Between the South-East and the rest of Nigeria
In a near-epic test-of-will with the Federal Government, agitators for the realisation of Biafra grounded social and commercial activities in the South-eastern part of Nigeria the other day and succeeded in making a profound statement of their desire as well as its popularity among the majority of the people. Under the aegis of Movement for the Actualisation of Biafra (MASSOB) and Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), the agitators vowed to draw ‘attention to the plight of their colleagues who died in the struggle’ and their protest was designed to commemorate 50 years of the ‘declaration of the Republic of Biafra by Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu.’
That Nigeria is still faced with such a deep challenge to its foundations is genuinely troubling to all patriots. All is not well with the country politically and there is severe discontent with the current political arrangement.
Nigeria fought a war, the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War, from 1967 to 1970 to keep the nation together, after its sovereignty was threatened by the Biafran secession. Other stakeholders joined the Federal Military Government led by General Yakubu Gowon to defend the unity of the country. Today, however, it is doubtful if a Federal Government of Nigeria would get the type of support it garnered in 1967 if history were to repeat itself. The current agitators believe that the issues which occasioned the 30-month civil war are still present with Nigeria, almost to a volcanic level as eruptions surface occasionally in different sections of the nation.
Generally, Nigerians are dissatisfied with the political happenings in the country as well as the structure on which governments are run. Insecurity, the menace of herdsmen attacking communities in the South, lopsided appointments, ethnic arrogance evident in the conqueror mentality of some public officials, and the idea that some parts of the federation reap great financial benefits without contributing to the national purse are some of the issues agitating the minds of citizens.
The agitation of IPOB is one of such expressions. The sporadic acts of violence from the Niger Delta spearheaded by the Niger Delta Avengers are also symptomatic of this disenchantment. Such concerns should therefore be looked into in a profound and structured manner. In the past, the Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC) on the streets made demands on the Federal Government but when the Yoruba elite saw the trajectory of the OPC, the genuineness of the demand but the need to mainstream it, the elite stepped in and re-directed the group. Thus the question arises: What is the elite class in the south-east doing on this matter?
The elite in the South-East should make a statement on Biafra and how the Igbo people hope to move on in the years ahead. Now, they seem to have been bullied into silence by the violence and ferocity of the IPOB or MASSOB leaders and the street has taken over the Biafra issue.
Certainly, there would be no need for any ethnic group to leave the Federation of Nigeria once a proper restructuring has taken place. This is because all the political, cultural and economic issues will be addressed in the process of restructuring.
It is unnecessary to join issues with IPOB/MASSOB on the sit-at-home order which was very successful. Unlike in the past when their members came out to the streets to face the live bullets of hostile armed forces, this time, almost everyone stayed at home throughout the region. This was a pragmatic response to the mowing down of protesting citizens who took hold of their constitutional right by taking to the streets. Having affirmed this, and having demonstrated its hold over the Biafra spirit, particularly in the South-east, it is now time for the elders to stand up to be counted on the side of reason. Is secession the correct and most viable option? Should the National Conference Report of 2014 not be given a chance? Will secession address the needs of the Igbo who are deeply entrenched in different parts of the federation in terms of human and business investments? These are issues that should concern the arrow-heads of the secessionist movement or the elders who should be guiding them.
In all of this, all should remember that violence is not the only option open to agitators. The 1967 experience was a violent one and it did not achieve any noble objective. Terrible memories of wanton destruction of lives and property still abound. This is the time therefore for strategic thinking, a time to go into alliances with all other groups within the federation to achieve common goals and national unity based on justice. The fact that most citizens are currently disenchanted with the political arrangement of the country provides a platform for negotiations and re-negotiations. The Igbo elite should seize the opportunity and must not leave the political and historical fortunes of the race to the hotheads of the day.
On its part, the Federal Government should see the agitation and other calls for restructuring as an issue of national survival. It should therefore create a platform for discussions. The letter and spirit of federalism will address the tension in the country. No one should see the requirements enshrined in the 1999 Constitution as obstacles. With the proper political will and focus, coupled with a clear understanding of the causes of the prevailing tension in the country, all the processes can be peacefully and decidedly handled.
It needs to be reiterated that the unity of Nigeria is fundamental. The country’s sheer population size, natural and human resources and land mass are invaluable assets to any nation which can put its house in order. But that unity must neither be taken for granted nor abused by the political elite. The terms of mutual co-existence, whenever challenged should be systematically and positively addressed. One of such times is now. The Muhammadu Buhari administration, riding on the crest of popular will that brought it to power in 2015, should set the machinery in motion for Nigeria’s greatness as a properly run federation. That way, it would etch its name in the history books as the architect of modern Nigeria.