By OKORO NDUKWE
A list of issues on which we are at odds in today’s Nigeria are dispiritingly long: questions of ethnic profiling, inclusive government, corruption, mutual suspicion, intolerance and bigotry, resource inequality, emotive nationalism, and more.
Agitating regions are gaining fresh impetus in demanding that the situation today requires a new consent–based approach, that may include a reappraisal of the framework of territoriality, where it has overlapped into zones of instability, marred by intractable conflicts related to sovereignty, identity, development and human rights.
The most pronounced in the agitation has been the one sustained by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), whose widely spread platforms have attained a global scale. It may claim to have led the largest and longest continuous periods of protests across the world against the Nigerian state, the first since the country’s creation.
This was happening, especially, during the incarceration period of its leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, who also is the director of its radio and television channels serving as the official mouthpiece of the organization. During that time, the demonstrations grew in size, frequency and boldness in defiant manifestations.
The high- handedness of security forces resulted in the deaths of hundreds of IPOB members, including those who were declared missing and presumed dead. Amnesty International reported that at least 150 peaceful protesters have been killed by the Nigerian agents.
The current position of IPOB, it seems, represent a process of seeking the recognition of their right to exist as a free and independent state. It seems to represent a determined insistence on freedom, as well as a look back at the rationale for the slavish obsession to the “non-negotiable” status of the federal union.
It seems to represent a new kind of African liberation struggle, this time, not against European oppressors, but against African oppressors. At the end, it seems the success of the struggle, despite the bloodletting and incarcerations, will provide a fillip to other regional and ethnic struggles on the continent against oppression and second class citizenship.
The belief by pan-African optimists that regional integration and existing within a super-state structure will dissolve many of the antagonisms between different groups that currently exist within the Berlin Treaty boundaries still doesn’t allow us to examine what is at the root of many of these antagonisms in the first place. We won’t get to the heart of the issue until we truly examine our attitudes to human and power relations in Africa, and particularly, the issue of modern – day slavery in governance.
There is growing disappointment and irritation with the system. The situation leaves most Africans with the feeling of being politically and physically hemmed in.
Jamaican sociologist and slavery expert, Orlando Patterson, once described the condition of slavery as “social death”. The slave, a prisoner of war or subservient person, rather than accept honour in death, accepts being captured and living, and in so doing forfeits his rights as an equal with those who spare his life – he is alive, but is to all intents and purposes socially dead- with diminished human rights, not able to intermarry, eat with, or sometimes even look his new ‘master’ in the eye. Such a situation describes many of the relationships and co-existence we see on our continent between dominant groups and the groups they “conquered” or look down on, sometimes, with the same contempt we accuse Europeans of.
Indisputably, being a response to IPOB agitation, campaigns and consultations are on-going for choosing between restructuring and referendum. We are also witnessing increasing shuttle diplomacy by the presidency towards the Niger-delta region. Foreign prodding is equally evident in the entire scheme of things.
Pending the certification of mechanisms to implement restructuring, if that becomes the chosen path, how far would it go in addressing those issues behind the current agitation? Are we going to prevent the vulnerability of the process of its implementation? Will it engender equity, justice and fairness? Will it produce egalitarian order that could magically transform everything into a win-win? How far will it go in addressing the issue of the all- powerful centre that lacks ownership? To what extent will it challenge those issues bordering on core national question? These questions, among others, are being raised by agitating bodies in choosing between a restructuring agenda that must go with intense acrimonious debates, and the next available restructuring option through popular democratic will in a referendum.
Those asking for a referendum believe that much of the change in restructuring is understood; but nothing of it is reassuring, given the lukewarm enthusiasm of other component regional blocks. They believe that unity is not foisted on a people by coercion, but rather by consent, achieved through necessary democratic norms in which embodiment the will of the people is identified, amidst equity and balance. It is understandable, as a result of its potentially disruptive effect, that choosing the path of referendum does not offer Nigeria the best hope as it faces the sharpest conflicts between the likely independence of agitating IPOB, and preserving the legacy and territoriality of British colonial Nigeria by preventing a break up.
But what will be guiding our collective psyche in this path is that in any fight for truth and principle, someone must be hurt.
Indeed, the unfolding scenario is stating clearly that revolutions do not have to be like those in France in 1789, Russia in 1917 or Iran in 1979. Obviously, democratic misinterpretation, not rhetoric, is the real problem with the Nigerian state. The situation today calls for a rebalancing of large interests to settle potentially bigger disputes in the true sense of a free people.
Ndukwe writes from Aba, Abia State.