Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), a body that is fast becoming an alternate government in the land, has just provoked the people of the South East. It has taken too much for the owner not to notice. It did so by asking for the unimaginable, to wit, that it should be allowed to set up Fulani vigilance groups in the South East.
The request or demand, whichever one it is, has unsettled the people of the South East. It has sent shock waves down their spines. They people are squirming with discomfort. They cannot come to terms with the effrontery. Why the undisguised assault on their sobriety? Why have the Fulani decided to poke into the eyes of the Igbo in broad daylight? Where is this raw nerve coming from? Who is goading the nomads on? The Igbo seem to be at a loss over this. If they were hitherto cavalier about the imminence of Fulani invasion, the proposal has jerked them up. It has woken them up from many years of slumber.
The reactions and responses have been strident. And that negates the spirit of what I once characterised as the South East Syndrome. When I reflected on this subject matter a few years ago, my position was that the tendency to drown in the ocean of anonymity has become widespread in south-east Nigeria. It is a situation where those who are supposed to speak up or stand up in defence of their people wallow in questionable silence. They do so not out of lack of concern. Rather, they are scared stiff of the possible reverberations or repercussions that may come with their intervention. This disposition of southeasterners on matters of politics and public affairs has, in recent years, assumed a life of its own. It is gradually becoming the trademark of the people. It is a tendency that easily defines the zone’s character and characteristic in matters of public affairs.
Let us reflect a little on this emerging tendency. We are all aware of the fact that there is a dearth of public figures of South East extraction who engage in activism of any sort. Most prominent people from the zone are individualistic in their approach to issues that concern their race. They stay in the quiet confines of their bedrooms to comment or reflect on such issues. Their views, whatever they may be, are for the four walls of their homes. They are not meant for public consumption. The result is the shortfall in and lack of potency of the voices that are heard on issues that deal with the collective survival of the people.
Considering the natural behavioral pattern of the Igbo, many would easily explain this disposition as being in sync with the people’s individualistic way of life. But that would be a simplistic way of looking at the issue, especially in a changing and challenging world where nations are in fierce competition with each other. Any nation, which wants to hold its own, must work as a collective. Individual interventions have little or no place in matters of national or international competitiveness. But this is hardly the case in the emerging South East Syndrome under consideration.
Not long ago, I encountered middle-class Igbo folk who tried to situate this South East approach to public affairs. According to my interlocutor, most southeasterners are reluctant to throw their hat in the ring because the Igboman, to a very large extent, sees himself as an orphan. He feels that there is no one to fight his cause or help him out when trouble comes knocking at his door. For this reason, he fights shy. He prefers to play safe.
You could forgive this timid approach to public affairs if nameless and faceless individuals from the zone were the only culprits. But you cannot do the same thing when those whom the people have elected to represent them in government also wallow in distressing anonymity. A good many of the people’s representatives at every level of government have fallen short of expectations, one way or another. However, the worst culprits in this regard remain the South East governors. They are always being looked up to to stand up for their people. This expectation is in line with the saying that to whom much is given, much is expected. But the verdict of the people is that their governors have not really stood up to be counted in matters that try the soul of the people of the South East.
But as I noted earlier, the reaction of the Igbo to the MACBAN assault has defied the unfortunate phenomenon called the South East Syndrome. So far, Igbo of note are not looking the other way. Groups that matter are taking interest in the matter. And MACBAN, the body that flew the kite, must be listening and watching with sardonic satisfaction. It set out to test the waters and the reverberations are there for all to see.
So far, the atmosphere has been suffused with a cacophony of reactions. But I take particular interest in the interjection of Prof. A.B.C. Nwosu on the vexed issue. Nwosu has said that the proposal from MACBAN is a gratuitous insult to the Igbo nation. He feels slighted that Miyetti Allah had the effrontery to make the demand in front of the South East governors. He considers this as an affront on the Igbo.
Let me quote aspects of Prof. Nwosu’s disappointment. He said: “I shuddered over the very tame reaction of South East governors and wondered what the reaction of northern governors could have been if millions of Igbo traders living in the north and who have been regular victims of massacres in various northern riots made a similar proposal in Kaduna. I am also baffled by the mutness of Igbo organisations worldwide on this outrage.”
Yes, outrage. That is what the Igbo feel over this matter. And Prof. Nwosu succinctly captured the essential ingredient of the MACBAN assault.
Then, as if Prof. Nwosu has called South East governors to action, they have begun to comment on an issue that has largely been exhausted. Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, while speaking for himself and also making it look as if he was speaking for his colleagues in the South East, has assured that South East governors will not allow the setting up of vigilance groups or cattle colonies in the South East zone by the Fulani. Umahi’s declaration is reassuring. But many are not impressed by it because they feel that it was forced. It took a lot of haranguing for the governors to know that their silence over the matter was disturbing. The overall impression is that they took the back seat in a matter in which they were supposed to take the lead. By so doing, they seemed to be forgetting their constitutional roles as chief security officers of their states. If they were very conscious of this, they would not wait for the general public to think and speak for them in matters of security as is the case in the matter under review.
It was lethargic dispositions such as this that gave MACBAN the effrontery to ask to protect the South East in their own region. In a way, MACBAN is saying that the chief security officers of South East states have left security gaps that need to be filled. That was what MACBAN, ostensibly, set out to fill.