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Dr Paul Unongo is a man I sincerely respect. I knew him through my late friend, Brigadier Ignatius Obeya in the 1980s. I was Features Editor of the Nigerian Statesman Group of Newspapers at the time. So, when a few weeks ago, he was nominated as the new Chairman of the Northern Nigeria Elders Forum, I was strongly convinced that nature had presented to Nigerian political leaders a knowledgeable man whose wealth of experience they could constructively tap into in their seemingly difficult task of piloting the country towards true democracy. Dr. Unongo remains a strong testimony that Nigerian leaders are committed or not committed to the task of making Nigerians happier people and their country a great nation among nations.

That is why, the recent statement attributed to Dr Unongo in the Nigerian media to wit, that the amiable Northern Nigerian leader “explained” that President Muhammadu Buhari’s marching order to security chiefs to crush the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, was perfect, is quite disturbing. If there is any iota of truth in the media reports, the statement just didn’t add up.

Why would Dr Unongo fear that if the Nnamdi Kanu-led IPOB was allowed to carry on with its activities, it would drag the nation back into another civil war? According to him, “we who are old have an obligation to tell the young people that we cannot go back to war. The issue of Biafra was sorted out in the battlefield and about 3million Nigerians died in the process. I understand when Buhari talked about it with a little bit of anger. I say it softly: I beg you my brother, Kanu. We do not want another Biafra. We settled the issue of staying together with 3million people. I am 100 per cent with Buhari on that.”

I have no intention of disputing Dr. Unongo. Every Nigerian knows that those who go to war carry weapons. The IPOB is not carrying weapons. Mr Kanu has said publicly that his protest is not going to be violent. Most Igbo elders who,

like Dr. Unongo, witnessed or participated in the Biafra Uprising are in line with that approach. So, the fear of being dragged into another war is absolutely unattainable as things stand at the moment.

It is important for Dr Unongo and other leaders in Nigeria not to underestimate the intelligence of the average Igbo in planning the Nigerian nation. The Igbo are committed to building up a virile Nigeria that would be the pride of every Nigerian citizen within the African continent and beyond. They know that between them and the other major ethnic groups that make up Nigeria, they are the ones who have mostly invested their money and manpower to develop villages, towns and cities in the country other than their own. The Igbo have investments in practically every nook and cranny of the country. And so, they would be the ones to lose out in event another war erupts. They know that much. They also know they would not like to lose out. I mean, who would?

The Igbo know that even the Biafra land they seem to be asking for will be too small to contain their vast businesses. They also know that while they reside in other states in which they were not born, they are inevitably going to help develop those states with their entrepreneurship acumen, their money and their time. They know all that, and they are not worried about it. Development is for the country.

The Igbo know that the agitation for the resuscitation of the Biafra nation is not a call to war. It is not a call for the breakup of Nigeria. It is a pressure point to get the government of the day to restructure the country. And the IPOB is putting up that pressure because if something is not done soon, the country could explode. So many people are not happy with the situation of things in Nigeria today, and Dr Unongo knows this is the truth.

The Igbo know that Nigerian politicians do not have the political will or desire to truly unite the country despite their proclamation that to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be accomplished. They do not have the willpower to keep Nigeria truly united because tribal leadership pays them. That is part of the problem. And the Igbo know it.

Among those who sympathise with Southern Nigerians, someone recently pointed out the lopsided appointments the APC government of President Buhari imposed on Nigerians. And that is part of the problem too, because the idea itself makes other ethnicities and religious groups feel marginalised and suspicious that they are gradually being sandwiched into a system they may not have bargained for.

The Buhari dispensation is accused of zoning the most sensitive public offices to the North. I am sure Dr Unongo will take notice of this and make his advice available to both the APC as the ruling party and to President Buhari as the leader of the ruling government.

For instance, President Buhari’s Aide de Camp is Lt. Col Abubakar Lawal from Kano State in the North West Zone and husband to the President’s foster daughter. His Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity is Garba Shehu, also from Kano State in the North-West Zone. His Chief of Protocol/Special Assistant (Presidential Matters) is Lawal Abdullahi Kazaure from Jigawa State in the North-West Zone. The Accountant General of the Federation is Ahmed Idris from Kano State in the North-West Zone. The National Security Adviser is Babagana Monguno from Borno State in the North-East Zone.. The Chief of Army Staff is Tukur Buratai from Borno State in the North-East Zone.

The Chief of Air Staff is Sadique Abubakar from Bauchi State in the North-East Zone. The Chief of Defence Intelligence is Monday Riku Morgan from Benue State in the North-Central Zone. The Director-General, State Security Services is Lawal Daura from Katsina State in the North-West Zone. Chairperson of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is Amina Zakari from Jigawa State in the North-West Zone. And the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, is Habibu Abdulahi from Kano State in the North-West Zone.

Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration, Safety and Security Agency, NIMASA is Baba Haruna Jauro from Yobe State in the North-East Zone. The Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, Nigerian Communications Commission is Umaru Dambatta from Kano State in the North-West Zone. The Director General, Budget Office of the Federation is Aliyu Gusau from Zamfara State in the North-West Zone. Secretary to Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal who has been suspended on allegations of mismanagement of funds is from Adamawa State in the North East Zone.

Chief of Staff to the President is Abba Kyari from Borno State in the North-East Zone. Comptroller-General, Nigerian Customs Service is Hameed Ibrahim Ali, from Bauchi State in North East Zone. The Comptroller-General, Nigerian Immigration Service is Kure Martin Abeshi from Nasarawa State in the North-Central Zone. Senior Special Assistant on National Assembly Matters (House of Representatives is Suleiman Kawu from Kano State in the North-West Zone. The Director of Department Of Petroleum Resources, DPR is Modecai Baba Ladan from Niger State in the North-Central Zone. The Managing Director, Asset Management Company of Nigeria, AMCON is Ahmed Lawan Kuru from

Kano State in North West Zone. The Commissioner for Insurance and Chief Executive of the National Insurance Commission, Mohammed Kari is from the North-West Zone.

Other Federal offices occupied by Northern Muslims include: Office of the President of the Federal Republic, Office of the Senate President, Office of the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, Office of the Chief of Staff, Office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Office of the President of the Federal Court of Appeal, Office of the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

Others are: Office of the President of the Federal High Court, Office of the Chief of Army Staff, Office of the Chief of Air Staff, Office of Comptroller of Customs Service, Office of the Comptroller of Fire Service. The richest man in Africa, Dangote, is from Northern Nigeria. About 85% of petroleum marketers in Nigeria are from the North. About 80% of oil blocks in Nigeria are owned by Northern Nigerians.

The Igbo are saying that if Nigerian politicians are so consummated with their cult of tribal leadership that they cannot develop Nigeria into a truly united, equitable, strong and respected nation, then they should as well endorse tribal leadership and negotiate a relationship from that angle.

The Igbo know that unless overwhelming options are dangled before the Federal government to restructure the country in its present context, the government will do nothing about the challenges that face it to restructure the country. With agitations coming from left and right, situations could snowball into undesirable levels. The agitation for Biafra presents the APC government with those options: restructure the country or break it up so that tribal leaders can negotiate from a reasonable angle for their people’s welfare.

And so, as I have said somewhere else, whether the Igbo are coming or going, their position in the entire Nigerian experiment is very easy to understand. It is not complicated in any shape or form. We are saying that Nigeria has a constitution. We are saying that the Nigerian constitution clearly stipulates who can and who cannot be called a Nigerian. We are saying that in its content, the Nigerian passport which is the document that authenticates a Nigerian’s nationality does not specify that a Nigerian must be Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba. That simply means that Nigerian nationalism does not recognise ethnicity. Nigerian nationalism supersedes ethnic cultism. That is the law both within and outside of Nigeria.

We are essentially saying that it is not acceptable for anyone from any part of the country to overtly or covertly doctor or manipulate the spirit of this most vital document. Any attempt to denigrate the spirit of the Nigerian passport is what the Igbo are vehemently against. It is like denigrating the national anthem. And for standing up for what the entire world knows is the true spirit of Nigerian nationalism, the Igbo must not become continuously vilified by Nigerian authorities who should know better. The overbearing attitude of government needs to be checked.

Most Nigerians see the urgent need to restructure Nigeria after the failed experiment at amalgamation during the first 100 years of its colonial creation. They testify to the fact that the last decades of those hundred years only succeeded in breeding armed insurgents of sorts across the country, agitating for a restructuring of the nation in its present state. Most Nigerians know that the Federal authorities will definitely not bulge about restructuring Nigeria unless serious pressure is put on the government by stakeholders. The break-up threat by several organisations like IPOB is one such major pressure point.

A more arm-twisting instance would be if by 2019 the federal government is still hesitant to call for a referendum and if the Easterners decide to boycott the 2019 Presidential elections in the East. If that happens, the Nigerian government will be seriously hit because no President can emerge without a 25% win across the states that make up the East, following the dictates of the Nigerian constitution. Otherwise anarchy will rule the country.

Any plan to boycott the 2019 Presidential elections in the East would be a major move that could force the government to hold a plebiscite so that Nigerians can decide for themselves whether or not they want to remain as one united country and if so, redefine the terms of their association. It will be a strong political weapon, a political move that is designed to bring the Federal Government to uphold the collective desire of the voting masses. And that is as it should be, in a democracy. There are no guns, no knives, no swords and no arrows – only the people’s franchise. How could such a move possibly lead to another civil war?

