Legacies of The Nigerian Civil War still stand as Igbo people yearn for new nation

NGR170904AA002ABUJA, Nigeria – During the opening match of the qualifying round for the 2018 World Cup, Chinedu Gabriel, 27, refused to stand in honor of Nigeria's national soccer team.

"I'm not a Nigerian," said Gabriel, a motorcycle parts dealer in a suburb of Nigeria's capital, Abuja. "I'm a Biafran."

Almost 50 years after Nigeria's civil war put down a secessionist movement among the nation's Igbo community – one of Africa's largest indigenous groups – sentiments like that are common among the Igbo who want a state of their own, known as Biafra.

And over the past year, the uptick in armed robbery, ritual killings, kidnappings and separatist agitation have sent tremors across the country as deep-seated frustrations of the Igbo mount.

As a result, with the economy in crisis and the fight against Boko Haram ongoing in the north, Africa's largest nation is being stretched to the limit, say analysts.

"With the Nigerian military trying to contain Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast, opening another front in the southeast may prove expensive, particularly now that oil revenue has fallen sharply,” said Jeff Okoroafor, a political analyst in Abuja and head of Opinion Nigeria, citizen's rights group.

The Igbo of southeastern Nigeria first attempted to secede back in the mid-1960s, which triggered a three-year civil war that ended in 1970 and killed more than a million people.

Beginning in the early 2000s, new secessionist calls ramped up again amid frustration over the handling of postwar reintegration efforts. But the new impetus comes from more recent grievances: The level of development in Igbo strongholds mainly in the south pale in comparison to those in Nigeria's north, say locals.

"The Igbo feel they are not part of the government, that government is too far away from them and they are not getting the dividends of democracy," said Okoroafor, who himself is Igbo as is almost 20 percent of Nigeria's 186 million people.

Most of all, with a deteriorating economy that is hitting their strongholds hard, the Igbo leadership says they are driven to fight due to a bleak future outlook for their children.

"Under the present Nigerian government, the Igbo are staring face to face with the brutal reality that the full energy and potential of their youth will never be realized in Nigeria but only in Biafra," said Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, leader of Biafra Independence Movement.

The latest surge in pro-independence centers around Nnamdi Kanu, a Nigerian-Briton, who in 2015 founded the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) to rally independence supporters. He was arrested soon after on charges of treason and spent 18 months in jail before being released on house arrest.

He is taunting the federal government from his stronghold in the south, and inciting unrest, say military officials.

To quell the dissent, the Nigerian government began launching military actions in the region over the past year – especially targeting Kanu: Imposing dusk to dawn curfews in Igbo strongholds following clashes involving the military and members of IPOB, also at his residence.

Known as Operation Python Dance, the military says the operations were training exercises meant to "sharpen the skills of participating troops," according to Army Chief of Training and Operations, Major General David Ahmadu.

But the Igbo disagree.

“The invasion of Nnamdi Kanu’s home was brazen show of military (highway robbery and plunder) and sheer prostitution of power without authority,” said Prince Uche Achi-Okpaga, spokesperson for Ohanaeze Ndigbo, a socio-cultural Igbo organization. “Operation Python Dance is a deliberate ploy to (tie up) the southeast like a conquered territory.”

Peter Okpara, director of internal conflict prevention and resolution at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution in Abuja, says the government is just doing its job by quelling dissent and keeping the peace.

“If care is not taken, it may lead to something much more sinister,” said Okpara.

Some believe all this will come to head as the country heads for elections in 2019. President Muhammadu Buhari thwarted a boycott of local elections in Anambra state in the Igbo south in November: A candidate from the opposition All Progressive Grand Alliance was elected governor.

"After Anambra 2017, in 2019, there’ll be no elections on Biafra land,” said Kanu in November. “My message is that there’ll be no elections in Biafra land ever again until they give us date for referendum (on independence)."

Some say that while the pro-independence fight is localized, it is having an impact nationally.

“It was because of the IPOB agitation that the issue of restructuring (Nigeria) is now a national debate – people are now asking for resource control, that power should not be concentrated at the center but with the federal states," said Okoroafor. "Politicians are now bringing up the issue of restructuring as part of campaign promises as they seek to win elections. In a year or two, (there will be more pressure to) devolve of power in a bid to make the states stronger.”

