By Eze Onyekpere
The country is witnessing all types of avoidable agitations. Most of these agitations are not new. They have been with us for so long; although some have mutated to become dominant in the political and economic discourse. In the political sphere, we have the call for self-determination in the South-East, an offshoot of the Biafra struggle; the relatively muted silence of the Niger Delta; the resurgent Boko Haram terrorism and Fulani herdsmen and farmers wrangles. In hushed tones, many Nigerians are discussing the health status of the President and the likely scenario in the event of the unthinkable. All these are happening towards the June 12 anniversary. The struggle for the political space is intensifying with no clear resolution mechanisms in place.
The Indigenous People of Biafra successfully organised a sit-at-home campaign on the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the state of Biafra. The sit-at-home was a remembrance of the millions who died in the Biafra War and also a protest against the perceived unfair treatment of the people of the South-East extraction in the Nigerian federation since the end of the war. This is not the first time a sit-at-home campaign had been called by IPOB or the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra. But, none of the previous calls recorded this level of success. The truth is that there were many persons who would not have heeded the call but for the show of force and militarisation of the South-East by the security forces some days to the date.
Many recalled that previous encounters between the groups and security forces, even unarmed street demonstrations had been met with killings and unwarranted abuse of fundamental rights. The security forces will always deny their involvement, offer no apologies or remedies for those killed and the executive arm of government will put a spin on it. A number of reports from international organisations including Amnesty International have revealed the truth about the killings; that the security forces took away life extrajudicially and without the due process of law. Thus, in order not to be caught in a cross fire, the majority of the residents of the South-East stayed indoors to safeguard the most fundamental of the fundamental rights, which is God’s gift of life.
What followed has been a bedlam with the Northern Youth Coalition asking the Igbo to leave the North by October 1, 2017 and threatened a mop up exercise for those who failed to leave after that date. Indeed, the hate speech called for the secession of the North from Nigeria as well and re-echoed a quest for the “abandonment” of properties when the declaration materialises. This has attracted condemnations from several well-meaning Nigerians and organisations. The police and the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, have ordered the arrest of the leaders of the NYC but as of the time of writing this discourse, no one had been arrested. On the other hand, a group in the Niger Delta has called on northern interests to leave the Niger Delta region.
As if to say that these are not sufficient, Boko Haram carried out bombings in the last week killing many innocent civilians. It will be recalled that the Federal Government had stated that it had technically defeated Boko Haram. But the truth is that many internally displaced persons cannot go back to their homes due to insecurity in the region. Even for those that had gone back, many cannot go to their farms to start earning a living for their families. All these are happening against the background of rumours of the possibility of a coup which was brought to the open by no less a person than the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai. In Benue State, there has been a running exchange of words between the government and the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association after the Benue State House of Assembly passed a law prohibiting open grazing. The herdsmen-farmers crisis has re-echoed in so many states of the federation, from Taraba, to Edo, Delta, Enugu and Kaduna.
At the economic level, it has been long Nigeria witnessed the present kind of collapse in its gross domestic product and its growth, job losses, high inflation rate, high lending rates and an economy that is generally in recession. It is not just about economic recession alone, but the fact that no discernible pathway has been opened for sustainable growth beyond the hope that oil prices will continue to stabilise for the time being. Again, with the current political tensions across the country, the chances of full recovery appear slim. If farmers in the North-East cannot sow and reap because of Boko Haram and lives are lost to clashes between herders and farmers, agriculture cannot reach its determined peak. Sit-at-home orders will remove a whole workday from the computation of production and service delivery. Riots and disturbances will ground the economy. No sensible Nigerian wants oil production to be cut at this critical period of economic stagnation; neither will it make sense to use scarce resources to start rebuilding oil pipelines and facilities. Also, a coup will set back all the gains recorded since 1999 and once more, make Nigeria a pariah nation that will be expelled from major regional and international organisations until democracy is restored.
The above scenario will be the natural consequence of our allowing this national crisis to fester pretending that all is well with the system and the rules under which it is governed. The conclusion from the foregoing is that majority of Nigerians are not happy with how the Nigerian union is governed – the constitution, power sharing, resource sharing, laws and policies. The average Nigerian wants a better life in larger freedom- freedom from hunger and want; and to exercise the freedom to worship God in the way and manner pleasing to him. If the above assertion is true, the implication is that we need to talk and go back to the negotiation table to iron out our differences. The present structure of the executive, legislature and judiciary cannot resolve these challenges. They challenges are distinct and foundational and precedes the erection of the three arms of government. The three arms are merely transactional and are structured to give effect and meaning to such a foundational and structural expression of the will of the people. And the agreement arising out of the negotiation table is indeed the parent of the three arms of government.
It is evident that no one stands to benefit from this impasse. It will therefore be unfair for some Nigerians or any section of Nigerians to set themselves up in a hosanna choir and pretend to sing “it is well” when everyone knows that it is not well. It is either we dust up some of the agreements reached in the multiplicity of dialogues held since independence or constitute a new one if necessary. If it is not working presently, and has not worked for over 50 years, let us have the courage to mend the system. May God give us the courage to live in full recognition of facts that stare us in the face.