The month of May has been a tumultuous one for Nigeria and the remembrance of events that happened within it that shaped Nigerian history make the memory an unhappy one. The pogrom of May, 1966 visited on the Igbo in the North as a protest against General Ironsi’s Decree 34 that heralded the Unitary system was a harbinger of more serious troubles for Nigeria as the July 29, 1966 Revenge coup and further pogroms following the coup culminating in the August 1966 pogroms against the Igbo that listened to Nigeria leaders’ appeal for Igbo refugees from the North to return to their stations and this last pogrom sealed the fate of Nigeria as a country destined to fight a civil war to reverse its disintegration.
Bad governance occasioned by failed leadership has made it possible for Nigeria not to heal from its diseased soul and body to the point that it is back to square one of the circle of 1964 – 1967, hence there is agitations of various kinds – be it secessionist movements by ethnic groups to secede, Jihadist movements to turn Nigeria from secular to an Islamic caliphate and poverty and ignorance induced criminal agitations in the firm of armed robbery, kidnapping and banditry.
Secessionist movements are championed by several pro-Biafra organisations such as Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Biafra Independence Movement (BIM), and Indigenous Peoples of Biafra while the Yoruba nationhood creation movements are coordinated by Prof. Akintoye and Sunday Igboho while the Islamic Jihadist movements was originally an episodic events beginning from early 1980s when the Maitatsine and allied groups terrorized the North and later grew into an insurgent group under Boko Haram which has splintered into several groups and even morphed into international Islamic terrorism network. Disorganized splinter groups arising from breakup of Boko Haram has established effective cells across Nigeria in the form of bandits, Fulani herdsmen, kidnappers and unknown gunmen. All these violent groups have assailed and overwhelmed Nigeria to the point that some international organisations have rated Nigeria a failed state. This state of affairs has alarmed many Nigerians especially some prominent leaders who have been forced to voice out their opinions on the state of the nation.
It was in the light of the foregoing that may groups and individuals have called for very drastic measures to cure Nigeria of its myriad diseases. The most fundamental of these problems confronting Nigeria are the insurgencies and secessionist agitations which threaten the corporate existence of the country. Most opinion leaders and groups especially in the South and Middlebelt of Nigeria have canvassed the idea that what will rescue the country from its troubled condition is a fundamental restructuring of the constitutional framework imposed by the military but the government thinks otherwise declaring that there is nothing wrong with the system and if there is any, that institutions created under the attacked constitution retains the mandate to offer remedies sought by the agitators.
What got most perceptible Nigerians thinking about the problem of Nigeria was the order given by the Indigenous People of Biafra for the Igbo to observe the May 30 Biafra Independence Declaration Anniversary and the people against the wish of their current political leaders obeyed it to the last letter without any threat of violence. Against the backdrop of this patent evidence of political efficacy of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, some Northern groups counselled the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari not to stand in the way of the Igbo if truly it is ascertained that their wish is to secede from Nigeria.
The Northern Elders Forum was the first Northern group to react to the successful IPOB order and it declared “Northern Elders Forum has reviewed events and tendencies which suggest that the country is headed for more crises. Nigerians live in fear of violence today and in fear of an uncertain future.
This nation has had to fight a terrible war to preserve the country”. The forum then gave its advice which I consider statesmanlike and wise. It declared: “The Forum has arrived at the difficult conclusion that if support for secession among the Igbo is as widespread as it is being made to look, and Igbo leadership appears to be in support of it, then the country should be advised not to stand in its way. However, it will not be the best choice for the Igbo or Nigerians to leave a country we have all toiled to build and a country we all have a responsibility to fix, but it will not help a country already burdened with failures on its knees to fight another war to keep the Igbo in Nigeria.” Another Northern group, Coalition of Northern Groups rose from its meeting on the aftermath of IPOB shut down of the Southeast and asked Northern leaders to allow the Igbo to have Biafra.
The Coalition of Northern Groups’ position tastes like a soup cooked by a child as the Igbo say, when it declared that the group is “convinced that the current agitations and disturbances that have been on going since 2017 are aimed at rendering the court ungovernable and ushering in of anarchy thereby occasioning an inter-regional crisis possibly leading to civil war or general unrest that could portend towards the break up of the country.” Perhaps, the redemption of that youthful exuberance lies in the part of the communiqué where it noted that the generational gap between the Nigerian leadership and the youthful followership is working a dissonance.
In unambiguous terms, CNG told Nigerian government that “it is therefore unreasonable for older Nigerians who are mostly above 70 to insist that the unity of Nigeria is sacrosanct whereas the people executing the Southeast secession agenda are almost entirely below 50.”
The group maintains that the nation’s unity is negotiable and asks Northern leaders to accept the reality that allowing Biafra will tidy Nigeria over the prospect of another civil war. The foremost Nigerian patriot, General Olusegun Obasanjo added his voice to the cacophony of disintegration and secession when he concluded that the breakup of Nigeria will be idiotic and unreasonable and advised that keeping Nigeria will be better than dismembering it. However, he acknowledged the fact that Nigeria is in a sorry state now and maintains that the idea of unity should not entail slavery.
General Obasanjo declared, “I am a strong believer of one Nigeria, but not one Nigeria at any cost, but one Nigeria where every Nigerian can feel proud that he or she has a stake in this country. No Nigerian is born a slave in this country. No Nigeria is born to be oppressed…” General Obasanjo believes that if Nigerians are allowed to discuss their problems in a round-table conference things may change for the better.
He attributes Nigeria’s problems to leadership failure. From the above positions of the Northern groups and General Obasanjo I can say with certainty that the former blustering denunciations of those calling for change in Nigeria’s constitutional framework founded on justice, freedom and egalitarianism and not the usual take-it-or-leave-it unity that is unchangeable, non-negotiable, sacrosanct and indissoluble is waning. Nnamdi Azikiwe was the lone apostle of Nigerian unity and in a way he manufactured the phrase ‘one Nigeria’ and on several occasions, he was wont to browbeating Nigerians to sing one Nigeria until 1964 after experiencing the 1964 electoral crisis in the Western Region which was the launch pad to the larger troubles of 1966 when he advised Nigerian political leaders that it would be better “if they gather at a round-table conference to decide how our national assets should be divided before they seal their doom by satisfying their lust for office.” After dancing around in Biafra, he left Biafra in 1969 and surfaced in Lagos and later in London where he (Azikiwe) addressed a Press Conference tagged, ‘Impressions of my visit to Lagos” in which he declared like General Obasanjo that he was a “strong believer in one Nigeria, which is indivisible, indestructible and perpetual, provided adequate security is ensured to all its citizens and inhabitants in their persons and property.” Let us heed the advice of the statesmen like General Obasanjo to restructure Nigeria on the terms of the agreements of the ethnic nationalities to freely associate and live together as one nation where justice, freedom and egalitarianism will be the overriding values. Had I known is always a costly phrase.