By Isaac Asabor
One Monday afternoon in the office, I reconnected with a longtime friend after many years that we met last, and took him to a nearby relaxation spot that is adjacent to my office. As we discussed and entertained ourselves, some guys sitting close to our table were brazenly throwing brickbats at themselves as they pitched on two opposing tents that are in support and in condemnation of the increasing agitations for secession in the country, with particular reference to the activities of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) on the one hand, and Chief Sunday Adeyemo, popularly called Sunday Igboho, leader of the Yoruba Nation freedom fighting group, prior to their respective incarceration, on the other hand.
Against the foregoing backdrop, one of the disputants in his contribution on the wave of agitations for secession fingered bad leadership to be responsible for the somewhat retrogressive development, and stood his ground that huge spectrum of the population of political leaders, and some appointed leaders across the three-tiers of government are to be blamed for the rising tide of agitations for secession in the country. Unarguably to buttress his view, he said from one political dispensation to another that most political leaders have been displaying sheer ineptitude and obnoxious height of ignorance in governance. He added that they have no doubt shown that as leaders; whether affiliated to the All Progressives Congress (APC) or Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or even any other political party that they lacked the ability to lead, inspire and guide to change the wellbeing of Nigerians or the state of the economy for better.
At this juncture, permit me to paraphrase his view thus; “Some days you wake up and right when you are going to begin your work, you feel a presence within you that questions your nationality. You sit down, but you sit down quietly this time. Suddenly, that feeling where you once were so passionate and energized to be patriotic isn’t there anymore. You try to hype yourself up but it’s not working, and everything you see around you or hear about your ethnic group, particularly the way your people are excluded from the scheme of governance collectively make you not to see yourself as a Nigerian. You face the truth. You don’t want to identify yourself as a Nigerian, and you don’t feel patriotic or nationalistic to identify yourself with a country that has from decades been treating you like a slave. Given the sad experience, to do anything that would make one to be seen as a Nigerian always rob one of his fervor. Without the sense of inclusivity that ought to have come from the government, you feel a little hopeless, lost, and stuck.
He went on by saying, “Sometimes we get stuck in the cocoon of loss of sense of identity. If you’re not a considered to be relevant in a country that you originally belongs to, then it’s impossible to wake up every day feeling patriotic or nationalistic. You might compare it to the ocean. Sometimes you’ll wake up feeling like a tsunami, other time you’ll feel like just barely drifting to shore.
Given the fact that my visitor and I were so proximate to the discussants, and that I was at a vantage position to record their discussions if I wanted to, I was not in the least ignorant of the ethical implication of doing that, particularly as it is not legal to use a covert listening device to record a conversation one is not a party to.
Against the foregoing backdrop, it will not be wrong in this context to opine that President Muhammadu Buhari’s confrontational attitude to the agitation has completely ignored the root cause of agitations for secession. Thus, as it seems, rather than douse the tension, the president’s response is unarguably inflaming passions and boosting separatist sentiments. It is therefore not out of place to urge the government to change its course and leverage dialogue over strong-arming. This is because the starting point of any response is to understand the agitation’s roots. They include political and economic grievances, a deep sense of collective victimization, particularly among the Igbo, and the failure of south east politicians to provide good governance and development.
It would be recalled that an illustrious son of Igbo extract, Chinua Achebe of blessed memory, in his lifetime posited that “Nigerians of all other ethnic groups will probably achieve consensus on no other matter than their common resentment of the Igbo”.
There is no denying the fact that such emotional states have over the years; due to wanton exclusivity of the race in governance been made deeper by each passing political dispensation particularly when nostalgically grasped from the fact that over 30,000 Igbo in the north were killed and two million fled back to the south in 1966 in the “Igbo pogrom” that followed the January coup and July counter-coup.
During the Biafra War, all other groups rallied round the federal government. The conflict killed about two million people, mostly Igbo, and more died during post-war riots and conflicts in the north.
Fast forward to the ongoing political dispensation, stark realities speak to the facts that the people from the eastern part of the country have been victims of their collective entrepreneurial ingenuity and “I-can-do spirit”. Be that as it may, to most “Igbophobics” across the length and breadth of the country in connivance with their allies at the corridors of power, such elucidations offer no succor.
As earlier pointed to in this piece, South-eastern governance failures also fuel agitations while local political leaders have largely failed to harness the region’s resources, create sustainable employment and engage the ever-energetic youths in that part of the country.
At this juncture, it is not out of place to contextually say that the plight of the Igbo people never defied the thought-provoking profundity of the late Chinua Achebe who at a forum spoke thus: “The Igbo people of Southern Nigeria are more than ten million strong and must be accounted as one of the major peoples of Africa. Conventional practice would call them a tribe, but I no longer follow that convention. I call them a nation.
“Here we go again!” you might be thinking. Well, let me explain. My Pocket Oxford Dictionary defines tribe as follows: “group of (esp. primitive) families or communities linked by social, religious or blood ties and usually having a common culture and dialect and a recognized leader.” If we apply the different criteria of this definition to Igbo people we will come up with the following results:
(a) Igbo people are not primitive; if we were I would not be offering this distinguished lecture, or would I?
(b). Igbo people are not linked by blood ties; although they may share many cultural traits;
(c). Igbo people do not speak one dialect; they speak one language which has scores of major and minor dialects;
(d) And as for having one recognized leader, Igbo people would regard the absence of such a recognized leader as the very defining principle of their social and political identity.”
Against the foregoing backdrop, it is expedient the government address the ongoing agitations in the South-east together with the South-west by looking at their root causes, that is, by dispassionately addressing them from the perspectives of their remote causes rather than being confrontational.