Posted by Bernard Balogun | 25 August 2017 | 2,042 times
This article is a follow-up to my previous one, first published in June 2016. The various points canvassed at that time remain substantially relevant till date. In fact, the tempo has increased in dimension, the agitation for a Biafra Republic has assumed a frightening proportion. Marginalisation has given rise to this agitation with inflammatory utterances, hate-speeches from both sides of the divide; unnecessary heating up the polity, with activities bordering on felony. Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and his separatist group known as Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) now reportedly have their own Biafra Army. These young men are certainly progressing in error, and they need to retrace their steps before it is too late.
Prof Chinua Achebe of blessed memory, a renowned literary giant, a highly respected son of Igboland, had a message for his Igbo kindred. I quote him thus:
“…the consequences of the men with ideas leaving the stage to those described as money-miss-road-ragamuffins, men and women with no records of service or achievement, men and women who elsewhere should be in jail, taking up the centre stage and doing what they know best, creating a maelstrom, ratcheting up the volume of vitriol and creating a discordant orchestration of artistic chaos in the land…”
Is there any tribe in Nigeria today that is not complaining of marginalisation? The Yoruba, a major tribe, have their own fair taste of marginalisation. Ditto the Hausa/Fulani, the Ijaw, the Urohbo, the Ebira, the Okuns, the Ogori, the Igala, all of Kogi State. The Ikwerre, the Ishan people. The Idoma, the Tiv, the Jukun of Taraba. The litany of tribes complaining of marginalisation is endless.
The agitation for the actualisation of a Biafra Republic should not be construed to mean same as restructuring of the Nigerian state. That narrative should be clearly understood. These are two ends of a long pole and I support one end of it: restructuring.
But the balkanisation (I am not referring to restructuring here) of Nigeria is not the answer to this agitation. Do you know why? Let us profit from Prof Wole Soyinka’s recent incisive exposition on this matter:
“….The poor Hausa man is riding okada. The poor Igbo man is riding okada. The poor Yoruba man is riding okada.
The poor Hausa man sleeps under the bridge as Alamajiri. The poor Yoruba man sleeps under the bridge as alaye. The poor Igbo man sleeps under the bridge as agbero.
“It is pertinent to note that the poor from all ethnic groups in Nigeria have everything in common and so is the rich. Do not allow the agitation of an Igbo man who lives in UK or USA for Biafra cause the killing of the Igbo man in Adamawa. The rich hate us that much. Do not allow the Alhaji whose children are living abroad to persuade you to go and start killing on the street of Kaduna.
“The problem in the country is not the agitation of any ethnic group, but the unity of the elite and the disunity of the masses. How many times have you taken your agitation to question your local government chairmen? Why have you not asked your governors through agitation how they spent bailout fund? Why have you not agitated against that government official whose mansions you go to beg for help….?”
When the Yoruba people felt marginalised in the scheme of things, they did not resort to ‘hate speeches’ or engage in unnecessary heating up the polity for balkanisation of the country. Rather, they settled for strategic planning method and it worked. In Kogi State, for instance, the West and the Central Senatorial Zones had been marginalised since the inception of the state. The eastern flank of the state had ruled that long. The Central Senatorial Zone went into a subtle partnership, conscientious planning and fervently turned to God. At least, today, we can get to see the answer. A young-man from the central is now in charge in Lugard House. This was achieved without any sign of disrespect to the other two senatorial districts in the state and no unscrupulous utterances. Let me say this: My reference to the eastern flank of Kogi State in this narrative should not be construed as a note of vilification. Certainly not! That is not the purpose. The purpose is indeed to draw empirical lesson for us to learn and apply in our respective struggle for a just and egalitarian society.
In fact, Otunba Dele Momodu, Publisher of Ovation Magazine, in his recent exposition on this matter, brought to the fore the historical value of this conversation.
His words: “Let’s highlight some permutations. Had the Igbo worked well with the South-west and the North-central, it might have been easier for an Igbo presidency to materialise. Just imagine if they could lock down the entire south where majority are Christians and the southern Muslims even marry Christians, the next job would be to align with the so-called minorities scattered across the northern belts. I’m certain many of our youths are unaware that Chief Obafemi Awolowo once performed such experiment when he chose an Igbo man, Phillip Umeadi, as his running mate. He would probably have succeeded if he had secured massive votes from the South-east and South-south. All he would have needed was to poach from mostly North-east and North-central. Alas, the audacious experiment failed woefully. Since then no southern candidate of note has ever dared to pick a running mate from the south.”
