The recent surge in secessionist rhetoric across Nigeria came to us with little surprise; the signs have loomed in the horizon for long. Years of agitations, claims and counter claims, as well as invectives, even from erstwhile respected statesmen were bound to strain the fragile bond between the constituent nationalities of this country.
Recent activities of the members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and various notices for Nigerians to quit parts of the country issued by different groups from the North, South-West and the Niger Delta are as deplorable as they are lethal to the peaceful existence of Nigeria.
PREMIUM TIMES is concerned that what started as a revisionist romance with history soon metamorphosed into an avenue for name-calling and hate speech. Almost immediately, this provided opportunity for a free-for-all, with attendant dangers reminiscent of the altercations in 1966 and ensuing violence that led to the declaration of Biafra and a 30-month gruelling Civil War. We cannot afford to get anywhere close to reincarnating that grotesque phase of our history.
In subsequent years, the Biafra agitations have been used for all manner of purposes. From a means of drawing attention to genuine concerns of a people within the Nigerian federal system, to an avenue for criminality, ethnocentrism and a political tool for self-aggrandisement.
This trend has not been exclusively an Igbo or pro-Biafra affair. At different junctures in Nigeria’s chequered history, the cries of marginalisation and sundry disaffections have come from different parts of the country. These allegations of marginalisation have also rankled within the highest levels of the political establishment. Often, lopsided appointments and resource distribution have become catalysts for agitations, which opportunists have hijacked. Yet, Nigeria has never come around to fully addressing these discontents, which have in turn snowballed into the huge threat that they have now become.
Rather than help address those threats to national unity, political and community leaders have often instrumentalised citizens’ genuine concerns to score cheap political points with their people. In the absence of solutions, peaceful citizens resort to agitations, calmly in most cases but sometimes violently.
To worsen matters, successive governments have paid scant attention to such genuine and trumped-up concerns of various peoples in the federation, thereby resulting in increased despair and mistrust of the system. Intensifying calls to reconsider the political structure of the country, as a possible solution to outcries and secessionist threats, have not attracted the genuine attention of its leaders, including those in the present government, which proclaimed the restructuring of the country as part of its party manifesto.
We view with grave concerns the recent dangerous turns such agitations have assumed. Nigeria belongs to all Nigerians and therefore no one should have the temerity to threaten anybody living in any part of the country. Likewise, no group should describe other Nigerians as sub-human, as such dehumanisation is usually a precursor to violence. The right to life, movement and other freedoms of Nigerians are protected by the constitution and no attempt should be made to infringe on that freedom. The freedom of speech is also guaranteed but it should in no way be mistaken as the freedom to pass unhealthy innuendoes or spread hate.
We at PREMIUM TIMES believe in the sovereignty and unity of Nigeria. We, however, believe that such existence can even be made stronger by taking steps to look at ourselves in the mirror, identify our dark spots and frankly brush these up. It is time to dispassionately look at all these perceived and genuine agitations and address the concerns involved.
But as a quick step, government should spare no punches in dealing with all purveyors of hate, incitement and divisive messages. Nigeria has been a victim of such dangerous activities in the past and we should not wait for the condition to be under alarm before taking decisive action to restrain these. Any activity or utterance capable of endangering the existence and peace of the country should not be tolerated.
In the long run, lasting solutions should be devised to contain all the fears and agitations of the different groups in the country. It is time to dust up the various reports and recommendations made on how to address the seemingly intractable problems Nigeria face. There are several reports addressing the structural and governance challenges of our federation dating back to the 1994/95 Conference, the National Conference of 2005, with the most recent being the report of the 2014 National Conference. All these national dialogues have in one way or the other proposed ways of improving our federalism and deepening our democracy. Most critically, the calls for restructuring and improving our political system must go hand in hand with effective, accountable and representative governments at all levels, which abide by the rule of law and work for the interests of citizens. We are, however, not oblivious of the fact that this is not going to be easy without the unalloyed commitment and sincerity of our leaders and indeed all Nigerians.