“We recognise that an error has been committed. We will no longer tolerate such perversion of justice. This honour is for the grievous injustice done to the country. It is meant to assist at healing the wounds and building national reconciliation of the 25 years of wounds caused by the annulment.
I earnestly urge Nigerians to accept it in good faith and bury the past of June 12.”
That was President Muhammadu Buhari’s national apology to the family of the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola. And it was for the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election. Abiola was the adjudged winner of the election. Last Tuesday, the President conferred on Abiola Nigeria’s highest honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR). At the investiture in Abuja, Buhari also tendered national apologies to all those who struggled to actualise the June 12 mandate. Not only that, June 12 has now replaced May 29 as our Democracy Day.
This is good. For a rigid President whose constituency did this grave injustice to the nation to have done this means there is still hope for the country. In this same spirit of June 12, Nigeria also needs to bury the ghost of May 30 for total national reconciliation and cohesion.
May 30, 1967, was the day the then Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu proclaimed the Republic of Biafra. The proclamation became inevitable after the pogrom in the North against the innocent Igbo population. It was consequent upon the military coup of 1966 said to have been led by Igbo officers. Over three million Igbo lost their lives in the ensuing war that followed from July 6, 1967. Millions of Igbo children died from starvation, which the Nigerian government used as a legitimate weapon of war.
Even after the war on January 15, 1970, the starvation did not abate. The government of Nigeria gave every Igbo man £20, notwithstanding if you had £20 billion in your account. In a state like Rivers, many Ndigbo lost their properties to the so-called abandoned property saga.
In present-day Nigeria, starvation has changed to marginalisation. No Igboman, for instance, has been found good enough to become the President of Nigeria. In key political and security appointments, Igbo people are not found worthy. In admission into federal unity schools, Igbo children suffer discriminatory admission policies despite their brilliance.
Very often, millions of Ndigbo who live and invest everywhere in Nigeria, become victims of religious riots and other violent acts in different parts of the country. Their life and property are always targets of marauders.
These have actually fuelled the agitation for the actualisation of the sovereign state of Biafra. There are different groups championing this agitation. One of them is the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
The group became so vociferous that the Federal Government banned it and declared it a terrorist organisation. That was after it had sent soldiers to the South-East to harass and intimidate residents in what was termed Operation Python Dance. Up until today, the whereabouts of the arrowhead of the IPOB agitation, Nnamdi Kanu, are unknown. Nobody is sure whether he is alive or not.
President Buhari added insult to injury when he stated earlier in the month that the Nigerian Army was soft on Biafrans during the civil war. He said the then Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, issued strict instructions to the army not to treat Biafrans as enemies but as brothers and sisters.
He noted, “I remember with nostalgia the performance of the commander-in-chief, General Yakubu Gowon. Every commander was given a copy of the commander-in-chief’s instructions that we were not fighting enemies but that we were fighting our brothers. And thus, people were constrained to show a lot of restraint.”
I don’t want to belabour this because a number of people have faulted the President on this issue. The point is, Buhari should not give the impression that the war against Ndigbo is perpetual. The Sarduana of Sokoto, the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, reportedly told his people in October 1960 to use the minorities of the North as willing tools and the South as a conquered territory. They must ruthlessly prevent a change of power and never allow the South to have control over their future.
Incidentally, Igboland today is like a conquered territory. You will feel this more when you embark on a travel to that part of the country. Police and military checkpoints along the roads give the impression that something deadlier than Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen operates in the South-East.
As if to also confirm Ahmadu Bello’s position, a Second Republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, was quoted to have said last October that Igbo caused the civil war and so he did not understand why they turned around to demand presidency.
He allegedly said Igbo wanted to blackmail the North to concede presidency to them, asserting, “By this means, they will never get any hope for presidency because democracy is a game of numbers. You cannot tell people to vote for you because you are being irresponsible.”
Like the Igbo, northern minorities are bitter today. They had believed in the sanctity of one North. They joined the rest of Nigeria to fight the Igbo during the civil war. They have produced many gallant soldiers who have helped to keep this country together. Today, these northern minorities suffer the indignities of frequent raids and killing of their people by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
Consequently, one of their leaders who is the chairman of the Northern Elders Forum, Paul Unongo, recently threatened that they would mobilise and train their people into an army to defend themselves, if the government couldn’t protect them.
Former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd), also made a similar threat recently. He accused the Nigerian Army of ethnic cleansing and urged his people to defend themselves because the military, as presently constituted, would not defend them.
All these killings, threats and counter-threats are hallmarks of a nation sliding into a failed state. Recently, the Global Peace Index (GPI) ranked Nigeria as the 16th least peaceful out of 163 countries surveyed in 2018. We are only better than such countries as Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan.
To prevent our further descent to Syria, many Igbo leaders, last month, gathered at Ekwueme Square, Awka, Anambra State, to present a common position on restructuring of the Nigerian federation. It was tagged the Ekwueme Square Declaration. This is in line with other nationalities and groups that have consistently called for the restructuring of the federation.
Among others, the Igbo essentially asked for a new truly federal Constitution of Nigeria; continuation of the presidential system of government at the federal level, with a bicameral legislature; the regions or states to determine the type of government to operate at that level as enshrined in their respective constitutions; and the tenure of office of the President will be a single term of six years and it will be rotational among the six regions of Nigeria.
The declaration also recommended five Vice-Presidents, one from each of the geopolitical zones or regions except the region/zone of the president, and each also to serve for a fixed term of six years. The Governor and Deputy Governor of the region/state should have a single term of six years only. The office of Governor will rotate among the senatorial districts, or among such other configurations as may be enshrined in the Constitution of a region/state.
In the spirit of reconciliation, equity and justice, Ndigbo demand an additional state for the South East zone; fiscal federalism, which presupposes that the states will have control over all the natural resources within their territory.
On merit and federal character principle, the Ekwueme Declaration recommends that 60 per cent should be reserved for merit, and 40 per cent to ensure federal character principle or affirmative action.
It will be surprising if the present government at the centre accedes to these demands. The South-West, South-South, Middle Belt and even the North have called for the restructuring of the country. The National Conference of 2014 also made some far-reaching recommendations on how the country can move forward. But, so far, the powers that be have refused to initiate processes that will engender the enthronement of these recommendations. Is this a confirmation of the so-called Caliphate’s wish to have a perpetual hold on the entire country?
President Buhari is in a position to answer this question today. One major step towards achieving an enduring peace in a given society is for leaders to acknowledge past mistakes and apologise for them. President Buhari should initiate national healing and reconciliation to avoid further escalation of our dire security situation. He should tender an unreserved apology to the victims of the Fulani herdsmen massacre in the Middle Belt, the Boko Haram killings in the North-East and above all, the genocide in the South-East between 1967 and 1970.