Preaching to the converted

Political activist and leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement, Nnamdi Kanu / AFP PHOTO / STEFAN HEUNIS

Since Alhaji Yerima Shettima, president of the Arewa Youth’s Consultative Forum, and his co-travellers asked all Igbos resident in Northern Nigeria to flee the North before October 1, this year, the dam has broken. Some Igbos, mainly youths, have been agitating for a country of their own to be called, named and addressed as the Republic of Biafra. The northern youths think if that is what they want they should go away from the north and search for it in the South East.

But the quit notice was not done in the manner of an estranged couple who have genuinely, mutually, agreed to go their separate ways because of irreconcilable differences. Wherever such an agreement is reached amicably by the feuding couple, the welfare of the children of the marriage is often taken care of by the parties and no one is denied access to the children. This divorce notice issued by the northern youths is very different. It is couched in a language that spells hate and venom. They described the Igbos as unruly, ungrateful, uncultured, acrimonious, stubborn and as people who have insatiable criminal tendencies. No single group on earth possesses all of such qualities as a group. This is stereotyping.

Since then there have been reactions from all sections of the country and the core message has been: not again. People, young and old, have been preaching the sermon of unity and togetherness and swearing that they would, if need be, go to war to preserve the fragile unity we now have. The Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has risen to the occasion rallying various columns of unity soldiers including ethnic and religious leaders, media chieftains and other groups of people he believes are relevant in dousing the tension and pulling out the logs from the fire that has been lit by the northern youths. However, as at the time of writing this piece, the principal characters in the conflict have not been brought into the dialogue. Shettima says: “It is amazing and funny and I don’t understand that. This is where we are always having problems. The government did not invite us or ask us to send representatives. I just hope somebody is not going to claim that he was there on our behalf.” The leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu was also not invited. Neither was the cheerleader of the Northern Youths, Professor Ango Abdullahi invited to any of the meetings.

The Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Senator Babafemi Ojodu, says Nnamdi Kanu was not invited to the meeting because the Presidency does not regard him as a leader of thought in the South East. He explained further: “The thing is we were looking for leaders of the people, leaders of thought and we do not see him as a leader of thought in the East. This sounds funny. Is the Federal Government looking for an academic classification of leaders or a solution to a real problem that is taking our sleep away? Or is the Federal Government of the view that it is possible to shave a man’s hair in his absence? It is not. No matter how you slice it, you cannot solve the problem without talking to the people who started it, Kanu and Shettima. The people who obey Kanu’s command do not obey the command of those who were invited to the meeting. When Kanu ordered his followers to stay at home on May 30, this year, a working day, to mark 50 years of Biafra they obeyed. When the Governors of the five South Eastern States asked them to ignore the order they rather ignored the governors. I am not interested in any academic hair splitting on who a leader is. Leadership is divisible. The five Governors of the South East are leaders and so is Kanu. Some followers obey the Governors and some others obey Kanu. Chief John Nwodo is the President of Ohanaze Ndigbo but he does not control what Kanu and his people do. To say that a man who grounded by mere words of mouth all activities in the five Igbo states is not a leader is nonsense. If he is a rebel leader he is still a leader because he has followers.

Arewa Youth Consultative Forum President, Shettima Yerima

Professor Osinbajo is a lawyer, and politician but he was also a preacher in the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) before his election as Nigeria’s Vice President. In his days as a presiding pastor he used to preach to a congregation that comprised the converted and unconverted, the saints and sinners. The sinners must have been the primary target of his sermons, the people who needed to be converted but of course he also preached to the converted, the saints who were not the primary target. The idea of preaching to the converted was to renew their faith, reinforce their belief and solidify their standing in the kingdom of christiandom. In the present conversation that Osinbajo is having with northern and south eastern leaders he has ignored the “unconverted,” the “sinners” Kanu and Shettima and is only preaching to the converted. The older generation of Nigerians, most of them, already have settled views about Nigeria; they, most of them, want it to stay united; they, most of them, do not want it fragmented but they want it to work well like a well-oiled Switch watch for the benefit of all. It is actually the youths, most of them, who have reservations about Nigeria and its unity and its ability to work for them. The violence we are witnessing today is their response to existential problems of huge unemployment, hunger, discrimination, federal character, corruption, infrastructural inadequacies and educational and health challenges, problems that a country with such vast manpower and material resources should have solved decades ago. The presidency has failed or refused to understand that there is a paradigm shift in the leadership matrix and in the methods of getting results by our angry youths.

The real reason for the non-invitation of Kanu and Shettima to the Acting President’s meetings is that the Presidency does not want to be seen as negotiating with “rebels.” President Olusegun Obasanjo made the same mistake. He said the Niger Delta militants were criminals. He refused to hold discussions with them until they grounded oil production. He then sent a jet to bring Asari Dokubo for discussion which led to the thawing of the Niger Delta imbroglio. But man is often slow in learning from history. That is why history is about repeating itself.

In any case, why is the Federal Government pussy-footing about Kanu when it has been negotiating with even Boko Haram terrorists? I have commended the Federal Government for the strategic decision to engage the terrorists and get our girls freed. The hope is that the negotiation will lead to the eventual return of the remaining girls. So what makes a dialogue session with Kanu and Shettima so objectionable? To ignore them is to bury our heads in the sand like the ostrich. The truth of the matter is that we need to know what is biting them. None of those that the Acting President is interfacing with can tell us.

In this matter time is of the essence. There is considerable panic in the land. If the matter is not resolved before October 1, there will be a disruption of the NYSC programme, the unity schools, polytechnics and universities; the Federal Government workers in all states of the federation, the private sector workers. It will not be simply a matter between the Igbos and the northerners. It will have a domino effect that will affect everybody.

Mr. Acting President please expand the circumference of the conversation to include Kanu and Shettima. They are the agents provocateur.



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