Ethnic Militias and Sub-Nationalism in Nigeria: a comparative Study of massob and opc

Table 4:4 Indicators of Social Integration

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Table 4:4 Indicators of Social Integration

In percent



Proportion of Married members



Proportion of members with children



Proportion of member renting their own housing unit



Proportion of members living in densely populated areas



Do people in your neighbourhood know you as a member (percent of yes)



Figure 4:4 Comparison of MASSOB and OPC Indicators of Social Integration

In social and economic terms as we can draw from table 4:4, MASSOB and OPC respondents possess ordinary people’s profiles. Their opportunity cost of joining is far from nil, though this has been lessened by the fact that being a member of either OPC or MASSOB is not a full-time activity as it is in a typical militia organization. The fact is that members of the two organizations are highly integrated into the social fabric of society and so do not perfectly fit into dangerous activity like a rebellious organization. Going through table 4:4, one notices variations between MASSOB and OPC. For instance, public knowledge of OPC respondents is higher than MASSOB. Those of OPC are seventy-five (75) percent unlike MASSOB where only forty-five (45) percent think that members of the public know them as members. The explanation for this variation may not be far from the fact that OPC members interact more closely with the public because of the increased role they play by providing social services such as vigilantism, crime fighting, dispute settlement and collection of debt. This is not so for MASSOB members who are more likely to hide their identity because of the criminalization of their activities by the government. This notwithstanding the 48 percent of MASSOB members who said they live in densely populated area is still significant and the disparity could be attributed to widespread membership in terms of their micro group support base which extends to small towns and villages across the south east of Nigeria.

Table 4:5 Enlistment Motive and Recruitment process

When joining the militia did you expect that your new situation could…….(percent)



Facilitate your access to cash



Increase your chances to get a new/better job



Facilitate your contact with opposite sex



Improve the way you are considered in the neighbourhood



Grant you new powers of defence for your relatives



Expand your political awareness



Did a particular event compel you to join(percent)

A personal event



A political event



Difference between your group and others cultural or political organizations (percent)

Well organized



Neat behaviours



Political project



Better for Business



More protective



Channels of recruitment (percent)

Friends, neighbours






Spontaneous application



Figure 4:5a Breakdown of MASSOB Members Expectations

Figure 4:5b Breakdown of OPC Members Expectations

Figure 4:5c Comparison of Motivations of MASSOB and OPC Joiners

Figure 4:5d Comparison of MASSOB and OPC Members Attitudes to their Organization

Figure 4:5f MASSOB’s Channels of Recruitment

Figure 4:5h OPC’s Channels of Recruitment

Table 4:5 and the figures above indicate the factors motivating individuals who join the two organizations. Enlistment drivers and factors sustaining continuation of membership vary to some extent between the two organizations. For instance, more OPC respondents (18 percent) expressed the view that they joined the organization in order to have more access to cash or material gratification, whereas for the MASSOB it was 5 percent. This finding lends credence to the postulation of Guichaoua (2007) that categorised membership of OPC into two, the pre-democracy members and the post-democracy members both driven by different motives of enlistment. The latter group has a great proportion of individuals who believe that membership of the organization will enable them to improve their economic condition through better jobs. Drawing from the result of our field work survey, we observed that 11 percent of OPC respondents expressed this desire as against 6 percent of MASSOB respondents who believe membership of MASSOB will help them get new jobs that can improve their economic condition. The figures though insignificant, underlie the different motives for joining both organizations. However, an area of convergence between the two organizations is the overwhelming acceptance by members that political awareness was a driving motivating force behind their enlistment. In this category are 89 percent of MASSOB respondents and 74 percent of OPC respondents’. What this clearly shows is that ideological motives are very strong in the decision of individuals to enlist in both organizations. The conclusion to draw from this is that if majority of the members of the two organizations said political awareness as against material expectations are their motive for joining, it then shows that they subscribe to the ideological bases of the two organizations. For instance, the main agenda of the OPC is to promote and protect Yoruba interests in Nigeria, whereas for the MASSOB the objective is to reverse the perceived marginalization of the Igbo in Nigeria through the creation of independent Biafran state. Though it might be safe to question the sincerity of the members and their adherence to this goal, a hierarchy of answers provided in table 5 shows that ideological adherence of members of the organizations does not constitute an obstacle to the presence of other much more diverse considerations for individuals when joining. It might simply constitute a common primordial object of consensus among the members beyond which many other characteristics make the membership of the organization desirable.

