By Jide Ajani
APC, Change! APC, Change!! APC, Change!!! Something is bound to give! But when, cannot yet be determined. A people at war with one another.
Guns? Bayonets? Daggers? None yet – at least not at the moment. But hot, irresponsible, spineless and uneducated words are being fired like poisoned arrows in each other’s direction? With reckless abandon, even the elders, like fools, rushed in to engage in this stupefying spectacle that has become both blinding and deafening in its awkwardness.
The consequence of the seeming serial delinquent conduct of the pro- and anti-Biafra agitators, is the chaos that has enveloped the public sphere and the polity in the last couple of days.
On the one hand are some wrong-headed individuals of Igbo extraction, who have twisted an otherwise legitimate demand for restructuring of the country, a demand for justice, equity and respect for one another.
On the other hand, you have a group of northern youths, better described as hired guns, now egregiously egged on by some, pretentiously literate, but consciously vile so called Northern Elders, who have an overbloated and overrated sense of self-importance, and who, therefore, spew statements that are at best unreasonable and at worst incendiary.
It is these two, that have set the rancorous tone for the current malady afflicting the nation in the realm of agitation and quit orders, leading to this tumbledown. For effect, other ethnic nationalities from other geo-political zones have joined the staccato calls. Nd’Igbo chose to sit-at-home on May 30, to mark the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Biafra. Some misguided northern youths came out the following week to issue a reckless ultimatum that Igbo should leave northern Nigeria. Into this potentially combustible situation enters Ango Abdullahi, a man who, in saner climes, would have been prosecuted for his mishandling of the riots in the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, in 1986 which led to the death of, among others, Halima Farida Mustafa, a female student.
But, first, to understand the mentality of Nigerians as a people (and, by extension, the so called political leaders), you need to understand their perception of certain things, especially wealth and power, and the relationship that exists between both on the one hand, and what constitutes an existential threat to the enthronement of an egalitarian society where peace and justice reign supreme.
Because, in the final analysis, the crisis in the polity today, about who has the right to push for a separatist agenda, or who does not have the right to order a people to leave their areas of abode, is about wealth, power and the control of the resources and destiny of the people.
In essence, the Igbo of South-East Nigeria are simply asking that they want a better deal, a deal that would enable them exercise control over their destiny, their wealth, their land mass; a deal that would release them from the real and perceived yoke of second rate citizenship in a Nigeria that continues to ‘fumble and wumble’ through. They want to be treated decently, not particularly in the manner that a President of northern extraction would allocate about 65% of appointments to his brothers, sisters, nieces or nephews, but just to have a fair share of what can equitably go round. They seek to be participants, not necessarily in the same manner that a President of Yoruba extraction would award contracts to only his kinsmen, but just to be dealt with as fellow citizens of the same country with equal opportunities. They seek an environment that would make their people gainfully employed, not necessarily the type by a President of Ijaw calling whose people would fill almost every position in the land, but one in which their best would be sure to have placement, after a competitive process. The nagging question, at the end of the day, is, how does such a quest become illegitimate? How does wanting to be treated like fellow citizens and not as an outcast become treasonable?
A digression, to demonstrate the manifest failure of the Nigerian project: There is a community in South West Nigeria, Ode-Omi, a border community, with a population of over 6,000 people, some 76 villages, with just a policeman who doesn’t even carry a gun. That community is not in South-East Nigeria. There are many of such scattered across the country’s six geo-political zones, demonstrating how true this Nigerian project has become a falsehood.
Whatever form of injustice the Igbo claim to be suffering, there are a thousand and one of such in other zones; but, to be fair, in varying degrees, because the equality of animals is varying in degrees – as was pointed out by George Orwell in his classic, Animal Farm.
Yet, what started with a man some had described as being on the fringes, a man derided by others as feasting on the Biafra agenda by allegedly raising monies across the world and pocketing same, has suddenly gained a wonderful life of its own, and has now put Nigeria on edge.
How? The long silence or, better put, seeming indifference, or both, of President Muhammadu Buhari and his Federal Government of Nigeria, has, one way or the other, contributed, in no small measure, to the spark that has happened on members and leaders of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB. Nnamdi Kanu’s anti-Nigeria statements signpost him as lacking courtesy or outrightly indecent or both. But he now appears to be making sense by describing Nigeria as a zoo, one where the police would shoot at innocent civilians with live bullets to quell a peaceful protest, where an otherwise respectable elder would declare support for open treason.
But beyond the noise, needless braggadocio of the Nigerian state and somewhat uncreative approach to dealing with the agitation, is the lack of a clear understanding of why nations fail.
Every nation seeks the total sum of good for its people. One of the ways this is done is by unlocking the creative potentials. Since after the civil war, what ordinarily ought to have been a Marshall Plan of sorts for the South-East zone was never engaged. Worse still, some self-appointed leaders of the South East have engaged in serial short-changing of their people by placing the pursuit of filthy lucre above the general welfare of their people, such that when they get federal appointments, rather than seek ways of helping the mass of their people in ways that can be considered decent, they, too, have used such appointments for personal aggrandisement, thereby, foisting another regime of exploitation on their people. Until the destruction wrought by the war in the North-East, some parts of the South-East looked and still look like fresh topography of war owing to neglect, un-development and underdevelopment. Yet, some of these leaders build, for their ego, mansions that would sometimes be the envy of the Basilica of Yamasoukro. That should not excuse the way the Igbo have been treated in Nigeria. In turn, that, also, should not excuse the near-intimidation of other Nigerians by some Igbo in pushing for a redress.
When there is inequality, it breeds poverty. Poverty, in turn, breeds instability in many forms; and instability breeds further poverty. This is not just because it has to do with the Igbo nation. It is the way the Nigerian state is structured for development (or underdevelopment) by leaders whose parochial appreciation of governance can best be underscored by the failed leadership and wasted opportunities of the last 18years of civilian government.
Whatever grievances the Igbo are crying about today, many parts of Nigeria typify that neglect.
There is a nexus between good governance, rule of law and prosperity.
Which is why good governance, justice and equality would always be a sine-quanon to development and prosperity.The tragedy of the situation is that in the face of the tenacity of the average Igbo, his creative instincts – which, though, are not in short supply in other parts of the country – his industriousness and such other attributes that form good ingredients for national development, would the Nigerian state not be the better were it to tap into this mass of humanity? It is about creating the right conditions. And it is about effective engagement and not pouring invectives on fellow citizens. Interestingly, when the All Progressives Congress, APC, mouthed the change mantra, this wave of agitations across the land, which, in itself, represents the ultimate change, was not what its leaders bargained for. They merely wanted change of power, through which comes wealth – though they would readily want Nigerians to believe that it is about ‘wealth for all and not just a few’.
Through error of commission or omission, the APC’s unexpected tardiness in handling national issues of significance has allowed this wave to come.
Yet, on a curious note, why is it that all these are happening now that the Acting President, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, is supposed to continue what some Nigerians have come to regard as a breath of fresh air? Why are the security agencies allowing this to drag, with the yet-to-be arrested northern youths, and the seeming toleration of the irritatingly irresponsible comments coming from supposed elders across board?