The quit notice by a group known as the Coalition of Northern Youths (CNY) for Igbos in northern Nigeria to leave the region within three months and for Northerners in the East to return to the North within the same time frame reminds one of Major Gideon Orkar excising the Northeastern states from Nigeria during his military coup of April 22, 1990. The Quit Notice, otherwise called the Kaduna Declaration, received the same odium and derision that greeted Gideon Orkar’s treason. Across the political spectrum, many have denounced this Orkar-like proclamation – Northern Governors, opinion leaders, youths, civil society organizations, etc. The Kaduna State Government was particularly incensed that its symbolic capital city was used as a venue for such “embarrassing broadcast” to quote General Sani Abacha’s statement referring to Gideon Orkar’s coup broadcast. The same denunciations were heard from other parts of the country. Even the Federal Government belatedly (and then energetically) joined the chorus of condemnations. Of course, as it is to be expected in a democracy, few voices were also heard in support of the quit notice.
The tension generated by the odious declaration, the fear and loathing, the divisive and hateful utterances and proclamations, only underscore how far backwards Buhari has taken Nigeria in his quest to “deal” with the Igbos. Many decades of bridge and confidence building were bulldozed within two years of his ascension. Nigerian unity, one of our most cherished national aspirations, was regressed by more than half a century. Is that to be considered an achievement? The former governor of Anambra state, Chukuemeka Ezeife was once constrained to protest that president Buhari was doing everything possible to push the Igbos out of Nigeria. And as the agitations and counter agitations continued, elder statesman, Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu joined the fray and affirmed that the Igbos would not leave Nigeria nor would they allow any other group to leave. Such is the conundrum.
In an interview with editors in Lagos as reported in the Daily Trust of 18th June, 2017, the Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson observed that, “Nigeria has gone past that…The APC-led Federal government could have done more in the area of promoting national unity in the country. I have spoken about it severally; the country is too divided. The federal government should consciously promote national cohesion, unity and unite the various ethnic groups in the country. But unfortunately, government has not done enough to promote national cohesion, whether in the management of federal political power and appointments, or in evolving a national strategy to deal with the menace of herdsmen.”
Coincidentally, in the same issue of the Daily Trust was an opinion piece titled “Secession between hypocrisy and illusion (1)” written by one Mohammed Qaddam Sidq. The piece opened with, “The recent issuance of an ultimatum by the neo-Biafran secessionists to northern Nigerians based in the South Eastern Nigeria to leave the region, and the counter-ultimatum issued by a group calling itself the Coalition of Northern Youths to the Igbos based in northern Nigeria to leave the region have retriggered the recurrent controversy over the survival of Nigeria as a united country.”(See https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/news/opinion/secession-between-hypocrisy-and-illusion-i/202059.html ).
The lone comment on this article as at 9pm that day condemned the writer for lying, for having no conscience, and for turning the truth on its head. I believe, however, that the lie only showed that Mohammed Qaddam Sidq has conscience, but of an unusual type. He knew that the quit notice was odious, unconstitutional, and treasonable; in fact he was very embarrassed that such Gideon Orkar-like pronouncement was started by “his” side. Since he did not have the courage, or the humility, or honesty or the patriotism to condemn the culprits, he could only recourse to lying even to himself in order to deflect the firing of the first shot to “them”.
In “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” Karl Marx stated that, “Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” The same caricature is evident in the present attempt to dismember Nigeria.
Being a great thinker, Marx expatiated further: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.”
And so the Kaduna Declaration, which will live in infamy in the history of Nigeria, much like Orkar’s declaration, did not come out of the blue. The CNY was not declaring as if from a tabular rasa, so to say. It merely donned the garb of the foot soldiers and trumpeters of the Mahdi, Defender of “Northern interests”, selectively conjuring “the spirits of the past to its service (with) the old dates, the old chronology”. In its mythopoeia, it conveniently forgets that the massacre of Igbos in the North did not start in 1966. “Facts are stubborn things” said John Adams.
It is not the myopic worldview of troglodytes that should concern us here, however, but those of men and women who have sacrificed and were sacrificed in the quest to make this country united, great and prosperous, whose broad worldview remains an inspiration to patriots everywhere. Like their contemporaries in other climes, they are not preoccupied with petty tribal jealousies and intrigues. They think of the world and the place of their nation in it. This is the kind of thinking that made Europe what it is today, and what it was yesterday: nations with great societal organization, inventive, courageous and adventurous, which enabled them to conquer and colonize the world, including South and North America. How often Nigerians talk of the greatness of those countries, and forget that neither Britain nor France, neither Spain nor Portugal, and, for that matter, neither Russia nor the Ottoman Turks is ethnically homogeneous! But because their people have developed minds, they welded together different ethnicities based on fairness, equity and justice and built the societies that millions are now risking their lives to go and settle in. Recall that when Scotland was given an option through a referendum to either continue the union with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) or become independent, Scotland freely chose to stay with the (UK). Would Scotland have done that if it was marginalized and oppressed?
Here in present-day Nigeria, this broad thinking has continued to elude us. Tragically, this broad thinking, a horizon beyond the tribe, has eluded the Blackman throughout history. The only candidate which could have escaped this handicap, the only candidate that could have dared to think, dream, aspire and act, is Nigeria. And what have we done? We have allowed medieval feudalists to take the driver’s seat. At the risk of venturing into the never-never world of what-might- have- been, I dare say that if these urchins and their childish elders and counterfeit professors had expended half of the energy they are now expending to balkanize Nigeria, if they had expended it on pressurizing Buhari to stop the magnified marginalization that gave momentum to the pro-Biafran agitation and the reactions thereof, matters would never have gotten to this stage. But they chose to either be silent to the protestations against marginalization, or to support and encourage it. Indeed, one of the childish elders taunted the Igbos that Nigeria owes them nothing and that if they do not like marginalization, they should go and secede again. When IPOB took up the gauntlet, this is where we are today.
