I think commendation is in order. I strongly believe that the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo deserves kudos from those of us who prefer peace to violence and who prefer jaw-jaw to war-war.
In the last one week, he has been holding talks with leaders of thoughts from various geo-political zones, notably the North and the South East, to douse the fire started by the Nnamdi Kanu led agitation for Biafra and the retaliatory quit notice by a coalition of Northern youths for the Igbos resident in the North to quit latest by October 1. Obviously the stage was being set for a balance of terror, a balance of blackmail and propaganda, a throw-back to 1966/67 era which served as a prelude to the unfortunate civil war. Armed with both the stick and the carrot, Osinbajo has so far issued stern warning to those who are working for the breakup of the country and those who are stoking the fire of disunity with hate speeches and various other methods of provocation. He is not done yet with the consultations.
It is, therefore, too early to assess the efficacy of his brinkmanship, except to say that by his prompt reaction and intervention, he has helped, in no small way, to check the dangerous slide to anarchy. But when all the talks are over, the nation has to settle down to a cold and dispassionate analysis of the situation that throws up this occasional agitation for Biafra and other such tendencies all over the country.
And that analysis should be driven by government. If, for instance, the nation accepts the notion that Biafra is merely a metaphor for what is wrong that needs to be set right for peace to reign, then it must be taken that Biafra represents all the fissiparous tendencies across the nation from north to south covering all the fault lines of ethnicity and religion, and even culture. Genuine efforts must therefore be made to address people’s true grievances. But if it is an agitation driven merely by selfish political motive to draw government attention and patronage, then it will be nice and fair to examine the efficacy of such mechanism.
Advocates of restructuring have consistently drawn our attention to the report of the Goodluck Jonathan’s national conference as the natural beginning of government’s efforts to find a lasting solution to the issue of marginalisation and the perennial agitation for staying together or staying slightly apart.
It will be nice to have a conversation along this line and other lines. We can talk about sincerity of leadership. We can even talk about missed opportunities. But in doing so, we cannot run away from the issues of the moment, the Igbo problem and the Kanu agitation for Biafra.
There is a general feeling that the Igbos, who bore the major brunt of the civil war, have not been fully integrated into the Nigerian system with appointments and infrastructural developments. Unfortunately others can also argue that the Igbo have not been fair to other Nigerians who freely extended to them their hands of fellowship and brotherhood immediately they trooped out of the former Biafran enclave. Except in Rivers State where abandoned property became a thorny issue, it did not take them time to resettle in other parts of the country, including the North from where they fled in droves before the war. And there they reclaimed their property and built new ones. Today they can boast of investments running into trillions of naira. It is safe to say that they hold the commanding height of commercial activities in the North. That, to me, is some reintegration.
And in the south. Well, they have no problem in the south, apparently. They enjoy a robust liberal attitude from the host communities to the extent that they now seek to install their Ezes and Obis in many of the states in the South West. And a handful of them were elected into the states and National Assembly representing the good people of the South West. But would it be too much to ask if there is a reciprocal gesture, of similar nature, towards non-indigenes in any of the South Eastern states? To ask that kind of question perhaps is to show animosity. And that is not our intention here.
Still on integration. Let’s discount the military administration where Ebitu Ukiwe served in the capacity which was equivalent to the vice-president of the country when General Ibrahim Babangida was president. Instead, let us concentrate on the democratic dispensation in which we, the people, were free to elect our leaders. The Second Republic, after 13 years of military rule, was inaugurated in October 1979 with President Shehu Shagari calling the shots. His deputy was Alex Ekwueme, as vice-president. The number three position was Senate President. It was given to Joseph Wayas from Cross Rivers State, a former component of Eastern Nigeria while Edwin Umezeoke, from South East, was Speaker of the House of Representatives. Some integration.
From 1999 to date, Nigeria has had unbroken democratic government. For 16 years, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was in power. All the states in the South East belonged to the ruling party. In quick succession, the South East produced the Senate president. Under President Olusegun Obasanjo, the major economy related ministries and departments were given to the Igbos. And that included the Central Bank of Nigeria. All the appointments were on merit. But they could have gone elsewhere.
The best was yet to come. The era, 2010 to 2015, was the glorious years for the marginalised victims of the civil war. That was when an Azikwe in the person of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan – a product of President Obasanjo’s pragmatic political engineering plus Goodluck’s personal good luck – became the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. His kitchen cabinet was composed mostly of eminent Igbo personalities. Top of the pack was secretary of the government of the federation, the hub and the fulcrum of the Jonathan administration. And don’t forget to add two inspector-generals of police and a chief of army staff in the kitty.
If it suited them, they could do and undo. If they had wished, they could have turned the former Eastern Region from Ogoja to Bonny into a heaven on earth. But did they? Certainly not and their people did not complain. They did not cry marginalisation and other parts of the country did not shout they had been short-changed.
And as General Aguiyi Ironsi, the first military ruler of Nigeria, did when he came to power in 1966, Jonathan, if he had wished, would have restructured the country in his own image. Don’t forget that whatever is wrong with our structure today is traced directly to the political sagacity of Ironsi. Before him, Nigeria had four regions, the North, the East, the West and the Midwest. But before the creation of the Midwest in 1963, government in Nigeria, to quote Ruth First, “rested on a tripod of three regions, with the legs of uneven length and fashioning.” Meaning it was shaky. But the creation of Midwest, by the Tafawa Balewa government, stabilised the federal structure.
That was before the soldiers put spanner in the works. The aforementioned Ironsi, in order to promote greater integration and unity, decided, with a wave of his swagger stick, to do away with the existing federal structure, abolish the regions and create a group of provinces to be headed by military prefects. This gave birth to a unitary system of government with the army’s command and control system in place. And it sounded the death knell of federalism. Nigeria has lived with that bastardised legacy.
Today, Nigerians are craving for true federalism. And President Jonathan, in the saddle for six years, was well placed to understand and appreciate the dynamics and even the nuances of the desire for a true federal structure. But he demurred and even procrastinated. Even when concerned Igbo leaders like Yunusa Ndu, leader of the Peoples Movement for a New Nigeria and two time presidential candidate, took up this matter with Jonathan’s people, he was given a cold shudder. The answer he got was whether or not Jonathan governed well or badly, he would get his second term.
He governed badly and he did not get his second term. Opponents of the revived Biafran agitation claim that Jonathan’s loss is at the root of the current Kanu drive for secession. I submit that if this country is to know peace and have a stable, sustainable and even development across board with equity, fairness and justice, the government must get to the root of the citizens’ insatiable appetite for grumbling and agitation and make the necessary sacrifice, no matter how painful.
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