Penultimate week, something of deep significance to the unity of this country happened in a small corner of Abuja. At the Surveyors Council of Nigeria (SURCON), the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youths Assembly, led by its president-general, Prince Emmanuel Tabugbo Chikwendu, was bestowing a well-deserving honour on Surveyor Kabir M. Mansur, a patriot of a very deep hue. Kabir is the registrar and chief executive of the key parastatal of the Federal Government. He is by tribe a Fulani from Katsina State.
Anybody living in Nigeria knows the brewing tension between the Igbo and the Fulani, with the Eastern Security Network taking it upon itself to chase away all Fulani herdsmen, including their wives and children, from the five states that make up south-eastern Nigeria.
So, a major Igbo group coming all the way to Abuja, purposely to honour a Fulani man, was virtually unthinkable at this point in time. But it is said that impossibility exists only in the mind of the pessimist. Surely, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo is a major optimist socio-cultural group rooting for the very best for the Igbo, including showcasing the very rich culture and traditional heritage of Igbo-speaking Nigerians.
Which award was the group bestowing on Surveyor Kabir? The illustrious group was conferring on the man the big honour of Omeziri Ndi-Igbo Nke Mbu of Nigeria, and the recognition was based on what the Youths Assembly rightly described as the registrar’s record of excellence, which includes his trademark open-door policy that has seen him treating Nigerians of diverse backgrounds equally.
It was an honour on the person of Surveyor Kabir, but all staff members of SURCON based in the Abuja headquarters, including members of the top management team, were on hand to lend their firm support to their friend and boss. For them, as BRASS TACKS later found out, this was an honour to all of them and even more so SURCON, as Surveyor Kabir was not just their boss, but also their friend and big brother. They said the man operates a policy that makes all of them feel completely at home, with staff welfare, within the limited resources available to SURCON, accorded top priority.
The organisation itself is a reflection of what a true diverse society should be. From the most junior to the management staff, there was an even distribution of almost all tribes in the country. SURCON is a mini-Nigeria. Take a look at names of top management staff of the organisation: Surv. Kabir M.M., registrar/CEO; Surveyor Kunle Olugbemiro, assistant registrar; Mr. Aina Peter, director, admin; Mr. Njeze Chukwuma, director, finance/account; and Mr. Surajo Haruna Esq., legal adviser. The three major tribes of the country are represented in the management.
It was praises galore for the man who represents the very best that this nation has on offer. From one management staff to the other, including some of the important guests that were in attendance to honour this patriot, everyone spoke of one special attribute or the other that stands out Surveyor Kabir from the crowd. One word that everyone at the event kept repeating in describing the man was the fact of his being detribalised.
After all the fine speeches, it was the turn of the celebrant to make his remarks. And he took about an hour lecturing all that were gathered there about the need for us as Nigerians to accept to continue living together, in spite of the few in our midst exarcabeting our national fault lines. He brought to fore the real meaning and implications of war, which some proponents of destabilisation do not seem to know about, saying very correctly that, once war erupts in any society, no one knows whether at the end of it all he is going to remain alive to tell the bitter story.
The registrar, who is also a distinguished Fellow of the Institution of Surveyors of Nigeria, reminded the gathering, and indeed all Nigerians, that such basic luxuries as electricity will no longer be in supply and telecoms service providers will be forced to close shop, meaning that as war intensifies one cannot reach his or her loved ones either through phone call or the social media that some of us are deploying to forment all sorts of mischief and trouble.
Stories abound of countries at war, where citizens have no option than to drink their urine in place of water, while food is a rare luxury that can only be available maximally once daily to a very lucky few. Hospitals will be overstretched. Markets will close. And no one is safe either at home or elsewhere.
A very touching example cited by Surveyor Kabir was of family members that will naturally be forced during war to scatter in different directions. Once a house is attacked, for example, the father would scale the fence and run for dear life. A mother of five or more children would at most take with her the two yougest ones and try to escape with them, and even with these ones, she is likely to abandon them one after the other as push comes to shove.
The worse part of it all is that the elite members of the society goading the young ones to take up arms against each other will vote with their feet. Surveyor Kabir reminded us all that most of the big men and women inciting the younger elements today have alternative addresses in different choice countries of the world. As we speak, with tension in Nigeria getting worse by the day, many have since relocated their family members to some of these countries, making it easier for the men to join their family members without much ado.
To be sure, what all these translate to is that only the masses, and some members of the middle class, will be left behind to slug it out in what will then be a survival of the fittest, or the luckiest, in an avoidable altercation whose outcome nobody could predict.
Take a look at IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu, for example. With his arrest earlier in the week by the intelligence and security services of Nigeria, the British government is already offering him all sorts of consular assistance. Would you, killing yourself in the name of agitation, get the same treatment, if you get arrested? While there may be merits in some of the agitations by Nnamdi Kanu, the fact remains he can afford to eat his cake and still have it, since he holds dual citizenship, and has immense resources to toy around.
At the end of it all, whatever grudges we might have, we will all come back to the same negotiating table to work out terms for peaceful coexistence, which we all have every opportunity to do now. By that time it would be too late, as the damage done could well be irredeemable.
The President Buhari some of us complain about will not, and cannot rule over Nigeria forever. As we speak, he has less than two years to leave office. So, why don’t we deploy our positive energies towards getting a better person as his replacement? The youths of this country, who constitute 72 per cent of our active population, can do it, if they refuse to be compromised.
If there is hope about the future of this country, it lies in the fact that the majority of Nigerians have chosen to further understand our differences and draw advantages from our diversity and heterogeneity. The respect we get as one nation will automatically get frittered away once the nation is balkanised to, only God knows how many small inconsequential countries. It definitely cannot be the three small nations headed by Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba that some of us erroneously think about. The minority tribes will also want self-determination. Nigeria, God forbid, could be balkanised into 50 or more nations. It will all lead to bitter regret.
The Igbo are some.of the most enterprising people globally. They are everywhere in Nigeria, with about half of them living and earning their livelihoods in places far away from their ancestral homes. Abuja, the Federal Capital, is never envisaged as a part of the proposed Biafra. And yet, the Igbo own at least 70 per cent of property in Abuja. If Nigeria is balkanised, are the Igbo property owners going to uproot their properties and move them to the South East? If they cannot do that, are they expected to lose it all?
After listening to the long sermon by Surveyor Kabir, it dawned on many of us in attendance at that event that managing our differences and living together in one nation in spite of all the difficulties remain the best options for all of us. After all, tough times do not last forevrr, but tough people do.