The speed and the force with which Nigerians of all creeds, faiths and status rose against the eviction order issued against the Igbos by some northern youths is indicative of a nation still bound in unity, despite her palpable fault lines. Olawale Olaleye writes
The order, last Tuesday, by some northern youth groups that the Igbos residing in the north should leave their region was lacking both in logic and good thinking. It was an outburst from nowhere. And coming at a time emotions are still very high, especially the agitation for the Republic of Biafra led by the exuberant Nnamdi Kanu, the order was worse than the agitation for secession itself.
Although some latest reports had it that the north had eventually apologised for this, the northern youth organisations had risen from a joint meeting called â€˜Kaduna Declarationâ€™ to issue the threat to the Igbos residing in their region and gave till October 1, this year to leave the region. Their declaration was premised on the shut-down of major towns in the south eastern part of the country on May 30, by members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and their sponsors.
The organisations, which had their leaders in attendance, included Arewa Citizens Action for Change, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Arewa Youth Development Foundation, Arewa Students Forum and Northern Emancipation Network on The Igbo Persistence for Secession among others, stated that, never again will they fold their hands but take their destiny into their hands.
Mallam Abdulazeez Suleiman, who read the statement on behalf of others, at the popular Arewa House, Kaduna, last Tuesday said, the region was tired of the marriage hence the need for restructuring.
Unfortunately, these northern groups got the biggest shock of their lives with the criticism that followed almost immediately, including other northern voices, all determined to protect the unity of the country.
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), for instance, said though it understood the frustrations of the northern youths with the activities of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB); it would still not encourage any act that was not in conformity with the law.
Coming quickly after, the federal government too assured Nigerians, especially Igbos, that there was no cause for alarm and warned rabble-rousers against making incendiary statements capable of undermining the countryâ€™s peace and security. Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who spoke after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said there was no cause for alarm over the threat issued by a group of Northern youths and assured the public that the security operatives were on top of the situation.
â€œWhat I want to assure you is that the security organisations are very much on top of this matter,â€ he said, warning in yet another statement against making incendiary comments capable of undermining the countryâ€™s peace and security. He said there was no reason for any Nigerian to feel unsafe anywhere in the country, noting that the government would not tolerate any threat to the unity, peace and security of the country under any guise.
Supporting this too, the governors of the 19 Northern states disowned the coalition that issued the ultimatum to the Igbos. Borno State governor and Chairman of the NNGF, Kashim Shettima, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues, said they were in touch with heads of their security agencies and had taken measures that would guarantee the rights of all Nigerians to live in any of the 19 states in the three geo-political zones within the North.
â€œOn behalf of the governors of the 19 Northern states, we totally condemn such irresponsible pronouncements by those groups; we condemn, we disown, and we are totally distancing ourselves from those faceless groups, who donâ€™t have the mandate of the people of Northern Nigeria to make such loud pronouncements.â€
However, Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State gave a resounding reaction by not only condemning it but ordering the immediate arrest of those behind such order.
In a statement by his Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity, Samuel Aruwan, El-Rufai assured residents of Kaduna of â€œtheir freedom to reside where they chooseâ€, adding that the â€œconstitutional right of every Nigerian to own property, move freely and live in peace and harmony is sacrosanctâ€.
In the same vein, Senator Shehu Sani representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District has also warned against using the force of the military to suppress the Biafran agitators. He however urged government to embrace dialogue instead.
But governors of the South-east state immediately held an emergency meeting over the quit notice to Igbos residing in the North. President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo made the disclosure in Enugu during a night of tributes in honour of the late Ohanaeze chieftain, Prof. Ben Obumselu.
He disclosed that the South-east governors had almost mobilised thousands of luxurious buses and trucks to evacuate Igbos from the North, but for the timely intervention of El-Rufai, who had ordered the arrest of the Arewa youths fanning the embers of war in Nigeria. He said the governors of the South-east zone appreciated el-Rufaiâ€™s efforts.
Similarly, the Deputy Publicity Secretary of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Mr. Chuks Ibegbu, had called on the â€ŽDepartment of State Services and the police, to take immediate steps to forestall any plan to launch attacks on the Igbos in the North.
