Arewa youths’ ultimatum and frailty of Nigeria’s unity
The recent quit notice by the Arewa Youth Forum Consultative Assembly (AYFCA), a coalition of socio-political groups in Northern Nigeria, which directed members of Igbo ethnic nationality residing in the north to relocate to their Southeast homeland before October 1, has brought to the fore once again, the weak foundation on which the country was built as a nation.
Since 1960 when Nigeria gained political independence, the major burden that had dragged the country back from the path of development has been whether the political entity created by the British colonial government could be called a nation of united people with shared destiny and desires to live harmoniously together.
The ultimatum by the northern youths, handed over by the group’s president Yerima Shettima, was obviously a reaction to the secessionist demand of some Igbo groups, including the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which has also threatened the continued survival of Nigeria as a united country.
The Igbo group had organised a sit-at-home protest in the Southeast states to press home its demand that the defunct Republic of Biafra, which proclamation in 1967 led to a bloody 30-month civil war, be resuscitated and the region exercised from Nigeria as a separate country.
This also was a climax of resurgence of activities targeted at breathing a fresh live to the bones of Biafran agitation which became more pronounced in the last two years of the administration of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and buoyed by cries of alleged political marginalisation of the Southeast region.
Though the northern group did not specifically say how it intends to carry out its threat, it said not even the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) or the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), two respected elder’s group in the north, would prevent it from carrying out its threat.
Incidentally, some senior members of the northern political class have spoken in support of the ultimatum, a development that pointed to the fact that the youths may after all, be speaking the minds of northern political establishment.
It is not surprising that since the ultimatum was issued, mixed reactions have been generated across the country particularly since the renewed agitation for self-determination by IPOB and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) did not go down well with the government of the day and the Northerners, who saw it as a grand plot to destabilise President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
However, division of opinions among northerners over the action, since some of them, including Kaduna governor, Nasir El-Rufai, actually condemned it, is not unexpected, considering the fact that it is all about struggle for political power and relevance.
But while nobody can stop the Arewa youths from expressing their feelings, such expression should be within the context and provision of the constitution. Besides, the ultimatum is unconstitutional considering that every Nigerian has right to live in any part of the country. It is also inciting and provocative. If not well handled, it is capable of plunging the country into serious political crisis.
The Northern governors and other political leaders of the region have berated the youths over their action. So worrisome is the studied silence of the elders of the region, who have always played major role in critical decision that affect the people.
Following the trend of political developments in the country, the Northern elders which included former political office holders, traditional rulers, retired public and civil servants and others, have always been a factor in the affairs of their people. So the position of the Northern governors and the Federal Government on the issue may not be all that is needed to assuage the anger and tension in the air.
But while it has become too obvious that there is urgent need for the federating units to renegotiate their continued co-existence as a country, the dilemma seems to be how to go about it without rocking the boat. Recent developments across the country are a pointer to the fact that the country may be sitting on keg of gunpowder.
So disturbing is the fact that despite organising two constitutional conferences in 2005 and 2014, with good recommendations on how to restructure the country, successive governments including the present APC administration have continued to play the ostrich on the call for restructuring and true federalism.
After the sit-at-home order in the Southeast, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) covertly reminded Nigerians and the people of Southeast in particular, that no amount of agitation and advocacy will bring about Nigeria’s restructuring without a constitutional amendment to include referendum.
Before this assertion, President Buhari has said it on several occasions that Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable. Now that northern youth groups have issued ultimatum to Igbos to leave all the 19 states of the North, the question is how can the country put issues that always stress the frail national unity to the limit.
Unfortunately, rather than address the main issue threatening the unity of the country, political leaders across the Niger have been trading blames depending on which side of the river they speak from.
Speaking to The Guardian on the development, former Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria and Secretary of NEF, Professor Ango Abdullahi said he is one of those who will be in support of the youths’ demand.
He said, “The northern youths are voicing out their anger and frustration over the irresponsible behaviour of Igbo youths and elders. The Igbo elders cannot pretend or say that they do not know the history of this country. We all know how the first coup was hatched against the North. We know who masterminded that political coup and the aftermath.
“But we the Northerners endured it and carried on as nothing happened in the spirit of brotherhood. That was why in the Second Republic, an Igbo man Chief Alex Ekwueme became Vice-President to President Shehu Shagari. I have never seen a country where there was civil war and somebody from the part of the country that waged the war against the country became a leader in the country so quick. Igbo should remember that politics of democracy is politics of election, not agitation.”
On the way forward, the ex-university helmsman said the arrogant and irresponsible actions of Igbo leaders and youths should stop immediately. “The country should be allowed to move forward. During the civil war, all properties belonging to the Igbo in the North were protected and rent were collected and kept. After the war, Igbo massively returned to the North, where their properties were handed over to them alongside the rent collected. But in Port Harcourt, Igbo lost all their properties to the abandoned property policy. So who is fooling who,” Abdullahi said.
Also speaking, Dr. Junaid Mohammed furiously asked, what did the Igbo elders said about IPOB and MASSOB agitation? “As far as I am concerned one thing leads to another thing. The most tragic thing is that nobody is speaking for Nigeria. Some people who are using Nnamdi Kanu or MASSOB to pressure for political power to be handed over to them are wasting their time. Political power is not given by pressure but by election.”
In his remarks, Chief Chekwas Okorie told The Guardian that the attitude of the Northern youths is unfortunate and ill advised. He said, “It is a recipe for anarchy. All the IPOB and MASSOB agitations have been peaceful, despite provocations by the security agents. They deserve commendation for their maturity. But it is so disturbing to see Northern youths who are leaders of tomorrow taking the quest for self-determination to a dangerous path.
“The Nigerian government’s covert and overt actions in the whole episode is not good for the country. No government has divided the country like the present APC-led government. But the government should know that time is running out.”
In his reaction, the National Publicity Secretary of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Uche Achi-Okpaga, in a statement in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, urged Igbo in the Southeast to continue living in peace with everyone.
“At any rate, two wrongs don’t make a right,” he said. “We encourage our sons and daughters to accept every Nigerian and even a foreigner living legally and lawfully in the Southeast. We also advise our people living in the North to relocate if your life has been so threatened. It has no spare either.”
Another chieftain of Ohanaeze, Chief Guy Ike Ikokwu told The Guardian that there is, without any doubt, rising tension in Nigeria of today as most law abiding citizens across the length and breadth of the country are alarmed at the turn of events in the land.
“Due to the state of the nation’s economy, and the rising tide of criminality, kidnappings, violence across the country by armed herdsmen, graduates unemployment and increased rate of unemployment of high school leavers and the present inability about 30 out of the 36 states in the country to survive economically, it is very clear to local and international observers that the Nigerian centre cannot hold.
“As time is running out for a disciplined and courageous dialogue about the nation’s future, we of the Southeast, South-South and Southwest of the country anxiously await the urgency of a Southern Governors Forum within the next 30 days.”
He said if all the shades of opinions gather together to reflect and chart a new course for the nation’s growth, “Nigeria will be a common entity with a growth rate of more than seven percent per annum and will once more become a shining light to African and black race world over. But we and our children have to rise to these imminent challenges.”