PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari, last week, described the leaders of the Movement for the Actualisation of the State of, MASSOB, as ‘jokers.’ Buhari believes the agitators are hacking at granite with a kitchen knife if they believe they can change the minds of Nigerians to stay in one, indivisible country. After all, as he rightly pointed out, our country has “witnessed a lot of internal strife, survived a civil war and has remained united.” So, no shaking.

I find the president’s statement rather disappointingly dismissive of what is happening in the Southeast geopolitical zone. MASSOB is agitating for the dismemberment of our country. Its agitation is a direct challenge to state authority. It is not wise to dismiss such an agitation as a joke. History has enough evidence to show that challenges to state authorities often begin as seemingly innocuous social or political protests. And quite often by the time the state wakes up to the threat to its corporate existence, it loses the chance to nip an incipient problem in the bud and the protest or agitation blossoms into a major national crisis that, in some cases, defies a quick or an easy solution. Think of insurgencies and civil wars.

MASSOB has been around since the return to civil rule in 1999. At first, no one took the young men seriously. I think the general attitude, including that of the Obasanjo administration, was that what Lt-Col Ojukwu could not achieve with his army, navy and air force, despite the recognition of Biafra by no fewer than six countries, a bunch of young men would be ill-equipped to achieve with bare hands. Even the Nigerian state could not resist the temptation to dismiss MASSOB as a socio-political irritant.

The first seeds of a possible state mistake were thus sown. MASSOB is becoming progressively bolder and gaining traction among young men in that geopolitical zone. Only the previous week they led public protests that disrupted economic and social activities in parts of that zone. These men are not jokers. They are not joking.

Mrs. Josephine Anenih, former Minister of Women Affairs, appears to be one important personality who felt compelled to alert us to the dangers posed to peace in our dear country by the MASSOB agitation. In an opinion piece, last week, she wrote: “I see a looming war in Nigeria. A war that will consume the whole country if allowed to conflagrate. What Nigeria is battling with in the Northeast will fizzle into child’s play if the insidious danger that is brewing in the Southeast is not nipped in the bud now.”

A timely and sensible warning. Her view must have earned her the title of alarmist by now. It is not unusual for lone voices in matters of this nature to be drowned in indifference. Put her statement against that of the MASSOB director of information, Comrade Uchenna Madu: “Biafra agitators are more determined to sacrifice our shops, businesses, jobs, comfort and even the supreme sacrifice for the sake of our freedom.”

Bravado? Maybe. Let us not forget that the sall guy who takes on the state quite often manages to turn himself into the Pied Piper. Uninformed and the unwary youth flock to him.

Mrs. Anenih wrote: “I have listened keenly to hear the voice of Igbo leadership but was deafened by the silence that hit me.”
I, too, have listened for that voice from the Igbo leadership. I, too, am deafened by the sound of silence. I do not accuse the Igbo leadership of complicity in the MASSOB agitation. I know of many decent and patriotic Igbo men and women who are, I am willing to bet, pained by the self-destructive activities of these agitators that is impugning the patriotic credentials of such people. I suggest that it is unhelpful for those who disapprove of what MASSOB is doing and appreciate, like Mrs. Anenih, the elementary fact that the agitation is an ill-wind for their geopolitical zone and the country, to padlock their lips. It amounts to moral cowardice.

What is MASSOB really agitating for? What has the Nigerian state denied the Igbo? Or to put it another way, what are the grievances of these young people against the Nigerian state? You are not likely to hear sensible answers to these and other questions from the people who are prepared to sacrifice lives and limbs for an ill-defined cause.

I have heard glib talks about the so-called political marginalisation of the Igbo. I am not aware of a Nigerian state policy expressly intended to marginalise the Igbo or deny them their rights in any shape or form. Under both military regimes and civilian administrations, I knew of no tokenism in the appointments of Igbo men and women to important political and other positions in the country. Only nine years after the civil war brought on the country by an Igbo man ended, an Igbo man became the number two citizen as Vice-President of the country.

The Igbo made it to the number two position in the Babangida Administration. Only the Igbo have had five senate presidents; an Igbo man has been Senate President for more than eight years; the Igbo have headed the three armed forces and the police. We have had at least three Igbo governors of the Central Bank of Nigeria. We have had until recently Secretary to the Government of the Federation. Many have represented the country as ambassadors. I know of no one from another state imposed on an Igbo state as a governor. The Igbo, like the rest of us, have been free to choose their governors; and like them, we have not always made wise choices. I rest my case on the so-called marginalisation.

Ah, I remember. The Igbo have not had a president. A sore point, obviously. The other two big tribes have had more than their fair share here. The Igbo is the third in the three big tribe league in our country. I am not aware that other tribes conspired to deny them the highest office in the land. They, not others, are to blame. The highest office in the land will continue to elude it surely, the tribe that plays its politics poorly,

I offer three humble reasons I believe the Nigerian state cannot afford to play Rip Van Winkle. My first reason is that behind the MASSOB agitation is a feeling of entitlement. Its leaders argue, and they can find takers among top leaders, that their people have not been given their fair share consistent with their sterling contributions to our national development. I can testify to their contributions to our national development.

