When renowned novelist, Chinua Achebe, diagnosed that the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership, most Nigerians believed him. Only a few Nigerians disagreed with him. But the failure of every successive leader to rise to the challenge of personal example, as the writer surmised in that seminal treatise, has further justified his age-long postulation. Many years after those words on marble were uttered by the revered bard, Nigeria is still in search of servant-leaders, those that will exhibit exemplary leadership.
There is no doubt that some nations come into existence by force of arms while others come through negotiation or a combination of both. Unfortunately, most countries that were colonized in Africa, including Nigeria, came into existence after the Berlin conference of 1884-85 where the imperial powers forcefully partitioned the entire Africa as their vassal territory.
They did not care about the ethnic, cultural and religious diversities of those entities they decreed into existence. Nigeria, the home of over 250 different nationalities, was a victim of such imperial fiat and despotism when in 1914 the Northern and Southern Protectorates were joined together as Nigeria without the input of the natives in such alliance. Even the name, Nigeria, was given to us by a foreigner, Flora Shaw. They also gave us a language, English, which we have elevated to our lingua franca and relegated our indigenous languages to the background.
Following the nationalists’ agitations of the 1930s-1950s, Nigeria was granted independence in 1960, in which the North has more representation in parliament than the entire South put together. The faulty foundation of Nigeria and greed of politicians led to series of hitches that finally culminated in the first military coup, the counter coup of 1966 and the Nigerian civil war (the Biafra war) of 1967-70. During and after the war, Nigeria had been fragmented in such a way that put the Igbo in a disadvantaged position.
As one of the three major tribes or nationalities, it is only the Igbo that are yet to produce Nigerian president. It is only the Igbo or the South-East geo-political zone that has the least number of states and local government areas in the country. I have elucidated much on this in my earlier article on Igbo marginalization and a repeat is deemed unnecessary here.
Therefore, the recent statement credited to President Muhammadu Buhari that he would crush any dissenting voice or group that move against his one Nigeria, especially as relates to Niger Delta Avengers and the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), is not the best approach to the problem. It is also not the best method to build the nation. His crushing formula will rather hasten the disintegration of the country than its cohesion.
He should understand that Nigeria, as presently constituted, is lopsided and therefore an unfinished business. I say so because the Nigerian enterprise is still in progress; it is yet to arrive at the desired destination. Therefore, all the eruptions, whether of Niger Delta Avengers, IPOB or whatever, are not unexpected. They are signs that the nation is not working.
Instead of crushing a non-violent group as the IPOB or MASSOB, Buhari should first explore the dialogue and negotiation options. There is nothing wrong in finding out the grievances of Niger Delta Avengers, IPOB, MASSOB or any other separatist movement in the country.
There is wisdom in asking an aggrieved group what is its anger. In a multi-party democracy, people have the right to self-determination. They have the right to dissent. They have the right to air their views. Nigeria as a nation can only exist through meaningful negotiation and dialogue with its opposing units and not the crush singsongs.
How many wars and enemies would President Muhammadu Buhari fight and crush before leaving office? Before his election, he promised to crush Boko Haram. He promised to fight corruption. How far he has gone in these wars is debatable. Now, he wants to crush the Niger Delta Avengers and the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOP). Like some other Nigerian leaders, he says that the unity and corporate existence of Nigeria is non-negotiable. In other words, Nigerian unity must be ensured by force of arms and not through dialogue and negotiation. If Buhari actually said this, we should pardon him because of his military background and coupled with the fact that he saw it all during the 30 months bloody Nigeria-Biafra war, a war of mismatch and genocide against Biafra.
Maybe Buhari is afraid to witness what he saw in that war and wish, like those of us that were at the receiving end of Nigeria’s bitter aggression and mass murder, never again to witness such mindless killing of a people simply because you want them to be part of your ill-structured one Nigeria, whether it fits their temperament or not. Now that Buhari is a democrat, a born-again at that, he should always moderate his utterances to reflect his new democratic image.
There is no way Buhari or any leader can build a Nigerian nation of 21st century based on threats of war and crushes. Such threats will even beget more wars to crush than he can manage. Why did Buhari not invoke the crush threat on the Fulani herdsmen that have terrorized some parts of Nigeria? For Nigeria to achieve the dreams of its founding fathers and compete favourably with other nations in the world; there is the need for equity and justice in treating all the federating units. Until this is done, Nigeria’s existence is still negotiable.
One group should not be handled with kid gloves and another be subjected to crush threats. Injustice can disintegrate the country. He, who fights in all fronts, may end up not winning any battle. Buhari as the president of Nigeria should see the entire country as his constituency and give them equal treatment. He should talk with opposing elements and find out their grievances and attend to them. That is the best way to build a nation. He should join forces with those clamouring for a restructured Nigeria.
The current structure of the country is inequitable and suffocating hence, the frequent volcanic eruptions witnessed in the country. The last national conference had far-reaching recommendations that will move the country forward, if implemented. The Buhari government should look in that direction. That is exactly the right way to go and not wars and rumours of wars. Buhari should stop treating those with dissenting views as enemies that must be crushed by all means. Rather, he should dialogue and negotiate with them on Nigeria’s future.