He continued: “There is an enduring lesson to learn from the people of South-west Nigeria. In 1981, Chief Moshood Abiola was frustrated out of a political party in which he invested so much time, energy and resources, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). He went back home quietly to lick his wounds. He had enough cash to try and destabilise the polity at the time, but he opted to up his philanthropic work. He reached out to every nook and cranny of Nigeria helping the needy, contributing to schools, churches, mosques, creating jobs, investing in agriculture, sports and so on. From being one of the most hated Nigerians, he became one of the most loved. It was only a matter of time before his chickens came home to roost. By the time he launched his presidential bid in 1993, even his most vociferous critics knew he was unstoppable. Abiola won the election, but lost the mandate freely given to him by every part of Nigeria. The Nigerian mafia, connived and conspired to rob him of his hard-fought victory. Every effort to regain his mandate was rebuffed and frustrated. The strategy was simple and effective. Reduce Abiola’s victory to a Yoruba affair, repeat all kinds of lies till they become believable, and a pan-Nigerian mandate was burnt into ashes. Abiola was abandoned and left in the lurch. Still the Yoruba people did not seek revenge or retaliation. They fought and without firing a shot extracted a form of justice as payback. The destroyers of June 12 could not believe the resilience of the people. In frustration and desperation, they sought and found a perfect ally to dump the stolen mandate on since they didn’t want Abiola by all means. Gen Olusegun Obasanjo served this purpose, and it was a coronation of sorts when he reincarnated as civilian president.”
Let us remind ourselves that a nation without history will go into extinction. This brings me to what the “common sense” Senator Ben Murray Bruce, said on the night of Sunday, April 24, 2016 at the ‘Man of the Year Award Night’ organised by Silverbird TV in Lagos.
His words: “As I walked into this venue, this evening, two young ladies approached me and asked what is happening here? I said, it is an award night to honour some Nigerians who had done well in their respective fields and, indeed, impacted on the lives of Nigerians. Among them is Major-Gen Tunde Idiagbon of blessed memory. The ladies, one, may be about 27 years and the other about 22 years, retorted, surprisingly, you mean Maj-Gen Tunde Idigagbon will be coming? That is what we get when a nation has no history; when we fail to teach history in our schools.” ( apologies to the senator, if I did not capture his statement verbatim, but the message is quite clear).
For purposes of education, Tunde Idigagbon died on March 24, 1999.
That digression is necessary, permit me all the same.
The Biafra agitation: Is it necessary? In a short video interview granted to a foreign female correspondence by Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (of blessed and unforgotten memory) said:
“ Chief Ojukwu led the Biafrans against the government in the last (civil) war.
He says, it will be a mistake for anyone to provoke another war.
Correspondent: But Chief Ojukwu, you led the first one?
Chief Ojukwu: Yes, I know. A lot of people will say but you were leading the first one. I will say to everyone, I led proudly the first one. (But) I do not think a second one is necessary. We should have learnt from the first one, otherwise the dead will have been to no avail.” (End of the interview).
That was the man who led the Biafra struggle (after the 1966 pogrom) in the mid-60s, as a young military officer serving in the Nigerian Army (as Military Administrator of Eastern Region). A struggle which culminated into a full blown civil war with its attendant consequences, with over 3 million Nigerians dead and property of unimaginable proportion destroyed from both sides. The war, which in the eyes of the international community, was clearly needless and avoidable, if revolutionary ideas had not been promoted over and above the love and growth of our compatriots and the nation per se (by Gen Gowon’s refusal to honour the Aburi Accord). The interview above was granted in the late 80s, perhaps with the advance in age, Chief Emeka Ojukwu saw that struggle in a different light. In his considered opinion the struggle “was indeed no longer necessary.”
Let us undertake some historical calculations to convey a message. The war ended in January 1970, meaning 47 years ago. A baby born 47 years ago is today an adult and by extension a father. A 47-year-old of today will not know much about the war – what led to it, how it was fought and how it ended (despites the several books written). How much of event does he know preceding his birth? Not much really. All things being equal, a 47-year-old man should be a father to another young man of between 18 and 26. A young man born about 21 years after the civil war ended certainly has no idea of the war. Its magnitude, the losses, pains and psychological torture suffered by his grand-parents, not his own father who was born at the time the war ended. This young man of about 25 was simply told, there was a war; often times elders are not disposed to give full information that led to the war.
