On Nnamdi Kanu, softly, softly, softly
The security agencies consulting their stargazers must be getting jittery and it can’t be too farfetched to link Army Chief Tukur Buratai’s warning to what they are seeing as apocalyptic day, indeed the day of Armageddon. Fiftieth anniversary of a nostalgic dream has a way of energizing its protagonists and devotees. General Buratai, smart, brave and competent, after looking at his crystal ball, is even seeing beyond today, tomorrow, beyond this era and indeed up to four millennia. He spoke with finality which is accustomed pronouncement of generals and war commanders generally.
The latest group to press for the release of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is Nigerian artists under the aegis of United Nigerian Artists for Peace and Justice. They visited him in prison after which they said they were out to promote peaceful co-existence and development in Nigeria. They argued that the release of Nnamdi Kanu and other political prisoners would strengthen unity, stability and economic growth of the land. Before them, young and respected intellectuals led by Professor Charles Soludo, former Central Bank Governor, ably supported by Professor Pat Utomi and Professor Chidi Odinkalu—known for their public advocacy and intervention in public policy— have also added their weighty voices, under the auspices of their organization, Uzoko Umanna.
They were unhappy with the condition in which they met Nnamdi Kanu. On coming out after the visit, they asked for his release and that of Col. Dasuki, based on the ruling of the courts which have allowed them home on bail. The Soludo group said, ‘’Kanu is not above the law and should not be put below the law.’’ Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu has spoken, too. During the South-East Economic and Security Summit in Enugu, he said matter-of-factly that Nnamdi Kanu has no case to answer. Bishop Emmanuel Chukwuma said at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Ngbo Diocese, “People should not misuse IPOB for secession. We are not seceding. Nigeria belongs to all of us.” In the mature way that is expected to characterize the pronouncement and conduct of governors, the South-East governors, said at the end of their meeting in Enugu that they were committed to curbing agitations by the IPOB and MASSOB. They would meet with their leaders. They would also meet with authorities in Abuja to seek the release of Kanu and others in incarceration with him.
The issue of dismemberment of the country is a very touchy one, especially for those who have experienced war first hand, or fought in the war. Victims of wars don’t want to hear about it. For soldiers it is a sore point any day. This cannot be any better demonstrated than the anger and body language of President Buhari when he has had occasions to speak on the subject of the possible split of the country. A few days ago he was on Al Jazeera network. In the answer to a question by Al Jazeera on the subject, especially as the insistent lady interviewer would not let go, a visibly troubled President had this to say: “At least two million Nigerians were killed in the Biafran War. And for somebody to wake up, may be they weren’t born, looking for Biafra after two million people were killed; they are joking with the security and Nigeria won’t tolerate Biafra.”
He was even more exhaustive when he spoke on the subject during a visit to the Emir of Katsina in May last year. He said he was resolved to ensure that Nigeria remains one, no matter the level of agitation to the contrary from any region or group. He was ready, he said, to defend the unity of Nigeria with his life. He went on to say two million Nigerians died during the civil war to ensure the unity of the country between 1967and 1970 “…and those losses will never be in vain. A few individuals who were not even born at the time of the war are now out agitating for secession. I fought in that war to unite Nigeria and there is no way I will allow such to happen while I am alive. I will not take it likely with anybody agitating for secession; I am ready to die defending this country. I cannot fight for the unity of this country and somebody just comes out overnight and chase me out of it. That is not possible.”
He continued: “ I slept and crawled on yam farms. Many people died of hunger but recently a few individuals are calling for split. This war was fought to unite the country because as at then there was no oil. We fought for the nation’s indivisibility, so let’s do it. The agitation is being taken too far, the damage done is far much and we will not take it any more”. Such is how deeply the pain rankles. Just raise the matter with any soldier who fought the war and see his reaction.