So, what we are saying is that carrying a Nigerian passport means that ethnic chauvinism must be expunged from the Nigerian national dictionary much in the same way as ethnicity is not recognised by the Nigerian passport. We are saying that any Nigerian child born in any part of Nigeria has legitimacy of citizenship of his or her place of birth. We are saying that any citizen of Nigeria can live, work and help develop any village, any town and any city in Nigeria where he feels comfortable to live in, without being constantly harassed and

reminded by those who ignorantly claim to own the land that he is a foreigner in his own country.

We are saying that stringent laws must be put in place and ardently enforced to ensure that Nigerians of whatever extract are made to feel at home in any village, town or city of Nigeria they choose to live in, or this vexatious question of United States of Nigeria can never be fully resolved. Nigerian politicians can kick-start the ball rolling by making laws that will make it compulsory for all Nigerian children to be taught the three main Nigerian languages, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba at primary school levels across the country. In a generation or two, we should be having results. The bridge would have been built across ethnic disparity as Nigerian children start appreciating the cultural values of each state of the Federation.

We are saying that most Nigerians believe that they will be happier living side by side as Nigerian citizens with various ethnic backgrounds, working together and enjoying one another’s company despite their ethnic differences and dreaming of their respect in Africa and the rest of the world just because they are Nigerians.

We have at-least seen through their desire to shame those super-powers that predicted the breakup of Nigeria after the first 100 years of its amalgamation. And they have their reason. They are saying that as the most populous, most endowed African nation and as a leader and the gateway to the African economy, Nigerians must decide. They should do so in a referendum.

Take a look at America. It has about 50 states, some of them bigger than Nigeria. Yet all the people from different countries, different backgrounds and a variety of culture live under one national umbrella called the United States of America. Every state is autonomous. They make their own laws. They police their own state. And if you don’t like their laws, you don’t live in the state. You settle in a state you are happy to live in. They come, they throw back the culture they came with and imbibe the American way of life. It doesn’t matter whether they are Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Africans, South Americans and so on. They all strive to be American because it makes them proud to be identified as Americans.

In Nigeria, with only 36 states, our people are still paddling upstream to enjoy the dividends of a United States of Nigeria. The leaders don’t think Nigerians want to be proud to be identified as Nigerians, the same way as Americans are proud to be seen as Americans.

Anyone may think that the masses of Nigerians are fools. But Nigerians are no fools. They know that their so-called leaders have not been frank with them over the years. They know that their so-called leaders are not willing to integrate the various ethnic nationalities that make up the country because tribal leadership pays them better. Nigerians know that their so-called leaders are more concerned with their private pockets and the welfare of their private families than the welfare of the generality of people who defy rain and extreme sunshine and troop out en masse to vote them into public office.

But the Igbo have gone past that stage in their social development. No Igbo at this stage is thinking of calling anybody to order because they all know that there is a need to put pressure on the Federal Government to restructure the country now.

If Nigeria belongs to Nigerians, why must some leaders insist on balkanising the country or refuse the call for a plebiscite so that Nigerians can decide if they actually want to stay together in the first place, and if so, by what terms? Northern elders like Dr Paul Unongo should see the situation the way it is. And please speak up for the millions of voiceless Nigerians who may not be able to speak for themselves.

There are two options here.
Those who have continued to fight, even from outside Nigeria, for the actualization of the Biafra nation often bandy the idea that the Nigerian situation could be patterned like the Britain/Scotland relationship. They believe that a Biafra nation that will put all Igbo under one umbrella is possible within a wider Nigerian nation. Biafra could have its own flag, just as Scotland has. Biafra could have its own currency, just as Scotland has. Biafra could have its own parliament just as Scotland has. And Biafra would remain in a union with Nigeria just as Scotland and Britain are the dominant forces that make up Great Britain.

There is another school of thought that believes it is better to adopt the American style. In that circumstance, Nigerians are free to live in any state they feel like living in. And work in that state as Nigerians. And no one will have the right to claim ownership of the land or tell fellow Nigerians that they are foreigners in their own country.

So, the authorities can actually look at these options and move the country forward, and make the country great. There will be no need to fear about a plebiscite because, from what I can deduce from my interactions and interviews,

it is pretty obvious that more Nigerians want to stay together as one very strong, populous, and united country than those putting pressure on government.

That is why the government should summon the courage to call for a plebiscite so that Nigerians can decide how they will live together without fear of each other and with love for one another. It may be surprising to some people, but all indication is that if there is a referendum today, the overwhelming number of Nigerians would vote for staying together. In the first place, the people agitating for the dismembership of Nigeria are very few in number. They could be about five million in a country of 180 million. Let there be a referendum today, so that Nigerians can see where they should be coming from and where they will be going to. It will be the absolute testimony that no one is beating the drums of war, and the people who go to war go armed. Not Biafrans. And I am sure this was known by Northern Nigerian elders like Dr Paul Unongo when he said he stood 100% with President Buhari on his order for the service chiefs to crush IPOB.

· Chief Sir Emeka Asinugo is a London-based journalist and publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine (imostateblm.com)

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Articles by Emeka Asinugo