By Ochereome Nnanna
ON October 1, 2017, we will be marking (not celebrating) the 57th anniversary of our Independence. Taking everything into account, there is nothing to celebrate about a blood-soaked national history; a nation whose independence has only brought great misery to the generality of its people who have now turned against one another with hearts full of hatred, or so it seems.
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has a very difficult task on his hands. Even without the full toga of executive power (let’s face it: the cabal of President Muhammadu Buhari’s kinsmen within the corridors of power are on guard watching every move he makes) Osinbajo has been pulling the various levels of leadership from across the nation’s geopolitical divides to reaffirm faith in the sanctity of Nigeria’s unity.
The other day, I mentioned that the Buhari Presidency is like a coin with the obverse and reverse sides. Buhari, the main face of the coin, created the problem we are currently facing by going against our constitution which demands the equitable distribution of the offices and amenities of the nation to give every group within our diversity a sense of belonging.
During his inaugural speech on 29th May 2015, President Buhari pledged to Nigerians: “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody”. But nearly two months later on 22nd July at the United States Institute of Peace USIP, Washington DC, the President contradicted this noble pledge when he said he would give more favours to those who gave him “97%” of the votes that brought him to power while those who gave him “5%” would have to manage with less. Alarmed, I wrote an article on 14th December 2015, with a title: “97%/5%, A Formula For National Upheaval”, which has turned out prophetic.
Now with Buhari away on medical leave, Acting President Osinbajo has been trying to cope with the damage created by the faithful implementation of this obnoxious policy. He has even openly criticised “lack of inclusive governance”, though he did not make direct reference to anyone. Obviously, it was the President’s refusal to carry all Nigerians along that made the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra IPOB, leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the overnight “hero” he appears to have become. The quest for Biafra had been tepidly and peacefully pursued for over twenty years by Barrister Ralph Uwazuruike’s Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB.
Buhari’s assumption of power and his unwillingness to carry the South East (and to a lesser extent, the South-South) along provided the fuel with which Nnamdi Kanu’s pirate Radio Biafra caught the imagination of millions of angry Igbo youth. Kanu claims that his Biafra agitation is “non-violent”. That is hardly the case. What is violence? Is it only when you threaten others (or your country) with arms? I don’t think so. When you abuse people, call them dirty names and dehumanise them with incendiary rhetoric; that is violence. And when you mobilise people to block the roads and thus prevent other law-abiding citizens from going about their normal duties; that is hardly “peaceful”. You are violating their fundamental right to free movement. But when you boycott socio-economic activities and observe a “sit-at-home” call without being forced to do so, I don’t think that is violence because you have not stopped anyone from enjoying their constitutional liberties. It is a legitimate form of agitation.
It is in this light that I see the “quit notice” issued on Igbo living in the North by a coalition of Arewa youths as a totally unhelpful response to the Biafra agitation. Not only did the “Arewa youths” give a group of Nigerians quit notice, they also threatened to “pull out of Nigeria” as they are no longer willing to live in the same country “with the Igbo”.
The way I see it, Nnamdi Kanu and the Arewa youth who issued the Kaduna Declaration are birds of a feather. Their activities, in my own judgement, are treasonable because they both seek to unsettle the cohesiveness of Nigeria through verbal violence which might give way to other forms of violence if not properly handled.
Both sides being guilty, however, I wonder why the Arewa youths have not been arrested by the law-enforcement agencies as Kanu and some of his disciples were in December 2017. Kanu is still on trial for treason. He is only out on court-ordered bail. I know it is not an easy matter to handle. It may seem partial that the IPOB leaders were arrested and put on trial while the Arewa boys have been left untouched, nearly three weeks after Governor Nasir el Rufai of Kaduna State and the Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, asked for them to be nabbed.
My suspicion is that the authorities have learnt their lesson from the Kanu arrest episode. It brought millions of his pro-Biafra devotees into the streets in encounters which, according to an Amnesty International AI, report led to the loss of 1,967 lives. It ended up making Kanu a “hero”. I am very convinced that the Arewa youths were sponsored by some faceless individuals with a hidden agenda. I do not think their “quit notice” is the general mindset of the Northern people and their leadership towards the Igbo. In the same vein, I do not believe that Nnamdi Kanu’s violent outbursts against non-Igbo Nigerians are shared by the generality of Igbo people.
I certainly don’t share in it because I have no problem with fellow Nigerians, including Northern Nigerians as a people. That the Igbo people thrive in other parts of Nigeria is a powerful testimony to the fact that though we often quarrel, Nigerians have no problem living together as compatriots. Just as the Igbo interest groups resident in the North have distanced themselves from Nnamdi Kanu’s destructive Biafra agitation, Arewa people living in the East have also come out boldly to condemn the “quit notice”.
I am a Nigerian to the core. I believe that the Igbo people are co-owners of this potentially great Nigerian commonwealth. Nobody can chase out a stakeholder from a property he co-owns. It is also preposterous for a co-owner to abandon his property and “go”.
The problem with Nigeria of which I complain everyday here and elsewhere is with the system we operate. It is a system that makes everybody unhappy. It produces bad leaders and makes nation-building extremely difficult. Even the Northerners who are often accused of oppressing the others have statistically been proved to be behind in most indices of human development while those who complain the loudest are well ahead on the average. Nigeria must be restructured to give power back to the peoples of our respective localities to take their destinies in their hands. Nigeria must be made to become productive once again.
But the “quit notice” issue cannot be left as it is. Those who issued it and their sponsors must be made to apologise and retract their ultimatum. They must be made to know they are not untouchable. Right now, they are still very defiant to the point of writing the Presidency to help ease the Igbo out of Nigeria, including those who are not on the same page with Nnamdi Kanu. If nothing is done about this quit notice, I am afraid there may be major mass movements as we near October 1, 2017. All it takes to trigger off a major national disaster is a little spark somewhere, perhaps staged by some mischief-makers. If it starts, no one will be safe.
This is the time for the security agencies which are empowered to safeguard Nigeria and Nigerians to go out and do their work.
HERE IS WISHING ALL NIGERIANS BARKA DE SALLAH. ENJOY THE HOLIDAY!