A time was when the military used to regale us with a mantra. And that was- that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable. The fixation of the military for the country’s unity at that time was understandable. A war was fought to keep Nigeria together. It cost so much in human and material terms. But the consolation of the military which led and fought the war was that it succeeded in keeping Nigeria together. For the military therefore, winning the war over a united Nigeria was a trophy. It was determined to keep it at all cost. That was why under the military, it was considered subversive to make statements or suggestions that bordered on dismembering the country. The citizenry was constantly reminded that their country’s unity was not negotiable. The message was always delivered then with a tone of finality.
Nigeria has since been rescued from the reign and rule of the military. The atmosphere has been liberalised. The return of civil rule has brought back civil liberties. But some, especially those who played commanding roles during those years of military dictatorship, still suffer from a certain hangover. They still believe that the country’s unity is a settled issue. That was the tendency President Muhammadu Buhari betrayed last week when he addressed the nation. He said that Nigeria’s unity was settled and not negotiable. His tone was most declarative; almost combative. Even though the president has lost the verve and vitality with which he once breathed down on the Nigerian people, his declaration last week, as sickly as it sounded, conveyed the arrogance of power that the military once displayed in Nigeria . As a member of the military establishment that fought the war of unity, Buhari is used to such peremptory declarations about Nigeria. Any suggestion to the contrary bothers him and other military men of his generation so much. Former heads of state, Generals Yakubu Gowon and Olusegun Obasanjo, are in fact, as fanatical about this issue as Buhari. They still believe that the country’s unity is not negotiable even when it is being negotiated at every turn.
This old school mentality notwithstanding, the fact of our situation today is that the country’s unity is far from settled. It is being negotiated in frenetic and hushed tones. We recognize the fact that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) packaged Nigeria as an indivisible and indissoluble sovereign entity. We really should not blame those who drafted our constitution at the time. They merely responded to the mood of the time. They did not want to give the people the latitude to take steps that could undermine the oneness of the country. But the times have changed. The facts of our situation do not bear out the constitutional declaration anymore.
Those who do not know this are invited to note that the unity of the country is being negotiated at moment on two fronts. The first and most compelling is the wave of separatist agitations sweeping through the country. Of all the groups seeking a negotiation of the unity of the country, the Indigenous People of Biafra ( IPOB), remains the most insistent. It says it will stop at nothing until it realises its dream republic.
The second front is represented by the Coalition of Northern Youths who in June issued a quit notice to the Igbo to leave Northern Nigeria not later than 1st October.
The action of the northern youths derives from the activities of IPOB. The northern youth coalition said it was constrained to ask the Igbo to leave their region on account of the fact that IPOB is demanding for a separate country. As things stand, the two groups appear pitted against each other. But IPOB, it does appear, is not perturbed by the angry responses from the north. It is single-minded in its pursuit of its separatist agenda.
Indeed, IPOB said it was encouraged the more by the outburst of the northern youth coalition. What resonated very well with the Biafra group was the declaration from the Arewa group that they would begin a process of disengagement from the Nigeria in which they coexist with the Igbo. IPOB welcomed this with both hands. It said that it was happy that the Arewa group had finally come to terms with the fact that Nigeria’s unity is not a settled issue. But as it turned out, the sound and fury from the northern group petered out in no time. It did not take any step to disengage from Nigeria. Rather, it began to toy with the idea of a review of its position. This was where we were until Buhari returned to the country. He denounced IPOB’s agenda. He also reprimanded the Arewa groups over the quit notice. That was fair enough.
In response, and in line with hints that it had earlier dropped, the northern youths came up with a conditional suspension of the quit order. One of its demands was that the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, should be rearrested and detained. The position of the Arewa groups clearly marks the beginning of another round of trouble. To begin with, its deployment of the word ‘suspend’ is impudent. The group did not withdraw the quit order as was wrongly reported by a section of the media. The operative word in its announcement is ‘suspension’. This is one word that is often deployed in labour parlance. Labour unions hardly call off strike actions summarily. They just suspend them. The import of that is that the matter under dispute can be resurrected at any time without prior discussion or notice. This is also what the northern groups have done in this regard. What they have simply said is that they can bring up the issue of quit notice at any time if the conditions they have spelt out are not met. This is where the problem lies.
In an apparent bid to meet the first condition given by the northern youth coalition, the federal government has filed a motion in court seeking the rearrest and detention of Nnamdi Kanu. This goes to show that the government is ready to do anything to please the northern youths. In the present instance, the federal government is out to please the Arewa boys at the expense of the Biafran agitators. This is brazen partiality. No father can ever reconcile his warring children if he wears the garb of partiality.
The northern youths got it all wrong. I have severally held in this column that the Arewa youths will never have a good ground to withdraw the quit order since the reason behind it in the first place is the activities of IPOB. I have reasoned that the agitation for Biafra which is infuriating the northern youths can never go away. On what basis then will the angry northern youths withdraw the quit order? I do not see one. Now they have, according to them, ‘suspended’ the quit notice while making ridiculous demands. That takes us back to square one.
If the government is truly averse to anything that borders on the disintegration of the country, it should take on the issues without fear or favour. Government’s inaction over hate speech and the trending hate song against the Igbo is defeatist. Government should be interested in those who have been propagating hate as much as it is interested in those who are pushing for Biafra. If it takes on these issues as impartially as it can, then it will be playing an enduring role that can sustain the country’s unity. For now, Nigeria’s unity remains unsettled.