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Between war and peace

THE proposition seems to be this: Because there are separatist agitations or campaigns for self-determination across Nigeria, the drums of war must be rolled out. But the choice before the country should not be war or peace. It should be peace because the world teems with examples of societies that experienced the sort of challenges currently facing Nigeria and emerged from them without killing each other.

What are Nigeria’s immediate political challenges? Reuben Abati, spokesman to ex-President Jonathan articulated them in Biafra, O’odua, and the 7th lesson, an article published in the Vanguard of October 30, 2015: According to Dr. Abati,“[T]he biggest challenge that the Nigerian state faces today, tearing into the very idea of statehood, and of democracy, is the centrifugal pull from every direction that seems to have become disturbingly incremental. In the North Eastern part of the country, with the tragedy spreading, with casualties increasing, you have the heart-wrenching Boko Haram menace…

The Haram fundamentalists want a divided Nigeria…In the Middle Belt, an indigene-settler dichotomy, mutating as majorities-minorities conflict at the heart of Northern community relations, or as pastoralists-farmer confrontation has created seasons of violence and bloodshed with strong allegations of genocide and no sign of immediate abatement.

In the South West, the recent abduction of a Yoruba leader, Chief Olu Falae by persons alleged to be Fulani herdsmen has resulted in the exchange of hate speech among Yoruba and Fulani ethnic champions defending territory, rights and identity…a group of Yoruba elders demanded that Fulani herdsmen should be expelled from Yoruba territory and that should the provocation continue, the Yoruba with their 50 million population will be prepared to exit Nigeria. In the Eastern part of the country, there is a resurgence of Biafran nationalism; young Igbos in diaspora, are insisting on the creation of a Republic of Biafra…In the South South, there is a renewed consciousness of oil citizenship, with the Ijaw whose kinsman recently lost power at the centre protesting that they are victims of Hausa/Fulani harassment, and intimidation.”

Dr. Abati’s analysis is comprehensive. But, in my view, he shot wide by locating the country’s biggest challenge in “the centrifugal pull from every direction” that it is taking. No. Nigeria’s biggest challenge is to appreciate the place of centripetal measures as agents for mastering identified challenges, and to deploy them with convenient speed. That’s not being done, unfortunately.

Take Biafra, which currently appears to have commandeered most of the headlines. It is no solution to keep at scaremongering, by highlighting the hell that was the secessionist Republic of Biafra. That amounts to bandaging a septic sore in the hope of wangling a cure. A more sensible approach would be to address the concerns on whose wings the renewed Biafran agitation is flying. Why should this be an impossible road to travel?

President Buhari’s ascription of the spread of Boko Haram terror to the extrajudicial slaying of the sect’s leader is in total support of the thesis here. Another good example: President Obasanjo’s 1999 military expedition that wiped out Odi in Bayelsa State, costing some 2500 lives, was an important factor in the escalation of militancy in the Niger Delta. Now, it took visionary leadership by the government of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, to halt and reverse the militancy that was close to destroying the national economy. Therefore, this question: why is the new, violence free agitation for Biafra, not being addressed with similar political astuteness?

During July, Nigeria released 182 Boko Haram prisoners. Boko Haram is the most violent terrorist group in Africa, whose war against the country has cost over 5000 lives. The Federal Government has raised N58.8 billion in Victims’ Support Fund (VSF) for the North East, and also secured a World Bank loan of N393.9 billion, to rebuild its infrastructure and resettle the internally displaced. In contradistinction, all Federal roads in the South East are impassable, while erosion continues to shred the entire region.

Therefore, to refute charges of scornful neglect and marginalisation, the Federal Government should have deployed even one single Naira to check these calamities. Instead, peaceful Biafran agitators are being hounded into jails.

Thisday of October 21, 2015 reports that the Police detained scores of peaceful Biafran agitators, mostly women, in Awka, Anambra State. The State Police Commissioner, Hosea Karma, said that the detained were parading along the Enugu-Onitsha expressway, disturbing the relative peace in the state and, therefore, deserved to be punished!

People abound who would see rain clouds gathering but remain incapable of guessing what they portend. Biafran agitators should please remain non-violent. Those in contact with them must make this point abundantly clear.

Already, Obasanjo has added to Mr. Karma’s arbitrariness by demonising them as criminals and miscreants. Isn’t the crass pronouncement of this turbulent man part of an attempt to set the people up for mob action and decimation? Warning: It isn’t necessary to play into vicious hands itching to finish the uncompleted assignment of the Nigeria/Biafra War.

Mr. Chuk Iloegbunam, an author, wrote from Lagos.


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