If anyone can be careless as to broach the issue of possible disintegration of the country before former President, General Obasanjo, he would walk the person out of his sight. If it were to be mentioned in his house, I can see him going in to fetch his service pistol. Remember, he collected the instrument of surrender from Biafrans. Chummy and warm as General Babangida naturally is, anything contrary to the unity of the country is a no go area. Each time Nigerians have been assembled to give thought to our constitution with a view to reframing it, whether it was by Murtala Mohammed, Olusegun Obasanjo, Babangida, Abacha, again Obasanjo during his second coming and lately Goodluck Jonathan, all are emphatic that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable. Just before the inauguration of the National Conference of 2014, Anyim Pius Anyim, Secretary to the Government of the Federation made it plain that the conference was not out for or to deliberate on the dissolution of Nigeria. Of course, the grand master of the unity of the country, General Yakubu Gowon is still alive, hale and hearty and ever so warm and genial.
Anyone who had witnessed the Nigerian War or who had been victims are not likely to forget the experiences in a hurry. Apart from humanitarian costs, life was paralyzed in several cities. There were not to be street lights and there were salary deductions to support the war efforts and all the humanitarian tragedies that go with war. Lights were ordered out after casino cinemas in Yaba were bombed. That together with the advancement of Biafran troops to Ore got the Yorubas to enlist en masse in the Army and air Force, seeing the threat of their land being overrun. And they acquitted themselves. I understand IPOB runs a Radio Biafra. Radio Biafra is synonymous with Okonkwo Ndem. Evoking his baritone voice at this hour will mean many things to different people. Those who did not experience the Nigerian 30 months of hate, but who are watching the horrors of the harvest of war everywhere— in Syria, Sudan, Somalia, the Congo, Afghanistan and at home here in the North- East would want to advise themselves appropriately, that they cannot be too careful. Should Nigeria explode again, the disruption and onslaught of tragedies, of millions of displaced people will be incalculable.
It is in this light that I cannot agree more with General Buratai even if I discountenance his hyperbole. Consider also the timing of the agitations—when Buratai’s hands are full. Another upheaval will certainly divert his attention. That aside, Nigerians are materially dependent on one another, that any attempt at a split is a recipe for war and chaos. However, I am not sure if under the present democratic dispensation, he rather than the Minister of Defence can make a political statement. The other day, Police Inspector- General Ibrahim Idris countered the executive order which Governor Sam Ortom of Benue State issued, taking a cue from President Donald Trump, that herdsmen must leave his domain within 48 hours. I would have thought response to the governor’s directive should have been left to the Minister of Interior or the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. Justice Minister can sue waving the constitution before law court. Or representatives of the herdsmen themselves.
In the face of the frightening horrors, unbelievable tragedies of immeasurable proportions, agitations for self-determination and independence in several places of the world, some listed in the foregoing, not abating, the question is: what is the driving force behind these agitations everywhere? There must be more to it that lies behind the obstinacy for self-determination on display in most of the countries of the world. We can see the merchants of violence sharpening their weaponry seeking to break free or to repel, yet men are not deterred. On the other hand, must every agitation for freedom, however untenable, but in the protagonists’ own light, result in war? In this day of the technology and the resultant global village creation, ideas spread fast and wide, bolstering the resolve of the seperationists not to give up. Look at the devastation in Syria for example. And what comes to mind is the development being witnessed in these times between Westminster and Holyrood, in the United Kingdom, the UK, that is between the rest of Britain and Scotland, between Prime Minister Theresa May and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Miss Sturgeon as she prefers to be called instead of Mrs.Murrell has been pushing hard for another go at a referendum for the independence of Scotland from the United Kingdom. The first referendum was on 18 September 2014 under the leadership of Alex Salmond, First Minister for Scotland with Nicola as deputy. The Scots voted 55 per cent to remain in Britain and 45 per cent said Scotland must be separated. Interestingly, some people said they voted against the split because they could not for all their lives bear not seeing the bust of the Queen on their currency. Because of the defeat, Mr. Salmond had to step down. Miss Sturgeon took over. Although inspired by Mrs. Thatcher she believed strongly that it was not right that Scotland was being governed by a Tory government from Westminster.
And this is what has been driving her since she joined the Scottish National Party from age 16 especially after she went to full-time politics at the age of 29 armed with a law degree. Seeing an opening to renew the struggle to break free from the UK in the now firm UK decision to quit the European Union (Brexit), Miss Sturgeon says it is not in the best interest of Scotland her native land; she wants Scotland to stay in the EU single market when the rest of the UK pulls out. She argues that with Brexit there is a change in material circumstances and she is therefore asking for another referendum for the Scottish voters to decide whether to remain in the UK or not. We may wish to recall that while the rest of the UK voted in 2014 to quit the EU, Scotland voted 62 per cent to 38 per cent to remain. Miss Sturgeon wants the referendum between autumn next year and the summer of 2019.