Has our generation failed these youngsters? Certainly not! Our generation has not failed our children because we, as their fathers, did not experience the war. Our own fathers did, so we have no knowledge of it. Truth must be told, when our parents, who are grand-parents tell the story to these children with its attendant advice to avoid such agitation and calamity, these children would not listen.
They feel, right or wrong, that our generation as parents did not do enough to sustain the fight, which would have excised them from the Nigerian State.
We do know revolutionary ideas have always aggravated situations. “A young man thinks about the size of the man in a fight, whereas an elder thinks of the size of the fight”, our elders told us long ago. “It is the beginning of a fight you know, but you never know the end of it”. Painfully, this kind of adage has no meaning to our children of today. It simply does not fly.
Shall we ask our elders, our grandfathers in Igbo-land their experiences during the civil war (and what led to the war? Or in recent times, do we ask our brothers and sisters from Ife/Modakeke in Osun State, their sad experience during their communal clashes? It is, indeed, a very sad and painful experience.
Thank God, today, common-sense has prevailed in Ife/Modakeke. There is harmony. Mutual respect has returned. There now exists in Ile Oduduwa, peace. Please, let us perish the thought of anther civil war in this country. Dim Ojukwu told us many years ago, “Biafra is dead”.
Need we mention the senseless Rwandan genocide, which began like play and grew exponentially out of control. Truly, it was not anticipated that it will escalate to the proportion it got on April 7, 1994, when it began between the Tutsi and Hutus. Consequently, countless innocent souls were lost and uncountable property destroyed. Till date, it is still a bad reference in the history of Rwanda, and the world. The genocide would have been avoided if dialogue had been encouraged and brought to the front-burner.
I call on our brothers and sisters to have a rethink of their actions. It is possible to have a good cause, but the approach may be wrong. Please, redefine your approach on this matter. The South African experience should teach us a lesson. After the killings and destruction which took many years, when common-sense eventually prevailed, dialogue was employed and amicable settlement was achieved, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (nicknamed Madiba-Dalibunga) released from prison and consequently became the first black South African president.
IPOB should learn from Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi’s experience. Amaechi, the current Minister of Transport, contested and won the Peoples Democratic Party’s primary for Rivers State governorship contest to hold in 2007. His name was unceremoniously substituted by the party hierarchy. Amaechi felt cheated. He challenged the party’s decision at the courts. The Supreme Court ruled that Amaechi was the rightful candidate of the PDP and winner of the April 2007 governorship election in Rivers State. That was how Amaechi became the governor without any inflammatory utterance, no hate speech (really?), and no threat to the state. That is a lesson for Nnamdi and his separatist movement to adopt.
Lastly, the various nationalities that presently make up Nigeria can peacefully live together as brothers and sisters, if we so desire genuinely. We need a peaceful environment for any equitable, just and egalitarian society, but we cannot achieve this with hate and inflammatory speeches which permeate the landscape now. Dialogue, mature understanding should be an option. Let us constantly look at such positive elements that unite us as a nation rather than this primordial instinct that divide us. In my previous article on this matter, I respectfully called on the Federal Government to release Nnamdi Kanu, because in my humble opinion, “The young man certainly has a strong voice among the youths in the South-East. That voice needs to be respected.”
Unfortunately, since his release, he has flouted his bail conditions with impunity, promoting activities that largely bordered on felony and heated up the polity. In fact, Nnamdi Kanu and his separatist movement, are wrong, and no serious government anywhere in the world would tolerate such fragrant constitutional disrespect.
Elders from the South-east region should courageously call this young man to order. Has he experienced war before? No! Nnamdi Kanu was born the year the civil war ended, in 1970. To decently and scrupulously achieve his Biafra nation dream, let him and his movement approach the National Assembly with their position paper on their desire to cede from the Nigerian nation. Perhaps, with that the movement may get wider appeal and support.
Again, Nnamdi Kanu should be encouraged to purge himself of his radical views. He has taken the gullibility disposition of the youths from that region for granted. And this is so unfair, and it is dangerous.
Mr President, I heartily welcome you back. My prayer for you, sir: you shall never relapse in your illness again. Amen.
•Bernard Balogun (BenPino) writes from Wuse District, in Abuja. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org, 0803 787 9275.
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