In Nigeria, all ethnic groups are easily identified through their unique ideologies, culture and other social beliefs and ways of life. This uniqueness is seen from the way they dress, their choices of food, even from the way they speak the common Nigeria official language – English. When a Yoruba man speaks, he is easily identified by Nigerians from other ethnic groups through his accent. The same goes for an Hausa and Igbo man as we popularly call them.
According to Wikipedia, Arewa is the name associated with specific historical entity. This means that Hausas of Nigeria believe in a historical entity that has greatly shaped their lives, their thought and to some extent their ideologies. Oduduwa to the Yorubas of Nigeria is generally ascribed to the ancestral dynasties of Yoruba believed to have been the ancestor of their numerous crowned kings. What does an Igbo man of South Eastern Nigeria hold dear as that that should be greatly revered. Prior to this time, Igbos are regarded as less traditionally conscious people whose trading and business activities occupy much of their time and thought. But things have changed, possibly since the arrest of Mazi Nnamdi Kalu, a new advocate and separatist-agitator. As it stands today, especially among the youths, Late Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu and the Biafra consciousness he stirred are revered among Igbo Youths.
A man from Northern Nigeria easily accepts to be called and identified as Arewa. A man from the South Western Nigeria readily accepts to be called and addressed as descendant of Oduduwa. In the case of an Igbo man who sees himself more as Biafran, he is easily seen as a traitor, a deserter and a mischievous separatist agitator by other Nigerians from other regions.
The question then arises, why would an Igbo man be hunted for identifying himself as a Nigerian of Biafra blood? What is so bad if an Igbo man addresses himself as a Nigerian of Biafra identity just as an Hausa man readily identifies himself as Arewa and a Yoruba man as Oduduwa?
If Biafra is the identity of a man from South Eastern Nigeria, then so be it. But the reason is understandable. A civil war has been fought between Nigerian Army and the Biafra Army. A war that cost lives of thousand women and children from both the side of Nigeria and the Biafra agitators. Although the war ended with “No Victor, No Vanquished” verdict, there yet seems lacerated hearts unhealed and emotions swimming in pangs of lost ones and property. Since after that war, there was no clear attempt by government of that time till date to extinguish raging hatred, divisions and rancor which the war and the ruthless killings stirred. But no war has ever been fought where lives are not atrophied.
Since after the Nigeria Civil war, there have been wars of the mind, war of ideologies; wars of betrayals, wars bordering on intolerance and hatred, fanned by the mentality of ‘master-slave’ dogmas. This has been worsened by Nigerians penchant for promoting what divides it more than what unites it. There is more regional consciousness than national consciousness such that any president that emerges, his supporters mainly come from the region that produced him. Policies, deployment of resources do not always follow the principles of equity, but sentiments of tribal and religious affiliation.
Rather than deploying troops and stirring a new war song, President Muhammadu Buhari-led government could still subtly ‘kill’ the extreme Biafra Consciousness without Nigerian soldiers shooting a single bullet. He could diffuse the extreme separatist consciousness by subtly allowing a people the freedom to “merry” in their Biafranism as a way of life and as Nigerians. This way, Biafranism could rather become a social way of life than an agitation for separation. The President should as a matter of urgency position or reposition himself as more of a nationalist than a regionalist. If he wants, he could own a House in South East. There are so many ways around building a more united Nigeria. The President knows it. Nigerians know it. Biafran agitators know that Nigeria is their country. They can be made to become conscious co-workers in nation building, promotion of social cohesion and unity. It is not only possible, it is feasible even as things stand today.
In my own opinion, the government of the day is yet to understand the virtues of social cohesion beyond deploying troops. This could be possibly because President Buhari himself from the military background lacks the virtues of tolerance and diplomacy. The armed conflict between the Nigerian Army and the Pro-Biafra Agitators has rather given the agitators a bolder wind to demand to be separated from Nigeria.
The government has failed to toe the line of dialogue. It has woefully failed to constructively engaged the agitators who many do not even know what they are agitating for beyond what they have been told. No arms intellectualism has been known to drown ideologies. It could temporarily suppress agitations, but would never fizzle them away. Rather than that, the government could proactively begin to address those issues that fan the ember of the agitation.
Government by its actions has not demonstrated convincingly that they too believe in the “One Nigeria” ideology they profess. Most facilities and infrastructures seen within the South Eastern Region are either State Government projects or individual projects. The second Niger Bridge project has become a project used for political campaigns. From the era of former President Obasanjo to the current President Buhari-led government, the Second Niger Bridge, even though we were told was to be funded via PPP has not seen much light of the day. Instead of the project being seen as a Nigerian Project, most people are seeing it as a favour being done to the South East Region by successive government.
The arrest of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu seems a glaring error on the side of government as from all indication, the arrest added clout to the agitation. For some people who understand the arts of social cohesion and tolerance, Nnamdi’s pro-Biafra agitation would have easily been nipped in the bud. Former President Obasanjo would have ended it with a “wild mischievous joke” in one of his media briefings. Former President Jonathan would have waved if off as activities of a self-seeking agitator. President Buhari approached did not douse the agitation. It rather exacerbated the agitation so much that an average Igbo youth is now willing to stake all it takes on the course.
Nigerians whether he identifies himself as Arewa, Oduduwa or Biafra are Nigerians. We are one indivisible people bound by the hand of time to co-exist despite differences in some of our social or cultural ideologies. We should rather work in strengthening that silken thread that bounds us than severing it through one-sided policies, deployment of military to kill and torture armless Nigerians whose agitations could easily be addressed without shooting a single gunshot. We should seek a nation rooted deeply on the principle of equity and not the other way round.
Light I. Shedrack is a writer, a literary advocate and an edutainment specialist based in Abuja. He could be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org