Viewing cable 02LAGOS146

02LAGOS1462002-12-07 11:46:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Consulate Lagos
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 LAGOS 000146 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/16/2008 
REF: FBIS 071146Z DEC 02 
D (D). 
¶1. (C) Summary.  While electoral divisions are under growing 
media scrutiny, most southern political analysts privately 
acknowledge that fears of imminent secessionism are unfounded 
at present. Though some disgruntled groups demand the 
creation of their own state within the federation, most do 
not call for complete severance.  Issues reinforcing 
political cohesion in the South include momentum towards a 
national conference, interest over upcoming elections, 
potential spoils of oil revenue, and the ICJ ruling on 
Bakassi.  End summary. 
¶2. (U) The latest secessionist threat was declared on 
December 20, 2002 by Lagos-based lawyer Festus Keyamo, who 
announced the creation of an "Unarmed Revolutionary Council" 
to govern the "Future Republic of the Niger-Delta," complete 
with flag, national anthem, and coat of arms.  According to 
press reports, Keyamo warned that the "future republic" would 
emerge if Nigeria failed to convene a national congress, 
engage "true fiscal and political federalism," and enact the 
on-shore/off-shore abrogation bill.  Keyamo hoped the 
announcement would "raise the consciousness" of the 
South-South's oil-producing states.  The movement's slogan is 
"This is a revolution, and it must succeed."  (Comment. 
Readers might take note that at the beginning of 2002, Keyamo 
was in the press because of his defense of the first person 
detained for Bola Ige's murder.  The episode became quite 
sordid as the defendant recanted then readmitted the crime. 
Keyamo's brother implicated him in a fraud.  All the while, 
Keyamo was an eager interviewee before any journalist he 
could find, reveling in the attention.  End comment.) 
¶3. (U) Other well-known southern groups with secessionist 
tendencies or platforms include the Movement for the 
Sovereign State for Biafra (MASSOB), the Ijaw Youth Congress 
(IYC), the Egbesu Supreme Council, and the Coalition of Oodua 
Self-determine Groups (COSEG), which consists of the Oodua 
Peoples Congress (OPC), Oodua Liberation Movement (OLM), 
Oodua Youth Movement (OYM), Yoruba Revolutionary Movement 
(YOREM), and the Federation of Yoruba Consciousness and 
Culture (FYCC).  These groups held a joint press conference 
in September to decry the voter registration exercise, which 
they charged was "tailored to favor the Hausa/Fulani North." 
They publicly called for a UN plebiscite to determine 
Nigeria's future, including the right to ethnic 
self-determination and secession from the Federation.  The 
groups pledged to "fight together for each nationality to be 
independent and build her own sovereign state, as an 
independent member of the United Nations."  (Comment. 
Subsequent research will give us a fix on how serious and 
potent we think these groups are and whether we think the 
statement was rhetoric to rally the constituencies back home 
and to frighten the GON into giving them a bit more 
assistance.  End comment.) 
¶4. (C) Despite rancorous posturing from some quarters and 
debate over the Miss World fiasco, individuals from major 
southern ethnic groups refute their compatriots' claims to be 
on the verge of secession.  Though fearful the situation may 
change, Patriots leader Rotimi Williams told Poloffs on 
November 15 that Nigeria "is not at a critical stage yet. 
This is the opportunity stage to prevent deterioration of the 
country."  As the head of a group of senior Nigerian 
statesmen, Williams envisions that a worst-case scenario 
could emerge whereby frustrated ethnic groups begin agitating 
again for a "political breakaway," either through peaceful 
negotiation or through war.  Although Williams expects the 
GON would "crush" any violent rebellion, the underlying 
discontent "will come again" if frustrations are not 
¶5. (U) Nigeria's older generation remembers the root causes 
of conflict that led to the Biafran War's outbreak, but the 
South's younger generation mostly remembers the war's 
terrible consequences.  The idea of launching another civil 
war repulses young professionals and workers from across the 
South, many of whom were born during or survived childhood 
through the war.  Throughout the southern states, stories can 
be heard about the severe economic hardship endured through 
the war years and beyond.  Many Southerners still recount 
tragic fates suffered by family members who were killed 
directly, by collateral violence, or through starvation. 
diminished since 1999, unifying forces of shared history and 
political struggle against military rule hold meaning for 
many Nigerians.  Ardent pessimists of Nigeria's cohesion 
concede that traditional ethnic groups today are weaving a 
new pattern in the nation's political cloth.  With near 
consensus, the South sees the June 12, 1993 national election 
as a major turning point, the effects of which continue to 
reverberate.  Legborsi Saro Pyagbara of the Movement for the 
Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) calls June 12 a "true 
water-shed day" in which the public "forgot about ethnic 
differences" to condemn the election's annulment.  Hundreds 
of other analysts, pundits, poets and artists publicly share 
his view. 