Furthermore, we observe that the difference between the OPC and MASSOB was more glaring in their response to the motive behind their membership of both organizations. Whereas 68 percent of OPC members overwhelmingly went for political event, 61 percent of MASSOB respondents chose personal event. The reason for the disparity is that OPC from what we have explained in chapter 3 of this study was created to redress the injustice done to the Yoruba ethnic group, especially when their kinsman Chief Moshood Abiola was denied his presidential mandate by the military that annulled the June 12, 1993 presidential election, an action that was interpreted by the Yoruba as a ploy to perpetuate the Hausa-Fulani oligarchy in Nigeria. It was that event that spurred many Yoruba into joining the organization. For MASSOB, the overwhelming choice of personal event may be attributed to personal experiences. Many of them may have been direct victims of some of the discriminatory policies put in place by state and federal governments as the collective punishment of the Igbo for their role in the civil war or the inability of the government to put to check the frequent eruption of ethno-religious riots in the country (Onu 2003, Obianyo 2007). Because of the nature of their businesses, Igbo people are more vulnerable to attacks than any other ethnic group in the country in the event of riots and disturbances given the nature of the business majority of them undertake.

Membership perception of the organization helps us not only to know why individuals would want to enlist in an organization, but why they remain with such a group (Weinstein 2005). Perception and membership opinion about the organization provides justification for the choices they made to enlist in the organization. So what difference do the members of the two organizations see compared to other political or cultural organizations? From the table under analysis, the members see the organizations as focused and well organized with neat behaviour which implies that the organizations do not cheat them. In other words, the members believe in the organizations and trust the leadership which is a very important element for organizational cohesion. The membership of the two organizations reposes a very high confidence in the organizations as one that is sincerely pursuing its goals and cares for their needs and ready to help them out of any problem. As noted by Guichaoua (2006:20) the perception that the OPC can protect, stem from the fear of the unknown as an impetus for affiliation, given the peculiar situation in Nigeria where law and order is slow at protecting the ordinary citizen from hoodlums and even deviant law officers doing the bidding of their pay masters. This view is expected to have a direct and immediate local beneficial impact on the members of the organization’s well being.

As such, the desire to be protected might stem from quite objective circumstance. For instance, certain organizations in Yoruba land such as the butchers in Ibadan have a formal security arrangement with OPC which compels every one of them to join so as to have their business secured. In this sense, the actual volition of the members to join may not be easy to determine as traders who decide not to join might suffer menaces or reprisals if they don’t pay their dues and levies to the OPC (Guichaoua 2006).

This view supports our findings from the field as regards the OPC where 32 percent of the respondents which is significant, said they decided to join the organization so as to please their benefactors. The kind of services rendered by the OPC going by that draws individuals into the organization particularly after 1999. This is not the case with MASSOB where only a paltry 7 percent of our respondents said they were drawn into the organization as a result of similar reason. For MASSOB, about 61 percent of the overwhelming number of the respondents indicated that they were persuaded by friends and neighbours into joining the group. This figure aligns with MASSOB membership drive based on persuasion and education of its target group. This is usually carried out by rank and file members who put pressure on friends, neighbours or close acquaintances. Also about 21 percent of OPC respondents and 32 percent of MASSOB’s indicated that their membership was based on spontaneous application. These individuals strongly believe in the ideology of the organizations.The ideological base of MASSOB is rooted in the perception that the Igbo are hated and marginalized in Nigeria by the other ethnic groups and those controlling the levers of power, and that these forces are determined to prevent the ethnic group from attaining its pre-civil war status (Ikpeze 2000). For the OPC it was hinged on the perception that the Hausa-Fulani are determined to keep their domination of political leadership in perpetual exclusion of qualified Nigerians particularly of Yoruba extraction who have worked hard to merit such position (Faseun 2005). Therefore, ideology as an indicator may stand as a reliable parameter of determining strong believers in the ideals the two organizations represent.

