It is time to bring back the country from the precipice, writes Chiedu Uche Okoye
The amalgamation of northern and southern protectorates by Lord Lugard in 1914 was a marriage of convenience, which has become very tempestuous. He did not consult the ethnic leaders in the country to get their consensus before embarking on the complex undertaking of cobbling the two protectorates together. Sadly, over the years, that marriage has proved to be a grave mistake as the country is continuously and eternally embroiled in political conflicts and religious crises.
However, on the African continent, most heterogeneous countries, which experienced colonialism by white people, do quake with bloody ethnic crises and violent religious uprisings. Sudan, which has the same colonial master as Nigeria, broke up into two countries, namely Sudan and South Sudan. Eritrea pulled out of Ethiopia after years of political trouble with Ethiopia. In Kenya, the Kikuyu and Luo ethnic groups are fiercely engaged in bitter rivalry and fight for political power and dominance. And the English-speaking people of Cameroun have been fighting tirelessly to achieve self-determination.
In Nigeria, the problem of ethnic rivalry and political and religious troubles came to a head when Nigeria descended into a civil war which raged between 1967 and 1970. However, before we got our political freedom in 1960, the seed of ethnic nationalism which sparks off ethnic rivalry in heterogeneous countries had been sown.
The promotion of ethnic nationalism and ethnocentrism by Nigeria’s ethnic champions cum politicians is a centrifugal force which has continued to undermine our national cohesion and unity. So, when the northern people threatened secession in their nine-point programme in 1953, it signposted that the country has been set on the trajectory of ethnic suspicion and rivalry.
In the first republic, after we became politically independent, the north with its demographic superiority, political sophistication, and aided by the British colonialists, produced the Prime Minister of Nigeria in Alhaji Tafawa Balewa. However, the first republic politicians couldn’t pilot the affairs of the country well. Consequently, corruption became pervasive, and the western region was embroiled in a bloody political crisis which emanated remotely from Awolowo-Akintola clash of personality.
In order to arrest Nigeria’s drift to anarchy, the soldiers executed the January 15, 1966 putsch, which was botched. The intention of the coupists was to release Chief Awolowo from prison and install him as the leader of the country. Unfortunately, their plan misfired and set in motion some unintended events, chief of which was the eruption of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war.
Because some non-Igbo people, who were chief political players were killed in the January 15, 1966 coup, and because the lives of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Michael Okpara, and the lives of some prominent Igbo politicians were spared, the January 15, 1966 coup was tagged an Igbo coup. More so, Aguiyi Ironsi’s ascension to power following the botched January 15, 1966, and his moves to make Nigeria a unitary state reinforced the belief among Nigerians from diverse ethnic groups that the Igbo people wanted to foist Igbo hegemony and suzerainty on the country. Consequently, there was the revenge and counter-coup of July 1966, which eventuated to the pogrom of Igbo people in the north and snowballed into the Nigeria- Biafra gratuitous civil war.
Today, the situation and happenings in Nigeria bring back sad memories of the events preceding the Nigeria- Biafra civil war. Now, the Boko Haram group, which is implacably opposed to girls’ acquisition of western education, abducts school girls. And members of the deadly Boko Haram insurgent group do strap bombs on their bodies and detonate them among people to kill them. It’s obvious to us that the Boko Haram group is intent on installing Islamic theocracy in Nigeria without considering the religious sensibilities of millions of other Nigerians, who are Christians, Buddhists, animists, free thinkers, and others.
In addition to the homicidal deeds being perpetrated by the Boko Haram group in the north-east of Nigeria, bandits are laying claim to the ownership of the north west of Nigeria, especially Zamfara State. In that area, the bandits kill people with reckless abandon, creating anarchic situation there and instilling fear into the people. As a result, the number of ungovernable places in the country is increasing at a great and alarming speed. Sadly, the federal government has not mustered and showed the political will to solve the security problem besetting Nigeria.
But it seems the gruesome killing being executed by the Fulani cattle herders is goading the country to the precipice. With A-K47 and other guns slung across their shoulders, they patiently lie in ambush in South-West forests waiting for the auspicious time to emerge from the forests and attack occupants of posh cars. The murder of Mrs Olakurin, daughter of Pa Fasoranti, the Afenifere leader drew the ire of Yoruba people and outraged Nigerians. She’s believed to be murdered by suspected Fulani cattle herders while travelling in her jeep on the expressway in the southwest of Nigeria. The Fulani cattle herders are gradually abandoning their traditional occupation of cattle rearing to embrace kidnapping.
In the South-East, they’re in the habit of killing people of their host communities even when they’re not provoked. I remember vividly their early morning massacre of scores of people of Nimbo town in Enugu State, which became the impulse that inspired me to write a poem on the Fulani cattle herders’ homicidal deeds. Till now, they still kill people in the South East as though they’ve been given licence to destroy farmlands and kill owners of those farms.
Rather than tackle the issue of insecurity of lives and property in Nigeria, and bring the murderous Fulani cattle herders to justice, the federal government planned to appropriate other people’s land for the implementation of Ruga for the benefit of the Fulani cattle herders at our expense. That selfish proposition portrayed President Buhari as a sectional leader, who is insensitive to our plight and unaware of our diverse cultural verities. The shelved Ruga policy is akin to showing a red rag to a bull. Expectedly, it elicited criticism and opposition from countless millions of Nigerians. Little wonder, it has been shelved.
Owing to his poor grasp of issues, President Buhari is carrying out deeds which have the potential of arousing and provoking ethnic suspicion among the peoples of Nigeria. Have we forgotten that it’s ethnic suspicion and rivalry which undermined our national unity and cohesion in the first republic, and led to the Nigeria-Biafra civil war? Today, ethnic suspicion and hatred is rearing its ugly head up again. The happenings today bring back echoes of the Nigeria-Biafra civil-war. Are our political leaders aware of this saying: A stitch in time saves nine? The time to bring Nigeria back from the precipice of instability and disintegration is now.
Okoye wrote from