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critics of the status quo focus on improving Nigeria's 
legitimacy, threatening secession only as a last resort.  The 
two most frequent proposals to redress on-going southern 
grievances are to hold a national convention and to 
decentralize federal resource control.  The most popular 
incarnations of these ideas are the holding of a national 
convention and the approval of the on-shore/off-shore 
abrogation bill.  The national conference proposal has been 
floated for years without much forward momentum.  NGOs 
regularly lobby and educate key political figures on the 
potential benefits of such an exercise, hoping to convince 
powerbrokers that one could be held without negating 
entrenched interests.  Reformists and NGOs seeking long-term 
stability argue that geopolitical groups must send their 
respective representatives to forge a new social compact on 
unity and the role of Nigerian government.  Serious, divisive 
issues impeding national cooperation must be discussed openly 
in a forum to devise new rules about how differences will be 
peaceably settled.  The meaningful legitimacy of the current 
constitution is dangerously low, they warn, as it is a 
document inherited from military rulers. (Comment.  We should 
keep in mind that the 1999 Constitution is basically a 
recycled 1977 Constitution, and that was drafted primarily by 
civilians, albeit under the authority of the Murtala/Obasanjo 
regime.  The kinds of people who participated in both the 
1977-78 drafting process and the 1994-5 Constitutional 
Conference (its document was never adopted) were much the 
same societal elements who would be likely candidates to 
participate in a national conference.  End comment.) 
¶8. (C) The South-South "in particular feels strongly that 
areas have been neglected," Williams asserts.  For this 
reason, his Patriots group advocates restructuring the 
constitution to eliminate the belief that "no one will ever 
be president from the South-South" and that "unless one 
belongs to the majority ethnic groups, one stands no chance 
at all."  To Williams, as long as Nigerian minority groups 
feel they are treated as "second class citizens," a serious 
threat to cohesion exists.  He believes minority groups will 
not even try to contest in a system that seems to guarantee 
rule by groups historically dominating Nigerian politics. 
Asked whether " zoning", the presidency according to 
ethnicity does not encourage tribal divisions, Williams 
disagreed.  He argued that if society is to "mature" toward 
equal opportunity devoid of ethnic opportunism, an 
institutionalized power-sharing arrangement must be 
implemented at least on a short-term basis. 
¶9. (C) While some Nigerians fear a national convention would 
re-ignite disgruntled groups' secessionist tendencies, others 
argue such a meeting would diffuse underlying tensions and 
initiate a productive way forward.  The Committee for the 
Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) claims that a national 
convention will "raise Nigerians' adrenaline but not lead us 
to kill ourselves."  Had a convention been "called during the 
military years, the Niger Delta would have called for 
secession," CDHR posits.  In today's civilian climate, 
particularly with the Bakassi issue at present (paragraphs 
11-12), a national conference is unlikely to fan the embers 
of secessionism, they argue. 
¶10.  (C) Meanwhile, some groups are calling for the creation 
of their own state within the federation.  One of the groups 
most disappointed by the nation's lack-luster performance in 
meeting public needs is the Ogoni people of Rivers State. 
The Ogoni believe they were martyred as a people for Nigerian 
democracy, but many resent receiving so few dividends to 
date.  In meetings held during a recent fact-finding mission 
by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 
the National Commissioner for Refugees, and Poloffs, Ogoni 
members asserted that their only hope was to have an Ogoni 
state with its own resources administered according to their 
own decisions (septel). 
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thinks the October 10 ruling on Bakassi by the International 
Court of Justice further diminished the South's impulse 
towards secessionism by reminding it of its need for northern 
military coverage.  "Bakassi has reminded the South that we 
live better together," remarked Belo Aideloje, Secretary 
General of CDHR. Combining the regions together, "Nigeria is 
seen as so mighty that no one (e.g. Cameroon) could stand up 
to it."  The "mutual need for security" has sparked a "spirit 
of kith and kinship among communities of the South-South, 
South-East, and South-West," claims CDHR. Therefore, 
perceived mutual security needs has undercut ethnic 
animosities, they conclude.  "There is an overestimation of 
the strength of ethnic groups.  Each tribe knows its limits. 
People are careful to not be pushed outside the tensile 
strength of their own group," CDHR explains.  Yet, it 
concedes that these ties have not been as well developed 
between the South and the North. 
¶12. (C) Another source discounts the mutual security theory, 
claiming Obasanjo's true agenda is in fact to replace 
northern hegemony of the armed forces with diversified 
officers at the lower ranks.  Proceeding slowly, carefully 
and quietly, avoiding media attention which would unravel the 
whole endeavor, Obasanjo has progressed to the point that the 
South no longer depends on the North for military support, he 
argues.  Nevertheless, CDHR asserts, the South still believes 
military power is a northern product, a perception which 
reinforces cohesion. 
