Ethnic agitations: Matters arising
With the continued agitation by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and the reckless expulsion order to Igbo citizens resident in the north given by youngsters followed by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo’s broad consultations with leaders from different regions, it is right to say that the nation still sits on edge. Added to this dangerous broth is the Yoruba Assembly which has opined that there should be a referendum on self-determination. On its part, the Niger Delta Avengers have called for oil blocks which are in the hands of northerners to be returned to indigenes of the region. There is palpable tension, fear and uncertainty, therefore, in the land. How the Presidency and National Assembly, supported by different persons and institutions manage the political crisis in the months ahead is crucial to the stability, peace and survival of the country. These cacophonic voices, however, point in one direction: disenchantment with the current structural and political set-up.
There is also the alternative narrative, however unsubstantiated, that the famed prediction that Nigeria as a corporate entity would come to an end in 2015, triggered off by the evil hands of some Western nations, is still dominant. Nigeria has survived 2015. Is it possible that there are subterranean moves to bring down the country because of the enormous potential and actual strength it has in handling regional and global issues? Why then are some persons walking into the trap of disintegration instead of restructuring the country?
This point need to be reiterated for the umpteenth time: Nigeria is better off as a corporate, united entity after political and economic restructuring. The Nigeria-Biafra civil war fought from 1967 to 1970 was meant to keep the country together. The war-time slogan ‘To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done’ is still relevant as it was 50 odd years ago. This time, however, the constituent parts of the nation should sit at a round-table or adopt the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference to restructure the political arrangement of the country. There is great disenchantment with the way and manner power is concentrated at the centre. The thinking is that the regions or constituent parts of the federation should have a greater stake in the scheme of things. Revenue allocation, resource development and control, and security are crucial issues begging for attention.
The response of the Federal Government to the deadly threats of the Niger Delta militants and Boko Haram insurgents respectively are part of the collective endeavour to keep the nation together. For a long time, there have been steps towards creating a more stable polity out of the disaster created by the unitary state forced out of Nigeria by the military in 1966. Indeed, the Federal Constitution of 1979 and also 1999 attempted to address some of the lingering and unresolved issues. But because the extant 1999 edition was not really drafted by the people and is just as unsatisfactory as any federal constitution can be, it has continued to receive criticisms. The Goodluck Jonathan administration then set up a National Conference in 2014 headed by retired Chief Justice Idris Kutigi. When it concluded its sittings it made some far-reaching recommendations which are believed to be apposite to confronting the current surge of ethnic nationalism. The Senate has agreed to work on the Confab report as a basis for restructuring the country. All hands should be on deck to achieve this.
War, arising from breakdown of law and order is not something to be toyed with. There is nothing romantic about war as evinced by the current anarchy in Libya, Syria, Somalia and the Sudan. Even war generals and veterans have argued that if they had their way, they would avoid war as a way of resolving issues. It is therefore unacceptable for some people to advocate another war through their actions or deeds. The wanton acts of destruction of life and property are not to be encouraged. Elder statesmen from all ethnic backgrounds should drum it into the heads of the younger ones that war or balkanization of Nigeria is not an option.
The Federal Government should, however, create a platform for enlightened national discourse. Leaders and followers alike should maintain utmost decorum when making pronouncements about the future of the country. The extreme threat issued by Arewa youths should be withdrawn. It is encouraging that some elder statesmen from the north have countered the provocative expulsion statements. They have also expressly supported re-engineering the polity into a federal one in letter and spirit as a means of dousing the current tension.
The time to restructure is now and all indications are in the direction of strengthening the nation’s political system through dialogue and consensus building. The Presidency should provide the lead. The initiative of inviting political and socio-cultural leaders to Abuja for consultations should not be the end of the matter. It should develop a framework, working along with the National Assembly to reduce tension and build a national consensus before the next general elections. The state governors, the National Assembly, State Houses of Assembly, indeed all elected officials and traditional rulers should take leadership from the hands of rabble-rousers who may unwittingly lead the nation into a crisis situation that could spell doom for all. They should provide responsible leadership and restore confidence in the land.