Has anyone noticed that rather than diminish, agitations for the restructuring Nigeria has grown in the aftermath of President Muhammadu Buhari’s crossing “our national red lines” speech penultimate Monday?
It started with a reaction from the Southern Leaders Forum, a congregation of groups from the three zones of Southern Nigeria.
The SLF, in insisting that Nigerians cannot be threatened out of their desire to renegotiate the country said: “We are of the view that leadership requires more than this at this crucial moment. We call on the President to realise that the country is in a very bad shape… This is the time to renegotiate Nigeria along federal lines negotiated by our founding fathers to stem the tide of separatist feelings and agitations.”
Ahead of this press conference, individual ethnic groups including Afenifere, representing the interest of the Yoruba; the Ijaw Youth Council; the Urhobo Progress Union and the Ohanaeze Ndigbo had condemned the President’s speech.
On its part, the Coalition of Northern Groups supported the President’s averment that Nigerians were free to live anywhere they desired. But they had a caveat that, “that does not extend to a people who by action and utterances say they are not Nigerians.” A suggestion the Ohanaeze Ndigbo would later describe as a blatant qualification of Buhari’s yellow card, one which went without reprimand.
On the larger part, northern groups including the Arewa Consultative Forum sided with the President. This seems a cogent testimony to the fact that ethnic warlords have refused to be beaten into the lines that Buhari hoped to draw by that early morning speech.
Incidentally, the Federal Government has unwittingly stoked the fire of these ethnic mumblings. Probably, to give bite to the President’s promise to deal with forces threatening the corporate survival of the country, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has approached the Federal High Court for the revocation of the bail granted the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, by Justice Binta Murtala Nyako of the same court, last April.
Two points need to be made here.
Although one can query the constitutionality of the bail conditions handed to the IPOB leader, there is no doubt that Kanu has flouted them. I cannot comprehend the legality of restricting the freedom of association and expression of a Nigerian, provided by the 1999 Constitution as amended. But even if these conditions were not totally legal, the man under trial accepted them and he should, if he really wants to remain a free man, live by them.
The second point is that the Federal Government, even though it is seeking to bring Kanu back into detention, has, this time, not resorted to self-help.
That the government has not decided to storm Kanu’s home with agents of the Department of State Services, and take him into custody is an indication that we are moving away from state terrorism that we were hitherto exposed to. Especially, as it concerns Kanu and a few others who have come into confrontation with the administration.
All said and done, the Buhari administration should at this point honestly ask itself what it stands to gain from having the IPOB leader arrested and clamped into jail. Would it prove the point that government is in control of the country or further the course of peace which the President, even without stating it explicitly, seems to desire?
In answering the question, the administration should re-assess the gains of having previously detained Kanu for about two years in spite of court orders for his bail. Did his incarceration suppress the idea of a new Biafra which he propagates or did it in any way discourage other parts of the country from speaking their minds about the structural imbalance in the country?
The truth is that the government and by extension, Nigeria lost more from Kanu’s detention than we gained. Before July 2015 for example, very little was known about Radio Biafra and its director. Although the frequency had been in the news on a few occasions, it did not appear that anyone paid much attention to it until the National Broadcasting Commission claimed to have successfully jammed its signals.
The Permanent Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Information at that time, Ms. Yemi-Esan, made the assertion just while leaving a meeting where she briefed President Buhari on the activities of her ministry.
Unfortunately, Radio Biafra continued with its programming hours after the claim by the Federal Government. And things never remained the same. The hitherto unknown radio gained global attention and more listenership in the eastern part of Nigeria where it daily spewed propaganda against the Buhari government. Announcing the attempt to stop Radio Biafra from broadcasting was the first misstep of the government in my opinion, as the failure of the attempt unwittingly validated the platform and Kanu.
Granted that Kanu, from reports, broadcast a lot of falsehood and bile about Nigeria, (which he allegedly referred to as a zoo) and its government, the Buhari administration made no attempt to attenuate the initial damage. And Kanu, a young man who might have desired nothing more than the attention that the Federal Government gave him by slamming him with charges bordering on terrorism and treason and holding him for months, while in detention, was having his time in the sun. Kanu and his mission have gained traction across the world, as governors, and political leaders visited him in prison. And by the time he would eventually be granted bail, he had become a tin god of some sorts. The administration simply provided free publicity services for him and the Biafra idea. His re-arrest will therefore make an icon out of him
But even more than that, rearresting Kanu is bound to heighten tension in the country. As soon as the AGF initiated legal proceedings to revoke Kanu’s bail, the President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo, took him to task on the legality of his action.
It got scary when he added the following primordial dimension: “A few hours ago under the watchful eyes of the Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum and in total defiance of the Head of State’s proclamation of the rights of a citizen of Nigeria to live anywhere in Nigeria and to do business anywhere in Nigeria, the Arewa youths, pretending to withdraw their quit notice, gave qualifications to the Head of State’s proclamation, issuing conditions for enjoyment of citizenship status.”
Predictably, the North responded before long. Chairman of the Northern Elders’ Forum, Mr. Paul Unongo, was quoted as criticising Nwodo and saying: “Leaders should be careful about what they support. This is the kind of thing that happened when our young men from the North, feeling cheated and angry with the old men from Kanu’s place for not cautioning Kanu, did what they did (ultimatum).”
If care is not taken, this emotive vituperation would escalate into physical confrontations and before we know it, there would be a conflagration that Nigeria does not need at this time.
So, why does a government desirous of an indivisible country want to, by its own action, propel distrust amongst its citizens? One understands the temptation to invoke the suppressive power of the state in stemming agitations but the administration should count the cost before embarking on such an expedition.
It is true that government should not be perceived as weak but there is no cost too high to pay to keep Nigeria one at the moment especially if it concerns giving every part of the country a sense of fairness and justice.