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¶13. (C) Many, if not most, analysts fear uneven resource 
distribution and economic hardship are steadily corroding the 
country's stability.  Daily street scuffles across the South 
have varied causes, but some relate to the question of 
national unity. George Ehusani, Secretary General of the 
Catholic Secretariat, blames most of the violence on poverty, 
which impedes Nigeria's forming "a melting pot like the 
United States."  Given "impoverished conditions," he finds it 
unsurprising that violence erupts with "people biting each 
other."  Competition over resources is often expressed as a 
conflict between "indigenes" and "settlers," two concepts 
whose precise definitions can differ wildly from one village 
to the next.  Ehusani sees most of Nigeria's current threats 
to cohesion in these terms, including the complexities of 
expanding Shari'a. 
¶14. (C) Ehusani, who traveled to Kigali last fall, is 
publishing his analysis of potential lessons Nigeria can 
learn from the Rwandan genocide.  He fears "ethnic 
antipathies, combined with long-standing issues of perceived 
or real injustice, mixed with severe economic depression" 
could spark similar mass violence in Nigeria.  While the 
military regimes "suppressed genocidal sentiments," under 
democracy, the situation now may be "boiling over." 
"Disorganized violence," Ehusani argues, is manifest between 
poor individuals.  "If violence is organized by a Big Man," 
on the other hand, he fears it is used in Nigeria to 
"manipulate the Small Man versus the Small Man to the gain of 
the elite."  He claims religious teachings of peace and 
forgiveness are the main deterrents to all-out class warfare 
and mass violence in Nigeria. 
¶15. (C) Nigerian unity may prove more resilient than expected 
from a cursory glance at the headlines on present violence 
and political posturing.  Following Ehusani's theory of 
Nigerian conflict, one might ask what a "Big Man" might 
expect to gain from an organized secessionist movement and 
whether current political conditions make this strategy 
attractive.  At the moment, Southerners are asserting their 
agendas tenaciously within the actual political framework and 
appear willing to see what opportunities may be yielded by 
upcoming elections.  "Big Men" are busily seeking to maximize 
their share in the present political arena; "Small Men" are 
waiting to see what will happen next. 
¶16. (C) Uncertainty about the potential for electoral 
violence associated with the coming polls is generating 
excitement, nervousness, and speculation.  Still, the 
expectation that elections indeed will take place as 
scheduled in April and May is surprisingly widespread in the 
South.  This expectation seems to be putting frustrations 
over the slow pace of progress on hold, even as challengers 
to incumbent officials engage rhetoric that is increasing 
public attention to problems the government has left 
unsolved.  In some cases, anger over unresponsive government 
is being channeled into determination that the next 
government will be more responsive to their needs.  Sincere 
or not, opportunists will keep threatening to secede to mount 
pressure on an otherwise unresponsive government. 
¶17. (C) While the loudest commentators clamor for their 
ethnic group's representation at the government's helm, 
candidates who adopt popular issues in their platforms may 
bolster Southerners' commitment to democracy and the nation. 
Issues are not yet in vogue among politicians, but issues 
such as infrastructure, health care, and employment have 
nationwide relevance and popularity (septel).  A few 
forward-thinking politicians are testing the plausibility of 
capitalizing on some issues' popularity for their political 
ambitions.  General Ibrahim Babangida, one of the savviest 
politicians, recently condoned the possible utility of a 
national conference (reftel).  However contrived a 
convention's outcome, the mere exercise would be highly 
welcomed by many Southerners.  Politicians also have yet to 
exploit the positive nation-building sentiments related to 
the June 12, 1993 events.  How to seize the spirit of unity 
engendered by the events without raising painful memories or 
embarrassing past political actors remains problematic. 
Creative and nation-minded leaders may find a way yet.  End 
¶18. (C) ((BIO NOTE:  Festus Keyamo, a human rights activist 
and lawyer based in Maryland, Lagos, has been embroiled in 
many of Nigeria's top scandals from the past two years.  He 
is currently under SSS and police monitoring, having been 
released conditionally from arrest several days ago.  Keyamo 
was detained for questioning after he declared his intention 
to defend Chris Nwokobia, the self-styled leader of the 
"Youth Democratic Movement" which claimed responsibility for 
the fire at NNPC (septel).  The fire began just days after 
Keyamo's public pronouncement of the Future Republic of Niger 
Delta.  Other battles Keyamo has recently fought in the glare 
of national media include his defense of those accused of 
killing Attorney General Bola Ige in December 2001 and a suit 
he brought against the Federal Government over aviation 
safety issues.  Colleagues say Keyamo is not necessarily 
involved directly in any conspiracies, but his taste for high 
profile cases often leads him to prominent involvement in 
bizarre cases.  He reputedly seeks public attention and loves 
the limelight.  One source argues that Keyamo, a sound enough 
lawyer, has trouble distinguishing between what is a serious 
matter for democracy and social progress versus a personal 
opportunity for notoriety.))