Whether it is considered a genuine aspiration of a disenfranchised people or wished away as an agitation of some misguided youths or a rally of miscreants, the violent execution of the Sit-at-home order by members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) with its murderous grip on the socio-economic life of people in South eastern Nigeria must not be taken lightly. It should not be politicised as the nemesis of the Igbo people. What we have in the South East is the fallouts of misgovernance, injustice and the lack of political will from different levels.
The current security situation in the region did not start today. Since 2015, secessionist tendencies had created a mobilising force in the person of Nnamdi Kanu. Following his incarceration, Kanu had become a rallying point for all manner of expressions so much so that one Simon Ekpa, the vociferous teleguide, directing the nefarious activities from Finland, would declare a sit-at-home in the entire south eastern region and people would comply. Ekpa has declared another two weeks sit-at-home that will be executed with the same level of violence.
That this orchestration of violence should not be taken lightly is demonstrated by the rapid response of the Nigerian Army which swung into action sniffing out these dare-devil agitators visiting mayhem on hapless Nigerians in the South East. This is the way to go. However, despite this commendable response, the intended containment by the military should not be given any ethnic or religious colouration.
Before now, this quick response has not always been the case. Undoubtedly, the lack of political will had characterised the selective attention given to crises of this nature. While in certain instances there is prompt and even proactive response to crisis, as was the case when kidnapping was contained when the army-led security forces were determined to do their job. In some other cases, security forces tend to go to sleep when these trouble makers are on the prowl. Until recently the Federal Government had failed woefully in eliminating the notorious ‘Unknown Gunmen’ wreaking havoc in the South East just as it remained apparently insensitive to the genocidal attacks and indiscriminate bloodletting in the Middle Belt.
Yet, while we criticise the Federal Government for its tardy reactionary measures, the political class and business communities are equally not exculpated. Political leaders from this region, like their counterparts elsewhere, seem to be disconnected from the grassroots. There seems to be a political class consciousness that undermines public enlightenment and engagement with young people. This is counterproductive. Politicians and political office holders in the South East should recognise that there is the perception of a vacuum of leadership and obvious presence of misdirection in the socio-political space of that region. And the phenomenon of Nnamdi Kanu is taking advantage of that perception. The President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, suggested this much when he attributed the mayhem going on there to the continued detention of Nnamdi Kanu. “We don’t have security problems in the southeast,” he stated in an interview. “We have said ‘release Nnamdi’ because the young people are supporters of Nnamdi Kanu, which is an excuse that they give.”
Iwuanyanwu’s position seems to represent the sentiments of many political office holders: Release Nnamdi Kanu and the agitations and security threats will cease. Do these people sincerely believe that Kanu’s release will put an end to the violence? Do they realise that IPOB, just as the Biafra Zionist Movement (BZM), led by Mr. Benjamin Onwuka, and the United Eastern Congress (UEC) led by Chief Sam Ike, all of which work at cross purposes, arose as a splinter of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB)?
Besides, as culturally homogenous as the South East is, it is polarised along many factional interests, especially along the lines of partisan politics. With four political parties juggling for dominance and influence in the region, it is very unlikely whether constructive engagement and public interest initiatives leading to development would be realised holistically.
While Ndigbo may feel disenfranchised with the ruling elite, attributing the state of unrest in the South East to marginalisation is a very weak defence for poor political leadership strategy. Many regions are equally as marginalised. Thus, notwithstanding their political differences, South East leaders should have the development of their region as paramount in their mind, for in development it is easier to cooperate, but in politics it is very difficult.
Eminent personalities from the South East should deploy tactful but convincing means of securing Kanu’s release. Perhaps, it is a cue taken from others that prompted South East leaders to meet with President Bola Tinubu to discuss the possibility of Kanu’s release. But would his release solve the problems? Does the South eastern political leadership enjoy the respect of Kanu for him to do their bidding? Can they be trusted to make peace reign even after Kanu’s release?
This is also the time for celebrities and social media influencers of Igbo extraction to sensitise their followers on the irrationality of the situation in the south east. The same energy deployed in supporting their candidates during the last election should be re-channelled towards educating their followers. In doing so, social media users should temper their language towards national unity. Those in the streets, whose only political education comes from misguided verbiage of clannish role models, should be cautious not to become cannon fodders for mischief-making. Whilst it is part of democracy that people should air their views, however misplaced, they should not translate grievances into violence and bloodshed.
Whereas the proliferation of armed agitators seemed like spirited Igbo youths seeking avenues to vent, the deeper import of the Biafra agitation transcends its narrow-minded Igbo agenda. Upon critical scrutiny, the agitation is a lived enactment of the philosophy of justice that appears wherever and whenever oppression, impunity, injustice and structural violence rear their heads. What is going on is symbolic of the discontent experienced by many ethno-political interests for whom the Nigeria question remains unanswered. Nigeria tends to be living a lie. It wants to be a prosperous and politically stable country, yet it is holding down this potential for prosperity and stability by maintaining a supercilious unitary government, whilst paying lip service to federalism.
Government should find answers to the thorny issues that created agitations in the first place. Will this administration want to revisit the Report of the National Conference convened by President Goodluck Jonathan but discarded by former President Muhammadu Buhari?