The South-East is under military siege. It is a needless siege to unarmed civilians in a part of the country famed for hard work, peace, order and uncommon buzz of commerce. The South East is Africa’s version of Asia. Here, hard work, innovation and purpose drive humanity. Everybody is busy. No room for lassitude, laziness or the traditional lethargy that define existence in some parts of the continent and Nigeria, in particular.
Void of government patronage, denied the perks of Federal allocations in terms of infrastructure, utilities and resources and treated as a scum in the so-called Federal Character formula, the people of this region have taken their destiny in their own hands. They have moved on, unfazed by the scars of war, the trauma of being a part of a loose federation that treats them with levity. Like a woman in an abusive marriage, always assaulted and afflicted with emotional pain by the person who was supposed to protect her, the South East has been through it all since the end of yet another needless national confrontation, the civil war.
But the people have dragged on, head unbowed; sprit unbroken and a resolve to make a palatial mansion out of the hard crusted bricks hauled at them in the abusive marriage. And they have done a good job of it. From trade and commerce, science to art, sport to raw audacity to dare and break new frontiers, they have exhibited rare conquistadorial ardour in the face of extreme adversity. Today, they are to be found everywhere, from Nigeria to Nicaragua, Antigua to down-under Australia.. Endowed with the Jewish chutzpah and Asian innovative elan, they are dispersed to the uttermost parts of the world creating products and services by the sheer power of thought and spirit of derring-do.
Just take a trip to Nnewi in Anambra State, it has become the primary market hub of Africa. Men and women are actively engaged; hunching over machinery of all kinds to churn out products that these days compete with any from the advanced western world. Nnewi is the manufacturing watering hole where small and medium enterprises co-exist with big manufacturers without government subvention and patronage. Former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, remains the first governor from that region to elevate patronage of indigenous products from Nnewi and its sister city Aba in Abia State to state policy, almost.
In many respect and on many fronts, the South East is short-changed in a strange Federation called Nigeria. It is the only zone that has only five states which translates to fewer senators and fewer House of Representatives members in the National Assembly. It also translates to fewer local governments in a federal arrangement where resources are rationed according to number of states and local governments. As if that is not enough, it was the theatre of an avoidable war where pogrom, of the magnitude never experienced in Africa, was committed with imperious fervour. Houses were destroyed and infrastructure reduced to rubble. The people were stripped of every good thing and earthly possessions. The military government of General Yakubu Gowon soon after the war mouthed the 3R’s of Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation.
You would expect that implementation of the lofty 3R’s would commence and be concentrated in the Eastern region, the theatre of war. Never! The Nigerian government for whatever reason took the reconstruction elsewhere far removed from the epicentre of the war where monumental devastation and despoliation of the people and their possessions took place.
The absence of reconstruction meant there was no effort to rehabilitate the people who lost their possessions in other parts of the country on account of the war. Both of these translate to a lack of genuine reconciliation with the region. This has over the decades bred deep-seated mistrust and suspicion.
The 30-month bloody civil war was a function of the distrust that existed at that time where certain parts of the country felt sufficiently alienated in the loosely contrived Federal Republic birthed via an amalgamation that was foisted on the people. It was a Union fraught with fault lines. These fault lines began to manifest soon after the last colonial overlord scurried back to his United Kingdom home. These lines of injustice, inequity and unfairness provided the fodder for the civil war.
Unfortunately, several decades after the war, the lines are still there, this time more profound. And those who draw the lines have become more brazen and overbearing. This, again, is at the core of the various agitations and attempts at secession by various group at different times. The voice of Isaac Adaka Boro and the tenets of Kaiama Declaration by the Ijaw nation on December 11, 1998; the ascendancy of Oodua Peoples Congress, Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) among other similar tendencies are all evidence of the reality that all is not well with the ‘geographical expression’ called Nigeria. Why are we pretending? Why play possum in the midst of the loud, plaintive cries across the land; a cruel reminder of the injustices that plunged the nation into war.
The whiff of rancid and acerbic vituperations from the camp of IPOB is not new. It is a familiar smoke from the evil fire lit over a century ago by the colonial masters. It only happens to be the latest in a long history of agitations for self-determination by different components of the still loose Federation. Reining in such fire is not by staging a Python Dance in an intimidating show of force by the Nigerian military.
The Nigerian government must look beyond Nnamdi Kanu. He is certainly not the issue here. He merely put his face to personify the pain, struggles and frustrations of the people. To focus on Kanu and make him the issue is to play the proverbial ostrich. It is easy to see through him; he is at peace with himself; he enjoys all the publicity he is getting. Arresting, jailing or even going to the extent of killing him is a cowardly and unproductive approach to solving a problem. Take him out of the stage, and we are still back to square one; tethered to the stock of our problem; a problem our leaders pretend not to notice but which every sane mind knows is alive and well.
Truth be told, there is injustice in Nigeria. Some people bake the cake. They expose themselves to the heat from the furnace; for some their lot is to share the cake while yet a third group just bumps into the scene and take the juiciest parts of the cake home leaving the crumbs for both the bakers and the sharers. That is the sorry story of Nigeria and we conveniently and consciously relapse into national amnesia. We feign loss of memory; nobody remembers that this same injustice and inequity once threatened the sovereignty of nation.
As you read this, the South East is on lockdown; clearly under military siege.
The highways and byways have military checkpoints. Movement is restricted. The people are emotionally traumatized by the huge presence of military personnel as opposed to police personnel. Taking the ‘show of force’ to Kanu’s neighbourhood, beating up and destroying the working tools of journalists who took pictures or filmed soldiers on street parade and apologizing to them has not and will not solve the problem. It simply aggravates the situation.
The only way out of this national dissonance is to muster the will to address the injustices. One sure therapy is for the government to give heed to the voices of protagonists of restructuring. With people-centric restructuring, the type that will address the obvious imbalances, the agents of secession will beat a retreat. This is a no brainer. But first, take the Python Dance elsewhere. It’s a misadventure; an unwelcome Army Arrangement (apologies to Fela).