As the agitation of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) takes turn for the worse, there is need to reexamine the entirety of the ‘agitation’ and situate it in the larger picture of our political experience as a nation before history is allowed to repeat itself.
To start with, the many crises rocking the nation is borne out of what has been variously described as the crisis of state formation in Africa, whereas explained that the political and economic spheres of the continent are two lungs not linked in any meaningful way.
When at independence we got political power and the economic power resided with our colonial masters, the elites did little to reverse the trend by making the economy internally driven and oriented.
Political competition would destroy even some of the visions that in retrospect are now seen as the paths we abandoned in our quest for greatness. And with the military intervention, we went on a journey from which recovery is proving difficult even till now.
What is currently playing out in the Southeast of Nigeria is a sleep-walk (somnambulism) into very dangerous terrains which requires tact, maturity and decisiveness to handle and retract. And recalling some of our experiences would do us a lot of good.
As we speak IPOB members are on rampage on the streets of the Southeast stopping passenger buses searching for ‘Hausas’ (and by default whoever looks like them) in reprisal to what they see as an attack on them by the Army which they took as symbolizing the person of the presidency and not the institution as a separate entity.
And the spate and dimension of the violence are not limited to the Southeast. The Plateau State Government (North Central) had to declare a dusk to dawn curfew to prevent the intra-ethnic clash between the Hausa and Igbo communities.
This followed the same measure by the Abia state Government (Southeast); while in River State (South-south), the Muslim community had to appeal to the state government to come to its aid from attacks on Muslims as well as their places of worship. Whether IPOB has a ‘strategy’ to replicate the ‘agitation’ and create a nationwide bonfire is only to be seen with time.
For a man who has created an indigenous standing army, and with the spate of interception of firearms importation into the country, we no doubt have another challenge bordering on insurrection on our hands. To be sure the arms seized so far by the Customs (thrice this year alone) fall within the category of those referred to as light arms; preferred weapons for prosecuting communal conflicts.
On the political side of the scenario, strange analyses and approaches are going on especially in the Southern part of the country. With some socio-political groups gathered in Ibadan on the Sept. 7, who claimed to represent and speak for the Yorubas (even though it is known to many that these are private individuals with no such conventional title or nomenclature), the Southeast leadership and the IPOB may seemed to have been emboldened that they have support among their neighbours south of the Niger.
But if history is anything to go by, IPOB and the Southeastern leaders would be advised to tread with caution, before they start to level against all Yorubas the tag of ‘traitors’ just as some of their narratives in the civil war goes.
To those elderly Igbos who witnessed the civil war, Awolowo ‘broke’ the back of Biafra when he refused to toe the line of separation which Ojukwu thought the Southwest ought to have bought into; and when as it was alleged, it was the same Awolowo who gave the ‘strategy’ of starvation to the Nigerian military government as a tool to prosecute the war which many believed ended the war decisively.
The Yoruba race has a proverb which paints the one who is brave at war but not at the tactics of running when a situation demands, as a fool doomed to perish with the war. Also in the Yoruba cultural architecture and as testified to by our recent history, the drivers of the current agitation in the Southwest have been known to consider only their own agenda of a place to colonise while using others to achieve that aim.
We remember that the June 12 agitation as legitimate, nationwide and far-reaching as it was, became drawn-in when the Afenifere introduced the ethnic dimension into it, which alienated quite a lot of people and reduced its national significance.
Today, Abiola is no more, but even some of those who made up the NADECO have at some time in their analyses indicted the late business mogul as being culpable in the crisis that engulfed him and eventually took his life. How hard can Yorubas be, even on their own? Hence Ohane-Eze and IPOB should look before they leap.
If the allegation of marginalisation to which IPOB has rolled out the drum of disintegration is anything to go by, then the question remains `who is not marginalised in Nigeria’? A follow-up to that question would be ‘who is marginalising whom’?
A look at what IPOB referred to as marginalisation gives the following: that the Southeast has five states when other geopolitical zones have six; that there is inadequate Igbo presence in the current administration; that there is little or no federal presence in the Southeast; among other yearnings such as a president of an Igbo extraction.
