By Rotimi Fasan
IN the context of the recent calls for the dismemberment of Nigeria and the series of accusations, counter accusations and name-calling that have followed, it is important to ask who really are those who want Nigerians to go their separate ways. An answer to this question will not be easy to come by but it is neither too difficult nor impossible to know. At least an attempt to find an answer to the question may give us a sense of who are behind the calls and their motivations for fueling the embers of separation. This is in spite of the attempts by the Nigerian state to pretend to be a neutral party in the whole controversy. At least that is what the shuttling around, meeting with traditional rulers and community leaders by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, would suggest. The Vice President has in the last couple of weeks met with leaders from different sections of the country. This was in a bid to diffuse the tension caused by the initial quit notice issued by the Coalition of Northern Groups CNG, to the Igbo to leave the north by October 1, 2017.
But in his latest message to Nigerians, President Muhammadu Buhari or his minders who made available the Eid Fitr message he delivered in Hausa, may be fueling the embers of disintegration, rather deliberately. Or what is the point in a president who, at his inauguration, boasted that he belonged to nobody but to everybody becoming the one constantly taking provocative steps that call into question his belief in Nigerian unity? Was this an old speech of the president’s presented as new? Or was this a desperate move by the cabal of presidential minders to prove that the president has no speech impairment as is being alleged? If so, then the opposite effect has been achieved. By this speech, Nigerians can confirm that the president can’t be in the best state of health at this time. We all knew the president was ill before now. But he may be worse now or he would not choose to address the nation in Hausa at a time when ethnic tension is at a cutting edge and his deputy is desperately running around to douse it.
Buhari is convalescing in the UK. Could he be standing outside and throwing stones at the people inside? Is he taking advantage of his absence from home, far from the scene of tension to cause trouble back here? And for what purpose would he be doing this? Mischief or plain ignorance? Having told Nigerians of his obligation to those who voted for him at the expense of those who didn’t; having constituted a cabinet that is as exclusive and unrepresentative as it could possibly be, is the President not yet satisfied? Is he bent on bringing down the roof on us all? Or what is the meaning of the kind of insensitivity he appears to relish and exhibits at regular intervals? Why all these attempts at aggravating Nigerians? A want of wisdom, a desire for throwing tantrums or disdain of others? Does the President not feel concerned about the tension around? Or is he content to lead a part as if it is the whole? Which question takes me back to the CNG’s quit notice to the Igbo.
That call has been met with condemnation from many parts of the country and among Nigerians of diverse ethnicities including the north. But as with most things Nigerian, it has been impossible to clear off the maze of ethnic sentiments that have characterised responses to the call. Of course, the Indigenous People of Biafra IPOB, the group whose activities prompted the quit notice by the CNG, has not been silent. It has been encouraging the Igbo people in the north to move back home as if it has ready-made homes and jobs to settle the returnees into. Indeed, the likely consequences of such capricious call to arm that both the quit notice and the counter responses from IPOB implicate have been overlooked in the ego war between the warring groups and their partisans. Orders and counter orders are just being issued by civilians who have never handled a weapon but pretend to be war generals. They shout out commands and intimidate everyone who does not appear to share their war-mongering into silence. There is hardly any thought for those whose lives they seek to bring disruptions to.
The irony of these calls to arm and for separation is that those making them are the least qualified persons to do so. They are far less likely to bear the brunt of their calls than those they urge into the trenches. Nnamdi Kanu carries a British passport and when the heat got too much for him at some point, he or his supporters sought concessions for him on account of his being a British citizen. They called for the intervention of the British among other western governments and institutions including the United Nations. Not much is known of his immediate family and the likelihood that they reside in the United Kingdom, far from his beloved Biafra, is very high. One of the co-conveners of the CNG, Shettima Yerima who is at the forefront of the Igbo quit notice, is a resident of Lagos. Although now his cover has been blown he wants the world to know that he lives more in Kaduna than in Lagos. Whether Lagos or the UK the point is that he like Kanu is far from the point from where he issues his war cries, which leads one to believe that, like Kanu, he may be hungrier for attention than for war.
The point is that championing ethnic calls in the name of fighting for self-determination has, like kidnapping for ransom and armed robbery, become a very lucrative shortcut to wealth in the wake of military rule. We know this from how stupendously rich many former ethnic warlords and militia leaders have become after taking or threatening to take up arms. But how quickly did they abandon their warring ways for very quiet lifestyles soon after making fortunes from causing mayhem and bloodshed? They have abandoned ship for others hungrier than them to take over. And so do we continue with the constant recycling of ethnic warlords and latter-day Black Scorpions who were not born when the civil war they so blithely recall raged. Many of the internet warriors that wake up chewing curds of war reside abroad. They’ve been cut off from home and separated from the realities of what it means to live in contemporary Nigeria. The less they are taken seriously the better for those they urge to war.