Meanwhile, people worry about the insurgency's current impact on the country. Combined with an ongoing battle against Boko Haram in the northeast, a global fall in oil prices that has led to mass unemployment and a rise in crime and unrest, they say the government is falling behind.

“There are structural challenges that are leading to some of this,” said Okpara. “The hope is that the nation will address those structural problems…and come up with solutions.”

Some believe there is a good chance Nigeria will come out stronger.

“At the end of the day, it is about leadership – I see a prosperous nation that has the capacity to advance, that has the ability to move ahead in terms of development," said Okoroafor. "But we need leadership that can give the people that sense of belonging.” 

On the street, though, there is doubt.

“The way things are going in Nigeria, I’m afraid we may experience another major conflict,” said Chukwudi Abel, a civil servant working in Abuja. “The government needs to act fast to stop the drift toward anarchy.”

An alternative version of this story can be found here. 

A Nigerian girl recounts her horror-filled tale from Boko Haram abduction, conversion and marriage to student life at a university

NGR171201AA005ABUJA, Nigeria – Amina Ali Nkeki was calm as she recalled her ordeal in the captivity of Boko Haram terrorists.

She was 17 when she was among the 275 girls abducted from a school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria in 2014.

“They came in the night. They shot sporadically into the air. They gathered us together. They threatened to kill us if we didn’t do what they said. They quarreled among themselves. At the end, they decided to take us away.”

She suffered sexual assault and other abuse at the hands of the Islamic State-linked militants before she managed to escape last year.

“I never thought I would live to see another day,” she said. "That I am alive today is a miracle.”

Now Nkeki is preparing for another miracle. An American church has agreed to send Nkeki and four other young women who escaped from the clutches of the Boko Haram to Hope International University, a Christian school in southern California.

The Church of the Servant King in Gardena, California has agreed to pay the women’s travel expenses as well as tuition and housing costs that could amount to more than $30,000 a year, according to the university’s website.

The church similarly sponsored 35 Cambodians in the 1980s. Congregants felt like it was time to reach out to someone needy overseas again, said Senior Pastor Rich Read. “We believe Jesus is who he says he is: a man for others,” said Read. “His mandate is to love God and one another. As his followers, we’re trying to express his will. For us, faith is action.”

Nkeki is now studying at the American University in Nigeria, a private school that is unaffiliated with the U.S. government. But when she discovered her good fortune earlier this year, she instantly felt that forgetting her traumatic experiences under the Boko Haram would be easier in the US.

“I just couldn’t believe my ears,” Nkeki said. “I just can’t find words to describe how I felt. It was a message of a new life.”

Most of the Chibok girls have escaped Boko Haram but more than 100 are still missing. Despite the success of the #BringBackOurGirls movement to highlight the plight of the students, their parents are at their wits’ ends.

“We have been trying to appeal to our local leaders but no one seems interested in briefing us about any effort or action by the federal government to secure the release of our daughters,” a group of parents recently wrote in an open letter to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. “We feel neglected."

Since launching its military offensive in 2009, Boko Haram attacks have killed more than 20,000 and displaced more than 2 million others in Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon and Niger, according a recent United Nations report.

Boko Haram insurgents still run rampant throughout the northeastern reaches of the West African country. But Nigerian forces have been tightening their noose around the group, recently announcing that the militants had been extirpated throughout Borno.

That's cold comfort to Nkeki who hasn't been able to let go of her memories. The Boko Harm soldiers forced her to trek for three days to Mbula, a remote town under their control.

“They burnt down the school library and carted our food supplies,” she continued, recalling the first night she was their hostage. “Boko Haram forced us to trek for over two hours and to sleep under a Tamarind tree inside Sambisa Forest.”

The Boko Haram men then asked the girls to convert to Islam, she said. “They threatened to kill all of us if we refused,” said Nkeki, who is Christian. “After they left we got together. Since there was nothing we could do, we decided to go along in order to save our lives.”

Despite threats from Boko Haram, several girls who were Christian or practiced local religions refused to convert.

“They gathered us together one Tuesday afternoon,” said Nkeki, who refused to convert. “They expressed satisfaction that we have all converted to Islam. They asked us if marriage in Islam is good or not. We told them there was no way we could get married without the consent of our parents. We told them our religion does not allow such marriages.”

Punishment followed.

