Separatists held after 100 die in Lagos clash

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The Independent Online

Nigerian police and military pledged to crack down on militant tribal groups yesterday and arresting two secessionist leaders blamed for clashes that have claimed more than 100 lives since Sunday.

Nigerian police and military pledged to crack down on militant tribal groups yesterday and arresting two secessionist leaders blamed for clashes that have claimed more than 100 lives since Sunday.

Nigeria's senate has passed a resolution empowering President Olusegun Obasanjo to declare a state of emergency in Lagos. In a unanimous vote, the senate also mandated security agencies to investigate and charge any person found to be backing a tribal militia group, the Odua People's Congress (OPC), or similar groups.

The OPC wants secession of the south-western Yorubas, who have been involved in four days of clashes in Nigeria's commercial capital with migrant Hausa-Fulanis from the north. On Wednesday, the government outlawed the OPC.

In Lagos, armoured personnel carriers with heavily armed paramilitary police and troops patrolled the shantytowns at the heart of the unrest, and community leaders in the north pleaded for an end to reprisal killings.

The latest tribal clashes in Nigeria are believed to have been triggered by fighting last week in Ilorin, near Lagos. Six OPC members were killed after they installed a new Yoruba traditional chief. OPC members retaliated in Lagos, attacking market areas where Hausa-Fulani traders predominate.

Mike Okiro, police chief for Lagos, the biggest city in Africa, declined to name the arrested leaders. He said: "We are going for the OPC leaders one by one. We have a list. In all, 204 persons were arrested in action and they will soon be charged."

President Obasanjo's decision to ban ethnic-based militias is likely to be interpreted by many Nigerians as a sign of creeping militarisation. Since the civilian president from a military background came to power last year, militia groups such as the OPC have flourished, partly because they are considered ruthless vigilantes, far more effective than ill-equipped police.

Part of the civil rights movement - which became highly respected internationally for its resistance to decades of military rule - is Yoruba-based and aligns itself with secessionist calls. The OPC, which wants to liberate "Odua", an ancient Yoruba kingdom, counts among its supporters the celebrated human rights activist, Beko Ransome Kuti, brother of the late singer, Fela.

President Obasanjo, who led a dictatorship as a general from 1976 to 1979, believes Nigeria should remain a united country under one government, just as it was under military rule.

But the civil rights activists want a federation and say secessionist activity will increase unless the president calls a sovereign national conference on the issue.

Clashes have killed at least 1,000 people since President Obasanjo came to power in May last year. In 1967, ethnic tension in the east of Nigeria led to the Biafran war.

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