Coalition of ethnic nationalities canvass armistice
By Charles Adingupu
The usual cold breeze which comes after a heavy downpour was conspicuously absent. Yet, ethnic leaders accompanied by their followers defied the early morning rain to attend the recent Nigerian ethnic nationalities summit which seeks to address the upsurge of violence in Nigeria.
Their well starched agbada and flown caftan almost betrayed the essence of the gathering except for troubled looks worn on their faces which barely explains the enormity of the task ahead of them.
“How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look,” the Chief Convener of the conference, and leader of the Odua Peoples’ Congress (OPC), chief Frederick Fasehun questions rhetorically. For a while the Chairman of the Coalition of Ethnic Nationalities of Nigeria (CENN) stared at the audience who only responded in silence by nodding their heads.
“We cannot stand aloof, fold our arms and watch when our beloved country is burning inch-by-inch and day-by-day, our brothers and sisters get blown to pieces,” he said. “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion.”
This biblical annotation further gives credence to his worries over the lackadaisical attitudes of Nigerian political leaders and statesmen over the current wave of violence which like a sore thumb has become a decimal in Nigeria.
He observed in dismay that “our beloved nation and our hard won democracy face real and inherent danger in an unfolding war of attrition.
“How can we afford the luxury to go dancing when our Rome is exploding and bullets are dismembering the peace of our national Zion to pieces? Can we go about business as usual when unusual business threatens our personal and corporate existence?,” he threw another question to the audience who are already lost in wondering contemplation.
The chief convener recalled with pain that in the last thirteen months or thereabout, aggrieved people and groups have fed Nigerians with a weekly and sometimes daily dose of sorrows, tears and blood.
“Violence,” he said, rules unhindered like a ravaging wolf set free upon docile sheep. And as Christians fall victim, so do Muslims. As men fall by the dozens so do women. As children lose limb and life, so do babies. The old as well as the young are equally getting killed.”
Fasehun, who lamented the current abysmal security situation, noted in dismay that the usual security agencies do not only appear to be losing the battle but have actually become victims themselves. He disclosed that the body count of victims of the insurgency of terrorists group has so far tipped the scale of over two thousand, three hundred casualties aside billions of naira lost in bombed buildings and properties.
The chief convener further disclosed that security votes in the region of trillions of naira have been thrown at the uprising, adding that such huge amount of money would have effortlessly build a robust infrastructural superstructure for all time in Nigeria.
But the Director-General, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Professor Bola Akinterinwa in his submission observed that some of these organisations such as the Odua Peoples’ Congress (OPC), the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), the Movement for the Emancipation of the Nigeria Delta (MEND), and the Arewa Youth Groups among others were initially created during the colonial era but have been policised in contemporary Nigeria and meant to develop political wings that cannot only fly but bite as well.
He lamented that the militant wings of these ethnic groups appear to now pose the greatest threat to democratic nationalism in Nigeria. The Director-General stated that this is the first time in Nigeria’s political history that a Head of State or President is confronted with terrorism – induced insecurity.
Professor Akinterinwa recalled with nostalgia that Nigeria had a civil war in 1967-1970, adding that the warring parties were known: Ojukwu-led Biafra and Gowon-led Nigeria.
“Reasons for Ojukwu’s break away policy were predicated on the perception of unfairness to his people. The battle fields were also then known.
Today, it is about insecurity induced by terror group which operates in a guerrilla like manner. They do not have any well-articulated objective that can warrant public sympathy. There is no specific battlefield for their terror. Every place, everywhere is battle field for attacks on non-combatants,” he said.
The DG disclosed that some PDP politicians promised to make Nigeria ungovernable should Dr. Goodluck Jonathan be elected the party flagbearer, adding that by coincidence or otherwise, Dr. Jonathan was not only elected the PDP flagbearer but also emerged winner of the presidential election.
“Since his election, Nigeria has been ungovernable, especially from the perspective of security challenges,” he said.
