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



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4:2:7 Determinants of Cooperation

Rebellion organizations face the danger of running into disarray given the formidable opposition posed by state machine often deployed against them unless the organization maintains an effective absorptive strategy. In other words, the rebellion organization must ensure that it remains cohesive through the creation of a resilient internal structure and also ensuring that there is a loyal and united rank and file membership as the only means of survival. Again, to surmount the inevitable onslaught by state security operative means that the organization’s chain of commands and systems of control must be rock solid. For instance Sanin (2004) remarked that the success of FARC in Columbia stems from its ability to scrupulously control the material benefits accruing to its members from their activities, prohibits looting and encourages ascetic lifestyle aim at eliminating greed among the members. In what ways have both MASSOB and OPC been able to maintain discipline among its members and what are the internal mechanisms within the organizations to ensure cohesion. This addresses our objective that seeks to examine the nature and character of the two organizations.

For clandestine organizations, survival implies that there must be conscious effort to ensure that recruits at the point of entry subscribe fully to the objectives and acceptance of the leadership so as to extract commitment to the organization’s activities and goals. This process requires a thorough screening of applicants at the point of entry. Important as this exercise is, it must be juxtaposed with the element of membership strength which is a vital security fall back against attack from state security operatives. In other words strigent conditions that have the potentials of turning away potential joiners must be avoided. This is because, huge membership of ethnic organizations functions as a counteracting agent against government suppression especially a central government that is perceived to be dominated by individuals from a domineering ethnic group as is the case with Nigeria where the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group from the north is seen as dominating the others. Aware of these facts, both MASSOB and OPC are very liberal in their admission processes into the organizations but positions within the organizations are filled by individuals who have demonstrated commitment to the organizations through active participation in groups’ activities and duration of membership. It is these two vital factors that the two organizations consider before placing individuals in various positions though consideration of level of educational attainment is also very important. The two organizations have highly disciplined members who are always conscious of the dangers in divulging information about the organization. My experience in the field proved this very fact given the different clearance from chains of hierarchy before interviews were granted for this study. This was similar to the experience of Yvan Guichaoua who carried out a study on the OPC in 2006. In his words’

‘Questionnaire has been handed in to factional leaders before actual survey took place and has been accepted as such. (Naïve) attempts were made to obtain lists of local leaders and their group members. Unsurprisingly this objective was not met but formal clearance was granted to carryout the survey. In the end, personal contacts with local intermediaries in Ibadan and Lagos proved to be the most efficient route to gain access to the lowest but decisive level of authority within the movement: the zonal coordinator. Zonal coordinators, and only them could grant us access to the rank and file members’ (Giuchaoua 2006).


The graphic shows that despite regular contacts between all tiers of the organizational hierarchy, the activities and supervision of the grassroots followers depend on the immediate supervisor. The OPC structure gives large margins of manoeuvre to its representative; MASSOB is more closely knitted organization. But how did the organizations achieve this level of discipline.

