By Josef Omorotionmwan
WHY are the Igbo being asked to go home from their home? Evidently, ours is fast becoming a world where people are afraid of strangers and foreigners; and a world in which many people cling tenaciously to old feuds and grievance for which they must seek revenge, even where the original problems have been superseded by time.
There is no worse xenophobia than this – a strong feeling of hatred and dislike for, or the fear of, people from other lands or other ethnic groups. Xenophobia is evil, even where our dear and close ones are the perpetrators. Those not perturbed by the recent trash emanating from the self-styled Northern Youths with its potential for catastrophe lack moral justification to repine over the fact that during the period 1890-1910, the Ku-Klux-Klan lynched an average of 100 Negroes annually; and such must also celebrate each time they hear that Nigerians have been sent home from South Africa after the wanton destruction of the property of those same Nigerians.
Group violence is the major stuff of which xenophobia is made. Violence has been used by many groups and for many reasons. It has been used by groups seeking power; by those holding on to power; and by those in the process of losing power. Violence has therefore been pursued in the defence of order by the satisfied; in the name of justice by the oppressed; and in the fear of displacement by the threatened.
There is a great difference between group protests and group violence. The right to protest is an indispensable element of free society. The exercise of the right is essential to the health of the body politic and its ability to adapt itself to a changing milieu
Indeed, the right to protest has been accorded a constitutional status. Our Constitution protects freedom of speech and press as well as the right of the people to peaceably assemble to petition the government for the redress of grievances.
On the other hand, group violence portends danger. Quite often, it is an effort not to persuade but to compel others to do the group’s will. It has no protected legal status. In fact, a major purpose of law is to prevent and check violence.
This, however, does not vitiate the fact that sometimes, a group protest degenerates into group violence. This happens when a group that is opposed to the aims of the original protesters steps in; and when security agents tend to use excessive force to control what originally started as a peaceful demonstration. Sometimes, too, violence may be committed by some elements within the protesting group – as happens on campuses when some protesting students suddenly embark on wanton destruction of school property.
Suddenly, on Tuesday, June 6 2017, separate groups of self-styled Northern Nigeria Youths gathered in Kaduna to address a joint press conference in which they issued a quit notice to the Igbo to leave the Northern States on or before October 1, 2017.
This offending declaration may not be as offensive as the circumstances around it. It took place in Arewa House, which is supposed to be a centre for the historical documentation of Northern Nigeria. It was the Residence of the Great Sir Ahmadu Bello, the only Premier that the North ever had. Certainly, this is a sacred ground.
It is time to question the credentials of the Northern leaders as it becomes increasingly difficult to convince anyone that the entire leadership had no premonition of the mischief that the misguided youths were planning to wreak on the nation via the instrumentality of the quit notice. Why should they allow the use of the sacred hall for the devious purpose? In this type of situation, one question becomes imperative: Would the Great Ahmadu Bello have permitted the use of the holy ground for the clandestine purpose? The obvious answer is an emphatic NO!
The use of force is the only language that violence comprehends. Essentially, with the seriousness of the issue at hand, one expected that by now, the arrow-heads of that inglorious quit notice should be doing their explanations from prison, not outside it! But here, we are even begging the culprits; to the extent that they are daring the authorities to arrest them. We are adopting the same attitude of appeasement that made Boko Haram to overwhelm us, whereas there are better examples to guide us.
Like former President Olusegun Obasanjo or hate him, there is something you cannot remove from him. Certainly, if he was waiting for appeasement, we would perhaps still be dilly-dallying at Odi by now. But when he dealt a devastating blow on the militants, they capitulated. Similarly, General Muhammadu Buhari (as he then was) did not quell the Maitisene Uprising, in the North-East, in the early 1980s by turning the other cheek.
By remaining docile on issues that are critical to the continued existence of this country, we are tactfully suggesting that we would allow the great issues of our time to be decided by posturing and shouting matches on our streets. Meanwhile, our nation is fast drifting toward Plato’s definition of a degenerating society – a democracy that permits the voice of the mob to dominate the affairs of government.
No society ever exists in constant and destructive tumult where the anarchist plays into the hands of the authoritarian. Those who find authoritarianism repugnant have a duty to speak out against those who destroy civil order. And the time is now!
Nigeria’s pluralism is projected on the premise that what unites us in ideals is greater than what divides us as individuals. We are not about to depart from this platform. Whether anybody likes it or not, we are already together and we shall remain so. No group has any right to give another group quit notice to leave any part of the country. This is the letter and spirit of our Constitution. Conversely, those who think otherwise have an unfettered right to move out and leave us alone!