Politics, Africa

Nigeria launches talks to counter tensions with Igbo

Acting president warns youth groups against resorting to violence targeting ethnic Igbo community

Nigeria launches talks to counter tensions with Igbo Acting President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo

By Rafiu Ajakaye

LAGOS, Nigeria

Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has launched a consultation process with leaders from across the country’s northern and southern regions to counter rising tensions with the ethnic Igbo community.

The process comes after some youth groups in northern Nigeria on June 6 threatened to attack the community unless they relocated to the country’s southeastern parts within three months.

The threat was made following sit-ins held by Igbo -- the third largest ethnic group in Nigeria after Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba -- in commemoration of the 1967 civil war.

The 30-month long civil war had left hundreds of thousands of people dead that began with the exodus of Igbo from the northern region when some members of the community were accused of leading a deadly military coup in 1966.

Igbo groups have often been accused of trying to secede from Nigeria, who in turn point to unfair treatment and marginalization by other ethnic groups, especially the northern elite.

Osinbajo started the week-long consultation process on Tuesday evening with northern “leaders of thought”, including religious chiefs, whom he urged to prevail on the youth in the region, especially those who threatened Igbo.

“Every form of violence, every form of hate speech, every stone that is thrown in the marketplace will hit targets that are not even intended. And I believe that the Nigerian people must be made very conscious of that, so that we do not create a crisis that is unintended,” he told the northern leaders.

Osinbajo also warned that no one would be allowed to take the law into their own hands.

“I want to say that hate or divisive speech, or divisive behavior, where it is illegal, will be met with the full force of the law. And I want to ensure that there is no doubt of the resolve of government to ensure that no one will be allowed to get away with making speeches that can cause division, or that can cause violence,” he said.

The acting president also said he would meet leaders from the southern region, especially ethnic Igbo this week to sort out the issue.

He said Igbo community members' agitations in favor of secession or the ultimatum given to them about leaving the northern region would only ratchet up tensions and cause violence. He urged both sides to embrace peace.

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