Our findings reveal that MASSOB and OPC have different strategies of maintaining cohesion and discipline. For instance, the OPC as a policy takes new recruits into the organization into a process of oath administration, a technique used not only to retain membership but to ensure that organizational secrets are not divulged by rank and file members without clearance. Though Dr Faseun denied the practice of oath taking, Chief Adams defended it as accepted Yoruba culture that practitioners should not be ashamed of (Adams 2008, Faseun 2008). The effectiveness of Chief Adams to hold his followers in awe through this technique relied heavily on his recruitment policy. He was accused by Faseun of being responsible for the division of OPC into youth and elders’ faction but the towering profile of Adams and his faction of the OPC subsume any effort to disabuse people’s mind on OPC’s involvement in such practices. Even the responses of our questionnaire points to the entrenched notion of juju and spiritualism on the part OPC compared to MASSOB. For instance when they were asked on their reward after groups’ activities, over 30 percent of OPC respondents claimed that juju was one of such as against a mere 12 percent of MASSOB respondents. It is however instructive to note that when asked on the nature of activities within the organization, 49 per cent of OPC respondents against 57 MASSOB respondents claimed they engage in spiritual activities. However, the spiritual activity performed by both organization are different as can be inferred from our in-depth interviews, whereas the OPC leader Chief Gani Adams clearly identifies with OPC’s reliance on juju, MASSOB leaders Ralph Uwazurike and Benjamin Onuegbu deny the use of juju in MASSOB activities. The spiritual activity which MASSOB respondents claimed according to them is the Christian prayer and fasting that have come to form a core of MASSOB’s activities. The organization believes that the Igbo are one of the lost tribes of Israel and that the experiences they are undergoing in Nigeria is part of the tribulation they must experience until the appointed time when God shall deliver them from oppression and grant them freedom in their own state of Biafra. This thinking is widely held by MASSOB activists and so a department of Religious Affairs is part of MASSOB’s structure that handles spiritual affairs. Though it has been reported that MASSOB members disarmed soldiers who came to attack them using traditional spiritual method (Okonkwo 2006), emphasis on Igbo Christian heritage as reflected in prayers and fasting before activities could account for the significant response by MASSOB members on spiritualism. For the OPC, it is well known that traditional spiritualism is part of its method of operation and one of the leaders does not shy away from that. Guichaoua (2006) has remarked that there are OPC members whose expertise knowledge of juju/spiritualism has elevated their position and utility in the organization, some of them patrons of the organization in charge of mediating conflicts and settling disputes. The entrenched belief is that higher profile OPC members including Gani Adams have the ability temporarily to petrify their enemies and so when new members are recruited into the organization, they go through the process of oath taking and initiation through progressive learning of the use of juju. These provoke fear in OPC’s potential enemies and gives OPC credibility within its area of operation.

For the OPC, these techniques apart from instilling self confidence on the members, also ensures organizational cohesion because violation of the oath may have very serious consequences for the culprit. This is not the case with MASSOB, but the prominence given to their Christianity identity as the reason why they are marginalized and oppressed triggers members’ commitment to the organization.

In other word, common experience has helped MASSOB to stick together, but OPC has been held together by coercion. Accordingly, it is easier to become an ex-MASSOB than ex-OPC members. However, on general terms, we can assert that one important element that is powerful in holding the two organizations together is social capital. These are emotional attachment individual members of an organization derive through constant interaction with others in the sense that someone is there to share your triumph and failures which creates sense of belongingness. In all, the bottomline is that MASSOB’s and OPC’s approach to maintaining cohesion varies. Whereas OPC relies heavily on instilling fear of repercussion on members who defy the organization and its leadership, the MASSOB, operates a system that relies heavily on the disposition of the individual member, calculation of gains derived from interest, personal bonds and even social capital constitute the key factors determining continued membership.
4:2:8 Micro-Group Responses

Through the rhetorics of leaders of MASSOB and OPC issues of marginalization, injustice and unfair treatment of their ethnic group reverbate as reasons behind the formation of both organizations. In other words, the motive for their formation and nature of their activities are geared towards correcting these anomalies. From the foregoing, it becomes imperative to examine these issues and determine to what extent these organizations represent the aspirations of their publics so as to address the objective of the study relating to that. If that is the case, then we should ask; to what degree are the organizations and their membership entrenched into their communities?

