By Ike Chioke
Nigeria and Nigeria’s friends must speak out on the heightened spate of insecurity in the South East now, before it is too late. What started as a flickering candlelight is quickly snowballing into a huge forest fire. And if we do not act quickly, history will not be kind to all of us who knew the awesome power of speech but chose silence.
The situation in the South East is worrisome, not just because of our bitter history but because no great society ever stumbles twice over the same stone in their collective march to progress. While Nigeria has weathered the storm in the North East for years, the threat in the South East is grounded in a long history of injustice. That is the difference. And we must not gloss over this fact, if we want a good understanding of the current problem.
Happily, the reality of modern development is that, in many interconnected societies, no sub-group ever suffers adversity alone. Misery often seeks new neighbourhoods to occupy. That is why no part of Nigeria can be said to have been completely insulated from the effects of the sustained insurgency and brazen acts of terror in the North East in the past decade. Aside from the untold hardships caused by the destruction of lives, livelihoods and physical infrastructure, the very negative sentiments of insurgency has also cost Nigeria and the region even greater losses in local and foreign investment. And no matter how indifferent some Nigerians might feel, we have all been touched in varying degrees by that situation. But a prolonged conflict in the South East will cost Nigeria much more. There is no doubt about that.
And that is why silence is dangerous now. Indeed, we are in a rare moment in time when only sincere, in-depth and far-ranging conversations can save the impending storm. This is the time to start the conversations. Our leaders in all spheres of life must begin to talk to one another in a language that will heal the land. Our elected leaders must engage at all levels. The governors from the various regions must wake up to their responsibilities and create robust spaces for meaningful dialogue among themselves. The South must meet the North in a dialogue of logic and reason. The time to show all the wisdom, level-headedness and charisma of statesmen has come. Our governors must rise above pride, prejudice, and personal motivations to meet at the table of unity and peace. They must agree that, if Nigeria is to work, every part of the federating unit must be treated with as much weight as the other.
The legislators from different regions must commence their own rounds of conversations among themselves. Our political leaders must recognize that, as the greatest beneficiaries of present-day Nigeria, they need Nigeria much more than the average Nigerian. All channels of communication between the custodians of traditional institutions across the regions must be opened and sustained. The Emirs must talk to the Igwes, and the Obas and our religious leaders must seek intelligent pathways to roundtable discussions across different zones. Those of us who are in business must also create spaces for dialogue across all spheres. If we do not talk to one another, soon enough, we shall be the ones encouraging those who feel cheated by Nigeria to put a gun to her head.
I am of the candid view, however, that the South East governors have more work to do in the emerging scenario. Since truth is a critical element in pursuit of peace and justice, I think that the South East governors should withdraw into the Ime Obi with our aggrieved youths for a family meeting. I have followed developments since the current recrudescence of self-determination, and I have not come across any report of a meeting between our governors and the leaders of the various separatist groups in the region. It is almost safe to assume that there has not been a serious attempt to sit down with them at a roundtable. Democracy thrives on dialogue. Our elected leaders must find a way to engage with different interest groups who have a viewpoint that might affect the wellbeing of society, no matter how reactionary they seem. We lay avoidable landmines when we ignore the threat such people represent and allow their grievances to fester into open sores. It is morning yet on creation day though. We can still engage these people to save the day and give our elders a chance for peaceful retirement and our young ones a chance to chase their dreams.
Fellow Nigerians, we all have a responsibility to work towards averting the threatening storm. A war does not always end in victory and defeat. It ends with fractured lives and broken dreams. It ends with disruptions and dislocations. Nobody wins in the end. We will lose families, we will lose friends, we will lose businesses and the survivors will lose peace of mind. We all end up as losers!
•Chioke is an investment banker and CEO of Afrinvest West Africa Limited