By Wilfred Eya
This week, precisely on Tuesday, May 11, the governors of Southern Nigeria stood up to be counted. Perhaps for the first time, they shunned party differences and sacrificed their political interests for the collective good. The occasion was the meeting they held at the Government House, Asaba, Delta State.
For critical observers, the decisions of the governors at the historic meeting would continue to resonate in the country for a long time. The governors reviewed the state of the nation generally but focused on the current security situation, agitations/restructuring, prospect for inter-state collaboration and partnerships as well as on the incidence of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
But beyond addressing the current challenges facing the nation, the meeting is considered by many to be a signal of a growing solidarity among the various zones and people in Southern Nigeria. The development came as a result of the mounting common challenges occasioned by the instability and existential threats to the lives of millions of Nigerians.
It is trite to say that since after the Nigerian/Biafran war, the Igbo and Yoruba had nursed ethnic suspicion and distrust with each trading blame. And in the estimation of observers, the consequence is that power brokers from the Northern part of the country have, over the years, exploited the rivalry with the motive to harvest political fortunes, to the detriment of the Yoruba and Igbo who have a lot in common. Those in this school of thought believe that the two tribes cannot reach an agreement in politics.
But events in the recent past seem to show that the narrative is changing. During the EndSARS protests which rocked the nation, many believe there was a plot to weave the crises around the Igbo and pitch them as usual against the Yoruba. There were for instance insinuations in some quarters that the Igbo masterminded the massive destruction of property in South West including the torching of the Oba of Lagos palace. The purveyors of the narrative wanted the public to believe that members of the Indigenous People of Biafra(IPOB) were behind all that happened in Lagos.
The sinister plot though could not fly as many groups including the Afenifere, the apex Yoruba socio-cultural organisation and other prominent personalities like the Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka were quick to caution that the EndSARS protests should not be given any ethnic colouration.
Also, the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu had then accused his detractors especially politicians of plotting to instigate a State of emergency in the South East with the allegation that its members were behind the destruction of properties in the South West.
According to a media statement by spokesperson of the group, Emma Powerful, he noted that the claim that the Igbo were responsible for the destruction of the Yoruba properties in Lagos State all pointed to the gimmicks employed to achieve their aim of militarising the zone.
Also speaking on the same issue, Chief John Nwodo, then president of Ohanaeze, described such allegations as “disheartening”, noting that it is “obviously being engineered and targeted at the age-long good relationship between the Igbo and the Yoruba”.
In a statement, Nwodo had noted that the fact that the Igbo have businesses scattered all over the country, particularly in Lagos, knocks out the thinking that they set out to destroy the economy of the Centre of Excellence.
But those pushing the narrative to sustain the division between the two major tribes in the country seem not to have given up. Just recently, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, shocked many when he said there were plans by members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN) and the IPOB to attack ‘soft spots’ in the state.
Mr Odumosu made the disclosure on Monday during a Security Townhall Meeting at the Lagos secretariat, attended by the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and other principal officials in Lagos.
In a paper he delivered at the meeting titled, “Appraisal of Security Situation in Lagos State,” Mr Odumosu identified threats by IPOB and called on Lagosians to be at alert and support the police.
Many observers could not rationalize the disclosure by the Lagos Commissioner. Again, the calculation falls in line with the conspiracy theory that there is are entrenched interests to continue to divide the Yoruba and Igbo. But the argument is that apart from the Yoruba who are owners of the land, the Igbo are the greatest investors in Lagos State, hence would not make any economic sense for them to destroy a place they have worked very hard to develop.
Little wonder that despite the Lagos Police Commissioner’s privileged position in matters of security, many viewed his information on ESN/IPOB trying to attack Lagos with a pinch of salt.
For instance on Monday, many pan Yoruba groups were quick to come out with a statement that while they cherish the responsibility of the police to do their work, they were concerned about the public declaration of the alleged IPOB plans to attack Lagos.
The statement was signed by leaders of nine Yoruba groups including Femi Ajibola (Oodua Nationalist Coalition), Dr Kunle
Oshodi (Agbekoya), Alhaji Taofik Adeyemi, Oodua Peoples Congress,(Reformed), Chief Diran Obalola (Oodua Liberation Movement) and Mr Femi Agbana (Yoruba World Congress, Lagos State Chapter).
The rest are Mr Rasaq Arogundade (Oodua Peoples Congress, (OPC-Reformed), Mrs Eunice Okunola (Oodua Women Coalition), Pastor Goke Otunla (Network for Yoruba Alliance), and Ahmed Korede (Apapo Oodua Koya).
The Yoruba groups did not mince words that people should not buy into the narrative that IPOB/ESN were planning to attack Lagos.
Part of their statement reads: “We are worried that since the police already claim to be in possession of what appears to be a confidential information, the proper thing would have been to discreetly go after the IPOB members to arrest them unless the police is not sure of its information.
