Chiedu Uche Okoye
Are Nigerians from diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds not antagonistic of one another? But, it’s the first republic politicians who sowed the seed of ethnic hatred and suspicion in Nigeria. They were unapologetically champions and advocates of ethnocentrism and ethnic nationalism. So, today our fierce pursuit of ethnic nationalism as well as emotional identification with our diverse ethnic groups is the chief centrifugal force pulling Nigeria apart.
We should remember that before our attainment of self-rule in 1960, the northern people wanted out of Nigeria through their nine-point programme. And Isaac Adaka Boro declared the Niger-Delta republic in 1963, which was short-lived. We blew up our best chance of evolving a progressive and united Nigeria when our first republic politicians allowed ethnic sentiments and prejudices as well as tribal loyalties to influence their actions. As a result, Nnamdi Azikiwe was to the Igbo people what Chief Awolowo was to the Yoruba people. And the Hausa-Fulani would rally behind Alhaji Tafawa Balewa and Ahmadu Bello.
So, when the soldiers struck on January 15, 1966 and overthrew the government of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa in the first republic owing to the politicians’ failings, failures, and misdeeds, it was misconstrued as an Igbo coup. Not a few non-Igbo people believed that the coupists were pursuing an Igbo agenda. Consequently, there was a counter-coup in July 1966, which eventuated into the homicidal decimation of the Igbo population in the north. Expectedly, the Igbo people fought a secessionist war against the rest of Nigeria between 1967 and 1970. It cannot be gainsaid that ethnic animosity was at the root of that gratuitous civil war.
After the cessation of the civil war, the federal government started the National Youth Service Corps Programme (NYSC) to entrench and deepen our national unity. The NYSC scheme stipulates that young Nigerians who are under the age of thirty when they graduate from tertiary institutions should perform their mandatory NYSC programme in a state outside their ethnic homeland. It’s believed that an Igbo man’s stay in the north for his NYSC programme will disabuse his mind of sentiments and prejudices about the Hausa-Fulani Muslims. Similarly, a Yoruba corps member teaching in a secondary school in the South-East will learn that stereotyping a people is not good.
However, like everything Nigeria, the NYSC programme has been bastardized and put to a very bad use. Now, well-heeled Nigerians use their wealth to secure places where their wards and children will do their compulsory NYSC programme. But the more worrisome thing about NYSC programme is the killing of NYSC members during national balloting by political thugs. Bandits and insurgents kill them, too. And, when communal violence erupts in their host communities, they’re oftentimes caught in crossfire. Today’s Nigeria has become a space of unremitting blood-letting caused by religious troubles and political violence.
Are sectarian and political violence not common place in our country, now? It’s in the north, a hot-bed of religious conflict, that one Mr. Gideon Akaluka was decapitated and his head hoisted on a pole for allegedly desecrating the Koran some years ago. In the 1980s, the Maitatsine uprising wreaked havoc in Nigeria. Till now, Moslems and Christians do clash in the north over religious differences. However, now, the Muslim religious group in our Nigeria is bifurcated; and, the Sunni Muslims and Shiites do not see eye to eye. The federal government has clamped down on the Shiites with its devastating consequences.
However, it is not only sectarian violence that is rocking and threatening the foundation of our national unity and corporate existence as one country. In the past political conflict had imperiled our political stability. The cancellation of the June 12, 1993 presidential election threw Nigeria into a political tailspin. And many people lost their lives while fleeing Lagos for fear of eruption of violence in the country. The dark-goggle-wearing head of state, Sani Abacha created a climate of fear in Nigeria with the state-sponsored killings of NADECO members and others. It’s an incontestable fact that his death saved Nigeria from descending into a civil war.
His successor, Abdusalami Abubakar, speedily conducted a transition to civil rule programme and helped Chief Olusegun Obasanjo become our President in 1999 to placate the indignant Yoruba people, who were denied the Presidential seat in 1993. In the early part of the fourth republic, political killings became one of the principal features of our representative government. Harry Marshal, Dikibo, Bola Ige, Funso Williams and others were politically murdered. Their murders have not been solved while assassination is still a tool that is being used by Nigerian politicians to settle political scores.
From bloody sectarian violence and political conflicts to political assassinations, Nigeria is morphing to a lawless ungovernable space what with the homicidal activities of bandits, Boko Haram insurgents, and Fulani cattle herders. The Boko Haram insurgency, which started like a rash on our landscape has grown to become a huge boil on our body politic. Opposed to yound people’s acquisition of Western education, Boko Haram insurgents take a great delight in abducting school girls from their schools as exemplified in their abduction of Chibok and Dapchi school girls respectively.
Moreso, Boko Haram insurgents do strap bomb s on their bodies and detonator them in places filled with people in order to kill them. And the Fulani cattle herders have gained notoriety and infamy for opening fire on farmers and other people in their host communities. The sanguinary deeds of the lawless nomadic cattle herders gained ascendancy with the occupation of the presidential seat by Muhammadu Buhari, a member of their kith and kin.
Today, they’ve added kidnapping and raping to their repertoire of evil deeds. In the South West, they’ll lie in ambush for ransom. Their female victims are raped. And they had killed unlucky kidnapped people whose relations dithered in paying ransom. They’re emboldened in perpetrating these evil; deeds with impunity because our president is lenient on them.
The ungovernable space in Nigeria is lengthening at great pace with tempus fugit, instead of tackling the vexed security challenges that have the potential of causing the disintegration of Nigeria, President Buhari rolled out the now can cancelled Ruga policy, which is a centrifugal force.
Nigeria, which is always teetering on the edge of disintegration and instability, stands at equidistance between war and peace based on the security challenges bedeviling our country. Now is the time to map out strategies to solve our problem of insecurity as the absence of anarchic situation is the sine qua non for national development.
Okoye writes from Uruowulu-Obosi, Anambra State