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In the last couple of weeks, after a coalition of Arewa youths organisations made the controversial “Kaduna Declaration,” wherein they pronounced what could pass for death sentence on the Igbo, the fragility of the Nigerian entity has been brought to the fore. A country, which is trying to live out the true meaning of such national proclamation, as “one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity,” has suddenly seen that pretension and individuality are the core of its problems. The country is beginning to see that things have fallen apart, to the extent that the centre cannot hold (apologies Chinua Achebe).
Yes, the Arewa youths accused the Igbo of the worst sins in the world, from the mundane, like being “responsible for Nigeria’s cultural and moral degeneracy,” to the ridiculous, like supplying arms to Boko Haram as well as masquerading as herdsmen, and coming with the verdict that they no longer want to be in the same country with the South easterners, in a “hopeless union.” The Arewa youths expressed their true feelings about the Igbo, using such uncomplimentary words and phrases, like “the Igbo secessionist tendency, cruel Igbo, ungrateful, uncultured Igbo,” to describe a people, who also have divergent idiosyncrasies and individual differences. What a temper!
Ever since the Arewa youths’ declaration, especially with an order for the Igbo to leave the North and the notice to confiscate the assets of South easterners, other ethnic groups have also spoken, with some overtly indicating willingness to pull out of the country if a section of the country is being threatened. To be sure, the Afenifere, from the South West, did not only condemn the Arewa youths’ declaration but also warned against any move to kick the Igbo out of any part of Nigeria. A Middle Belt group had also stated that the zone was not part of the North, but a separate and distinct entity that may also want to quit Nigeria. And the South South groups had roared, with some stating their readiness to proclaim a republic. This, one dares say, shows that unity has taken a flight in the country, as everybody is angry. It also shows that never again would there be a gang-up against one section of the country by the rest or where other sections of the country would stand by while one section is destroyed.
Indeed, the Kaduna Declaration of the Arewa youths, is, to say the least, a declaration of war on the Igbo and the rest of the country. It is an orchestrated attempt to give the Igbo a bad name in order to hang them. I have never seen such hatred, vilification and complete write off of a component of Nigeria by people from another ethnic group. Indeed, the “Kaduna Declaration” of the Arewa youths is a reminder to the ugly incident of 1967, wherein some northern soldiers plotted a revenge coup, shouted “Araba,” precipated the mass killing of Igbo in the North, which caused insecurity. This sends danger signal across the country.
By the Arewa youths’ declaration, the Igbo are supposed to leave the North by October 1, 2017. Northerners living in the South East are supposed to also leave the geopolitical zone by then. The Igbo, who fail to leave the North would be mopped up and made to do so, according to the Arewa youths. And the Igbo would forfeit their assets in the North. The Arewa youths also want the Igbo to have Biafra, if they so desire.
Well, no matter what anybody says or feels, nobody has the right whatsoever to tell another person where to live, in the same country. The constitution guarantees freedom of association and movement and gives Nigerians the right to live in any part of the country. Therefore, Arewa youths’ quit order has no basis in the constitution, just like their threat to take over the assets of Igbo in the North. What the Arewa youths said about the Igbo people’s assets amounts to covetousness. They want to take what does not belong to them. They want to enjoy an unmerited inheritance.
However, I am convinced that the Arewa youths do not know the implication of what they said. Even if the North were to be a separate entity, it does not mean that only Hausa-Fulani or other people from that part of the country would be in the new republic. It also does not follow that investment therein would only be owned by people from the country. If this were so, Americans, Chinese, Ghanaians, Philippines, Canadians, Britons and other countries’ nationals will not be in Nigeria today. A country that is an exclusive preserve of only indigenes is not a nation and does not worth the paper its name is written. It will never and can never be. And no country would survive without foreign investment and foreigners. This is why Nigeria is daily inviting and wooing foreigners to invest in the country as well as granting foreigners residency permits.
Arewa youths should know that Igbo and other Nigerians’ assets in the North are good for the socio-economic development of the region, in particular, and Nigeria, as a whole. The Igbo man’s company and investment, for instance, create wealth for the government, in terms of tax and workers, in salaries, among others. Such companies create employment for indigenes and residents of the state. Today, Ogun State is rich in internally generated revenue (IGR), just as Lagos, not because its indigenes are the only people living there or own companies, but because the state understands economics, knowing that with investments the economy would boom. Therefore, the state created an environment for investment and welcomes people and companies to come in. The companies pay taxes to the state. The workers also pay PAYE (Pay As You Earn) tax to the state. With these, the state generates revenue, with which it finances its budget and programmes. When the Arewa youths chase out the Igbo and their investments, pray, how would the states generate revenue therefrom?
Having said that, the pertinent question is: Now that the Igbo have been asked to go, what should they do so? In the midst of uncertainty, it would not be advisable for them to ignore the warning. Retreating, first, or being vigilant is not a mark of cowardice, but caution. As an Igbo adage says, a war that has prior notice does not claim the cripple. Yes, Emirs, the police, northern state governments and the Federal Government have given assurances that Igbo would be protected wherever they live. Acting President Yemi Osinbajo had also met northern and Igbo leaders and condemned hate speeches as well as declared the Federal Government’s resolve to deal with troublemakers. These are good moves. However, this should go beyond assurances to action wherein all those involved in the protection of life and property, as individuals and institutions, truly do their jobs.
At present, there is a subsisting order for the Arewa youths that issued the threat to be arrested. Indeed, Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, ordered that they be picked by the police, as deterrent. The Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, agreed with El-Rufai. Such action would give security operatives the opportunity to interrogate the youths, know their motive and caution them. However, till date, no arrest has been effected. Instead, those who issued the threat have continued to justify it, while some elders from the North have supported them. And nothing tangible has been done beyond the warning that people should stop hate speeches. This kind of thing does not give those under threat assurances.
The government should really rise up to the occasion by putting all the machinery in motion to forestall execution of that threat. The government should also have the will to deal with those who are out to foment trouble. The Civil War came about mainly because the federal military government then could not protect the Igbo, when they became subjects of attacks after the July 1967 coup. Owing to government’s failure, Igbo were killed in the North and in transiting trains conveying them to the East, as they fled. This is a mistake the current government must avoid at all costs. Nigerians, irrespective of tribes and creeds, must be protected wherever they are and live and seen to have been so protected.
The meetings Osinbajo held with northern and Igbo leaders separately are in order. The expanded meeting expected next week is also a step in the right direction. Such meetings would douse tension and get the elders to not only caution themselves, but also talk to their youths to behave well. Such meetings are what Nigerians expected from the APC Federal Government, after the general elections of 2015, which caused so much acrimony. But instead of a reconciliation programme, the government did things that further polarised the country, like the “95/5 per cent vote cast” compensation declaration, lopsided federal appointments and marginalisation in location of projects. This is what has brought Nigeria to this sorry pass today.