The first question to ask is why is the Southeast just realising it has five states since the time of the last state creation exercise and why must that constitute the basis for a cry of disintegration? Again, when in the last administration, the region produced ministers for the ‘juicy’ positions of finance and petroleum resources.
One of its own had the sole right and privilege to import kerosene to be used by millions of Nigerians, there was no marginalisation then? With regard to place in the present dispensation, the government has fulfilled what is constitutional binding by having representation from all the states of the federation for appointment into various offices!
To be frank, the display of immaturity by leaders of the region in the last election sickens everybody, including many Easterners who joined the campaign against the profligacy of the last administration. Other so-called grievances which would not be listed by IPOB included the ‘waiver industry’ as this was what the last minister of finance made of her position when in giving waivers to essential commodities, same was extended to all items with virtually no exception.
One time Governor of the Central Bank, Charles Soludo once cried out at the spate of indiscriminate allocation of waivers that he said cost the nation to lose about N30 trillion!. So, one could see that when it was rosy with the Jonathan government, there was no ‘agitation’ as many among our compatriots from the East were getting deals better than every other Nigerian.
The Buhari Administration:
Whatever one may say about the current administration, one thing that is clear is that business is not running as usual in many quarters – the oil industry, the Ports, the MDA’s etc as they used to. However, a section of the government, with respect to fulfilling the expectations of the masses, shows that the Senate as presently constituted has ‘tortured’ Nigerians more than any other arms of the government to the extent that many among Nigerians want it scrapped.
The latest anti-people policy it is tinkering with is the Civil Society Bill where a commission to regulate civil society activities is to be established amidst a lean purse and a struggling economy. Even as some Nigerians have observed that the bill is meant to silence civil society voice in Nigeria, a look at the actors at the Senate tells you that agitations along ethnic and religious lines are only a disservice to the collective interests of the masses and a firming up of the ‘strength’ of the political class.
The Senate for all the opprobrium it has attracted to itself is led by a President who is half northerner half south-westerner, while his deputy is an indigene of the Southeast- a potential IPOB member!
There is no doubt that the current fiscal and constitutional arrangement breeds under development and are in greater part responsible for the state of despondency in the land. However ethnic agitation and propaganda will only worsen the situation as the IPOB experiment is beginning to show.
What has been variously paraded as regionalism, resource-control, restructuring among other nomenclature certainly holds little as the solution to the nation’s problem? The political class has once again succeeded in re-directing the issue away from where Nigerians can actually have a breath of life.
Addressing Socio-Economic Lopsidedness:
Before the devolution of power as presently canvassed, can we have a ‘restructure’ of the following; our salary and emolument across all strata, where a ‘base’ for apportioning same is known to all with a fair percentage? (Politicians would not toe that line);
Can we have a law which forbids public office holders from enrolling their wards into foreign educational institutions and a roadmap in the education sector which derives from our needs as a nation?
Can we abolish the evil practice of giving money which is not accountable for, under titles such as security vote (of course politicians will generate situations that will bring it back); can we reduce our current political offices, a unicameral legislature with part-time payment?
Can we have a roadmap to industrialisation? Lack of these and much more are those factors that have corrupted our governance and societal architecture and driven us to this state of under development. To think that restructuring as presently canvassed will bring a change to all these, even under the so-called regional arrangement is to hope for a part of the moon in your hand, as politicians are the same.
This is the time to put together all agitations into one whole weight, to demand socio-economic and developmental approach to governance, as against the current political approach which only yields to the favour of politicians, and is intrinsically generative of conflict since power will be used to corner and syphon resources.
Rather, resources are critically exploited and managed for the interest of all. It is time to end ‘agitations’ for securing narrow political interests which in the end don’t even address the causes of such agitation, which are socio-economic and widespread in nature.
A Yoruba man heralded the current republic riding on the grievances of the Southwest in the June 12 imbroglio; a Goodluck Jonathan got to the presidency under the agitation of Niger Deltans for resource control. Looking back neither the country nor the zones which produced these leaders could point to any meaningful development, despite a humongous advantage in foreign earnings.
The lessons ought to be clear; agitations will only have divine blessings when they are for the good interest of all
By Yekinni Ayinde Shakira, Director, Center for Global Peace Initiative (CGPI)