Public Opinion and South East Festering Insecurity
In the words of Annie Dillard, contemporary American writer, Writing trade or better still the sensation of writing, is an unmerited grace. It is handed to you but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, you brain and then and only then –is it handed to you.
Without a doubt, the gift of writing has helped shape public opinion. And public opinion has assisted modern society/ nations developing- societies that uphold the notion that common understanding and purpose cannot arise without effective communication and constructive conflict, which in turn depend on inter personal skills, objectivity, active listening, giving the benefits of the doubts, and recognizing the interest and achievements of others. Writings have helped in advancing human civilization and promoted neighborliness.
On the other hands, rejection of opinions about nation building coming social analysts, public affairs commentators and critics have also ‘helped’ society descend into anarchy. Government decides otherwise.
To use the words of ALGORE, former Vice President of the United States, such rejection of public opinion by leaders is a sign of being unaware that the viability of democracy depends upon the openness, reliability, appropriateness, and two-way nature of the communication environment. But when the messages they receive from the government and media feed/grows cynicism, the decline of democracy can be accelerated.
Now, talking about the present political and socioeconomic challenge in Nigeria and more particularly, the security challenge in the South East, mountains of evidence points to the fact that flagrant disregard for public opinions, ignoring advice/admonitions from well-meaning Nigerians and groups, paying no attention to political and socioeconomic concerns expressed by the people as well as thoughtless undermining of institutions in the country set the stage for the current debacle,
To illustrate this fact, like many other well meaning Nigerians desirous of building a one united/ indivisible Nigeria, I recall posting a piece entitle Wobbly tripod and doctrine of ‘Trinity’ (see the Guardian of 28 June 2017), The piece among other things, expressed concern about the wave of secessionist sentiments sweeping across the country with restive youths in the north and south east as the main gladiators, demanding the marriage of 1914 be ended as the basis for its continued existence has severely been weakened.
Chiefly, While it noted that the very vociferous agitation for Biafra’s restoration by Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, led by youthful Nnamdi Kanu has been the loudest of the separatist movements and should be a reality to worry about, the piece substantially, significantly and specifically, pointed out to the governors of the south-east states, that they are not expected to support a group that is advocating the dissolution of Nigeria but however added that Biafra agitators are still their subjects and citizens of this great country. That alone qualifies them to be listened to. Even as it underlined the imperativeness of such actions, the author went ahead to urge South Eastern Governors to dialogue with IPOB.
For the avoidance of doubt, that suggestion was predicated on dousing the clamour for nation’s disintegration as there is no denying the fact that even with the defeat of the Igbo in the Nigeria/Biafra civil war, the majority of the people, especially those born after the war harbour immense sentiment for separate political and cultural identity for the Igbo nation in the mould of restoration of the short-lived Republic of Biafra.
Before arguing this position/claim with me, wait till you cast a glance at the sequence below.
At the return of democracy in 1999, Ralph Uwazurike , an Indian-trained Lawyer, from Imo State ignited a passion for Biafra among south east youths via his separatist platform ‘’ Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra’’ (MASSOB). MASSOB and its founder enjoyed tremendous following and respect among mostly youths of the region that it almost became an alternative government in the south east. The group’s sit-at- home orders were religiously obeyed just as the one declared by IPOB on May 30th was a monster success.
Uwazuruike’s support base has since drastically waned following dissent in MASSOB. But from the ashes of MASSOB’s bye-gone years of strident pro-Biafra agitation came Kanu and IPOB, a much more vitriolic but charming personality and organisation.
Kanu happened on the national and international limelight through a pirate radio Biafra which he used as a vehicle to promote the agitation to actualise the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) quest for independence. Two factors have so far worked for Kanu in his separatist agenda: His long incarceration by the Buhari government over Biafra and the recent quit notice given to the Igbo residing in the north by Arewa youths. Both factors, apparently unknown to President Buhari’s handlers, have helped and still helping IPOB and Kanu’s cause. One, his incarceration for almost two years helped to project him to his supporters, a mass of Igbo youths, and the international community as a prisoner of conscience and freedom fighter.
This has not only made Biafra more attractive to most south easterners and portrays Kanu as a messiah of the Igbo but has triggered off a chain of secessionist sentiments in the south west and south south.
Random sampling of opinion of pro-Biafra supporters indicates that they have rock-solid belief in their cause and are even prepared to give their lives to actualize it. They also believe that in no distant future, Biafra will be realized and point to the total compliance by the entire south-east and some parts of the south-south states like Delta and Rivers to IPOB’s sit-at-home order as evidence of the justness of the Biafra cause and unstoppable progress of their dream.
While those of us who believe in the unity of Nigeria may not agree with Kanu’s campaign or campaign of any group or ethnic nationality to dismember Nigeria, the truth must be told to the effect that the whole gamut of restiveness of youths, whether in the south-east, south-south, north or south-west, and resurgent demand for the dissolution of Nigeria stem from mindless exclusion, injustice and economic deprivation.
In fact, former President Olusegun Obasanjo in a speech delivered at the 2017 African Leadership Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 24-25, 2017, also shared a similar thought.
He said in parts; we can go on and on. I have seen that the dynamics of power and human beings insatiable urge to superintend others and disregard their feelings are at the heart of instability and conflicts in countries around Africa. Back home in Nigeria, beside the 30-month Civil War between 1967 and 1970, which I had the good fortune of ending and collecting the instrument of surrender from the rebels, as we called them, on behalf of the Nigerian Government, we have had several cases of internecine conflicts like in most African countries. They are caused by poor leadership, inequity, real and perceived injustice and conscienceless pursuit of power.
We, as leaders, can cast back our minds and replicate in our different socio-cultural and political or economic settings and see if power sharing and unfair-minded leadership with selfishness and lack of adequate consideration do not rank high in why Africans have turned to bearing arms against fellow compatriots in needless conflicts and wars when socio-economic development and inclusion should have been our priority. He concluded.
But sadly, while President Buhari continuously mouths his determination to preserve the union, the feudalistic and oligarch nature of his government and his handlers says something new and different.
To this end, I am happy that the Federal Government is beginning to align its thoughts with my earlier submissions on this nagging challenge in the south east. A recent statement revealed that the presidency is now willing to take a different approach to the issue of political agitation in the southeastern part of Nigeria.
According to Chris Ngige, President Muhammadu Buhari, has decided to use dialogue to persuade persons who feel left out in the scheme of things. The minister of labour and employment also revealed that the federal government will be addressing a lot of issues bordering on security in the zone. This came few days after the likes of Okozie Ikpeazu, the Executive Governor of Abia state called on the federal government to urgently open talks with IPOB.
Similarly, this piece believes that the likes of Kanu would instantly fizzle away and their cause dies naturally, if the FG dialogues with the people of the region. But agitations for the death of Nigeria cannot go way when nepotism and sectionalism continue to be evident in the manner of political patronage and distribution of our common patrimony as currently obtained.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;j[email protected]/08032725374.