Time to Withdraw the Ultimatum

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Newsmakers

To engender lasting peace, northern elders and leaders of thought should reciprocate the decision of the South-east leaders to rein in Nnamidi Kanu and other secessionist agitators by prevailing on the coalition of Arewa youths to withdraw the ultimatum given to the Igbos to quit the north, writes Tobi Soniyi

One of the famous quotes of the late President Ronald Reagan of the United States: “Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means”, has implications for Nigeria of today. With drums of war and hate speeches beating left, right and centre, our ability to enable and sustain peace is very critical at the moment.

If one section offers the olive branch and the other does not reciprocate, our collective peace will remain under threat. In this wise, it behoves on elders in the north to call a meeting and take a decision to advise the coalition of Arewa youths to withdraw the three-month ultimatum given to the Igbos to leave the northern part of the country

At an expanded meeting of South-east leaders held in Enugu last Saturday night, Igbo leaders of thought rejected the calls for secession of the zone by pro-Biafran groups.

Rather they expressed support for a united Nigeria where peace, love, fairness, justice, equity and equality of opportunity are paramount regardless of creed, ethnicity, gender, or political affiliation. The leaders, in a communique issued at the end of the meeting, also agreed with those calling for the country to be restructured on the basis of fairness and equity.

The meeting, held at the Nike Lake Resort Enugu, was attended by governors from the region, National Assembly members from the zone, Ohaneze Ndigbo and selected Igbo leaders of thought. It was convened by the Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi, and the leadership of Ohaneze.

Among other decisions, they called on the federal government to immediately enter into dialogue with Nigerians that would lead to the restructuring of the country as soon as possible.

The communiqué reads in part “Ndigbo are in support of a united Nigeria where peace, love, fairness, justice, equity and equality of opportunity are paramount regardless of creed, ethnicity, gender, or political affiliation.

“Igbo leaders lend their full support to the restructuring of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the basis of fairness and equity.

“We therefore call on the Federal Government and all Nigerian leaders to commence a process of dialogue among Nigerians on the modalities of achieving this pressing question within a reasonable frame time.”

They also called for the implementation of the 2014 National Conference recommendations.

They said: “Ndigbo support the report of the National Conference of 2014 and urge the Federal Government to set up structures that will enable the implementation of same within a reasonable time.

While condemning hate speeches from any part of the country, the Igbo leaders said henceforth only the governors, the South-east National Assembly caucus and the Ohaneze could speak for the zone on any political matters.

They said: “The South-east governors, members of the National Assembly from the South-east and leadership of Ohaneze Ndigbo should henceforth constitute the official organs that will speak on behalf of Ndigbo on political matters.”

The decision to restrict the authority to speak for the Igbos to the elders was to seize the initiative from the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu who presently enjoys a huge number of followers in the South-east.

A recent sit-at-home called by IPOB was largely effective across the south-east. Kanu had also asked Igbos to boycott future elections until the federal government allows a referendum on Biafra. How this will play out in the forthcoming Anambra governorship election isn’t yet clear. Nevertheless, confusion seems to be in the air.

To further strengthen the South-east leaders’ position, it is very urgent that elders in the north also intervene by persuading the northern youths to withdraw the ultimatum. If both regional power blocks lose the initiatives to the youths, it may become too late to apply the brakes. Just like the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El Rufai told Igbo leaders in Kaduna after the northern youth had issued the ultimatum, it is the youth that have the energy to fight, aged people don’t have such powers and are likely to become the victims of any war.

Acting President, Prefoessor Yemi Osinbajo has a role to play here. In case the elders in the north do not recognise the urgency in putting pressures on the northern youth to back down, he should summon a joint meeting comprising elders from both sides of the divides.

In asking the Igbos to leave the north, the Arewa youths partly based their call on Kanu’s repeated statements and what they described as the non-condemnation of his hate speeches by Igbo political leaders.

In their statement after the late night Saturday meeting, however, the south-east le‎aders said they “condemn all the hate speeches and constructs emanating from any segment of Nigeria.”

Now that the South-east leaders had condemned Kanu’s hate speeches, there is no basis for the ultimatum to remain.

After issuing the ultimatum and following diplomatic shuttle by the Acting President and wide condemnation that trailed the ultimatum, the Arewa youth followed up with another letter to Osinbajo asking him to allow those agitating for secession to go for peace to reign in the country.

In an open letter, they said they appreciated Osinbajo’s efforts to “finding a lasting solution to the lingering Igbo-induced crisis that is undoubtedly overheating the polity”.

The group said the Igbos had manifested their “hatred for Nigeria’s unity” five years after the country gained independence.

The letter signed by Shettima Yerima, Joshua Viashman, Aminu Adam, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman and Nastura Ashir Sharif, leaders of the coalition, speaks for itself.

It reads: “Your Excellency, we want to reiterate our high respect for your office and acknowledge the efforts you are making to lower tensions. We assure you, as well-brought up northerners, we listen to the advice and cautions of our elders, and in particular, their concerns that we do not create the impression that any Igbo or any Nigerian will be harmed in the north.

“We assure you that we will defend the rights of every Nigerian to live in peace and have their rights protected.

“While we do not see this clamour for Biafra as an issue over which a single drop of blood should be shed, we at the same time, insist that the Igbo be allowed to have their Biafra and for them to vacate our land peacefully so that our dear country Nigeria could finally enjoy lasting peace and stability.

“We begin this letter by commending your efforts towards finding a lasting solution to the lingering Igbo-induced crisis that is undoubtedly overheating the polity.

“We sincerely believe Your Excellency’s good intentions as shown by your prompt and genuine actions towards ensuring peace and stability in holding talks with leaders of the north and the south-east.

“Though we do not doubt Your Excellency’s bona fide concerns for the peaceful resolution of the crises, we nevertheless have reservations as to the efficacy of this approach in ensuring lasting solutions.

“Our doubts are informed by the following historical antecedents that have characterised the behaviour and conduct of the Igbo in Nigeria and previous efforts at containing them.”

“The seed of hate planted in the name of Biafra is evidently so deep that the ongoing interaction between you and the leaders from the south-east cannot in our well-informed opinion douse or address the underlying deep-seated underlying problems,” the letter read.

“To make a bad situation even worse, their leaders have continued to show support for this treacherous cause and thus giving credence to our concern that what they say about us is what they truly mean and intend – ‘Kill everyone in the Zoo’ (north). Your Excellency, we cannot afford to discard this as mere mischief as the utterances that caused the terrible Rwandan genocide still resonates in our minds.

“Lastly sir, it is quite impossible to expect that other nationalities would simply stand by and watch while a certain ethnic group perpetrates all the above heinous misconduct that involve threats, call to violence and extermination, insults and songs of war without responding.”

Now that the South-east leaders had done the needful, dear compatriots in the north, kindly withdraw the ultimatum!

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To further strengthen the South-east leaders’ position, it is very urgent that elders in the north also intervene by persuading the northern youths to withdraw the ultimatum. If both regional power blocks lose the initiatives to the youths, it may become too late to apply the brakes