Alas! Can you really blame the CNY and their supporters? Femi Fani-Kayode (FFK) reveals that one of the reasons he left the APC was Buhari’s frank admission to him about how much he hates Igbos, one of the tripods on which Nigeria stands. What FFK was not told, though he may have suspected, was that this hatred, and incitement to hate could very well be the underground message being disseminated by Buhari and his close followers for maximum damage effect. That is the same message being broadcast by the Coalition of Northern Youths, fed, as it were, with hate, nourished with poverty, and deceived with religion. According to Robert Merton’s Thomas theorem, “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequence.”
If Nigeria fails, or which is the same thing, disintegrates, the Blackman should give up his claim to equality of the races. And it will be a shame if it happens under Buhari’s watch, under anybody’s watch. History will never forgive him.
So you see, what is happening in Nigeria has little to do with Igbos, or Hausas, Yorubas, etc. It has more to do with whether the Blackman is man enough, is developed in mind and spirit enough to develop a sound, equitable, inclusive and virile society that can raise its head properly and be counted in the comity of nations without condescension or lowering the bar. That is the challenge. It goes beyond kowtowing to European or Arab civilization as we are wont to. The question is: where is your own civilization? What have you brought to the table? Or must you be perpetual appendages to the civilization of other races? You have the resources and the opportunity. And you can do it if you truly want. The USA was not counted among the prophets, but see what they are today—the preeminent economic and military power in the world. The feat did not fall down like manna from heaven; it is the result of purposeful leadership that galvanized all available resources irrespective of race, creed or color.
In an earlier piece titled, “Is Nigeria Going the Way the Others Went? A Pan-Africanist Perspective on the Nigerian Tragedy”, I have traced the failed efforts of the Blackman to build a modern/ contemporary society that can compare with its peers. Starting with Ethiopia which was not colonized and yet failed woefully, through the first independent Black nation of Haiti which graduated to become the poorest country in that hemisphere, a dishonor it has retained ever since, to Liberia, the first independent country in Africa which had the advantage of exposure to western civilization in America, but which degenerated into a zoo-like jungle. And now Nigeria! The ophidian purveyors of hate, myopia, and misrule under any guise must understand the wider implications of their actions.
What then is the way forward? The first step must be taken by the Coalition of Northern Youths. It must ask and answer the question: why is it that the North has ruled Nigeria far longer than any other group in Nigeria; yet, in every human development index the North ranks lowest?
Secondly, when one leg of a tripod is broken, or weakened, the tripod will never be really stable. This has been the problem with Nigeria vis- a- vis the Igbos. They are only asking for equality and justice. Why should that be a problem? Is it too much to ask? I should add at this point, and for emphasis that not even a billion Buharis can break the unconquerable spirit of this very enterprising and adventurous people. They survived the loss of their savings, properties and lives as a result of the civil war! Some thought they were finished; few gave them any chance of surviving. Still, with legendary resilience, they emerged, like phoenix, from the ashes of their destruction. They work hard for their money. How many of them do you see in the list of Nigeria’s treasury looters? (See http://amibor.com/names-of-nigeria-treasury-looter-since-1999/ ).
Thirdly, the quest for mutually acceptable political reforms must not be seen as a zero-sum game. Portraying “restructuring” as if it is calculated to “deal” with the North will evoke automatic rejection by the North, one of the legs of the tripod. And the threat of either this or the country breaks is not in the spirit of this essay.
Fourth, we must move beyond the slogans to operationalization so that we can be on the same page, and the political class should help in this regard. Slogans like “restructuring”, “true federalism”, “resource control”, “Northern interests”, etc should be so defined in such a way that no one is in doubt as to its true import. In so doing, we must bear in mind that the creator is always greater than the created; additionally, that your daughter who became pregnant can never be a virgin again, even if she abstains for the rest of her life. For example, in the USA which is usually used as a reference point, the independent states got together and created the United States of America, and gave the central government only as much power as the states were prepared to concede. In Nigeria, on the other hand, the central government created the states, and is still being asked to create more states. It naturally gave the states as much power as the center was prepared to concede. Our closest equivalent is the 1963 Constitution.
Fifth, in whatsoever direction we move, we must bear in mind that the job being done by 36 state governors was being done by four premiers. Let us ask ourselves whether the quality of our being has depreciated, or our already shrunken horizon has shrunk even further. I do know that when the field of selection of a governor was wider, the quality of leadership was better.
Sixth, Nelson Mandela told his countrymen that if they look back, they would merely become like the rest of the African countries: failed states. So South Africa focused on looking forward, and has never regretted that decision. Why can’t Nigeria learn a lesson from Mandela? Why can’t we concentrate on looking forward instead of being fixated backwards like the present administration? We will be better off taking the past only as part of our history, and moving on. The Igbos are in the North and other parts of Nigeria today because they have taken their past philosophically. But it takes two to tango.
Finally for now, I am convinced that with a little give-and-take, we can make it, and make it in togetherness. We are greater together. Our size is the envy of many. With abundant human and material resources, with unbridled creative and entrepreneurial energy, with courage, unity and faith, this Nigeria could become the Country with a Destiny, the Nation with a Mission. So help us God.