“For us that refused to marry, they detailed us to do menial jobs in their homes, sweeping, washing clothes and doing dishes,” Nkeki said. “They said as their slaves they can choose to sleep with us. They were passing us around among themselves. We saw it was even better to get married because only one person could be sleeping with us.”

As a result, Nkeki was forced to marry Mohammed Hayyatu in order to avoid being passed around. The son of a Muslim cleric, Mohammed Hayyatu, was disillusioned with his life of violence under Boko Haram, and confided to her that he was fed up with the group. 

He planned to escape.

After the Nigerian military sacked Njimiya, a Boko Haram stronghold, they got their chance.

“The Boko Haram were running away for safety,” she said. “My husband and I saw our opportunity to escape.”

They eventually fell in love but her parents raised hell for Hayyatu after their escape, claiming he abducted Amina. But the relented because she had a baby with him while still in captivity.

She began planning their future.

Meanwhile, Read said the church anticipated helping the women and their children come to the country, but not the husbands immediately. Years ago, they originally planned bringing a few Cambodians to the US but took more eventually as they got to know their guests, he said.

More pressingly, the church is preparing a fundraising drive to help cover Nkeki and the other women’s expenses. Read anticipated reaching their target. The church and the women found each other, he said. Providence would do the rest.

“We think there is help that comes from places that we don’t know about,” he said. “Amazing things can happen.”

Photo: December 1, 2017-Abuja, Nigeria. Portrait of Amina Ali Nkeki, 20, at the American University of Nigeria (AUN) in Yola in northeast Nigeria. Nigeria's federal government arranged for the released girls to be admitted into the AUN. Nkeki is currently undertaking a one-year preparatory course in social science. She hopes to study accounting so she can work as an accountant in the future.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Amina Ali Nkeki 12/01/2017

Story/photo publish date: 12/23/17

A version of this story was published in USA Today.

In a Refugee Camp, Classrooms Open Up to Somali Girls

DADAAB REFUGEE CAMP, Kenya—“Who said girls from Somalia cannot go to school and achieve their dreams?”

Hani Abdalla, a student here who is determined to become a lawyer, posed that question as she addressed hundreds of other young female Somali students on the importance of educating girls.  

Read more at Al Fanar

Somalis Leaving Kenya Face Educational Roadblocks

b_172_129_16777215_00_images_AFR150315aa001.jpegDADAAB REFUGEE CAMP, Kenya—As students in Kenya's education system sat this year for exams necessary to advance to higher grades or graduate with a high school diploma, thousands of Somali refugees couldn't participate, even though they had also taken classes and studied hard.

"My dreams are now shattered," said Mohamed Swaleh. "I have no future right now."

Read more at Al Fanar


Muslim extremists end religious peace in Mali after appointment of Cardinal Zerbo

BAMAKO, Mali — Dressed in a white frock, the Rev. Samuel Coulibaly, a Catholic priest, smiled as he explained how religious communities have long lived in peaceful coexistence in this West African country.

“In each of our families, there are Christians, Muslims and even sometimes those who are practicing the traditional religion” — animism, Father Coulibaly said.   

Read more at The Washington Times

Zimbabweans hoping for fresh start as Robert Mugabe ends 37-year reign with forced resignation

HARARE, Zimbabwe — President Robert Mugabe's forced resignation Tuesday after 37 years in power ignited cheers from residents in this southern African nation who said the world's oldest leader had presided over a worsening economy and rampant corruption. 

"We feel very excited because we have been suffering for too long," said Victor Chirwa, 47, a school teacher. "I am happy he is gone — and he must go to prison. ... I hope we will be able to lead a better life."  

Read more at USA Today

Zimbabweans hope for fresh start as Robert Mugabe ends 37-year reign with forced resignation

HARARE, Zimbabwe — President Robert Mugabe's forced resignation Tuesday after 37 years in power ignited cheers from residents in this southern African nation who said the world's oldest leader had presided over a worsening economy and rampant corruption.

"We feel very excited because we have been suffering for too long," said Victor Chirwa, 47, a school teacher. "I am happy he is gone — and he must go to prison. ... I hope we will be able to lead a better life."

Read more at USA Today

Joy on Harare’s streets as Mugabe exit ends standoff

    Harare, Zimbabwe - It was an unexpectedly low-key conclusion to an era that many ordinary Zimbabweans were beginning to fear might never end.

