Who is going to put out the Biafra fire? By Teinye Akobo

By Teinye Akobo November 20, 2015 10:33

Who is going to put out the Biafra fire?  By Teinye Akobo

Nigeria is a country that nationalizes its promise and regionalizes its problems. When there is an environmental crisis in the Niger Delta, it is seen as a problem for the people of the region, while the oil is for the entire country. When there are Boko Haram attacks in the North, it is seen as a problem for the people of that region, but not the food from that region, which belongs to the entire country; same for erosion in the S/East or OPC in the S/West.

This is how we have managed as a nation for 55 years. We live as though, we have a divine notice of outcomes. This sadly, was how we fought a civil war.

The cause of the civil war of 1967 is still too complex, having varying perspectives. However, the general belief is, it happened as a result of the collapse of the widespread uneasy peace and stability that had plagued the country after independence- largely fuelled by mutual suspicion. From the coup of 1966 that was widely seen as an Igbo plot to the massacre of Igbos in the north, the war altered the sense of nationhood along with any trust that existed amongst the various groups.

Sadly, at every point in our history when we have had to deal with the challenge of unity, we have equally had leaders who act boisterously, having the self-assurance of a god-with the possible exception of Yar’Adua’s handling of the Niger Delta crisis. These leaders, in their bellicose nature read out riot acts to group agitating for one thing or another without seeking to address the underlining issue behind such agitation.

Our leaders always talk tough, always using excessive force, leaving the agitators with the sense that their cause is righteous and will become just.  They always act, as though, as Bakare aptly puts it “a destructive means will bring about a constructive end”. This is sadly, the method being deployed by the Buhari administration as he confronts the issue of Biafra with the arrest of Nnamdi Kanu.

This was in further buttressed on the 12th of November, when the Chief of Air Staff, Sadiq Abubakar was reported as saying “For the avoidance of doubt, the military’s Rule of Engagement sets out the circumstances and limitations under which the military can enforce laws under situations of unrest, agitations and civil disobedience”.

Whatever happened to a firm diplomatic and pragmatic approach to addressing the root cause of this problem? Before I continue, let us not forget that the so-called leader of the Biafran agitation, Kanu, is an egomaniac with minimal sense of the consequences of his action. Although he has a right to expression, and association, he goes about canvassing for a sovereign state, demanding for weapons as though wars are a monopoly game started or ended by the throw of a dice.

Kanu lacks an understanding of the ramifications of his ill-advised dream of a divided nation. As we handle the issue he has so canvassed, we must now be willing to acknowledge that he has acquired a following and found the right reason and sentiment to drive their grievance.

Nigeria is a delicate country with many complexities. Every issue is turned into a debate on ethnicity and marginalization- rightly or wrongly. For Kanu and his like, their issue gained famed with the narrative that has bedeviled the Buhari government since inception as being against the people of the S/East. For the sake of hindsight, this same challenge was Goodluck’s when Northerners constantly accused him of harboring anti-northern feeling. It was even the basis of the 2011 elections, when supposed national leaders like Ibrahim Babangida, Atiku Abubakar, Aliyu Gusau, and current Senate President, Bukola Saraki subscribed to and championed the idea of a northern consensus candidate.

At the time, well meaning Nigerians spoke up against this but were told that it was all politics. Well, as they say “fools only learn from hindsight what wise men know from foresight”. Now we are seeing the mirror effect just a few years later.

Everything Buhari does is seen through many prisms. And to be fair to those that have condemned the President’s lack of tact in this manner, he has been quite sloppy in handling the sensitive issue of balancing. His appointments have been almost insulting to the spirit of inclusiveness and national balance. The call for merit should not become an abuse of representation. There are qualified people from every corner of this country to fill whatever vacancy. Why stir unnecessary non-issue at this time.

I have always wondered the rationale behind such concepts as state of origin, federal characters and others that weaken and mock gains made in unifying our country. Since independence, identity rather than ideas has been the most effective electioneering tool used in this country. It has also become a form of affirmative action, where privileges are preserved or handed to individuals.

To these people who feel the nation is imbalance, especially under Buhari’s government, force will escalate and deepen the problem while legitimizing characters like Kanu. The government needs to find a way to deny him of an excuse to spread his message rather than provide a path to martyrdom for him through arrest and detention. To him and his unsuspecting followers, they are fighting for the truth, believing same to be just.

Thus, the Buhari administration must find ways to steal their shine and make a peaceful but yet forceful push to remind them of the essence and benefit of unity. They must be told in very clear terms that this nation is not of division but dialogue. Buhari needs to show the people that he cares and believes in equal opportunity for every Nigerian citizen no matter where you are from or the percentage of votes recorded for a particular party.

This was the same error made by the Goodluck administration in the beginning stages of Boko Haram- seeing it as a northern problem and something that could be handled with force or by the passage of time. I am sure at this time we can disabuse our mind of such ideas.  The people of the S/East need the President to lead them, not level them; they need him to care, not curse; they need him to speak with them, not shout them down.

They will not care what he believes, until they believe he cares. If this is not done, our tomorrow will look like our yesterday.

As a nation, we must be reminded of the horrors of the pasts, especially through the words of Winstons Churchill “You don’t win wars, you survive wars; It is not about who is right, but who is left”.