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Saturday, 05 April 2003
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05 Apr 2003 16:26:28 GMT
Yoruba group in Nigeria seek sovereign state

LAGOS, April 5 (Reuters) - A Nigerian group called on Saturday for a sovereign state for the Yoruba, the country's second biggest ethnic group, raising political tension in the multi-ethnic nation one week before key elections.

The Oodua Republic Front (ORF) said independence had become imperative for the southwest region because the Yoruba were being held back by the country's conservative north.

The Yoruba consider themselves Nigeria's educationally most advanced ethnic group.

"Events since independence...have shown beyond doubt that development and fulfilment are impossible for the Yoruba within the Nigerian neo-colonial enclave," the ORF said in an editorial-style advertisement in the independent newspaper Punch.

The advertisement, the first open call for a sovereign state of Oodua, urged the Yoruba to fly the Oodua flag and wear its logo and symbol.

The Yoruba are angered by the fact that they had never produced a post-independence leader of Nigeria until President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose election in 1999 ended 15 years of brutal army rule.

Nigeria holds a string of of elections between April 12 and May 3, the first since 1999. The most important is the presidential and the governorship vote on April 19, in which Obasanjo is facing an uphill re-election bid.

The runup to the polls, the first supervised by civilians in nearly 20 years, has been overshadowed by political and ethnic violence in which over 10,000 people have died in four years.

"This is the beginning of the struggle and we are willing to go to any lengths to get an independent state of Oodua," ORF spokesman Jubril Ogundimu told Reuters.

"We are willing to negotiate our breakaway, but if that fails and it means war, we are prepared," Ogundimu said. "We are being cheated, Nigeria is a fraud, that's why we must go our own separate ways."

In a previous attempt at secession, the southeast region of Biafra declared itself a republic in 1967 and more than one million people died in a bitter three-year war before government forces crushed the separatists.

Political analysts say a successful secession bid by any of Nigeria's three main regions could lead to the balkanisation of Africa's most populous nation of more than 120 million people. Yoruba nationalist Adewale Thompson told Reuters in a recent interview that the Yoruba Council of Elders had drawn up plans for a Yoruba state with its own constitution and national anthem.

He said the YCE, of which he is secretary-general, was backing Obasanjo in his re-election bid in the belief that he would convene a "conference of ethnic nationalities" on the issue of self-determination.

Nigeria hopes the poll will result in the first successful transfer of power from one elected government to another since independence from Britain in 1960. Previous attempts in 1965 and 1983 ended in violence and army takeovers.

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