Today we rise in reminiscence of our past, one that left an indelible mark in the annals of our nation’s life. The reward of our continuous failure to tolerate, embrace and accept the fate of nationhood, and forty-five years after millions lost their lives in that debacle, we are back to where we began.
The tension mounting in Nigeria in the last few weeks, if not properly managed and curtailed possesses enough strength to disrupt the peace of the country to an extent that may lead to segregation.
Already the country is battling to overcome the unending terror attacks from the Boko Haram insurgents who seem to have shifted focus on mainly suicide attacks and bombings across the North Eastern States of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa. But while Boko Haram pose a threat to the sovereignty of Nigeria, two other major threats capable of even greater disaster are brewing in the South unabated.
Let us even pretend we do not know how it all began; let us share in the believe that the ongoing protests in the South East for the release of Nnamdi Kanu is just some assembly of misguided individuals who probably have been induced by politicians to make the administration of President Buhari ungovernable. That when some are bundled into Black Maria to serve as a deterrent to others, sanity and peace will return to the region.
But before we get drowned in that illusion, it is pertinent to remind each other what led to the present day terrorist organization in the North East. How some group of also misguided and perhaps induced youth in a local government council metamorphosed into an international killing squad strong enough to withstand the forces of the Nigerian Army, Chadian Military, Nigerien Soldiers and the African Union team all together. How a Yusuf Mohammed, relatively unknown rose to the status of Wali through the help of overzealous and trigger-happy officers who were acting on the usual “order from above”.
Truly, “those who wield the sword of Brutus at the gate should be prepared to meet the ghost of Caesar in Philippine”. If the erupting forces in the East later escalate into a national disaster, no one deserves blame other than President Muhammadu Buhari.
I still cannot wrap my head around the decision to arrest a troubled, desperate and obviously money-mongering fellow like Kanu thus elevating him to a hero status as a result of the lack of strategy from the presidency. While the utterances of Kanu are insulting, ridiculing and inciting, the present administration should understand that this money making tactics of his has been on for almost a decade and has not produced a single protest in the country until now because he has never been given any attention.
To insinuate a belief that the current agitation is the desire of all South Easterners will be a great disservice to the illustrious and industrious sons and daughters of that region. I have met lots of individuals from the eastern part of the country who have never heard of Radio Biafra or Nnamdi Kanu. Most if not all, have embraced the political amalgamation of Nigeria and see no reason to raise objection on its formation but rather seek for equality within the confines of law.
Maybe President Buhari is not aware but his emergence in April as the President of Nigeria does not reflect a pan-Nigerian mandate given by majority across ethnic divide. The election results clearly showed that over 80% of his accumulated votes came from the North. The interpretation of this is that, he has naturally acquired opposition from the South, majorly in the East, South South and somewhat in the West. The decision of Goodluck Jonathan to concede defeat as against the wide spread expectation that he will not give up power willingly is an unpopular decision in those regions. The torturing disdain of the region by leaders of Northern extraction and the manifest marginalization by the Buhari administration in unfolding political appointments reincarnate the 1966-67 tempers searching for any slight excuse for expression.
An average South Easterner can be anything but not a coward that can be easily threatened to submission, rather it is appropriate to say they are one of the most resilient tribe in Nigeria who pushes back thrice to reciprocate a single push.
The Southwest has also come under intense attacks from the Fulani herdsmen who have transformed from their conventional system of land encroachment to killing of peasants and even kidnapping. Recently, an elder statesman and respected leader of the region, Chief Olu Falae was allegedly kidnapped on his farm in Akure area of Ondo State by gun-wielding Fulani herdsmen who had to be paid before Falae’s release was secured. This act alongside many others was condemned by the Yoruba socio-cultural group known as ‘Afenifere’, with a caveat of succession should the Buhari led administration fail to intervene in the issue.
The South Westerners beyond doubt are quite accommodating and receptive compared to every other region in the country; a group of people who are predominantly technocrats, peace-makers and essentially lack the tendency for large scale violence or reprisal attacks. However, the meekness of this region should not be misconstrued for weakness as political history has proven that every region has a boiling point and for a country where trust amongst ethnic groups still remain elusive, unchecked attacks may be seen as a calculated plot by the North and the North led government to take over the territorial space of the region and shortchange its sovereignty.
Sadly, the palpable silence of the President on these issues continues to lay credence to this alleged conspiracy theory. Words on the street is that this sudden confidence being exhibited by the herdsmen are footprints of their ‘myownization’ ideology as they believe having a fellow brother in power commands an additional authority over other tribes. Such believe is not only gaining momentum but seems to be an encouraging factor as attacks by these herdsmen are now being reported even in the East.
Moving forward, President Buhari needs to ensure the release of Nnamidi Kanu as his continuous incarceration is taking the turn of political imprisonment. The President (if he so desire) can then proceed to try the accused in an open court of competent jurisdiction. The president could also employ international diplomacy and technological means to block Kanu’s toxic broadcast in Nigeria. A high-profile committee consisting of respected and reputable individuals of Eastern extract is required to meet with youth organizations and groups in the region to reorientate them and find a common ground for peace.
But while all these are short term antidote to a long-aged ailment, the importance of a referendum to put to rest the whispers of division within Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. Such referendum should be constituted across the six geopolitical zones in the country. It is important each region renews its vow to the commitment of unity of the country. Doing otherwise will continue to create the impression of a forced marriage functioning under duress.
Finally, the present administration should consider greatly the summoning of a Sovereign National Dialogue where the sole topic for discussion will be on the continuous existence of a united country. Such dialogue will then produce what will be referred to as the ‘Declaration of Unity’ signed by every region with agreed terms and conditions. It is also pertinent to suggest that the use of electoral college should be adopted as a decider in presidential elections as the current system where a region with more population can dictate the emergence of a Presidential candidate with or without the support of other geopolitical zones is unnationalistic in nature as other regions with equal political rights but less population will forever be at the mercy of those with larger population.
The rotation of power among the geopolitical zones is also of utmost importance as this will give everyone the confidence of collective governance. States across the South East should also be brought to six for an equal representation of the region at the federal legislative arm.
It is my hope that these changes and suggestions are given immediate consideration before unfolding events get out of hand. God save us all if it does.
. Boladale is a political scientist and public affairs analyst.