All our teachers at the Methodist School, Agila, were Igbo. I can confirm, too, that in every town in Northern Nigeria before the Nigerian crisis and the civil war, all the traders – wholesale and retain – motor mechanics, lorry owners and drivers, eatery owners, electricians and so on, were all Igbo. Their leadership in economic activities might have been unrewarded but the rest of have never failed to recognise them. In any case, people primarily engage in such activities for personal gains; the national gain is an unintended consequence.

My second reason is that there is an incipient but palpable sense of isolationism in the Southeast geopolitical zone. This is evident among senior Ndigbo leaders, who, at the best of times, ensure that what they say is at variance with what they believe or do. While they benefit from the system, they tend to believe they are in it but not of it. It seems to me that this has created the vacuum being exploited by the leaders of MASSOB. Perhaps, that is why these people find virtue in padlocking their lips.

The sense of entitlement is the more reason the Nigerian state would be remiss if it continues to shrug off the agitation as a harmless youthful exuberance indulged by those who want to draw attention to themselves. The coup of 1966 by four Igbo and one Yoruba majors resulted primarily from a similar feeling their entitlement was denied, in the Yoruba denying the premiership of the Western Region. I think the young majors must have felt that entitlement denied their people by the ballot box had to be requited by the barrel of the gun. It was an ill-wind. We are still reaping the whirlwind. A sense of unrequited entitlement exerts a price in all societies and nations.

My third reason the Nigerian state cannot afford to be indifferent to MASSOB is that there are militias prepared to protect their ethnic and geopolitical interests: OPC in the Southwest, Arewa Youths in the northern states and Egbesu Boys in the Southsouth. If the Nigerian state fails to address the MASSOB agitation, it could wake up some of these militias. I do not wish to predict what this could mean for us and our country.

Boko Haram has ample lessons for those who are dismissive of incipient insurgencies. So far, MASSOB leaders have conducted themselves in a non-threatening but systematic manner: street protests and radio propaganda. This could change should they be attracted to AK-47. If this happens, things could get messy and attract international do-gooders.

President Buhari is confronted with a messy cocktail of insecurity challenges. It is the burden thrust upon him by a nation polarised by its fault lines – ethnicity, religion, poverty – and the immediate past leadership failure by those who put the enjoyment of the perks of office above and beyond addressing lingering and new national challenges. How the President addresses these challenges will define his presidency.

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  • KWOY

    These satanic verses by vagabonds & Igbophobists like you, is the reason Biafra must be.

  • KWOY

    If not for your sense of infeririority & insecurity, why are you pleading for military action? But your passion fuelled by your phobia is dulling your sense of history. Idiot

  • KWOY

    If this is no changing world, why have your NEWSWATCH closed shop? Demon, regardless of the outcome of this development, the Igbo spirit will still emerge & weigh you down.

  • Eyes Justice

    Yes, there is where the real threat to the nation lies – that this hysteric movement has tactically and wisely shunned the AK47 option. That means it has the potential for accretion and wild copyrighting from the IDLE unemployed youths in other parts of this country. In other words, it can easily transform into ethnic-nationalist ideology as seen in Europe. And what are we hearing from the government of `change`? Typical 20th century response to a new problem. These youths are not armed – and are not likely to do so soon. But the military brass-hats are already responding to them as if that is already another war front. I suspect the Military is condescending so gracelessly because it`s obvious to them that the political leadership is at sea. And to make matters worse, the government and its sectional prebendal promoters erroneously think the last election was a referendum on the Jonathan National Conference. Until that euphoria clears and they return to earth, there is nothing the Igbo elders or any patriotic Nigerian can say or do to stem the tide of this widening madness. We are lost because the government is starry-eyed, unbelievably archaic, parochial and in fact to borrow its favourite sneer word, utterly clueless.

    • KWOY

      Knowing that that is exactly what they don’t have or intend to have, but knowing that doing so is the only reason that can justify military invasion, this idiot, in order to justify an invasion, is desperate to impose AK-47s on the protesters

  • Bobjk

    Please can you name s high ranking official from the southeast in buhari ‘s government apart from. Ministers that is based on the Constitution?

  • okbaba

    Dan Agbese, respected in the days of yore but unable to keep the business side of Newswatch, a stead that would have long been there to remind us of the contributions of Dele Giwa.

    Here your propound that these youths have been harmless, unable to articulate what their grudges are, yet you sit atop your moral hilltop to propound your own reasons for their actions while disingeniously inviting unstated response from the government, the nature of which you did not want to disclose but discretely implied in your tone.

    What these youths experience is a subject of affliction for every single youths in Nigeria that the Nigerian state has failed to address since independence. It is their future and no one better than them can address their problems, your age group having failed woefully. They have created their own jobs, commerce, artisanship, etc while others prefer to be ministers of petroleum. Equal opportunities and competitive spirit have become garbage in a country where the least qualified earns the scholarships, officially hidden and manipulated to favour the less qualified. Imagine how many employees Newswatch would have had in its fold if you guys had the enterprising spirit of these youths. Nollywood, entertainment, etc keep flourishing as they make them happen. That is why they need contemporary leaders who can rally them positively using new media, technology and knowledge. Not one that could not show the simple example of disclosing his certificates, the very course of self-entitlement you accuse others of. Gone are the days when your ilks have a monopoly of the media, we are wiser and the war of Nigerian youths will not involve AK47, it will be infomatics. Rather than heap praised on them for their maturity at protestation, you malign them. Jettison the National conference conclusions to your own peril.