By Muyiwa Adetiba
The ‘youths’ seem to have taken the initiative in our country, pushing us slowly towards the precipice. At the end of May, when the rest of the country was looking forward to Democracy Day and the temporary respite it would bring from routine chores, the ‘youths’ of the South-East under the aegis of IPOB decided to flex their muscles and dare constituted authority. They called for a shut-down of all activities—economic and social—in the entire South-East zone. According to news accounts, they succeeded. And they gloated at the extent of their success. They refused to acknowledge the fact that not all in Igboland are Igbo and not all Igbo are on the same page with their declaration. They willfully suppressed the rights and movements of everybody in the zone. The elders who should have felt uneasy at the turn of events and the increasingly dangerous dimension of the agitations largely acquiesced; the leaders who should have put a stop to the shut-down surrendered to the emotive but popular will. And so, emboldened by their success, they continued their rhetoric of insults, abuses and hate speeches against the rest of the country.
Yet, in all of Africa, the counsel of elders during momentous occasions is always heard and revered. One of our proverbs says that an elder cannot be in the market place and a child’s head will be askew on the back of his mother. Our elders failed on this occasion to right the lay of the child’s head. It is the duty of the elders to tell these ‘youths’ that we have been down this road of boasts and division before and it led to nothing but death and ruins. After all, it is said that a young man looks forward when he falls down while an old man looks backward. This means that the enthusiasm of the young must be tempered by the wisdom of the old. This means that the dreams and visions of the future must be weighed against the history and realities of the past. This means that for history not to repeat itself, the elders must speak out; forcefully if necessary.
The ‘youths’ of the North picked up the gauntlet thrown by the ‘youths’ of the South-East by giving a quit order to all Igbo living in the entire North. It was to my mind, a reaction to their action. But it was an ill advised reaction which only heightened the tension in the country. There are many southerners in the north who do not know any other home. They have no problem with their Hausa neighbours and do not believe in the separatist movement of IPOB. The ‘youths’ in the North-Central countered by saying the coalition of Arewa Youths did not have the mandate to speak for them. They reiterated that they have no problem with their Igbo brothers and urged them to stay. As to be expected, the Niger-Delta ‘youths’ always restive at the best of times, weighed in with their own abuse against the North and against Nigeria. They asked all southerners to leave the North arguing, rightly, that nobody writes Igbo on his head. Then finally like a child born after his due date, the OPC ‘youths’ came out with their own rhetoric. They were willing to serve the divorce papers if the Igbo wanted a divorce so badly. And the caveat was that the Igbo would also have to quit their land. They also served notice to the rest of the country. And without consulting with me or people who think like me, they virtually declared an Odua Republic. And so, as at the last count, we had four or five different potential countries. All supposedly mapped out by ‘youths’ who have no ‘fire power’ literally and figuratively and have chosen not to consult the elders.
It was at this point that our so called elders and political leaders started finding their voices. My conclusion is that they are either impotent or irresponsible. They must be impotent if their sons and daughters indict them so openly and they are unable to do anything about it. They must be impotent if their children openly disrespect them and they cannot call them to order. They must be impotent if momentous decisions like the break-up of the country into satellite states are taken without consulting them. They must be impotent if they are so out of touch with their youths that they don’t know when things are getting out of hand. On the other hand, they must be irresponsible if they are aware of what is going on and rather than douse the fire of hatred and division, they are fanning it. They must be irresponsible if they are the unseen drummers behind the macabre dance of secession or quit notice. They must be irresponsible if they choose to sacrifice the health and future of their people and country on short term political gains. They must be irresponsible if they fail to adequately advise their youths on the dangers of their impetuosity.
Morning they say shows the day. What our morning is showing so far is that no zone has pulled away from the others in terms of visionary leadership and competence. No zone has weaned itself from the largess of the centre. No zone has optimally used the resources at its disposal for the benefit of its people. So the claim of a superior race or tribe is yet to be proven. But more importantly, no zone has managed to unite the different ethnic groups in its conclave. The Itsekiris and the Urhobos with so much in common are still fighting themselves and the Ijaws. What is worse is that even those who share the same language are distrustful of themselves. The Asaba Igbo is not all that comfortable with the Imo Igbo and so on. As we speak, the Imo Catholic priests and faithful are resisting the appointment of an Anambra Bishop. That should be food for thought for those who think. What this means is that should the four or five countries emerge the possibility of their splitting into more ‘countries’ within five years is very strong.
Our elders should wake up from their slumber and begin the task of pulling the country together. Our youths should be able to live together wherever they choose; they must be able to follow their hearts and marry whomever they wish irrespective of tribe. They must be able to trust themselves and form business partnerships across the country. This hatred based on tribe and religion must stop. This indoctrination of persecution and marginalization must stop. Nobody can make you a second class citizen without your acquiescence.
It is time to begin the urgent tasks of healing the land and uniting the people.