Thursday, June 8, 2017

Nigeria: Breakup, Northern Style

By Paul Onomuakpokpo  
With northern youths giving Igbo residing in their region an ultimatum to quit before October 1 or face dire consequences, the agitations for the dissolution of the Nigerian union are fast reaching frenzied heights. What obviously provoked the rage of the northern youths were the ceaseless agitations for self-determination by some indigenes of the south east. Such agitations being championed by the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) culminated recently in the shutting down of the major towns of the south east on May 30 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the quest to create a Biafra Republic out of Nigeria.
President Buhari, Sultan of Sokoto,
Sa’ad Abubakar
Of course, the northern part of the country, like other regions that make up the Nigerian nation, has the right to respond to the clamour for secession by the Igbo. But what is intolerably scandalous is that the approach they have adopted amounts to self-sabotage. For, it rather portrays them as a people who are not really interested in responding fully to the demands of restructuring of the polity but are rather only motivated by greed and the envy of the success of the Igbo.
If the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar’s claim during his visit to the south east that the Igbo easily become objects of hate and annihilation because of their success were a Freudian slip, the position of the northern youths do not disguise their hankering after the wealth of the Igbo. If the northern youths were really interested in restructuring, the first step they should take is not to give the Igbo an ultimatum to leave their land. Even if Nigeria breaks up today, this does not give the northern youths the right to seize the property of the Igbo. Are the Igbo war criminals or their property are proceeds of corruption that the northern youths would seize them? The Igbo are free to live and own property in any part of the world, including the north as foreigners if the country breaks up.
Besides, it is not only the Igbo who have been asking for a redefinition of the terms of the existence of the Nigerian nation. The south south and the south west have also called for the same purpose. It is ludicrous for the northern youths to single out the Igbo for intimidation and possible liquidation as if other people were comfortable with the injustices upon which the nation has been built for decades. They should not think that after allowing the Igbo to go they would continue to feed off the resources of the south south.
Some Igbo who have been calling for restructuring have not been able to gain so much support of their leaders partly because of the path their struggle is taking – a possible violent exit from Nigeria. The government had to put Nnamdi Kanu in detention for months because it considered his attempts to prise a Biafra Republic out of Nigeria as threats to the continued unity of the country. It was only towards the end of April that Kanu regained freedom. If Kanu and others could be thrown into detention because their activities were considered secessionist, the government should not hesitate to also arrest, prosecute and detain these northern youths. It must not wait for October 1 when there might be a mass slaughter of innocent citizens and destruction of property before it would counter their ultimatum.
Even though those who spoke claimed to be youths, it is obvious that they represent the position of some leaders in the north. Or, how did they get access to the Arewa House in Kaduna to espouse their secessionist agenda? Over the years, it is the leaders of the north who have resisted the calls by other parts of the country for restructuring. It is only a very negligible number of them like former Vice President Abubakar Atiku who have acknowledged the need for restructuring. But then, his position is easily dismissed as political. Not a few snigger that Atiku’s support is just a way of trying to secure votes during elections and that once he gets power, he would abandon this pet quest of his.
After all, the leaders of the current ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) were strong advocates of restructuring. Indeed, the APC won the hearts of many citizens because of its promise to restructure the polity once it got power. But since APC got power, the party and its leaders no longer see the need for restructuring. But now that some of the northern leaders are apparently warming up to the idea of restructuring, they are articulating it through the back door – their misguided youths. The fact that they lack the courage to express their view shows their lack of readiness for a true restructuring.
It is an illusion for the northern youths to think that they can have restructuring the way they want. If the nation has now come to terms with the inevitability of restructuring, then it is incumbent on its leaders to harness the northern youths’ newfound interest to arrive at better ways of creating a new society underpinned by equity and justice. In this regard, the northern leaders have much to do to wean their youths off the destructive path they are set to take by their ultimatum.
If the need to escape oppression is fundamental to the agitations for self-determination, there is no guarantee that a breakup of the country would not produce greedy despots in the new nations that would emerge from the Nigerian union. Who are those who would be the leaders of these new nations? Is it not these political leaders that we have now? Would the governors, senators and others allow some political neophytes and upstarts to be their new leaders in their new nations? Of course, there are those who would say that they do not mind who would be their leaders in their new nations – all they want is their freedom to live with those they consider as their brothers and sisters and not their enemies and oppressors.
For the south east, they do not mind if their leaders would continue to use their limited resources to build mansions for themselves and their generations unborn. In the south west, they are not bothered that their leaders would continue to steal their resources to keep on installing new leaders who would cover their corruption-smeared tracks. For the south south, they have no objection to a situation where their leaders would keep on stealing their oil resources after their environment has been degraded by exploration and exploitation of oil and gas resources. And for the north, the people would not mind that their leaders keep them as almajiris while they steal their resources to send their children abroad and neglect their hospitals but run overseas on account of any minor aliment.
Yes, many nations of the world have broken from other countries. Yes, the 1914 amalgamation that cobbled the country together has expired. But if we must renegotiate the terms of a fresh union, this can be done without resort to the rhetoric of violence as demonstrated by the northern youths. This can be done in a peaceful way instead of triggering a colossal tragedy that would waste lives before we would realise the need for negotiation. This is the time for the northern leaders who have been opposed to the 2014 national conference report which spells out new terms for our peaceful coexistence to be humble enough to go back to it.
*Dr. Onomuakpokpo is on the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspapers 

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