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LIFE EXPERIENCES : NIGERIA

This week we have a takeover by three University of Huddersfield students who recently interviewed other students from Rwanda, Syria and Nigeria about their experiences of war, displacement and genocide. All those interviewed currently live in Huddersfield. 

“It now became clear, … that it was becoming something more than political, right?”

E. Igwe

Escalating tensions in Nigeria led to a coup on 31 December 1983. Following economic unrest and instability linked with the country’s oil export income, the 3rd Armoured Division of the Nigerian Army led the takeover. 

Survivor E. Igwe (not her real name) was 6 years old at the time of the coup. She vividly remembers the conflict. Although initially a political issue, events quickly led to the deaths of Nigerian Christians, something that became commonplace in E. Igwe’s life.

By 1993, electoral riots had been the norm for almost 3 years as Nigeria transitioned from a military government. President Ibrahim Babangida did everything possible to prolong his removal from political office. 

In May 1993, the conflict had incited ethnic groups to challenge each other across the country. In Kaduna, where E. Igwe was living with family, Christians, Muslims, and Fulani people were fighting. In one month alone, there were almost 2,000 deaths.

Since the 1990s, Nigeria has continued to experience violence. Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group from north-eastern Nigeria, was responsible for the widely reported Chibok kidnappings in 2014. 276 schoolgirls were taken from their secondary school and, as of April 2021, over 100 girls are still missing.

E. Igwe has shared her concerns over the nature of the conflicts that have occurred over decades in Nigeria. Boko Haram is just one of many violent aspects of Nigerian life today that indicates Nigerians face more problems than just political and economic instability.

There are currently 21,305 Nigerian students enrolled in UK higher education settings.  E. Igwe is one of these who is successfully obtaining a degree with a global reputation. However, while navigating the pressures of moving country, and of being a student, the reality of close friends and family left behind weighs heavy the minds of those who experienced war. 

The recent war in Ukraine is a devastating reminder that violence and displacement can occur in Europe today. But we often hear very little new reports about the other conflicts and atrocities happening further afield. We must remember that experiences such as those from Nigeria have affected the lives of so many for decades. 

From a Nigerian point of view, E. Igwe supports international intervention and listening to the collective memories of survivors. 

Interview with E. Igwe

“Suddenly, when we moved in ’82, I think we witnessed our first religious uprising, that ended up in churches being burned, Christians being killed, you know … we would have periods of things like that happening and there would be some calm for months or years and suddenly it would go off, you know, and over the years it has just kept on happening … if it started off as a political issue, it might be, it ended up with Christians being killed, you know, so we left Kano in ’82, er I was 6 (years old), in ’82 at that tender age I got so frightened that at the time.”

“ … okay it started off as a political issues between two political parties, in the states then, and … as was the tradition then they went around in vans, and the vans were equipped with public addressing system, you know, so when they are driving around they are making announcements about … this amazing information basically, it got so bad that each time I heard even at that tender age of 6 I got frightened you know, it was part of the reasons why my dad put forward to his company that allowed for the branch of his transfer out of … that state at the time, and … I really cannot spend the night in Kaduna any more I am that frightened.”

“Alright that happened in Kaduna State, and then we got our out, erm, a town outside the capital of the state called Kaduna, … I think there was a misunderstanding among the original indigenous of that area who are largely Christians, and there are Fulani Muslim settlers, you know, … so there was some dispute over some farm land and it ended up in them killing those Christians over there, so by the time news of that got to Kaduna town, there was a reprisal attack in Kaduna town that led to slaughter of Christians and of course at some point they had to defend themselves so Christians among them lost their lives, that was in ’92.”

“… I grew up with my next door neighbor as a Muslim, as a matter of fact, with a window that opened up into our compound, and everybody was fine, but right now it’s not the same, you can’t have Muslims and Christians living together, everyone is on their own now, they live on their own, to have a semblance of safety, you know.”

