Last week some misguided Arewa youths in Kaduna issued an ultimatum to the Igbos living doing business in all northern states to leave the north before the 1st of October this year otherwise they would be forced out. Ever since that chilling warning was issued the diminutive Governor of Kaduna state, Nasir el-Rufai, was reported to have asked the security agencies to arrest and prosecute the signatories to the declaration. The Kaduna declaration could be said to have amounted to a declaration of war against an ethnic group. Neither the Kaduna state government nor the federal government have done anything serious about apprehending the authors of the Arewa hubris up north. Like the issue of marauding Fulani herdsmen and their murderous exploits the governments at different levels are treating this matter with the usual kid gloves. Threat to national cohesion is punishable under our laws.
The Arewa youth groups must have been angered by the success of the sit-at-home campaign by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) last May 30 marking the jubilee of the declaration of the Biafra nation in 1967. Many non-indigenes must have been affected by the sit-at-home directive which was followed to the letter by residents of the predominantly Igbo population of south-eastern Nigeria. According to the statement credited to the Arewa youths the observance of the IPOB-mandated non-violent protest amounted to a brutal encroachment on the rights of those termed as non-indigenous people residing and doing lawful businesses in those areas illegally demarcated and defined as Biafra by the Igbos.
The issue of Biafra, Arewa and Niger Delta militancy bear the hallmarks of failure of leadership in Nigeria. There is restiveness in the land as poverty and frustration grow — even in the urban centres. The youths graduating out of schools are roaming the streets without gainful employment. And cost of living is skyrocketing due to the recession and fallen value of the Naira. The President is far away in London battling with an ailment very few people know anything about. The Acting President is doing his best to bring leadership to bear on the national scene even against machinations by the identified Aso Rock cabal led by COS Abba Kyari. Nigeria seems to be on the brink, at crossroads!
While it is true that most of the ‘youths’ threatening the corporate existence of the nation were not yet born during the Biafran pogrom they live in a modern world where wars are happening here and there. They are conversant with the war against terrorism around the world with blood flowing from Somalia to Syria, Iraq to Mali, Nigeria to Libya. They know how Boko Haram had made life miserable for those living in Maiduguri and other locations in Borno state and elsewhere. War is not something to wish for unless one has a satanic message to deliver!
In a nation where people (irrespective of ethnic or religious divide) go into office with the sole intention of looting the treasury then we must begin to interrogate ourselves about the need for the sustenance of such messy politico-social atmosphere. In a nation where the provision of basic amenities of life seems to be a luxury reserved for the rich and prosperous then peace would be elusive. Any nation that prides itself as rich must take statistics of the life expectancy of the average citizen into account before vaunting its greatness or aspiration for same. No nation can ever be taken seriously where majority of her peoples are daily fighting each other on ethnic lines or desperately wanting to get out of an imposed ‘union’.
Days before the commencement of activities marking the fifty years of the existence of the Biafran agitation the Lagos-based ‘Sun’ newspaper had reported online that many women belonging to IPOB and other associations were protesting naked in Abiriba, Abia State, following the alleged arrest and harassment of their members by military men at Ohafia during their general meeting. The action of the soldiers angered the women who later stripped naked and marched to the palace of the traditional ruler of the community protesting the soldiers’ action. The traditional ruler assured them that he would make sure that those arrested were released.
The information gathered had it that the soldiers stormed the venue of the meeting with 20 Hilux vans and without provocation started beating, arresting and tearing the women’s clothes resulting in some of them being stripped naked before taking them to their barracks! Food, clothing and accessories belonging to some of the women were seized by the soldiers and taken to the Ohafia Barracks in Abia State. If this does not amount to provocation by zombie soldiers then one wonders what would. Invading a premises where unarmed women were meeting and violently pulling the trigger and shooting in the air to disperse them is an act of intimidation and barbaric display of force, something deplorable.
Using unnecessary force to put down an unarmed protest or gathering should not be allowed in a democracy like ours. While we recognise that this democracy is challenged on many fronts there must be strict compliance with democratic ethos by those controlling the security apparatus of the state. It boggles the mind and raises the question of justice when excessive military force is deployed to quell a simple demonstration or insurgency. No one deserves to be killed extra-judicially but that sadly seems to be the plight of those clamouring for Biafra. Thousands had lost their young lives just for identifying with Biafra while hundreds are still languishing in jail for voicing out opposition to the federal oppressive tendencies. Yet the quest for Biafra continues unabated! No one can kill an idea rooted in time and ideology of a determined people.
Biafra, fifty years after, seems to be a dream postponed, a hope rekindled and a future held in abeyance! Nigeria, despite our patriotic stance, can never survive for a long time without the meticulous restructuring of the dysfunctional federalism we are presently practising. The present federal chaos gives the Biafra, Arewa and Oduduwa republican dreams more meaning and appeal! It is better we jaw-jaw now than war-war sooner than later.
The solution to the Biafran nationhood agitation is simple: referendum! Organize a free and fair referendum and let the people decide. That remains the only legitimate way of establishing the quest for freedom or vanquishing same legally and logically for good. According to a renowned philosopher: “no man is good enough to be the master of another”. The Igbos deserve to be the masters of their own destiny either within or without the Nigerian convoluted federation. It is not a crime to demand for a better ‘deal’ in a Nigeria where injustice reigns.
A few instances would suffice here to buttress a relative point. Singapore was once under Malaysia as a federating unit until it was excised unilaterally from the union by reactionary forces. Today they are better and the socio-economic miracle of the late Lee Kuan Yew has taken the city-state from the third to the first world. South Sudan was for decades under the political diktat of the Arabs in Khartoum. It took years of war for an internationally-organized referendum to bring about a nation with Juba as capital city. Though it has not been easy politically ever since that flag independence was obtained but freedom was achieved for a majority black population hitherto living in servitude. Kosovo as a province of the defunct Yugoslavia suffered under the dictatorship of the late Slobodan Milosevic until former US President Bill Clinton and European allies used brute force to liberate the people from bondage.
We are for national unity because we believe that we are better, stronger and greater together. But in the event of the Arewa youths executing their anti-Igbo quit-notice on or before our 57th independence anniversary then no one should shed tears for the demise of a wealthy but poor nation raped and abused. Before the sun rises in the east therefore, heralding the actualisation of Biafra in its power and glory (a brand new nation under God) Biafrans must, in unity and with one voice, declare defiantly that the future of the land of the rising sun is bright. And that that future, for all intents and purposes, is Now!