Government must send the right signals as Buhari tells agitators to forget Biafra
Two major events last Tuesday signpost the necessity for a new thinking and new approach on the side of both the Federal Government and Biafran agitators. On that day, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and its other splinter groups were on the verge of shutting down the entire south east of Nigeria. They were celebrating the 17th anniversary of the movement and long processions lined most of the cities of the east in peaceful protests.
Across the River Niger and indeed in far away Daura in Katsina State, President Muhammadu Buhari was in his country home for the Eid el Kabir holiday. As the report goes, about 100 members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) serving in Daura Local Government Area came visiting.
Apparently responding to the on-going peaceful protests and lock-down of an entire region of the country, the president in addressing the youths, singled out those of south east extraction from the visiting pack for a special homily. “Tell your colleagues who want Biafra to forget about it,” he told them.
“As a military commander, I walked from Degem, a border town between Cameroun and Nigeria.
“I walked on my foot for most of 30 months we fought the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, in which at least two million Nigerians were killed. We were made by our leaders to go and fight Biafra not because of oil or money… but because of one Nigeria. So if leadership at various levels failed, it was not the fault of the rest of Nigerians who have no quarrel with one another.
“So, please tell your colleagues that we must be together to build this country…
“Those who work hard will earn respectable living. I have seen this country, I fought for this country and I will continue to work for the unity of this country.”
The first point to note here is that it is somewhat tacky for the president to single out youths from a part of the country from a group that had come to felicitate with him. They are all Nigerian youths and as father of the nation, he could have charged them collectively to shun violence and divisiveness.
Second, it must be said that the president missed the opportunity to speak with some insight and knowledge about the crucial matter of the youths of Nigeria that have over the years been abandoned, broken and left to roam the land with little hope. It was an opportunity to highlight his grand vision for this important segment of the citizenry.
Besides, it is not the duty of his hapless guests to carry a message to their protesting mates; the president indeed needs no intermediary to pass a message to any individual or group in the country. A presidential communication will always resonate from any point and find its destination. It is the content that is always of crucial import.
A second issue emanating from the president’s Daura remarks is the need for a change of mindset about Biafra or any other ethnic nationalistic stirrings. Historical precedents abound to show that merely dismissing or quelling ethnic groups with force of arms never wins it.
The presidency must apply ample tact, be open-minded and take a holistic look at the root of the problem in order to determine the best solution. We are of the opinion that MASSOB as we knew it 17 years ago and even today, is a product of bad governance, underdevelopment and unemployment more than injustice and inequity. When governments at all levels fail in their basic social contract with the people, groups will rise to fill the vacuum.
Most of the misguided youths who marched on the streets of south east last week are being corralled into such acts because they are not gainfully engaged. Government could start with messages of reassurance and symbolic actions to prove that it is a different dispensation willing to right old wrongs.
For instance, government could make one or two notable appointments and set about one or two key projects in the region. Concerning the detained leader of the so-called Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), insisting on the matter going through the whole gamut of legal proceedings does government no good. Indeed, it only helps to lionise a hitherto insignificant group and win it more sympathy. Mediation and political solutions are allowed in national crises.
While we condemn treasonable acts and disturbance of public peace in the name of agitation no matter how peaceful, we urge government to be proactive and lead the dialogue instead of waiting to react. This is especially crucial because there is no evidence to show that majority of Igbo are for the creation of a new Biafra or break-up of Nigeria.
We urge government to take another look at its Biafra template.