“It now became clear, … that it was becoming something more than political, right? I think about 7, 8 years ago, erm, seemed as though Al Qaeda or ISIS had … become part of all the things that are happening in Nigeria and, erm, and with these Boko Haram people, you know, from, from the elections ’99 and all of that, just before they did all of that … churches are attacked, villagers attacked, you know, … school children are snatched from schools and taken into hostage, I’m sure you have heard, you must have heard about the Chibok girls, the Boko Haram sect now they attack people at random, my family, we had to leave our home in Kaduna in 2000 and erm, 7 or there abouts, 2006, we really had to run for dear life, you know, because there were bombings in churches close by, there were attacks in neighboring communities, it didn’t feel safe anymore …”

An empty classroom at the school in Dapchi, Nigeria, where girls went missing after a Boko Haram attack.

Credit: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

“… you know, so, we had to leave and relocate elsewhere in the Western part of Nigeria, which is, even now, is that, they have taken over the …forests, you know, even in the Southern part of Nigeria, Southern, Eastern, they are in fact all over Nigeria and the fear is they are going to do something terrible any time soon, you know, so there is that … like there is a cleansing agenda ongoing, and the government of the day is actually in support of them because there is the people who are committing this are from his tribe, you know, there is really nothing the army can do about it because from what everyone understands, erm, there are members of Boko Haram even in the Nigerian Army.”

“Well, I felt, erm, some form of relief, momentarily, that at least I was going to be away from that place … for a while, but, I also knew that while I was going to be away for a while I have my father, my mum, my sister, my brothers, nephew, every family member literally still back there and having to deal with these issues on a daily basis, there’s no way you have that level of insecurity, to not be affected…[begins to cry] I’m sorry…while I am here I hope for the best on a daily basis [crying] until I go back home … everybody carries on in fear because you don’t know what next happened …”

“… okay I failed to reveal, to mention that kidnaps are like a daily occurrence throughout Nigeria, you know, erm, you go out and return to your home on a daily basis, and it’s enough for, that’s going on in our country today, and erm people are even snatched from their homes anyway, so, basically people live in fear, you know … but it’s, it’s still home, that’s the only country we have and know, erm, if there’s a reason for me to return to Nigeria, I’m living as an international student anyway, so at the end of my studies [laughs] if I’m likely to return there, you know, so, the fears are still there, maybe something happens, although ideally I would be glad if every single one I know, not just family members, friends, dear friends, could move elsewhere, you know, erm, I’m here right now but on a daily basis you, there’s that fear what has happened today, you know, when you ring home and …the call goes unanswered, there’s that fear that maybe something has happened, you know.”

“It’s an unwillingness on the part of the international community to do anything, to help anyone, it’s visible to those countries to see what’s going on, … I also, at time, they hide under the country, but sovereignty, you know, and things just continue to go wrong, I mean, let’s take the war going on in Ukraine for example, who would have imagined that anything could be happening at this point in time in this world? Who would? [begins to cry] I don’t think anybody wants to help, I really don’t think there’s that willingness on the part of the international community to be, because I know that the intel they get on these nations, they know what’s going on, we are basically just on our own….we’re on our own….[crying] the thing is, what country is going to open its arms to people, erm, as numerous as us? If my family does, there are other people back there [sniffles] so just leaving the area is not the solution, to the problem, so my family get out, what about our neighbors, our friends? How many members of my family will be able to get out? [crying]. That’s not the only issue, it’s that nobody wants to lend such an ear, I just don’t know [crying]. I wish right now I could get everyone I know out of that country but, how is that possible [sniffles]. I mean I am not really out myself, I’m just here for studies.”

Interviewer : Lauren Le Ber

Interviewee : E. Igwe

Edited by : Holocaust Centre North

Image credit : Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

Further reading

https://www.cfr.org/global-conflict-tracker/conflict/boko-haram-nigeria

https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country-chapters/nigeria

https://www.who.int/emergencies/situations/nigeria-crisis

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