Ibegbu said, â€œThe DSS, the police and other security agencies should take note of the statement by the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum and the other Northern groups for issuing this threat against the Igbo. It should not be seen as an empty threat; urgent action is needed to foil the plan to attack the Igbos in the North. It happened in the past and we donâ€™t want it to happen again.
Also, former president, Goodluck Jonathan, who took to his Facebook page to share a powerful message to Nigerians, reminded the Arewa youths that Nigerians have the right to reside in any part of the country.
â€œEvery Nigerian citizen has an inalienable right to reside in any part of Nigeria. As Nigerians, we should all tailor our thoughts, actions and utterances to promote this and other rights. We are all brothers and sisters born from the womb of mother Nigeria. There are no still births or unwanted births from our mother. We are all one and equal and it is the responsibility of all men of goodwill to appeal for calm and unity in our beloved country Nigerians,â€ he said.
The United Nations too has called on the different ethnic tribes and groups in Nigeria to be more tolerant of each other to ensure unity and peace in the country.
The UN Resident Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, said this in a statement Thursday. Kallon noted with concern, media reports of an ultimatum issued by northern youth groups calling for all Igbo people to leave Northern Nigeria by October 1.
â€œWe have to work together to resolve peacefully any concern that different groups in the country may have. I am heartened by reactions of leaders from all over the country condemning this ultimatum. UN calls for tolerance and a spirit of togetherness in transparency to address the concerns of all the citizens in a peaceful manner,â€ Kallon said.
One of the leaders of Afenifere, a Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, said the development was a bad signal for the country and called on northern leaders to urgently condemn the statement by the northern youths.
He also urged the Federal Government to make a statement on the issue â€œotherwise it has far-reaching implications to the unity of the nation. Otherwise nobody is afraid of separation. If the North wants to break, there is nothing wrong but the idea of giving ultimatum to a particular set of people to vacate their region is unacceptable.â€
Former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, said that there would be grave consequences if the Igbos were kicked out of the North. Stating this via his Twitter handle, he maintained that kicking the Igbos out of the North would not help matters in the country but complicate the fragile state of the nation.
â€œThreatening the Igbo and kicking them out of the north wonâ€™t help. This time round the Middle Belt and the whole south will stand with them. We want peace by restructuring and not violence. Unleashing genocide against the Igbo or anyone else in north will have grave consequences,â€ he added. Yinka Odumakin, Afenifereâ€™s spokesman, also chastised the north for thinking they could declare war against Igbos, saying it would not work. He however warned of an ethnic massacre if the northern youthâ€™s coalition carries out its threat. According to him, in 1967, the Igbos were not fighting anyone but simply protesting against their marginalisation.
â€œCarrying out their threats would be a prelude to another pogrom. These elements have over the years showed their propensity to attack people, but like Chinua Achebe said, they are holding a knife to the tiny rope that still holds the country together.
â€œI hope that if they still have elders, their elders should call them to order, otherwise, it may be the beginning of the end of Nigeria, as we know it. They should know that in 1967, they had a coalition to fight the Igbos but that coalition is no more there today. We know the people that fought the last war and won it.
â€œI can boldly speak for the Yoruba nation, that if the north thinks they can declare another war against the Igbos, it would not work. If they see any Yoruba man joining them to fight the Igbos, then that person must be a mercenary. The Igbos were not fighting, neither were they causing any crisis, but were just trying to make their grievances known in a peaceful manner. Why should they be threatened? For northerners to tell them to leave the north is sad for the polity.â€
Whilst the apology by the northern youths might have overtaken their initial threat, the interesting thing about this development is that the northern groups could not find support for their patently sectional and misguided agenda from anywhere. Indeed, more condemnations came from the north than any other part of the country.
The implication of this is that in spite of the multi-faceted challenges facing the country, amid the myriad of agitations and calls for restructuring, the people still believe in one indivisible Nigeria. This panic test occasioned by the insensate order has shown that there are still voices of reason in the land and it gladdens the heart to see Nigerians drop their ethnic toga to stand for a common cause.