By Ikechukwu Amaechi
THERE are times that try men’s souls, British-American philosopher, Thomas Paine, once wrote. Nigeria is in the throes of such debilitating times, more so for Ndigbo. It has never been this bad since the end of the civil war in January 1970.
A leader with empathy, who inspires, and uplifts, is needed to pull the country back from the brink. But President Muhammadu Buhari does not fit that mould. After reading his comment on the crisis in the South East on Tuesday, I simply came to the inevitable conclusion that he does not get it.
Or worse, he is a sadist. Buhari is not a social media aficionado. He has a verified Twitter handle – @MBuhari – but he is not Donald Trump. Buhari rarely tweets. But when he does, it underscores the importance he attaches to an issue. And he did so on Tuesday.
“Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. “Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand,” Buhari tweeted after a meeting with Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu.
So upset was Twitter that it deleted the tweet, giving him ‘the Trump treatment’. What a shame. Nigeria’s President joins the club of world leaders in Twitter’s Hall of Infamy, sanctioned for toxic utterance that fans the embers of genocide. Buhari’s tweet is the triumphalism he relishes in dealing with Ndigbo.
He reminded restive Igbo youths that he conquered their fathers in war and is prepared to crush them once again if they dare him. But he is addressing the wrong crowd. Igbo youths under the age of 50 don’t count themselves as part of the crowd Buhari and his ilk conquered in a war half a century ago.
They are irrepressible. Buhari is entitled to his fantasy. But he misses the point. Ordinarily, his age should afford him introspection – and if he was given to solipsism, he would be asking himself why Nigeria loses its soul anytime he is in power. Blaming others for his self-inflicted leadership woes is a sign of weakness. @DrOlufunmilayo tweeted: “When Buhari speaks to bandits, he begs them. He appeals to them. But when Buhari speaks to citizens, he threatens us. He uses language that can be used to justify harm, violence and massacre against the same people he swore to protect.”
@UNCLE_AJALA said: “Civil war that killed plus or minus 3m Igbos 51yrs ago, and still hurting so many people is what … Buhari is using to threaten people in 2021, while Boko Haram members are getting rehabilitated … it’s so unbelievable.”
This is the crux of the matter. Reminding Igbo youths how over three million of their folks were slaughtered just a day after the remembrance of the holocaust smacks of a lack of emotional intelligence. It is callous.
Why does Buhari loathe Ndigbo so much? His supporters accuse the Igbo of hating him – so, whatever crime he commits against them is a well-deserved comeuppance. Those who propagate this harebrained notion hinge their ludicrous argument on the fact that Ndigbo have consistently rejected him at the ballot box, even when he picked two of their sons – Dr Chuba Okadigbo and Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke – as running mates in the 2003 and 2007 presidential elections.
While it is true that Ndigbo are never enamoured of Buhari’s leadership qualities and, therefore, serially rejected him at the polls – and they are vindicated by his woeful performance – it doesn’t translate to hatred.
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One of the most revered Igbo leaders, Dim Chukwuemaka Odumegwu Ojukwu, contested both elections on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA and his party also lost in the South East just as Buhari’s All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, did. Does that mean Ndigbo hated Ojukwu? Some others say Ndigbo hate Northerners.
Others who want to be more mischievous narrow it to hatred for the Fulani. But they forget that Buhari is not the first Nigerian president with Fulani background. In 1979, just nine years after the civil war, Shehu Shagari, scion of the Sokoto Caliphate, was elected President with Dr. Alex Ekwueme as his Deputy. Ume-Ezeoke became House of Representatives Speaker and Dr. Joseph Wayas Senate President.
Ndigbo worked well with Shagari. The same applies to President Umaru Yard’Adua, also a Fulani. Those who accuse Ndigbo of hating the North are deliberately impish. I am writing this piece from my hotel room in Kano where I attended the 2021 biennial convention of the Nigerian Guild of Editors.
I say without equivocation that there are more Igbo entrepreneurs in Kano than the indigenous population. And Kano is not an exception. Ndigbo are in all the nooks and crannies of Northern Nigeria, doing their legitimate businesses, contributing to the growth of the local economy.
They build homes, not just houses, in their communities of residence. They pay taxes and development levies. Some help to provide electricity in their adopted communities. It is on record that some Igbo people in the North have singlehandedly constructed roads in the communities where they live. These are not sign posts of hatred.
So, Buhari should introspect. Rather than pointing fingers of blame at imaginary enemies, he should purge himself of animosity. It is abhorrent for a president to deploy state resources in inciting violence against an ethnic group. That gambit worked in 1966.
It will fail in 2021. Buhari chest-thumps, always waving the civil war flag to remind Ndigbo that he conquered them. This is ridiculous. He is not the only military officer alive who fought the war. He was only a Lieutenant then and there is no record of his outstanding exploits in that war of attrition.
So, why does he behave as if he single-handedly extinguished the Biafran flame? As I wrote recently, Ndigbo are not Nigeria’s problem. Declaring war against them at the drop of a hat is unconscionable. Soldiers have been deployed to the South East with a presidential mandate to kill. And what a great job they are doing.
Innocent youths are mowed down on the streets. Young men are yanked off the embrace of their weeping mothers and taken away. Most of them are murdered in cold blood by an army of occupation. There is no accountability. Thousands have disappeared as soldiers carrying out the explicit orders of their Commander-in-Chief storm students’ hostels and churches to whisk away youths in hunting down Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) activists. Alaigbo is in turmoil. But this war is avoidable.
All that is needed is a leader with character, sobriety and a sense of justice. Sadly, Buhari is not such a man. He knows, however, that genocidal leaders always pay a steep price. In the South East, we have a wimpy political class. The governors are not only mortally afraid of speaking truth to power but also willing to throw their own people under the bus if only to appease an unappeasable emperor.
Since nature abhors a vacuum, the yawning leadership void has been filled by an irascible nonstate actor, Nnamdi Kanu, who has effectively stepped up to the plate. Impressionable Igbo youths in search of a hero find in him the superman they are looking for. Again, as I wrote recently, there is no Igbo leader who currently has as much hold on Igbo youths as Kanu.
Such enormous power normally comes with great responsibility, but that is not the case here. Biafra or no Biafra, Ndigbo need to be alive. Brainwashing Igbo youths to confront soldiers who have no respect for any rules of engagement is suicidal. Some Igbo are as afraid of Kanu as they are of Buhari. This ‘my way’ or the highway philosophy of IPOB detracts from the struggle.
Kanu’s threats against those who do not disagree with the struggle but have a different idea of how things can be done without bloodshed smacks of a budding autocracy. Blood is sacred and any strategy that will orchestrate the wanton spilling of precious blood in Igboland should be reevaluated. Mass self-immolation, which is what I see in this “it is either Biafra or war” battle cry of IPOB is not bravery.
It is the red flag of a society on selfdestruction. You don’t wage a war against a bull in a China shop, because even if you win, you risk losing all. You deploy tact and wisdom in guiding the bull out of the shop. That is not cowardice. Ndigbo calling for restraint are neither fraidycats nor quislings.
Calling Nnamdi Kanu out if he errs is not an act of betrayal and, therefore, does not deserve a fatwa. With the way things are panning out, particularly the stratification along the lines of those who are ‘for or against’ Kanu, we risk Igbo on Igbo violence. It is a slippery slope. Ndigbo don’t need to fight another war, even for the sake of a territorial Biafra.
Buhari is a rampaging bull who has no qualms replicating the tragedy of the late 1960s. Playing into his hands is foolhardy. This war can and must be avoided.