Table 4:6 Material and non-material rewards of membership

Immediate reward before or after operation (percent)









Non medical drugs/juju



First source of assistance in case of problems(percent)













Other relatives



Local militia leaders



Other militia members



Non militia friends



Militia as part of the first 4 sources of assistance(percent)

Does the militia help in case of …….(percent)

Injury in operation






Other urgent needs



Proportion of members having business contact with other members

What has the movement brought to your life(percent)

Behavioural Improvement



No more problem






Better economic situation



Nothing yet



Figure 4:6a Comparison of MASSOB and OPC Members Reward after Activity

Figure 4:6b Comparison of MASSOB and OPC Members Sources of Assistance

Figure 4:6c Comparison of MASSOB and OPC Welfare Systems

Figure 4:6d Comparison of MASSOB and OPC Members Gains from Membership

What are the expectations of individuals joining organizations like OPC and MASSOB? Basically the likelihood of multiple motives is high given the nature of the two organizations, but a look at the data from the field work as indicated in table 6 seems to show that the economic analytic explanation for the formation of rebellious groups is not so strong for the two organizations and particularly of MASSOB. When asked to select the kind of reward after an activitity, only 12 percent of MASSOB respondents answered in the positive that they received cash as reward unlike 27 percent of OPC respondents. For the OPC, the number is significant but not overwhelming and the explanation that can be made is simply hinged on the level of social integration between the two organizations. Because OPC provides social services to the public that compels the recipients to pay or appreciate such gesture, it is expected to be higher than those of MASSOB who are not very keen to engage in such even though they have the capacity as exemplified with its clash with the National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) in Onitsha in 2006. In some places, OPC members are contacted to guard streets either on 24 hours basis or nightly services. Individuals engaged in such are fed by those who contract them in addition to the weekly or monthly cash contribution that are made to them. For the MASSOB, free will gifts may account for the numbers from table 4:6. MASSOB clashed with joint police-military outfit invited by Governor Peter Obi of Anambra state to dislodge them from Onitsha after the clash with NARTO in 2006. This forced a good number of them to abandon their businesses and take refuge in Okwe, the headquarters of the organization and remote creeks of the Niger Delta (Anayo 2007). These categories of individuals were sustained by contribution from other members of MASSOB and sympathizers during that period. But the variation shows the difference between MASSOB and OPC which also reflected in the numbers that said ‘juju’, the traditional charm of protection is part of the reward. In Nigeria groups like the OPC and MASSOB are mystified to justify or paint an image of inviolability. For instance, it is widely believed that OPC uses juju as a spiritual covering against state agencies like the police and State Security Services (SSS) or criminals. It is the same with MASSOB though compared with OPC, the number of respondents are smaller (about 12 percent) whereas OPC respondents are 30 percent. MASSOB members are also alleged to use juju as immunity against clampdown by security operatives. This view was revealed by Eze Emmanuel Okonkwo of Okwe community who said that members of MASSOB were able to disarm military men sent to dislodge their meeting in Okwe because the bullets could not penetrate their bodies (Okonkwo 2007). This view is not widely held but the disparity between the two organizations is based on the fact that clashes between MASSOB and security operatives have not been as frequent as those of the OPC. Furthermore, the OPC undertake other activities that expose them to danger such as crime fighting, vigilantism and maintenance of security which require the use of juju for protection and so account for the widespread use among them compared to MASSOB.

Table 4:7 Militia Expectation

Expectation when joining (percent)


















Political awareness



Promises made when joining (percent)

Political promise



Protection promise



Material promise



Figure 4:7a Comparison of MASSOB and OPC Members Benefits since Joining

Figure 4:7b Comparison of MASSOB and OPC Promises made to Joiners

Table 4:7 and figure 4:7a show that ideology is a strong factor for subnationalism manifestation in Nigeria as spearheaded by ethnic militia groups. It also shows that the perspective which sees an ethnic militia movement as greed driven has no place in the Nigerian context going by the responses of the members of OPC and MASSOB captured in our survey. We can observe from the table that significant difference between MASSOB and OPC exists. Table 4:7 shows that members of MASSOB seem less concerned with material issues like cash and job when compared with the OPC. For instance, when our respondents were asked if they were expecting to gain cash with their membership of the organizations, almost 24 percent of OPC members responded in the affirmative as against about 6 percent of MASSOB members. It is also similar with members of the organizations who were expectant of job which their privileged membership could grant them. Here the number of OPC members who answered in the affirmative was much higher than the members of MASSOB. About 34 percent of OPC members answered in the affirmative as against just 5 percent of MASSOB members. But what could be the reason for this variation between OPC and MASSOB? The answer can be simply situated in the fact that membership of OPC appears more lucrative because the organization has made as its cardinal activity, provision of social services such as vigilantism, settlement of dispute and members who engage in such get material reward from the beneficiaries. As a result of this, it will not be out of place for individuals to join the OPC simply because it grants them access to engage in the kind of activities which can be handsomely rewarding depending on the clients involved. For instance, OPC’s vigilante activity is very popular in Lagos. So, OPC members lucky to be guarding an affluent neighbourhood can negotiate a fee that is comparable to that paid to individuals working in government or the private sector (Nolte 2007). This is enough to attract individual into the organization who may have the intention of using the membership card as a curriculum vitae for job.

