By Ochereome Nnanna
WHEN last week the coalition of Arewa youth (or whoever sponsored them) gathered at Arewa House in Kaduna to issue Igbo people living in the North an ultimatum to leave the region by October 1, 2017, they probably did not anticipate the venom of disavowals they got from within and outside the North. They were tongue-lashed by the Governors’ Forum of the region with Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State as Chairman, Governor Nasir el Rufai of Kaduna State, the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the House of Representatives, and Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State who addressed a delegation of Igbo leaders in his office, assuring them: “Sokoto is your home”.
Groups from around the country that distanced themselves from the nonsensical “quit notice” included the Middle Belt Youth Congress, MBYC, which, in addition to disowning the North as their region, counted themselves out of such asinine quit order on any Nigerian group living within their region. Others were credible groups from the South-South and South West, which reaffirmed the constitutional right of all Nigerians to dwell peacefully in any part of Nigeria without let or hindrance.
However, a few voices among the elders of the North supported the ultimatum, prominent of which was (predictably) that of Prof. Ango Abdullahi, a chieftain of the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, though the Deputy President of the Forum, Wantaregh Paul Unongo, countered him, saying that at no time did the Forum take such a decision. Another group that readily supported the Arewa youth was the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, one of the pro-Biafra groups campaigning for a referendum towards the independence of their dream republic. They asked the Igbo residents of the North to “start packing”, though they did not issue Arewa residents in their homeland a counter-quit notice.
The Arewa youths hinged their action on the near-total shutdown of the South East and parts of the South-South in compliance with the stay-at-home directive on Biafra agitators on May 30, 2017 to mourn those who lost their lives during the crises and subsequent Biafra-Nigeria war, fifty years ago. The question is, why should a sit-at-home action to mourn the dead precipitate such irrational reaction as a “quit notice”? About twenty years ago when the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, and other pro-June 12 groups clamouring for the restoration of Chief Moshood Abiola’s mandate were active, sit-at-home was one of the weapons they used to ground socio-economic activities to draw attention to their struggle. No one ever issued Yoruba people in the North any quit notice. The Niger Delta groups have fought the Federal Government to a standstill in the creeks, yet no one has asked the few of them living in the North to quit simply because of their struggle for self-determination or resources control. Why is the Igbo case different?
There is no reason behind this other than pure blackmail. It is being bandied that Igbo people own assets in the North worth between N45 and N50 trillion. This is no exaggeration, since the Igbo have commanding control of private property in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja after government investments. The Igbo people, wisely or unwisely, invest heavily wherever they reside, not just in Nigeria but everywhere they go, including West and Central African countries. They dominate the markets in Nigeria and the entire sub-region.
This factor predisposes them to the kind of cheap blackmail the so-called Arewa youth resorted to in response to the independence agitation of Igbo youth who are tired of living like second-class citizens in their supposed country, Nigeria. The Igbo people will always be so blackmailed for this factor. Nigerians are searching for foreign investors but like to blackmail their indigenous investors! That’s the black man for you!
It is a strange irony indeed. If, after 50 years of the civil war, Nigerians are not willing to fully accept and integrate the Igbo in the spirit of “One Nigeria” for which the Biafra-Nigeria war was fought, the logical thing should be for them to be granted their independence without resorting to blackmail. Property-related matters can come in within the limits of national and international laws and conventions governing such. Let them go, so your headache can be cured.
When Malaysia did not want Singapore she let them go. Biafra-minded Igbo people are confident that if allowed to leave, they will probably surpass Singapore in a few decades. If you hate the Igbo so much and believe they would perish inside Biafra, why not let them go and perish? The blackmail is more evident in the fact that both Arewa youths and their sponsors are no longer pressing to pull out of Nigeria as their so-called “Kaduna Declaration” posited. Why the foot-dragging? Or is it that you have no confidence in your own viability?
The truth is that if Igbo leave the North, no group from the South will stay put. If Igbo begin relocating, other groups around Nigeria will ask Arewa people to go home. No group will remain behind to be used as a footstool by local colonial adventurers. The North has already started fraying from within, as there is no longer a 1966 situation there. The Fulani herdsmen have been used to effectively divide the Muslim North from their Non-Muslim neighbours.
The call for restructuring is resonating in all the demands by groups, including some sensible Northern voices such as Atiku’s. Those of us who still out a tiny ray of hope for Nigeria hinge it on restructuring. This will ensure self-determination of groups within the Nigeria federal framework. Anything short of this is a gamble with total disintegration. You cannot say no to both, not for much longer. Nigerians have risen for restructuring or bust. The “quit notice” has become a catalyst to hasten the inevitability of restructuring or disintegration. Nigerians are tired of slavery. Take it or leave it. It is up to you.