Mrs. May is not opposed to a referendum, but she believes the timing for pressing for it is wrong. Her position is that focus should for now be on getting the best deal for the whole of the UK which encompasses Scotland, and Scottish voters would then be able to make an informed choice in the event of a referendum once the terms of Brexit are clear to everyone. Last week Monday, she jetted out to Glasgow to persuade Miss Sturgeon to await the outcome of negotiations with the EU before continuing to press for the second referendum. They met in a hotel. Miss Sturgeon is adamant as Brexit Secretary David Davis was to say, Scotland values the protection and rights offered by the EU particularly on free trade and freedom of movement. Miss Sturgeon has secured the backing of the Scottish Parliament with members voting 69 for and 59 against. By last Friday, with that mandate in her bag, she fired a strong letter to Mrs. May saying Scotland and Wales had not been carried along in Mrs. May’s programme of action. The Scottish Parliament is asking for independence referendum between autumn next year and summer of 2019. Mrs. May has in reaction put down her foot and moved to block it, saying, “now is not the time.” Respondents in England and Wales in a poll conducted for The Independent newspaper supported the Prime Minister, with 60 per cent saying she was right.
It is fascinating to listen to Miss Sturgeon address her Scotland National Party faithful in Aberdeen when she said she had been forced to press for the second referendum because, ”The Prime Minister’s attitude should worry all of us, hoping that negotiations with Europe will not be a disaster because—and let me put it bluntly—if she shows the same condescension and inflexibility, the same tin ear, to other EU countries as she has to Scotland then the Brexit process will hit the rocks.”
It is even more fascinating when you listen to humour in her address which is as follows: Beckoning to discontented citizens from England and Wales to move to Scotland, she said, “Scotland is not full up. If you are as appalled as we are at the path this Westminster Government is taking, come to Scotland and be part of building a modern, progressive, outward looking, compassionate country.” The point I am getting at is that there is beauty in debate, in argument. Mr. Gordon Brown the erstwhile Prime Minister is busy working out options to sell to Scotland to keep her within the UK, to pacify Scotland, his native land as well. It is instructive to note that while the British are engaged in ping pong of ideas we are corking the guns. The restless youths in our midst who are agitating are educated; they have access to goings-on everywhere, easy means of communication has made this possible. Look at the approach, the style, the debate in other lands. Mr. Donald Trump may have also provided the energy tonic to our boys. In a statement outlining part of his foreign policy, using Brexit as a reference point, he said he believed conflicts across Africa would “reduce if Africans embrace peaceful referendum like the United Kingdom instead of forced unity that costs millions of lives without meaningful progress.” That is what he said he would pursue in Africa.
I am not for the guns I am for debate, I am for dialogue. Emotions will rise high during debates no doubt but there will also be clash of reason. I can see that in the very near future enquiries will be made; the questions will be asked, “Who am I? Where have I come from? Where do I go when I leave this earth? What is the purpose of life? Are people created for nations or is it nations that are formed for nations to facilitate the fulfillment of the purpose of their earthly life? Is life here governed by a higher order? What does the Higher Ordinance expect of us? Why and how did nations come into being? Who created man and who formed nations and for what purpose?” Until these questions are satisfactorily and convincingly answered, we will continue to grope and we will be committing grave errors with fateful consequences without our knowing it. Before long, if, as Adeboye is wont to say, the Lord tarries, I will discuss nation building, national integration and what can help engender greater national stability.
Close to the answers we are looking for I am convinced are the recommendations contained in the Jonathan 2014 National Conference Report banged out by carefully selected leaders of thought, respectable peoples, men and women of standing, activists, interest groups and representatives of the state governments—a body an election could not have produced because the gladiators would go about with money to buy votes. The report has enchanting sections that will keep the country happy and move us closer to the dream of our country, a united country with opportunities for all to flourish. Will somebody bring it out, dust it up and do a summary on salient points for the President, please? We cannot throw away the baby with the birth water.