For the record, I do not have any shred of sympathy for Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and the Indigenous People of Biafra. I agree that the Igbo people of South-East Nigeria have been served the short end of the stick for too long. One should be honest enough though, to admit that Nigeria has been unfair to so many of its constituent ethnic nationalities that a serious country should really contemplate a need to revisit and talk around its dysfunctional governance structure. Had we not become a people adept at denying their reality, we would realise that the common people of Nigeria swim in the same pool of poverty, lack, disease and disillusionment and rather than turn on our helpless selves, issuing ultimatums and threats that promote divisions, we would collectively engage our leaders on how to make the best of today and collectively move into a future of shared prosperity and security. But that is a topic for another day. The point here is that the Igbo have every right and reason to agitate for improved treatment in this country under God.
However, Kanu, from the way he has carried on lately, is the least qualified to lead such an agitation. The mildest mental disposition which the United Kingdom returnee presents is that of a narcissist- haughty, self-centred, manipulative, and demanding. Kanu betrays a worrisome sense of grandeur about his own importance and intelligence and seems to live with incredible sense of entitlement. Those who lead causes of the nature that the Igbo currently need, do not throw calls for arms that they are not prepared for. The South-East, as the entire nation, will gain more from an intellectual war, dotted by conservations which show respect for the dignity of all components of the country rather than the reckless emotive outbursts that marked Kanu’s times.
But what did Nigeria contribute to making Kanu the irritant that he had become before the terrorist label was sewn on IPOB’s garment by the Nigerian Army and the eventual proscription of the South-East governors days later?
Pretty much like his own tempestuous disposition, drivers of the nation’s affairs have allowed themselves to be governed by emotions and impulse. Imagine how much of Kanu’s shenanigans we would have been spared had the country allowed him return to his UK base when he visited in October 2016. On the contrary, we seized him and left him to grow in influence in spite of legal orders permitting his release, until April 2017 when his arrest had attracted global attention and consideration for him and his cloudy motive and method had become widespread.
The declaration of IPOB as a terrorist organisation and the succeeding ban by the governors, also follow this imprudent, knee-jerk behaviour of our leaders. Nigerians, leaders and the led, have grown in the habit of treating symptoms rather than ailments. When that happens, the symptoms abate for a while but soon assail with much more debilitation than ever.
One can feel a palpable sense of satisfaction across the land on the immediate peace that the actions of our leaders precipitated in the South-East and across the country. But the question I cannot stop asking is whether this set of actions are enough to permanently terminate agitations for self-determination, not only in Igboland but across the country.
I think not, as even history does not lend credence to such optimism. Without going too far away from the South-East Nigeria that we are currently discussing, we should recall that just a couple of years back, there was an organisation known as the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra led by one Ralph Uwazuruike.
Although MASSOB still exists, it is now a shadow of its old nature. In its hey days, this group was as widespread as Kanu’s IPOB. Uwazurike, a graduate of Political Science and Law from two Indian universities, professed the non-violent posture of India’s Mahatma Gandhi and America’s Martin Luther King Jr, but he incurred the wrath of the Nigerian government without end. At some point, he was not only charged with treason but remained in jail for about 24 months while his bail hearing took forever. This was in 2005 under the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
To cut a long story short, the Nigerian state seemed to have succeeded in breaking Uwazuruike’s spirit such that he lost the vigour which got the validation of the late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, upon whose death, the younger man was named successor and crowned Ezeigbo. But has the idea of the secession and sovereignty of Eastern Nigeria which he preached diminished in anyway? The answer is, of course, no.
Even though MASSOB has now taken a back seat in the pursuit of the goal they set for themselves, it has an offspring, which has pushed the frontiers of the campaign a little bit further through Kanu and his followers.
And this is what a country gets when, rather than face issues squarely and address them once and for all, it pushes them under the carpet or devise authoritarian strategies to suppress dissent and stifle conversation. The truth is, no matter how we try, bodies like MASSOB and IPOB, will resurface in the South-East and other parts of Nigeria if we do not initiate a follow-up plan which will engender conversations around the issues that elicit disaffection amongst us.
I do not want to join the raging debate about whether the government has the right to take the decisions that it has taken on IPOB. For two reasons, I consider such to be unnecessary energy dissipation. The first is that, having already taken the decision, it is not in the character of Nigerian governments to reverse themselves. And secondly, the citizens themselves have, in conformity with the plague that has hit us since the 2015 elections, been unable to agree on what is good or bad, no matter how plain the issues are! As a result, this decision should be seen as a finality.
So, since there is nothing we can do about the declaration of IPOB as a terrorist organisation and the proscription by the South-East governors, I suggest that the nation takes two steps to forestall the definite recurrence of situations similar to those that MASSOB and IPOB have recently put us if not worse situations like the Boko Haram insurgency.
The first is that in spite of all our aversion to discussing the way in which Nigerians want to live together, we must sincerely talk about these issues. Rather than turn guns and roll out tanks against their people, governments interested in the unity of their countries and the happiness of their people encourage honest conversations in which the unity of national unions are negotiated. To get the one indivisible country that President Muhammadu Buhari and members of his administration profess, we must quickly shed the toga of the non-negotiability of Nigeria’s oneness, lest this false impression be the harbinger of the very thing that we fear most- disintegration!
Most importantly, the Federal Government should initiate a national plan that would ensure that we reduce the burden of out-of-school children in Nigeria and work towards providing more opportunities for our young ones to get educated. If children do not get formal placements, we must provide alternatives for them. A serious attention also needs to be paid to providing gainful employment for the youths especially as the country is mouthing the diversification of its economy. What about exploiting the massive opportunities in agriculture, entertainment and sports? Nigeria must also deliberately re-orientate its youths by discouraging the get-rich-quick-by-all-means mentality that has possessed the soul of our nation. If there were not so many jobless, hungry and hopeless people in the land, folks like Kanu will find it difficult to get recruits into their self-serving ventures. Nigeria must take care of its children and youths or consider its future mortgaged.
These are not things that will change Nigeria in one day, but visionary leadership thinks more about the future and set to work in the immediate. I do not see this as a sole Federal Government project, but it must lead the initiative and encourage state governments, irrespective of party affiliations, to work together to save the country from the evil that an uneducated, un-catered for young population portends. If we do not do that, proclamations on and proscriptions of self-determination groups are futile as the word goes!