A very significant number said they expected respect from neighbours and friends with their membership of the groups (33 percent of OPC and 25 percent of MASSOB respondents). The slight difference between the OPC and MASSOB as recorded in our study found explanation in the fact that the OPC is more mystified and so more feared and held in awe. This image of the OPC robs on the members which account for the variation. The modest success OPC members have recorded in crime fighting, vigilante and dispute settlement have bolstered the image of an organization that is strong because of its root in mystical practices (Nolte 2007). This of course explains why OPC members expect respect from the community more than the members of MASSOB.

This fact accounts for why more OPC respondents from the results in table 7 would say they expected to acquire power through membership of the organization compared with MASSOB. Given the nature of social service activities which the OPC engages in and the mistery surrounding the successes recorded by the organization in this regard, it is natural that members are likely to be feared by the public, meaning that in the eye of the community the successes relate to abilities beyond the natural. By this fact, it is not surprising that more OPC respondents (about 25 percent) against MASSOB (about 15 percent) are of the view that their powers would be enhanced by joining the organizations. But even these numbers are not very significant when compared to the number that believes their membership of the organizations would increase their political awareness. Here 67 percent of OPC respondents affirmed that political awareness was the reason for joining and even a little higher number, 72 percent of MASSOB respondent, also believed that their political awareness would increase by their membership of the organizations. Also respondents of the two organizations posted same percentage response when asked about the promises the militia groups made to them on joining the organizations. The majority were convinced that their membership would hasten reformation of the political system in line with the organizations objectives so as to guarantee better future for them and their children. Based on the aforementioned, we can argue that subnationalism in Nigeria is ideology-driven. But the degrees of ideology vary between MASSOB and OPC when we look at the last two items on table 4:7 where we have a higher variation between OPC and MASSOB. For instance, for protection promise, 50 percent of OPC respondents answered in the affirmative as against a mere 3 percent of MASSOB respondents. On material promise, it was 54 percent of OPC respondents affirming against about 8 percent of MASSOB respondents. The explanations for this variation between MASSOB and OPC lie in the nature of the two organizations in terms of objectives and activities. Though it was sub-national issues and perception of injustice and marginalization that led to the formation of the two organizations, their visions and their perspectives of how to solve the national question vary. Whereas OPC is demanding for the reformation of the Nigerian state to guarantee regional autonomy, MASSOB on the other hand does not believe that Nigeria is reformable. It is therefore calling for a seccession of the part of the country that constituted former Biafran Republic from Nigeria.

The event of post-transition to democratic dispensation in 1999 which produced a Nigerian president of Yoruba extraction, watered down the agitation of OPC which was premised on the perceived denial of a Yoruba man his presidential mandate. As such, 1999 was remarkable for the OPC because it was the year the organization was transformed from purely a political ideological based organization to a socio-cultural entity. It should also be recalled that it was at this time that the organization was factionalised after the debate of the future of the group in the democratic dispensation that pacified the Yoruba with the presidency. So the only way OPC could attract more members into its fold was to turn its energy to sanitizing the Yoruba by veering into social services which tend to be lucrative to the intending members. As such it will not be out of place to have such a significant number of OPC respondents affirming that they joined the group either because they want to improve their material well being or that they sought protection from harassment through their membership. The same cannot be said of MASSOB which has more extreme agenda of pulling the Igbo out of Nigeria. Frustrations arising from the unsuccessful bid of prominent citizens of Igbo extraction for the presidency of Nigeria in 2003 and 2007 inspite of support from Ohaneze Ndigbo the socio-cultural organization of the Igbo may have contributed to this. The situation is much more remote after the two term presidency of Obasanjo as power has reverted to the north, creating an uncertainty as to when it would be the turn of the Igbo and so gives impetus and reinforces the view held by Uwazurike and other members of MASSOB that the Igbo are hated and not wanted as equal partners in Nigeria.

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