By Chiedu Uche Okoye
Between 1970, when the Nigeria-Biafra civil war ended, and now, the issues which sparked off that civil war have not been solved. The existence of disunity among the peoples of Nigeria, which is caused by ethnic hatred and rivalry, has not been rooted out in the country. But Yakubu Gowon introduced some measures, among which was the establishment of the NYSC, to entrench peace and unity in the country, soon after the end of that war. Peace and unity has continued to elude us in this country, in spite of efforts made by our leaders to entrench peace and unity in Nigeria. But can a country, whose past military rulers and successive political leaders have abjured and forsworn egalitarianism, have peace and unity? The answer to the question is a categorical no.
The injustices and raw deal which are daily meted out to the Igbo people in Nigeria are numerous. When religious conflicts happen in the north, which is a hotbed of violence, Igbo people and their properties will be targets for attack and destruction. Again, the infrastructural development of the southeast when placed alongside that of the north is disproportionate. While the north is home to many military training institutions, the southeast has none.
Worst still, the people of the South-east are excluded from occupying the topmost positions in the various national security outfits in the country. The president bypasses them when appointing service chiefs and the inspector general of police. And we have educational policies that favour the north at the expense of the southeast; for example, pupils from the north are not required to score high grades in national entrance examinations before they are admitted into unity schools. Nigeria has, regrettably, become a country where two different sets of laws are used to govern the citizens based on their ethnic origins and religious affiliations.
Again, before this current civilian dispensation and fourth republic came into being, Nigeria was trapped in a political cul-de-sac, which was caused by the annulment of the June, 12, 1993 presidential election. It took the death of the maximum military ruler, Sani Abacha, for Nigeria to bounce back to reckoning, again. His successor, Abdusalaam Abubakar, who had no intention of becoming the civilian president of Nigeria , then conducted a general election for the country. The northern political elements and other kingmakers ceded the presidential post to the southwest geopolitical zone as a placatory measure to assuage their hurt regarding the invalidation of the presidential election, presumably, won by a Yoruba man, Alhaji MKO Abiola. Since then, the presidency has been rotating among the six geopolitical zones in the country. And it has guaranteed Nigeria a measure of political stability.
Based on the unwritten law of rotational presidency, which has become operational in Nigeria since the inception of the fourth republic, it’s the turn of the southeast to produce Nigeria’s next president. But it seems that a great majority of northern politicians are covertly opposed to the emergence of Nigeria’s next president from the South-east given their utterances. They are now advocating that meritocracy should override other considerations and factors when we are choosing those who will run for president in Nigeria. But they have conveniently and clean forgotten that the political stability and relative peace, which we enjoy in Nigeria, are not unconnected to our practice of rotational presidency.
It is the ill-treatment as well as the subjugation of the people of the southeast that has caused the resurgence of the agitation for the creation of the sovereign state of Biafra. The tempo of the clamour for the creation of the sovereign state of Biafra gained momentum with the formation of IPOB, whose leader is the detained Nnamdi Kanu. The unabating clamour for the carving out of Biafraland from Nigeria is not unconnected to the enslavement and domination of the Igbo people by the reigning Hausa/Fulani oligarchs.
However, instead of treating the Igbo people with fairness and kindness, and addressing the vexatious issues that sparked off secessionist moves in Nigeria, President Buhari is using strong arm tactics to rein in the secessionists. Is the use of coercive military power to muffle voices of dissent and clamp down on secessionists the right way to solve the problem? The president Buhari-led government, which cannot defeat Boko Haram insurgents, used extra-ordinary rendition to bring back Nnamdi Kanu to Nigeria for trial. Since his extradition to Nigeria for trial, the entire southeast is shut down on Mondays to pressurize and arm-twist the federal government to release Nnamdi Kanu, who is a prisoner of conscience. The weekly shutdown of the southeast hurts the distressed economy of the area and increases the economic hardship of the hoipoil, whose existence as well as survival depends on the money they earn on a daily basis from plying their trade and doing businesses. These people in the southeast, who occupy the lowest rung of the economic ladder, are groaning under the burden of economic hardship, which is exacerbated by the shutdown of the southeast on every Monday.
The shutdown of the southeast on every Monday bodes ills for the southeast and its people. Not only does it stifle the zone’s economic growth, but it has also hindered the educational pursuits of students in the area, who didn’t sit for their examinations on the days the southeast was shut down. Yet, an educated populace is a force for development of a state. The disadvantages of observing the sit-at-home order far outweighs its advantages. The sit-at-home order is a misconceived idea, the execution of which cannot coerce the federal government to release Nnamdi Kanu from detention, unconditionally. And the solution to the problem goes beyond the southeast governors’ rattling of the sabre to frighten the enforcers of the sit-at-home order.
The South-east political leaders should convene a meeting, reach a consensus, and broach it to President Buhari for his consideration. They should negotiate with the representatives of the federal government for the unconditional release of Nnamdi Kanu from detention and the stoppage of his trial in court. It is the plausible, judicious, and conciliatory way to wriggle out of the quagmire of the shutdown of the South-east on every Monday.
Okoye writes from Uruowulu-Obosi,