To determine this question we had to focus on membership of the two organizations to find out the degree of attachment with their community through such parameters as marital statuses, family ties and place of abode as inicated in Table 4:4. The results show a high degree of social integration of OPC and MASSOB members into their communities. What this implies is that the members of the two organizations constitute an integral part of such societies and so will naturally share the feelings and concerns of such society. For instance a little less than half of our respondents in both organizations claimed that they are married. The number of respondents from the OPC is 48 percent whereas for the MASSOB it is 46 percent. What we can deduce from this is that family consideration will be uppermost in the members as they deliberate on strategies of carrying out their activities in terms of the implications and the risks involved in those actions. What this means is that moderation aught to be the natural consideration and so extreme socially deviant behaviours that has the capacity of jeopardizing the interest of their family members are likely to be avoided. This is more so when we look at same table, we realise those members of the two organizations are not only married but the proportions of them that have children are very significant. For the OPC the number is higher than those who claimed that they are not married unlike MASSOB where the number nearly corresponds. Though explanation for this might call for another study, our interest is on the factors that can affect actions of the members of the organizations. An organization with a large proportion of its members imbued with family responsibility to take care of, can hardly transform into full blown militia organization. When the members of an organization are part of their communities, it makes it easier for them to respond to the problems of the people more effectively than institutions of the state might do as it is the case with the Nigerian police. The OPC has carved a niche in this regard. The OPC’s involvement in providing security for its community stem from the fact that criminality is a huge concern in Yoruba land as in other parts of Nigeria. (Alemika & Chukwuma 2005). The OPC’s visibility in this sector has created a huge impact in the sense that the organization is viewed more as the ‘police force’ ordinary people can rely on. In going about this task, OPC arrests criminals some of whom are sometimes handed over to the police but most often are subjected to instant justice because of the unreliability of the police who are not trusted to prosecute such fellows. Even though this amount to extra-judicial measure, the liquidation of such arrested fellow has led to reduction of the incidence of armed robbery in the southwest (Guichaoua 2006).

Another area that shows greater integration and acceptability of the OPC by its public is its provision of judicial services. Given the obstacle in formal process of dispute settlement that forces people to choose alternative traditional routes, OPC has gained tremendous popularity in these areas through its meticulous arbitration of landlord/tenant issues, collection of debts among others (Okechukwu 2000). This aspect of OPC’s activity which clearly shows that the organization has emerged as an informal actor regulating Yoruba society is boosted by the identity of its local leaders who generally share many affiliations as members of such other traditional society as the “oro” or members of labour unions (Nolte 2004). In fact, OPC has defended the interests of workers threatened with or dismissed from their workplaces (Omole 2005). Through personal networks of its members, OPC has been enmeshed in the activities of many other organizations of informal social regulation and the ability to bridge gaps between the organizations, and to ensure delivery of public service where formal institutions has failed is what has marked the organization out ( Okechukwu 2000).

Also, the OPC recommends vigilantes in its area of influence; returns recovered stolen goods to their owners and mediate between conflicting parties. However, beneficiaries of these services pay according to their social status. The local OPC leader sees these avenues as lucrative because of what accrues to them from such transaction (Faseun 2008). However, the booty that is gained from the provision of these services is not appropriated solely by the members or their immediate officers, as the national body of the OPC is entitled to ten percent of whatever is paid to these individuals.

Another area we can speak of the OPC is its intrumentalization by local politicians which was alluded to by Faseun himself while referring to the activities of Chief Gani Adams faction of the organization (Faseun 2008). Though on the surface, it appears like an ideological conflict that led to the division, beneath the surface are squabble for the control the organization and the perquisites therefrom. For instance, Faseun’s grouse with Gani Adams was on the use of OPC as mercenaries to serve the inordinate ambitions of politicians.

But this notwithstanding, the OPC has warmed itself into the hearts of the Yoruba public by intervening to advance their interests even if it calls for violent actions against other groups. Such examples include OPC meddlesomeness in Ilorin chieftaincy conflict between the Afonjas and the Fulani ruling families, the Sagamu imbroglio against the Hausa, the Ketu-Mile 12 market disturbance, and the Apapa wharf Dock Workers conflict among many others. In all these disputes, OPC had intervened to push the interests of its micro-group. These violent actions which have led to loss of lives and properties inadvertently helped OPC to consolidate its support base among its micro-group and entrenching the perception of OPC as a liberator.

