner circle have all been imprisoned under Outtara, including the former First Lady Simone Hehivet Gbagbo, his son, Michel Gbagbo, and former Prime Minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan. Many chanted about one-sided justice, in which both sides had committed violence yet only Gbagbo was arrested. I was handed a leaflet calling the 2010 election a France-backed coup, a form of neocolonialism. A different leaflet I received showed graphic photos of dead bodies from a massacre that allegedly occurred on July 20, 2012, captions stating that Ouattara used the military to burn opponents alive and that he had established concentration camps. Another Ivorian-French man at the rally gave me an information sheet that had nothing to do with the 2010 election violence at all, but rather was demanding an answer as to who was responsible for the November 2004 bombing of a French military camp in Bouaké, which killed 9 French soldiers, one American civilian, and injured 38 others. The pro-Gbagbo demonstration simply gave him an audience and platform he needed to get his message across.
Here is some footage I took of the rally in its early hours when it was at its calmest:
Protesters Bury Jonathan in Lagos During Occupy Nigeria:
Starting early this morning, dozens of Ijaw women from the Kolu-Ama community in southern Bayelsa State traveled to Warri, Delta State to protest in front of the Chevron office there. Their single demand was for the company to extinguish a fire that has been burning for ten days on an offshore gas platform. They claimed that Chevron had abandoned the fire after it started, leaving local to deal with the air pollution, fuel spillage, and other environmental degradation that accompany such an accident. Their placards included grievances ranging from depletion of fish stocks due to oil spills to Chevron’s failure to build hospitals in the area.
The Kolu-Ama fishing community where the demonstrators live is also the home of the Foropa, Alaibiri, and Sagbama groups. Bayelsa, the home state of President Jonathan, has experienced some of the most severe environmental damage caused by oil in all of the Niger Delta. Neither the Bayelsa Governor, Timipre Sylva, nor the Delta Governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, have commented on the fire nor the demands of the protesters.
This Chevron office, one of four in southern Nigeria, has experienced demonstrations in the past. In 2010, over 200 ex-militants from the Niger Delta Welfare Committee (NDWC) marched through the front gates demanding more jobs for local youths. NDWC had been in talks with Chevron officials regarding local job creation but demonstrators turned violent once it was decided that negotiations were moving along slowly. The youths became even more aggressive when company officials argued that it was the responsibility of the federal government to create employment opportunities for locals.
So far, the women’s mobilization has been peaceful. There was no indication whether the women would return to continue their protest tomorrow.
There are two major developments today. First, the NLC has asked for a “suspension” (i.e. end) to the nation-wide labor strike and encourages all Nigerians to return to work tomorrow, despite that the price of fuel was not returned to its previous price. The federal government had stated last week that the N141 per liter price was non-negotiable but agreed with the NLC over the weekend on N97. The NLC also reiterated its call for an end to street demonstrations (although the demonstrations began before the NLC became publicly involved and most were planned and implemented independently of the NLC anyway).
Second, although the number and intensity of protests across the country lessened, today saw the strongest suppression of demonstrators yet. Police clamped down harshly on marchers (led by the former governor) in the northern city of Kano and President Jonathan deployed soldiers to disperse the remaining demonstrators in Lagos. Soldiers fired live rounds into the air and around the crowds. There were no fatalities. Additionally, state security forces stormed the CNN and BBC offices in Lagos, presumably to stop those news sources from reporting on the protests.
The Joint Action Front, the organizational force behind Occupy Nigeria in Lagos, has promised to sustain their protests.
Occupy Nigeria is over for the most part I think, and it is due to relative deprivation. Relative deprivation occurs when expectations (e.g. of standard of living) outpace capacities (e.g. to earn an income). In the long-term, the removal of the subsidy pales in comparison to other hardships this country has endured, and cannot be compared to many other injustices under previous regimes. Today’s Nigerians may compare themselves to Nigerians living under the economically inept administration of Obasanjo or the oppressive dictatorship of Abacha and be comparably thankful for Jonathan. Nigerians have low expectations of their government because the government so frequently under performs, thus rising fuel prices are not shocking enough to galvanize prolonged resistance. In the short-term, Nigerians spent last week bracing themselves for doubled fuel prices, making it easier to accept a 50% increase this week. So long as expectations remain low, the state will not disappoint its citizens enough to incite sustained opposition.