But Brigadier-General Ibrahim, Alhaji Sabo (rtd) stated that nations develop or disintegrate due to the inter-play of certain factors such as location, history, endowments in terms of national resources and core values arising from its culture and traditions.
According to him, the extent to which the people of a nation are able to manage the interplay of these factors would determine to what extent a nation develops peacefully, without crises or armed conflict.
The retired army officer noted that usually, the more heterogeneous the various communities, the easier it is for the nation to emerge as the real or perceived injustices are not likely to be as numerous or widespread as would be when very many of the communities are different.
He further observed that virtually all the major religions of the world preach peace and good neighbourliness, adding that they also preach similar tenets with regards to duty to the family, the community and the nation.
Sabo, however, lamented that practitioners of the various religions often lead their followers to paths of deep and often murderous hatred of people who practised religions different from their own.
“Indeed many times, sects of the same religion engage in mortal combats either out of ignorance or rabid fundamentalism. Matters usually get out of hand when the dangerous mix of religions and come into play,” he stated “that merging people in Nigeria with diverse culture and religion into a modern nation state with the globally recognised parameters appears like a tall order indeed as all the factors that may lead to mutual suspicion are in abundance.
He stated that mischief makers are not in short supply, particularly those who are ever ready to manipulate these factors to their own narrow advantage.
Against this backdrop, the President, Nigerian Union of Journalist, Mohammed Garba who was represented stated that societies like Nigeria face a peculiar complex challenge in evolving a collectively agreed pattern for which competing groups will seek self definition or emancipation, given the incidence of our diversity with regards to the struggle for the control of resources, varying interests from political, social-cultural, economic or religions become ingredients for contending forces among actors in the nation space.
“Conflict situations since independent Nigeria have been described as occasioned by resource struggles, harsh economic and social conditions, injustice and ineptitude, and indeed manipulations arising from belief patterns or material inclinations of people prone to finding sympathy in a conflict situation,” Garba declared.
But the President, Igbo Youth Congress, Comrade Bright Ezeocha stated that a new phase of violence which is alien to Nigeria is currently threatening the basic foundation and unity of our country. The Igbo leader noted that the blood curdling stories of the Islamist group, Boko Haram has become an intractable menace that has reduced Nigeria into a prostrate state brought only ‘insecurity which is extremely frightening.
Comrade Ezeocha further stated that the decision of PDP leaders and its acolytes to jettison the zoning formula in the last election has brought great consequence on the fragile peace the nation once enjoyed.
“The process sof the party’s congress that produced its presidneital candidates was shrouded in secrecy andkey political party members acquiesced at various processes subsequent to the congress and selection of the party’s presidential candidate,” he said.
In the light of the above, Chairman of the CENN, noted that despite the imperfections in the current constitution, Nigerians must live together in peace and harmony, adding that if however, one day, the different entities decide to go their separate ways, they must kiss and say goodbye peacefully.
Dr. Fasehun declared that a handful of angry people, even if their anger can be justified cannot force that decision down the throat of 160 million Nigerians.
“We understand Boko Haram’s anger. And not all conflict is evil. They must bring healing to its wounds and appeasement to its anger. Every war ends around the table. And Boko Haram must shelve this war-war and settle for jaw-jaw,” he said.
Sovereign National Conference
As a way out of the current ethnic conflicts threatening to tear the nation apart, Dr. Fasehun insists that Nigeria must convene the Sovereign National Conference which will create an opportunity for representatives of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities to agree on a roadmap for the future.
According to him, all the nationalities must able their discuss grievances, interests, fears, hopes and aspirations as well as negotiate the prenuptial agreement for our marriage.
Professor Akinterinwa said that many militant groups believe that the Nigeria project cannot be built on unfairness and injustice and are therefore, asking for reflections and negotiations on it.
The DG further argued that militant groups did not emerge from a vacuum but were, indeed, the consequences of what the Nigerian state probably did or did not do very well in the past.
Apart from the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference, Akinterinwa urged review of the federal character principle and quota system.
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