For the MASSOB, the scenario is different but relationship with the micro-group has been cordial and supportive as stated by Uwazurike and Onuegbu, both of whom claimed that the support for MASSOB among the Igbo is solid ( Onuegbu 2008,Uwazurike 2008). This claim might be difficult to measure but one event that alluded to this is the calls made by MASSOB for a sit-at–home on August 26, 2004, September 2005 and May 14, 2007 all of which witnessed massive compliance inspite of appeals to the contrary by state government authorities and security agencies as indicated by newspaper reports. Commenting on the issue, Maduabum who writes for kwenu.com opined that the success of those events contributed to the growth and popularity of the organization among Igbo publics. As he puts it:

“The outfit won the heart of the masses when it staged a successful and peaceful one-day sit-at-home strike two years ago and another two-day sit-at-home strike a year later, to protest the continuous detention of their leader. The latter act alone gave the outfit even more popularity. Since then, the outfit has grown bigger and stronger” (Maduabum 2006).
The implication of these is that the Igbo regards MASSOB as a credible organization that intends to correct the perceived injustice and marginalization of their ethnic group even when a substantial number (44.8 percent) still have faith in the corporate existence of the country which is at variance with the organizations agenda (Onu 2001:21). Those events which demonstrated the support base of the organization among the Igbo public evoke thoughts of transforming the organization into a social pressure group in the mould of the OPC (Nnanna 2007). This view became necessary following the conclusion of 2003 General Elections in Nigeria. Nnanna reasoned that MASSOB’s seamless transmutation into a liberation ‘army’ came about by two factors (Nnanna 2007). The realization of Igbo elites that used to scorn MASSOB,that such stance may be at their detriment politically given the support base of the organization and the reinforcement of the perception held by MASSOB members that the Igboland is conquered following the reported massive rigging of 2003 general elections in the area. Nnanna had noted that Igbo governors that were elected in 2003 and other political bigwigs, most notably Achike Udenwa who was governor of Imo State during his first tenure, called the bluff of the MASSOB, but after realising the growing influence of the group, invited the leadership to a meeting with key Ohanaeze leaders as witnesses to work out a way forward (Nnanna 2007). At the meeting, Udenwa denied ever being against MASSOB or its goals, but advised for a change of tactics by the organization. Udenwa had feared that support for MASSOB by groups like Biafra Libertion Mandate could spell doom for him if his perceived hostility to MASSOB and Biafra persisted (Nnanna 2007).

To be politically correct, Udenwa had pointed out that the OPC had the same goals as MASSOB and in fact, indulges in open violent acts, but security operatives find it difficult to go after them because their name gives an impression of a legal ethnic platform. He also pointed out that whenever OPC got into trouble, scores of Yoruba lawyers rally to its aid and when Ganiyu Adams wedded, five Southwest governors attended and gave him a car gift each. Similarly, Obasanjo appointed Ganiyu Adams, whom his administration once declared wanted into a peace committee where he sat with the likes of Shehu Malami and respected traditional rulers (Nnanna 2007). He however reasoned that the same could not happen to MASSOB, as its adoption of the title of ‘sovereign’ and ‘Biafra’ renders it illegal, subversive and treasonable ab initio and suggested to MASSOB to change its name to something less ‘offensive’, as that could open the floodgate to massive material, political and logistic support from every Igbo person in and out of Nigeria.

Those lines of advice were flatly rejected by Ralph Uwazurike thus reinforcing the antagonism between Igbo mainstream elite and the MASSOB, a behaviour that is not thought of in the OPC where respect for elders are upheld by the membership. OPC never openly rebuff advice from the Yoruba elite even though Faseun stated in interviews that Gani Adams violated peace overtures arranged by prominent Yoruba elite including the Oni of Ife.

However, it is important to state that OPC members’ penchant to render social services to its publics where they are needed is because they are more entrenched with these publics than MASSOB. From the results obtained from our questionnaire as indicated in Table 6, it was obvious that more OPC members live among the people than MASSOB members, (about 58 percent to 49 percent) respectively. On the issue of acquaintance with the people, more OPC members claim that they are known in their neighbourhood than MASSOB members. This is very significant and explains why the OPC is more protected than the MASSOB in terms of micro-group relationship.



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