By Tabia Princewell
We could have dealt with the issues surrounding the South East a long time ago. In fact, had we, the people of Nigeria, irrespective of ethnicity or religion come together to demand development and the good use of our resources, a number of these recurring agitations would probably not exist.
Inequality, poverty and a general lack of social justice in Nigeria are the root causes of insecurity and sectarian agitation. As a people, we’ve preferred to defend corrupt people, hoping their loot would trickle down, rather than advocate for a fairer system where we wouldn’t need to fight each other for crumbs.
The New York Times in 2014 said this about our country: “Nigeria is arguably the worst run of the world’s seven most populated countries. Despite earning hundreds of billions of dollars in oil revenue over the past decade, it is expected by 2015, by some calculations, to have the second-most destitute people in the world after India”.
This is the crux of Nigeria’s problem: beyond political restructuring, like I’ve said many times in this column, if we do not have a system that ensures credible, creative leadership and pro-people policies and insist instead to favour looters and people who manipulate us on ethnic grounds, secessionist groups, quite literally ‘entrepreneurs of violence’, people who profit from selling division, hate and conflict, will continue to rise in response to the people’s discontent.
IPOB as presently constituted is not “civil disobedience” as some commentators have described it. Nnamdi Kanu does not belong in the league of those who practised civil disobedience such as Gandhi or Martin Luther King Junior. If one was to consult a dictionary, one would find that a “terrorist” isn’t only a suicide bomber (that’s a very narrow definition) but also an extremist and a saboteur, a radical or fanatic whose activities prove dangerous to the integrity and continuous existence of the state. Nnamdi Kanu hasn’t asked past leaders in the South East to account for the funds meant to develop his people, nor has he asked why PDP governors couldn’t secure more development for their people when their party, the PDP was in power for 16 years at both the local and federal level in three quarters of the states in Nigeria.
Many politicians profited from the breakdown of law and order in the South East. It is through these cracks, a lack of social services, of jobs, opportunity, etc., that men like Nnamdi Kanu rise and threaten to supplant legitimate government. Let us not confuse freedom of expression with promoting anarchy. We must also be weary of the competition of grievances which produces nothing but more hate, distrust and distractions, while the looters of public funds, the people who continuously misuse the resources which should have made sure that none of us feel marginalised in our own country, get away.This “turn by turn mentality” can only be solved when people see development come to their communities under the form of real social goods, not cosmetic changes. Instead, politicians keep the people poor and use their grievances to sponsor unrest that affects us all. Nigerians mustn’t fall for it. Not this time.
As Nigerians, we are often unwilling to tackle issues head on. We leave things unresolved which gives some people the confidence or the moral high ground (even when they have none) to speak on issues which they themselves were incapable or unwilling to solve when they had the chance. The former President calling for a council of state meeting over the crisis in the South East is the height of hypocrisy. When he deployed soldiers all around Nigeria during the 2015 elections was the Council of State convened then? If young, poor and unemployed people in the South East no longer believe in the need for one Nigeria it is because they don’t feel any benefits accruing to them from being Nigerian.
Certainly, some Nigerians who are clamouring for restructuring are embittered politicians looking for relevance and more power or opportunity to further misuse the funds restructuring would provide them with. But in the case of the masses, many of whom remain poorly educated and disempowered, the tragedy is that they don’t realise just how much in common they have with the suffering experienced by other ethnic groups. The poor have no class consciousness in Nigeria. Yet, the rich are united and protect each other, making empty suggestions with nothing concrete to add.
The Senator, during a town hall meeting with her constituents made it clear that ethnic groups from all over Nigeria have been interacting for centuries, contrary to the misleading notion that amalgamation brought separate, different groups once unknown to each other together. It is important to tackle the untruths used by some politicians to divide Nigerians on ethnic lines. She also said “with all the different ethnicities that make up Nigeria residing in Lagos, Lagos has proven that it is possible to coexist peacefully”.
Indeed, it is possible when economic opportunities exist and leaders plan for development. It is because economic opportunity is lacking in many parts of Nigeria that we continue to see so much violence and restiveness. Who will mobilise the poor to demand accountability for the billions spent in the Niger Delta and the South East with little to show for it?