By Omoniyi Salaudeen, Layi Olanrewaju, Ilorin, Ben Dunno, Warri
Reflective of the mood of the moment, debate has been raging in the past couple of days as to how to abate the frightening drumbeat of war occasioned by the October 1 quit notice issued by the coalition of Arewa youth groups to the Igbo in the North. The eviction order is believed to be an alleged reaction to the sustained separatist agitation by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) led by Nnamdi Kanu.
While Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has already commenced consultations with prominent leaders of thought to nip the crisis in the bud, some notable elder statesmen have also spoken their minds on the possible way forward.
Though slightly differ in their opinions, all of them agreed that the country is drifting and therefore unanimously called for urgent government’s action to avert an imminent break up. Some of the respected senior citizens who spoke with Sunday Sun on the desirability of sustaining the unity and cohesion among the constituent units include foremost Ijaw National Leader, Chief Edwin Clark, former President of the Court of Appeal and pioneer Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), Justice Mustapha Akanbi (retd), and Second Republic presidential aide, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, among others.
The concern of these elders is understandable, as a popular African proverb says: “If a child shoots an arrow that reaches the top of a tall palm tree, then it must be that an elderly person carved the arrow for him.”
Clark, in his own contribution to the burning national issue, said only a genuine political restructuring of the country in line with the recommendations of the 2014 national confab could end youth restiveness, arm struggle as well as the threat of session. “My strong belief is that only a genuine restructuring of the political administration of the country will remove most of these problems in the country. It would put an end to some of the critical issues that has led to the taking up of arms by youths in the region and other parts of the county” he posited.
“We must find a permanent solution to the various problems we are facing in this country today, including youth revolt in the Niger Delta, Fulani herdsmen, Boko Haram, Biafra agitation, kidnapping and recently, the inability of the various states to pay their workers salaries and pension,” he added.
Contrary to the fear about the possible break up, Clark maintained that restructuring would rather strengthen the unity of the country. While commending President Muhammadu Buhari for opening up the channel of dialogue with the Niger Delta region, he advised that such initiative should be extended to the youths in other regions, who are also agitating for their regional socio political and economic emancipation within the Nigerian state, adding that it is the only way to carrying every region along.
On his part, the former ICPC boss, tracing the genesis of the socio-economic problem confronting Nigeria, blamed the founding fathers for pursuing ethnic agenda at the expense of national unity. “The beginning of our problem is that each of our leaders did so much, but did nothing to unite us. Azikwe died as Owelle of Onitsha; Awolowo wanted to lead Nigeria, he died as a regional leader. Same with Sarduana in the North,” he said.
He also expressed some deep reservations on the issue of restructuring, saying “I don’t believe in the spirit of restructuring or referendum that will divide the country in any form.”
“When the Arewa Consultative Forum invited me to their programme a few years back, I told them, ‘if your agenda for the day is to split Nigeria, I won’t be a part of it”, Akanbi added.
He further berated some Igbo leaders of thought for lending support to the agitation for the Independent State of Biafra. His words: “The leaders at various levels are not talking. Until the Arewa youths said that Igbo should go, who was talking when Kanu was talking of break up. I was disappointed in Soludo, a former governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, talking of Biafra. What war have they seen? For me, I believe in the unity of Nigeria and I don’t want the country to split.”
“Those who saw the civil war will never like to see another war. Some of them were not born then. I was almost killed, while I was in Sokoto. There was massacre in Funtua, they mistakenly took me for an Ibo person because I left my heard bushy. They had even told my wife that I had been killed. What is finishing us is that we are not only disunited, we are too tribalistic, we discriminate in terms of religion, ethnics and so on.”
According to him, the only thing the Federal Government can to do to put the separatist agitations to rest is to be fair and just to all sections of the country. “I think a number of these agitations are being fuelled by calls for justice and equity. For us to surmount these problems, we have to begin to look at the root cause and address it. We must begin to govern the nation in such a way that will give each component unit a true sense of belonging. No part of this country should be treated as inferior. Those at the helm of affairs must begin to provide leadership because it is not just the Biafra agitation we have today,” he maintained.
Yakassai shared the same sentiment, attributing the current crisis to the failure of leadership at various levels. He said: “What I found out is that leaders of all ethnic nationalities in Nigeria; be they Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba, have been intimidated by the youth to the point that they allow them to dictate the agenda. If prominent Igbo leaders had spoken against the utterances of Kanu all along right from the beginning, the situation would not have reached the stage it reached today. But they kept quiet.”
He particularly berated Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and Prof Charles Soludo for giving tacit support to the IPOB. “I cannot see why Emeka Anyaoku, former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, former governor of Central Bank, Prof Charles Soludo, and the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, would go on a solidarity visit to Nnamdi Kanu when his case was being heard in the court. To me, it looks they are being intimidated by their youths. For these three gentlemen who had attained the eminent positions of responsibility in Nigeria through the support of all Nigerians to lend support to Kanu who is all out to recreate Biafara is really unfortunate. It means they have no courage to say the right thing. These are men who are eminently qualified to be president of Nigeria. That such persons could condescend so low to support secessionist movement in Nigeria really disappointed me,” he fumed.
Yakassai further debunked the complaint by the Igbo that they were being treated as second class citizen as untrue. “Anywhere you go in Nigeria, there are Igbo and they go about their legitimate businesses without any hindrance. So, the perception of some Igbo that they are being treated like second class citizen is not correct. It is false. No Nigerian enjoys the patronage of Nigerians like the Igbo people. Igbo are more dominant in all centres of commercial activities in Nigeria than any other tribe. How can such people wake up one day and say they want to break away,” he queried.
“If an Ibo man who is popular enough contests governorship election in Lagos, there is every possibility that he can win because of the sheer number of Igbo living in Lagos for ages. During the First Republic, there was an Ibo man who contested the election of Lagos Town Council against a Yoruba candidate and defeated him. He became the Chairman of Lagos Town Council some 60 years ago. That was a time when the number of Igbo in Lagos can be described as negligible compared to what it is today”, he declared.
Yakassai, therefore, stressed the need for the government to be more proactive in dealing with any crisis situation by noting the early warning signals. His words: “I don’t want to criticize the government, but I want to appeal to them that in a situation like this, they should promptly react when things of this nature are happening before they get worse. What is happening today is the consequence of the lukewarm attitude of the government towards the activities of Nnamdi Kanu and his group. While the constitution of Nigeria guarantees the right of every citizen to freedom of expression, such expression must be within the confines of the law.
Since Kanu came out with anti-national agenda and all the while that he and his accomplices have been making their noise, the reaction of the government has been very mild in my opinion. And this has given opportunity to others who are like him to also begin to make their own type of noise, thereby jeopardizing the unity of the country,” he posited.
“I appeal to Nigerian leaders generally not to allow their young ones to dictate agenda for them. They should be courageous enough to say you are wrong when they are wrong,” he added.
Also lending his voice to the debate, Prof G. G Darah, said a genuine restructuring of the country in a way that would reduce the power at the centre in favour of the federating units would end the current agitations. In line with the principle of federalism, he insisted, states should be given autonomy over the control of resources within their domain. This, he said, would put an end to desperation for power at the centre.