Igbo people ordered to 'relocate' out of northern Nigeria: Is a new civil war brewing?

IBTimes UK interviews experts on repercussion of October deadline given to Igbos to leave northern Nigeria.

Enugu attacks: Southerners in Nigeria 'have been targeted for decades'IBTimes UK

A recent statement urging people from the Igbo ethnic group to leave northern Nigeria within the next three months has sparked fears of ethnic tensions in the country. Earlier this month, a coalition of so-called "Northern Nigerian youths" gave Igbos living in the country's north an October 1 ultimatum to pack up and go.

Those who backed the statement, delivered during a press conference in Kaduna state, described it as a "relocation order" and said they aim to "reclaim, assume and assert sole ownership and control of these landed resources currently owned, rented or in any way enjoyed by the ...Igbo in any part of northern Nigeria." They then urged "our brothers out there in the South-East to get prepared to come back home" .

The Muslim-majority Northern Nigeria is mainly populated by the Hausa and Fulani ethnic groups, while 33 million-strong Igbos - one of Nigeria's largest ethnic group - are more prevalent in the Christian-majority south and southeast.

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Tensions between the two communities is one of the most dangerous fault lines in Nigerians society. A similar animosity towards Igbos living and trading in the Muslim north laid the seeds for Nigeria's civil war in the late 1960s.

Igbos living in the north were victims of massacres and persecution leading to to the creation of the Republic of Biafra, founded in the south east of the country, that declared independence in 1967. The breakaway triggered a three-year-long civil war, which resulted in the death of more than 1 million people - many from starvation - and the re-annexation of the so-called "Biafran territories" to Nigeria.

Now, those who backed the October deadline, claimed Igbos had become a threat to national unity. They argued that secessionist movements calling for another breakaway of Biafran territories "had led to the impediment of other people's rights in the South-East". Officials condemned the threat and called on Igbos living in the north not to panic.

Vice-president Vice President Yemi Osinbajo – who is currently leading the country as President Muhammadu Buhari is on medical leave in the UK – urged people to "remain united."

Can the Kaduna statement trigger ethnic violence?

Some fear the threatening ultimatum is the latest indicator of a flaring up of ethnic and religious divisions present in Nigeria, Africa's most populous state.

Security analyst and counter-terrorism expert David Otto believes the spectre of the civil war is resurfacing, following the Kaduna statement.

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"The perennial expression of hatred, bitterness and deep division between some Northern Muslims and some Southern Igbos cannot easily be rectified without an inclusive government," he told IBTimes UK

"This hatred has transgressed ethnicity, religion, culture and politics. It has affected the economy and unity of Nigeria beyond expectations."

Otto added that both Igbos in the north and northerners living in the south will need "absolute assurances" from the government that their lives and properties are not at risk.

"This is where Nigeria has to learn from the mistake of the past. Without adequate and timely intervention , a much greater unrest could be on the horizon," he said. "The state has the time to respond to this issues very abruptly. Staying quiet or responding indirectly by way of analogy is a sign of weakness."

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Adedayo Ademuwagun, a Lagos-based analyst at Songhai Advisory, believes the October deadline underlines friction between "the Hausa-Fulani and the Igbo " and could prompt pro-Biafra secessionist groups to increase their calls for another breakaway of the Biafran territories.

"The potential conflict may have serious implications for the upcoming polls in 2019. [However],I don't foresee any severe repercussions given [that] the notice lacks popular backing required to implement the prescribed actions," he told IBTimes UK. "Sources on the ground in the region say the notice has had a marginal effect on business or inter-ethnic relations."

Matthew T. Page, former US intelligence adviser on Nigeria, believes the notice is "some sort of paid provocation" given the "mysterious identity of the 'northern youth'" that called for Igbos to leave.

"In a way, I found this episode boosted my confidence in Nigeria," he told IBTimes UK. "The provocation was widely condemned by politicians, religious leaders, emirs, and real youth groups. So rather than exposing disunity, I think the call for Igbos to leave backfired."


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