Residents of this beleaguered capital took to the streets to celebrate as the news leaked out that autocratic President Robert Mugabe, the only leader most here have ever known, had resigned under pressure, bringing to an end both a weeklong standoff over his presidency and his 37 years running the country.

Read more at The Washington Times

What's next for Zimbabwe as uncertainty prevails over Mugabe's future

    HARARE, Zimbabwe — Talent Zvinorwadza, who has been unemployed for years, hopes that his life will improve following the apparent ouster of the world's oldest leader after nearly four decades of rule in this southern African nation.

"I have a family to look after and I am excited by this development," Zvinorwadza, 35, an unskilled laborer, said following news that President Robert Mugabe and his wife and intended successor, Grace, have been placed under house arrest by the military. "I am looking forward to getting a job very soon."   

Read more at USA Today

Zimbabwe grapples with new reality after military sidelines longtime President Robert Mugabe


HARARE, Zimbabwe — Residents along the streets of this capital city grappled with a new reality Wednesday after the military sidelined President Robert Mugabe, its leader for the past 37 years.

Once heralded for seizing power from British rule and the nation's white elites, the 93-year-old's tenure in recent years has been marked by human rights abuses and economic collapse in what was once one of the African continent's most promising and prosperous nations.  

Read more at USA Today

In Odinga strongholds, Kenyans grapple with frustrating election loss

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_KEN161616aa001.jpegKISUMU, Kenya — Under a scorching sun on the shores of Lake Victoria, fishmongers shout themselves hoarse to gain the attention of fishermen selling their catch. Fishing is the economic engine of Kisumu, Kenya’s third-largest city. But the waterfront has been quiet since election violence hit this opposition stronghold in the lead-up to an Oct. 26 vote that declared President Uhuru Kenyatta the winner of another term in office.

Kenyatta skeptics here see the election as a halfhearted do-over of an August presidential election marred by charges of electoral fraud.

Read more at The Washington Times

Mugabe in custody as Zimbabweans await army’s next move

    HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabweans woke up in a state of shock on Wednesday morning as an apparent “soft coup” against longtime authoritarian President Robert Mugabe continued to unfold.

“He should have left power a long time ago when Zimbabweans were still in love with him,” said Agency Gumbo, 33, a Harare resident. “The army is merely representing the aspirations of the people.” 

Read more at The Washington Times

Senegal tried to crack down on schools forcing children to beg.

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_AFR171717aa001.jpegLooking tired and hungry, Bouba and Moussa Cisse, brothers aged 5 and 7 respectively, were begging recently near the Liberté Six street market in Dakar.

Hailing from the Senegal’s southern region of Kolda, they aren’t the only ones who have come to the country’s capital to earn a living on the street. But they are part of a particular community of mendicants known as talibés. The money they collect on the street goes to their Quranic instructors, known as marabouts, in exchange for teaching, food and housing.  

Read more at PRI

Half of Refugee Children Are Not in School, Report Says

More than half of refugee children worldwide were not enrolled in primary or secondary school last year, says a recent report from the United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR.

That means 3.5 million children under UNHCR protection are out of school, says the report, “Left Behind: Refugee Education in Crisis.” The report, released last month, outlines the state of refugee education in 2016 compared with the previous year using data from UNHCR’s education surveys and population database and UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics.   

Read more at Al Fanar

How these African leaders subvert democracy to cling to power for life

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_AFR151515aa001.jpegLOMÉ, Togo — Protesters in this west African capital have been burning tires and barricading roads to force political change in a country ruled by the same family for five decades.

“He must go! We don’t need him anymore,” demonstrator Henri Alifoe, 35, said of President Faure Gnassingbé, who succeeded his father in 2005. "We demand change. He must step down to give others opportunity.”

Read more at USA Today

Kenyan election descends into chaos as top candidate pulls out of presidential race

    NAIROBI, Kenya — Carrying a stick and placard and chanting, “No reforms, no elections,” George Nyongesa vowed not to participate in the do-over presidential elections scheduled for this month.

“I won’t vote again,” vowed Mr. Nyongesa, 27, as he held up a placard of opposition leader Raila Odinga during a recent protest. “I cannot participate in an election that has already been rigged. We have to send electoral officials home before we can go to another election. They are all thieves. They stole our elections.”

Read more at The Washington Times

A Nation Searches for Teachers

 BANGUI, Central African Republic—War made Emma Mbathas a teacher.

