The Sun News

Politics of appearance

When some Igbo groups led by South East governors met in Enugu the other day to affirm their belief in a united Nigeria, they were merely responding to the expediencies of the moment. Their youths led by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) have driven Nigeria to the precipice. Pro-Biafra groups have, lately, made it look like the entire Igbo nation has decided to go the Biafran way. Someone needed to issue a disclaimer. That was what those Igbo groups that met in Enugu did. But in order not to be seen to have met only for the purpose of disclaiming the Biafran youths, the Igbo leaders had to go a step further. They called for the restructuring of Nigeria on the basis of equality and fairness. They also demanded for the implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference.
The position of the Igbo groups on these issues were, in a sense, belated. I say so because those who had something to say about these burning national questions had long stood up to be counted. They had, long before now, taken a clear position on these issues. But what wafted out from Enugu was like an afterthought; something hurriedly put together for purposes of dousing the tension in the land.
Before the Igbo groups stepped out with their declaration, their counterparts from the North had done something similar. They had disowned the coalition of Arewa youths, who issued an October 1 deadline to the Igbo to leave northern Nigeria. The position of the Arewa youths was an extreme one. It spelt disintegration. It would, therefore, amount to open endorsement of rascality if some strong voices in the North did not call them to order, at least, for purposes of public consumption. That was what the Northern Governors Forum did.
However, when we go beyond the surface of those interventions from the East and the North, we cannot but locate the reason for the actions of the elders. They were done for purposes of political correctness. As public office holders and as elected representatives of the people, those leaders from the East and the North cannot be seen to be openly endorsing anything or any position that does not support the oneness of the country. Their positions are in line with what we have always been used to in this country. Everybody is a patriot before television cameras. Nigeria’s unity is always sacrosanct once we are faced with the public. That is the lie Nigerians have been telling to themselves. That lie has become part of our national culture. You have to tell it in order to fit into the mould of political correctness.
But it has become evident from what we have before us that the youths of today are differently persuaded. They are not interested in the lies. They are more disposed to bitter truths, as unpleasant as they may be. That was what the Arewa youths did in their Kaduna Declaration. They did not have to hide their antipathy for the Igbo. In the same vein, the Biafran boys are not interested in niceties and appearances. They do not want to sound patronising. They say it as they feel it.
Interestingly, however, it is the disposition of these youths that is defining the direction the country is going. And that explains why many think that government is living in denial by not engaging these angry young men. The Federal Government has been playing the game of chastity in this matter. It does not want to be polluted by the ideology of hate and divisiveness, which the youths across the country have in abundance. But for how long will this prudishness last? It is not even how long the Federal Government can sustain this disposition, it is the fact that it will lead to nowhere. Government, evidently, is not even interested in tinkering with the old order. Every succeeding government in this country has always maintained a safe distance from things that will bring about real change. That is why the government of the day is not responding appropriately to the cacophony of demands from across the country. Government is cleverly sidestepping the issues in the belief that they will soon fizzle out. The ploy is to continue to appeal to the people’s sense of unity while the 2019 elections draw nearer. The expectation is that once the political parties get busy with campaigns, Nigerians will forget the ongoing agitations. And whatever that is left of the issue will become the headache of the new administration. No government wants to be truly committed to the issues that trouble the land. They merely pass the baton.
But no matter how adept we may be in the chase game, the present challenge in the country is a test case. It will prove to us who, between the youths and the elders, are holding the long side of the stick. But I do know that the declarations of the elders, be it those emanating from the North or East of the country, are ineffectual. They do not carry the force of action. They are merely fanciful. That is why I feel that those Igbo in the North, who have been going to Governors El-Rufai and Ganduje of Kaduna and Kano states, respectively to seek protection are merely wasting their time. Northern governors or elders, even if they do not support the Kaduna Declaration, do not have the capacity to nip it in the bud, let alone dousing the conflagration that could, possibly, arise from the declaration. That is why I also feel that those Igbo are merely driven by a survivalist instinct. The option of returning to the East is, for them, such a bitter pill to swallow. They are, therefore, trying to convince themselves that they can weather the storm. One such way to arrive at their Damascus is to rush to northern authorities to declare their belief and support for a united Nigeria. But I am saying that these Igbo elements are wasting their time. They remain vulnerable regardless of the assurances from northern authorities. In the same vein, you could say that the declaration made in Enugu by some Igbo groups cannot go beyond that. It is merely a declaration. It cannot change the prevailing mood in the East. The youths remain the driving force of the region.
Given this set-up, our governments, especially at the centre, are better advised to stop passing the baton. They should confront the monster. It is understandable if the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, is not doing much to address the demands of Nigerians on the structure they want for the country. We must admit that the acting president is fighting on two fronts. He must be sensitive to the health of President Muhammadu Buhari. While seeking to address the challenges facing Nigeria, he must be conscious of the fact that he is holding forte for somebody.
While we wait for the situation at the Villa to stabilise, government must realise that it owes the people of this country a duty. Our government, no matter who is at the helm, must address the ongoing agitations. Nigeria does not have to break up, as the elders are advising. But it will be risky to continue to insist that the old order must remain.



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June 2018
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