Opinion: Thankfully, Nigerians have started talking

By Azuka Onwuka

Those who see war and anarchy in the events of the last week are missing the point.

Last week, a coalition of Northern youths issued a notice to people of Igbo extraction to leave the North by October 1, 2017. They also asked all Northerners in the South-East to return to the North by October 1. According to them, it was a response to the rising call for the resuscitation of Biafra as a republic by the people of the South-East, which got a boost with the May 30 sit-at-home directive from pro-Biafran groups to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the short-lived Republic of Biafra. The level of compliance to the sit-at-home directive was high, which suggested to the Northern youths that the demand for the separation of Biafra from Nigeria was popular among the Igbo. The Northern youths even urged the Federal Government to organise a referendum for the Igbo to choose to leave Nigeria as quickly as possible, since they were becoming a “nuisance” to the North.

There were swift reactions from different groups and individuals from different parts of the country to this ultimatum. Most groups and individuals condemned the ultimatum, while a few commended it. The state governors commented. The National Assembly commented. Even the United Nations commented on it. Other counter-ultimatums were also issued by other groups, a sign that different ethnic groups were taking sides on the issue.

Not surprising, only the police did not react swiftly. When they did react over 24 hours after the threat, they said they were searching for the people who issued the ultimatum. While the police were looking for them, they gathered again some days later and reaffirmed their stand that the Igbo must leave the North by October 1! Since then, members of the group have been appearing on live TV programmes to explain their quit order. Yet, the police do not know where they are and are still searching for them.

This is part of the national question that agitates the minds of many. Some people would issue a threat or make an inciting statement or carry out a security breach and get quickly arrested by the police or the Department of State Services, while some will make a similar or worse statement or carry out worse actions, but do not get arrested or even invited for questioning by the police or the DSS. It creates the impression that even though all animals are equal, yet some animals are more equal than others in Nigeria. This continues to work against national cohesion and patriotism.

Many see the different statements by ethnic and zonal groups and individuals as heating up the polity, but through them the ethnic groups in Nigeria are engaging in an unofficial national conference. The tension these comments are creating is making some people uncomfortable that a conflict or war is imminent. But a war is not imminent. Rather, many people are coming to the realisation that Nigerians must engage in an official national conference to discuss how to live together in peace, and that if such is not done, the consequences may not be palatable.

A time will come in the nearby future when those who have been giving stiff opposition to national conference and restructuring of the nation will be isolated and clearly seen as working against the progress of the nation.

There has always been the fear that any opportunity to discuss the issue of living together and the terms under which the nation will live together is synonymous to disintegration. But underneath the excuse of disintegration, those who vehemently oppose any national discourse are actually afraid that such will result in changing the status quo which they see as favouring their people. In reality, the status quo does not favour them. Rather, it is the source of impoverishment and backwardness as well as upheavals in the nation.

Nigerian leaders have taken the wrong course of focusing on the unity of the nation rather than the best interest of the nation. That is expressed through the statement that the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable. But that statement is empty and is the same as putting the cart before the horse. For example, who wants to leave the United States of America?

Nigeria was not created by God for its unity not to be negotiable. It was created by man in 1914. It is only a slave that can be told that his relationship with his master is not negotiable. But slavery is banned in the modern world and is not practised officially anymore. The United Nations, which Nigeria is a signatory to, guarantees people the right to self-determination.

The duty of Nigerian leaders is to make the different peoples of Nigeria see the beauty, advantage and blessings inherent in being Nigerians rather than the citizens of a breakaway state. Every human being wants the best. Every human being wants to be in the winning team. That is why it is critical for Nigerians to sit down and voice out what they want from a united Nigeria. There will be exchange of words and threats but eventually there will concessions and agreements. If such mutually agreed terms are implemented, Nigeria will rise from its slumber and start to progress. Consequently, it will be unnecessary to talk about its unity being non-negotiable, as the different parts will be happier to be Nigerians.

The more that national discourse is opposed or postponed, the more Nigeria stagnates and seems at risk of witnessing an internal conflict. There is no running away from a national conference. It has become a fait accompli. It is the best way to calm the tension in the land.

Nobody can stop the agitations in Nigeria with mockery, condemnation, threats, fear mongering, silence and the like. Nobody can wish them away. They can only be addressed through robust and honest engagement and a national conference.

If we quell one agitation today, another will rise from another part of the country tomorrow. They may have different names and agendas, but they are all offshoots of a faulty structure. The agitations by the Niger Delta militants, sharia law proponents, Maitatsine members, Boko Haram members, Oodua People’s Congress, Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, Fulani herdsmen, Indigenous People of Biafra, and others are all symptoms of that problem. Repeatedly fighting the symptoms without tackling the disease is a waste of time and resources.

Those Nigerians working against the progress of Nigeria by refusing it to have a national discourse must choose what they want. They don’t want secession. They don’t want confederation. They don’t want restructuring. They don’t want true federalism. All they want is for everyone to continue with the current pseudo-unitary system that promotes laziness and backwardness, while telling us to pray and hope that things will change.

It is not in doubt that Nigeria has never progressed since 1966 and is not on the path of progress.

Such people should not refuse to move and also refuse to leave the way for others to pass. They should not be the dog in the manger that will not eat grass but will not allow the cows to eat the grass. They must choose one.

Nigeria has been a disappointment to the Black race and the world for decades because we have condoned a system that promotes sharing of allocations, backwardness, laziness, mediocrity, impunity, killings and violence.

It is time to wake up.  Punch

— Twitter @BrandAzuka

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