Four years ago, armed members of the Muslim militia called Ex-Seleka attacked the 31-year-old courthouse worker’s village of Molangue, a village south of the capital, Bangui.   

Read more at Al Fanar Media

Political divisions, corruption scandals threaten South Africa’s ANC party

The African National Congress led the fight to end South Africa’s racist apartheid regime in the early 1990s and has used that narrative to dominate the country’s politics ever since.

But now the ANC, transitioning a civil rights movement led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela to a conventional political party, is threatening to break apart at the seams amid corruption claims against its embattled standard-bearer, President Jacob Zuma.  

Read more at The Washington Times

Strife in South Sudan Puts Children at Risk

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_AFR171717aa001.jpegTORIT, South Sudan and BIDI BIDI REFUGEE CAMP, Uganda – As he stood waiting for a meal at the Church of SS. Peter and Paul in Torit, a South Sudanese town near the Ugandan border, 12-year-old Teddy Kuol lamented how the civil war in his country has forced him and others to drop out of school.

“I’m not in school right now because of the war,” he said. “There is no bright future for us. There are no lessons going on because soldiers live and operate in classrooms. They have abducted many students and trained them as soldiers.”

Read more at Al Fanar

Ugandans pose as refugees for food because the drought is so bad

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_AFR171717aa001.jpegAs the intense heat of the midday sun beats down, Gladys Nekesa is often found standing in line to receive food at a refugee shelter in northern Uganda.

Nekesa, though, is not one of the nearly 285,000 South Sudanese refugees living in the Bidi Bidi refugee camp. She is a Ugandan from Gulu, a district about 100 miles away from the shelter site.   

Read more at PRI

Mugabe threatens new round of land seizures from Zimbabwe’s white farmers

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_AFR151515aa001.jpegHARARE — Land grabs of white-owned property have hit Zimbabwe for the second time as the southern African country’s strongman, 93-year-old Robert Mugabe, calls a familiar play as he seeks yet another term in office.

Ruling Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980 — the country holds regular elections that critics say Mr. Mugabe routinely rigs — the president is evicting all the white farmers remaining in the impoverished nation and giving their highly productive farms to his supporters.  

Read more at The Washington Times

Kenya's Supreme Court declares presidential election result null, orders do-over

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_Africanwomen130318AA001.jpegNAIROBI — Kenya’s Supreme Court on Friday overturned last month's presidential election, citing voting irregularities, and ordered a new election within 60 days. It declared President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election null and void.

It is the first time a presidential election in East Africa's economic hub has been nullified. Supporters of opposition candidate Raila Odinga, 72, danced and cheered in the streets, and said they felt vindicated because he had contended that he lost because the electronic tally had been hacked.

Read more at USA Today

Violence erupts in Kenya after losing candidate charges presidential election 'hacked'

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_KEN161616aa005.jpegNAIROBI, Kenya — At least three people were killed as violent protests broke out Wednesday after the losing presidential candidate charged that Tuesday's election results were hacked to hand a victory to incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta.

Supporters of Raila Odinga in this capital city — mainly its huge slums — burned tires, smashed shacks, blocked roads and threw stones at police, yelling, "no Raila, no peace.   

Read more at USA Today

This African nation transformed itself from a killing field to a tourist mecca. Here's how

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_RWA161616aa001.jpegKIGALI, Rwanda — Waving the national flag ahead of Friday's election, Arnold Kayira praises President Paul Kagame for transforming Rwanda from a horrific genocidal battleground to a thriving nation that lures tourists to see its famed mountain gorillas.

“He saved us,” the 35-year-old street hawker in this capital city said of the 1994 mass killings of mostly Tutsi tribal members by Hutus, a murderous rampage made famous by the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda.

Read more at USA Today

At 45% of population, children carry rampant struggles from corruption into Nigeria’s future

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_AFR171717aa001.jpegGOMBE, Nigeria — Sitting with a metal bowl in his hands, 7-year-old Isiaka Ibrahim begged for food outside the entrance of a bus station. “I was brought to Gombe to learn the Koran,” said Isiaka, who comes from Kona, a town in northwestern Nigeria about 280 miles away.

But his teachers wouldn’t provide him with room and board, so he took to the streets. “On nights that people don’t give me food, I sleep on empty stomach,” said the shoeless boy. 

Read more at The Washington Times

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