Dousing ethnic agitations
Recent political developments in the country have further accentuated our diverse fault-lines and confirmed even to the outside world that the chord of our so-called national unity is yet fragile, very fragile. Regionalism, ethnicity, tribalism, nepotism, favouritism, religious bigotry and the provincial character of leadership have continued to conspire to exert pressure on the nation’s fragile unity as Nigerians of northern and southern extractions agitate for fair and egalitarian accommodation in the federation.
Those who have been opportune to lead our nation have, thus far, carried on as if they are not seized of the facts of history. Whereas, the vestiges and scars of the historical civil war of attrition to secede or to keep Nigeria together, depending on the angle that it is looked at, are everywhere in our body-politic. The Igbo ethnic nationality which subscribed to the idea of separatism in order to cure the mischief of injustice in the distribution of power and positions by the then federal government is a constant reminder of how the unending agitation for Biafra was birthed.
Our leaders are certainly not ignorant of the historical trajectory from the past to the present. But they have egregiously chosen to defiantly scorn history. This is the tragedy of the cynical and obvious contempt with which the Igbo ethnic stock is treated within the context of our federation. It is rather inexplicable that in a federation that stands on the tripod of three major ethnic nations-the Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo-only the Ndigbo stock is yet to produce a democratically-elected president.
With the objectionable refrain being that the Igbo cannot be trusted with power, the general perception is that the denial of the Igbo ethnic nation from the presidency is a product of deliberate political calculations to eternally punish it for the secessionist misadventure spearheaded by the aboriginal leader of Biafra, the late Odumegwu Ojukwu. Validation: even a super minority Ijaw ethnic nationality has produced a president in Goodluck Jonathan, even if it was by reason of force majeure, occasioned by the natural death in office of a Hausa/Fulani president, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Besides, the backwardness in its infrastructure development compared with the other regions is fingered as a deliberate policy measure to diminish the Igbo, stifle their voice, constrict their political space and confine them into a cocoon of perpetual abandonment. Structurally, it is unjustifiable that having carved the ethnic nationality into the southeast zone, it remains the only geo-political zone with five states while the others have a minimum of six states. The northwest zone even has seven states.
To be sure, the problem with our leaders is not ignorance because the civil war to keep Nigeria together as a nation is still a subject of national discourse. This is the history, which lessons should have guided them to do the right things. But by failing to do the right things, which should have assuaged the ill-feelings and restiveness of all tribes, regions or zones of the country, the separatist agitation as typified by the ogre of Biafra continues to fester.
For long, Nigeria has been run in a way and manner that does not bolster the confidence of the Igbo in the federation. Even the sheer stigmatization of the Igbo as incapable of engendering national trust is patently unfair and has detracted from the fidelity to equity in the contemplation of a genuine federation. Therefore, by failing to do the right things, our leaders have expanded the frontiers of sectionalism to the exclusion of national interest and the nation is bound to keep interrogating the Biafra issue.
History, according to Karl Marx, repeats itself, first time as a tragedy and second time as a farce. Having witnessed the historical tragedy of the Nigerian civil war, it will amount to a mockery of our leadership and nationhood if the instrumentality of dialogue and compromises cannot be deployed to contain the lingering conflict before it explodes into a conflagration in our faces.
More than ever before, Nigeria appears to be a stone’s throw to preventable disintegration. The mere verbal exhortation that Nigeria is an indissoluble entity is not enough to make certain that the otherwise does not happen. Except and unless conscious steps are taken to mitigate the dialectics of injustice, both inherent and obvious, in our nationhood, our forced marriage by the executive fiat of Lord Lugard is capable of being ruptured by the agitation for Biafra exit (Biafrexit) from Nigeria.
When the tension of Biafrexit is thrown into the mix of the calls for restructuring by the Yoruba of the southwest zone, the minority ethnic nationalities of the South-south and North Central zones to accommodate even and equal development on the basis of exploitation and exploration of mineral resources under the soil of the respective zone and the states therein, the scenario cannot but foreshadow a looming apocalypse, which must challenge the sincerity of all stakeholders in the Nigerian project to justly deal with.
If the best way to deal with this is by way of restructuring, which marginalised ethnic nationalities seem to be enamoured with, then it is high time the government of the day began to take steps along that line. If the report of the 2014 National Conference is sufficient to deal with the issue, the federal government should bury its ego by implementing the recommendations contained therein whether partially or wholesale or as it may deemed fit.
There is no more time to waste. The future of Nigeria is now. With an enlightened army of restive youths across the country, leaders of the Nigerian federation can no longer entrench a discriminatory policy of exclusion and deliberate underdevelopment of any zone or region without justifiable agitations.The Biafrexit agitation is real. The Yoruba agitation for restructuring is valid. The middle belt agitation for egalitarian accommodation in the context of northern Nigeria is in apple-pie order. The southern minorities, specifically Niger Delta agitation for more recognition and empowerment on account of their exploited oil wealth is reasonable.
What is, however, odious in the crystallising scenario in which ethnic nationalities are trying to create conditions for dialogue towards economic, political and development accommodation with a view to achieving a genuine federation, was the unconscionable eviction order, a few days ago, by the Arewa Youth to the Igbo in the northern region. The order, following the successful sit-at-home order in Southeast states by the Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) to mark the anniversary of Biafra at 50, was barbaric and tendentious.
While some well-meaning northern leaders had quickly condemned the group and its call, including a threat of arrest by the security agencies of leaders of the Arewa Youth group, the federal government must tread softly and understandingly in response to the clanging sounds of disintegration. The government should do the needful to reinvent the wheel in the direction of true federalism and genuine unity by gravitating towards restructuring because if it does not do it or set machinery in motion to doing it in this first term, if Nigeria survives anyhow after 2019, a new government may do it and claim the prize for posterity.
• Ojeifo contributed this piece from Abuja.