“The police statement carries the possibility of being misinterpreted as an Igbo plot against Lagos and Yoruba people. This is dangerous given the fragile nature of Nigeria.
“We are deeply concerned that the Police publicly declared allegations has the prospect of setting Yoruba in the South West against Igbos. This is very unfortunate at a time that state institutions are increasingly being turned to instruments for pursuing primordial ethnic interests. The Yoruba will work never to allow this to happen.
“We are concerned that terrorists and armed herdsmen of Fulani extraction have openly been attacking, kidnapping, raping and killing Yoruba people in the South West but at no time did the police call a press conference to announce such plan before or after each horrendous killings. There was also never a time the police linked such attacks to any ethnic group.
“Only recently, Yoruba in Mile 2 were attacked by these people, the police did not make any attempt to speak about the ethnic identity of the perpetrators yet we know they are largely from a section in the North.
“We are concerned that the police allegation risks setting a greater danger of ethnic conflict between Igbo and Yoruba people, conscious that this will benefit a certain group who think setting Igbo against Yoruba will meet the objective of scuttling the search for peaceful self determination by the two great civilizations.
“We urge the police not to allow themselves to be used by the desperate Caliphate whose age-long dream is to divide the South and set the people against each other for its own narrow gains.
“We urge Yoruba people to ignore the conscious attempts to cause ethnic conflict between Igbo and Yoruba at this time that both ethnic groups need each other.”
Also, the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, in a statement issued through the organisation’s spokesperson, Emma Powerful, urged the public to disregard the allegation of plots to attack Lagos.
He said: “Mr Odumosu in connivance with a former governor of Lagos, was plotting to create disharmony between Ndígbo and Yorubas.
“The public is hereby notified that the allegations that IPOB is plotting to attack Lagos is a lie.
“Lagos State CP, Hakeem Odumosu who made the allegation is a former CSO to Tinubu and their intention is to fuel division between Yorubas & Biafrans. It won’t work. This is not 1967.”
So, observers argue that the prolonged divide and rule politics of some political actors in Nigeria is old fashioned and no more working.
Many believe that the icing on the cake of the new consciousness was the recent meeting by the governors of Southern Nigeria. The communiqué by the august body no doubt has sent the right signals that there is a paradigm shift in the politics of the country.
They affirmed that the peoples of Southern Nigeria remain committed to the unity of Nigeria on the basis of justice, fairness, equity and oneness and peaceful co-existence between and among its peoples with a focus on the attainment of shared goals for economic development and prosperity.
The governors who recommended the convocation of a national dialogue were unequivocal that the incursion of armed herders, criminals and bandits into Southern Nigeria has presented a severe security challenge such that citizens are not able to live their normal lives including pursuing various productive activities leading to a threat to food supply and general security. Consequently, the meeting resolved that open grazing of cattle be banned across Southern Nigeria and
noted that development and population growth has put pressure on available land and increased the prospects of conflict between migrating herders and local populations in the South. Part of the Communique reads: “
“Agreed that the progress of the nation requires that urgent and bold steps be taken to restructure the Nigerian Federation leading to the evolution of state police, review of revenue allocation formula in favour of the sub-national governments and creation of other institutions which legitimately advance our commitment to and practice of true federalism;
recommended that in view of widespread agitations among our various peoples for greater inclusiveness in existing governance arrangements, the Federal Government should convoke a national dialogue as a matter of urgency;
“Recommended that in deference to the sensitivities of our various peoples, there is need to review appointments into Federal Government Agencies (including Security Agencies) to reflect federal character as Nigeria’s overall population is heterogenous;
resolved to foster cooperation among the Southern States and the nation at large.
“Expressed concern on the continued gridlock on the Oshodi – Apapa Expressway and the chokehold it has exerted on the nation’s economy being the sole outlet from Apapa Wharf. The meeting therefore recommended the activation and establishment of ports in other states of the federation to create new jobs and promote socio-economic activities in the country.”
Expectedly, while the North kicked vigorously against the position of Southern governors, Southern leaders embraced the move and called for necessary legislation to back the ban on open cattle grazing. Firing the first salvo of opposition was Prof. Usman Yusuf, former Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), who faulted the decision because according to him, the Southern governors did not consult Fulani leaders before making the ‘No Grazing’ regulation.
. The National Secretary of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Alhassan Saleh, called the ban an empty policy.
But many leaders of socio-cultural organisations commended the move but unanimously said it came late. Leader of Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, said the resolutions of the Southern governors over the rising spate of insecurity across the country and especially in the Southern part was a welcome idea and bold development.
Also, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, threw its weight behind the governors in their recommendations towards ending the worsening insecurity across the country, especially on the ban on open grazing. Vice-president of the organisation, Chief Demian Ogene-Okeke, urged them to back up their resolutions with actions by implementing all issues they agreed on so that they don’t turn out to be mere rhetoric.