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Ogundamisi's Time Magazine Interview by papaejima1: 12:08pm On Nov 14, 2018


Friday, October 27, 2000

Will Ethnic Violence Tear Nigeria Apart?

An exclusive interview with Kayode Ogundamisi, national secretary of
the Odua People's Congress

Since President Olusegun Obasanjo came to power in May 1999 as the
country's first democratically elected leader in more than 15 years,
thousands have been killed in clashes between Nigeria's main ethnic
groups. The problem has been exacerbated by the re-introduction of
Islamic Shari'a law in the predominately Muslim north and calls by
many groups for greater autonomy within the federation. Violence
flared this month in the commercial capital Lagos, where more than 100
people were killed in clashes between Yoruba nationalists from the
south and Hausa from the north.

President Obasanjo says he is working to end the violence. He blames
recent problems on the Odua People's Congress, a fast growing
"cultural and social group" representing Yoruba interests. Police
recently arrested the group's mild mannered leader Frederic Fasheun, a
physician, and 41 other members, charging them with murder, illegal
possession of arms, and arson. TIME's Nairobi bureau chief Simon
Robinson talked with OPC national secretary Kayode Ogundamisi, who
escaped police custody at Lagos airport before flying to the Kenyan
capital via Ivory Coast. "People haven't heard our side of the story,"
says Ogundamisi. "They're just spreading rumors that we are a
terrorist group and that we are just rag-tags in the streets."


TIME: How did the latest violence begin?

Ogundamisi: The state of insecurity in Lagos has become alarming.
Armed robbers have taken over the state. The police are corrupt and
inefficient. You call the police and they never turn up. So OPC
members have formed vigilante groups. The landlords now have to rely
on the OPC to protect them. But because of the viciousness of these
robbers we see some vigilantes lynch them when they catch them.
Because in most cases when they hand them over to the police, the
police will give them the names of the vigilantes and the armed
robbers will unleash terror on those vigilante groups.

We now have cases where if you pick a Hausa man and you mete out the
same thing you mete out to a Yoruba man, because of the ethnic problem
on the ground, the Hausa community will see it as an attack on the
entire race. This latest case was caused in that way. OPC cadres were
on patrol [in a poor suburb of Lagos] and got a Hausa man with arms
and ammunition. They took him to a Bale [a traditional leader] but the
Hausa got angry and launched an attack. It was not just OPC then. It
became Yoruba against Hausa. It went on for three days. I personally
counted more than 150 bodies. It would have become more than what it
was but we went around other zones and told the Yoruba not to get
involved and calmed our own people down. But the government just
announced that the OPC was the guilty party. And when they sent in the
military, which is dominated by northerners, if you had tribal marks
you were attacked and you started having extra-judicial killings. The
government declared the OPC a violent organization so we went
underground ... They arrested over 40 Yoruba but not one single Hausa.

TIME: Where are the other OPC members?

Ogundamisi: I took 150 with me to Benin where they are hiding out. The
Nigerian government wants to get the leadership, the articulate ones,
so they can paint who's left as hoodlums.

TIME: What will you do when your Kenyan visa expires?

Ogundamisi: I'm going to the Netherlands to hold a press conference on
the same day Fasheun appears in court. We want to let the world know
what the OPC is about. We want to save Nigeria from self-destruction.
So if we do have to take any action, people will understand that, oh,
these people have been pushed to the wall.

TIME: Is the OPC finished as a force?

Ogundamisi: The government thinks it has cut off the head of the OPC.
But there's a new dimension to it: we have formed OPC International. We
had a meeting at the University of Nairobi. Yoruba living in the
Diaspora are advised to come together and take this on. Because if the
world does not know what we actually stand for the government will
paint us as killers. But the OPC is still very much on the ground. I'm
keeping in touch with the cadres via e-mail. I'm telling them not to
act now, just to keep a low profile.

TIME: How many men have you trained to fight for the Yoruba cause?

Ogundamisi: The OPC is nothing less than 4 million people. We have
trained about 75,000 to resist state oppression. We could launch an
attack but that should be the last option. We're getting towards that
now, though. The government cannot continue to kill a race. In a
situation whereby two people have a problem and you keep clamping on
one race it becomes ethnic genocide. And we keep telling them, the cost
of not having a sovereign conference, the cost of not sitting down to
talk about this ethnic problem is more than the cost of doing it.
Nigeria might just end up with what is happening in other African
countries: chaos. You cannot suppress the will of the people. In order
to sustain this democracy we have to solve this ethnic problem. Ethnic
violence in Nigeria is a vicious cycle. It will keep coming up unless
we stop it finally through a sovereign national conference.

TIME: Is the introduction of Shari'a adding to the ethnic problem?

Ogundamisi: That's why our people feel aggrieved. Almost all the
northern states have introduced Shari'a against the constitution. The
government did nothing. That's a form of self-determination. The people
in the north say, 'We want to be an Islamic state,' and they have
declared a law. And we in the south have not even got to that stage. We
are only asking for dialogue. In order to please the north the
government is clamping down on the southwest. The mistake we keep
making in Africa is that if there's a small uprising the government
says it's just some hoodlums. But we shouldn't underestimate the
minority. Democracy is: the majority have their way but the minority
would have their say. Investors are not coming in because it's still
unstable. Forget what the government says, no one wants to invest when
it's so unstable.

TIME: Isn't Nigeria always just on the brink of chaos?

Ogundamisi: Yes, but we shouldn't capitalize on the fact that it's
always surviving the crisis. There might come a time when it will not
survive. It kept surviving until Biafra [the 31-month civil war
beginning in 1967], but when Biafra came it was disastrous. Now it has
reached that peak. There are emotions all over. Even Yorubas who never
supported the OPC are now supporting us.

TIME: Do you think the country should split?

Ogundamisi: No. We want restructuring. Evolve power from the people.
The ethnic nationalities should have control over their resources. The
Ijaws in the Niger Delta should have control over the oil and then pay
tax to the federal government and then pay a percentage to the federal
government, and not the federal government coming to take their oil and
then giving them a stipend. Let the federal government become weak so
that the President cannot just go to the central bank and take [money].
The people in the north don't do anything. There's arid land and all
they do is become oil contractors and they don't produce oil. But if
you restructure, people will be encouraged to go into agriculture. The
north used to be one of the biggest producers of cotton in the world.
Now the north does not do anything. Let us move this nation from that
mediocre state.

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Re: Ogundamisi's Time Magazine Interview by Thewesterner(m): 12:44pm On Nov 14, 2018

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