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Dousing the fire on Nigerian mountain

Since a coalition of motley Northern Youth groups issued the Igbo of South-East Nigeria a quit notice to vacate the Northern part of the country, the ethnic animosities that have for some time now dominated the social media have spilled onto the front pages of the country’s mainstream media publications. The quit order, which was handed out at the Arewa House in Kaduna, brought into bold relief the nation’s gaping fault-lines that were never too far from the surface, but which our ruling elites across the ethnic groups always tried to keep from the public domain in a seeming “conspiracy of the oppressors”.    

To worsen matters, the Northern youth groups were apparently not speaking from a sudden flight of fancy. Their position had apparently been well thought out, sounded off, and sold to some of the leaders in the North, especially those of the Northern Elders Forum, who immediately came out to support the quit notice.

From the statement of the youths, it was apparent that they spoke from deeply-ingrained, long-held prejudices against the people of South-eastern Nigeria, if not the entire southern part of the country. Certainly, the sit-at-home order of Nnamdi Kanu’s Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which they claimed to have triggered their decision to send the Igbo out of the North and the Nigerian enterprise, cannot in any way justify their anger and expulsion order to the Igbo.

It must, however, be noted that the seeming animosity between some northern youths and some of their counterparts from the southern part of the country is mutual. One only needs to go to the social media to see the venomous exchanges between these youths to begin to fear for the future of the country and its prospects for remaining one undivided country for long. Some Yoruba leaders have also seized the occasion of this quit order to reiterate their call for a restructuring of the country. There are also renewed calls for the implementation of the 2014 National Conference Report recommendation relating to the restructuring of the country on a regional basis.

Mercifully, however, some leaders of the North have spoken out forcefully against the Northern youth groups, with Kaduna State governor, El Rufai, in particular, calling for the arrest of the youth leaders. Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, has also been involved in peace missions as he meets with leaders from the two feuding ethnic nationalities in the country. He also, earlier this week, said the youth leaders may be arrested over the quit the notice.

But, instead of piping down, the northern groups have taken their animosity a notch higher, asking the Acting President yesterday to order a referendum in Eastern Nigeria with a view to allowing the Igbo to have the Biafra that some of them desire.

The groups, including the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), on Monday, urged Osinbajo to allow the emergence of Biafra through a peaceful means, in line with the principle of self-determination which is a part of contemporary international law, to which Nigeria is a signatory.  They, however, promised that no Igbo would be harmed in the north, but they should be allowed to have their Biafra without a drop of blood. They also insisted on the October 1 deadline for the Igbo to leave the north.

Ohanaeze, the apex umbrella body of the Igbo, have however said the northern youths could not drive the Igbo out of Nigeria because what the Ohanaeze wants is restructuring, and not Biafra.

With the drums of war sounding in different parts of the country, there is no doubt that there is a fire burning on the Nigerian mountain of unity. Even though it is not a good thing for any country to find itself in this sorry situation, it may not be too bad to have some of the animosities raging in the bowels of many Nigerian youths out in the open, where they could possibly be addressed and redressed. It is not good for any country to be divided right down the middle as we have it in Nigeria today.

The Acting President’s peace efforts are commendable. He has been talking to both sides of the Igbo/Northern youth divide, with the hope that this matter would be resolved peacefully. He is also trying the carrots and stick approach, preaching peace and at the same threatening to arrest trouble makers.

It is quite worrisome that it is at this time that Nigeria needs all its good hands on deck in the effort to rebuild the country and get the economy out of recession that this needless altercation is distracting the attention of the people from the very important tasks at hand.

If Nigerians know what is good for the country at this time, it is to join hands to confront the challenges of a receding economy, declining national revenue, insecurity, dilapidated public infrastructure and collapse of social services that are buffeting the majority of the people.

This is not the time to add a war, or any similitude of it, to the problems that are ravaging the people because many ordinary Nigerians will not survive such a situation. It will not do anyone any good, and, ultimately, the people will still need to come to the negotiation table to pick up whatever is left of their regions after any armed conflict.

So, why not, as they say, jaw jaw, and not war war?      

It is so bad that the chord that holds the country is so fragile. There is hardly any fellow feeling across the ethnic divides and, sadly, the elders that should call the youths together and impress on them the dangers of warring and the gains of cooperating with people of other ethnic groups to build a strong country, are largely missing in action.

The scars of the civil war are just too fresh for Nigerians to contemplate another round of armed hostilities. Whatever ails any section of the country can be discussed with all sides demonstrating understanding and fellow feeling in the interest of peace and unity. War, it must be said, is an ill wind that will blow no one any good.

One thing the government can do to stem the fire of the ethnic agitations is to ensure that all parts of the country are carried along in its programmes at all times. More attention should be paid to evenness in appointments into public offices to correct the impression of a deliberate marginalization of any part of the country. Attention should also be paid to education, especially in the northern states, because it is at the root of the Boko Haram insurgency and the tendency of the disenfranchised youths to take to arms at the slightest opportunity.

  How do we stem the fire on the Nigerian mountain? It is a situation in which all hands are required on deck to preach peace and ensure proper attention to the youths to give all Nigerians a sense of belonging instead of the current seeming alienation that is at the bottom of the ethnic agitations. 

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Editor, Online: Ikenna Emewu
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