I ended the discussion last week with a promise to start this week on the vital need for both the Buhari administration and IPOB (and all separatist movements and organizations in the country) not to ignore rational, convincing ideas and arguments in making their respective cases to the nation and the world. Well then, here goes: why this emphasis on reason, on rationalism?
This question arises at all because, as is well known, both in the making and the breaking up of nations, reason or rationalism plays a weaker, secondary role to emotion and sentiment. As a matter of fact, it is usually long after a nation has been created or, conversely, broken up, that the reasons, the justifications are found and provided, often long after the event has taken place. Indeed, our country is a very apt illustration of this fact, this truism of political history all over the world. More than a century after our country was created by Britain in 1914 through the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria, we are still hard pressed to find powerful and inspiring ideas and arguments for the nation’s united existence. The emotion and the sentiment, the dream and the hope are there, but very few Nigerians know of the fact that there are written and published ideas and arguments for the existence and the unity of the country.
The same thing is true of those who have struggled for either total or partial separatism in our country: the emotional and symbolic expressions have been loud and clear, but little is known by the public of the fact that powerful reasons and arguments have been advanced for its realization. In this respect, IPOB stands as a telling illustration of the divorce between emotion and reason in the experience of separatism in our country. How so? Well, as far as I know, IPOB has made little or no references at all to the Ahiara Declaration of June 1969, even though this is unquestionably one of the finest documents providing rational ideas and arguments in justification of secession within Nigeria itself and from any nation-state in Africa and the modern world.
Please note that this document was produced barely six months before the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war. This means that it was produced long after the declaration of secession, precisely because by that time, Biafrans had discovered that they had to rationally rearticulate to themselves the justness of their struggle for survival and the validity of their claims to being a democratic and responsible member of the comity of nations. Indeed, this is why the Ahiara Declaration was/is such a magnificent historical document: it carefully lays out what was wrong with Nigeria with a promise, a vision that those “Nigerian” errors and blights would not be reproduced in Biafra. Of course, whether the vision would have been fulfilled if Biafra had not been defeated, whether in fact the vision had already been compromised before the defeat of the secessionist new nation is another matter entirely.
Fortunately or unfortunately for IPOB, it cannot wait for long before producing its own “Ahiara Declaration”. This is because in the months ahead, especially as its push for a referendum gathers momentum, IPOB will have to provide powerful and convincing rational arguments that would be equal, if not superior to the achievement of the Ahiara Declaration and of relevance to the contemporary situation in Nigeria and the world. This is assuming that IPOB intends to achieve its goals and objectives through a referendum, a plebiscite and not through war. In a plebiscite or a referendum, you have to win both the hearts and the minds of the people of “Biafra” and also of the world. That being the case, it remains to be seen whether or not the federal government itself – specifically, the Buhari administration and the APC – deems it necessary at all to provide rational and convincing ideas and arguments to counter what IPOB and other separatist or devolutionary movements and organizations are saying at the present time.
This is the heart of the matter because so far, nothing that has come from the government on this issue has shown that it has the ability, the will or the good faith to meet this crucial obligation. Indeed, I contend that the time has come for Nigerians and the whole world to ask the Buhari administration and the APC to provide the rationale, the ideas, the arguments and the vision for the continued existence and unity of our country. In very concrete terms, beyond the empty and almost meaningless abstraction of the inviolability of Nigerian unity, what do the government and the APC have to say to those who want to make an exit from Nigeria and those, like the “Arewa Youth Forum”, that have ordered Igbos living and working in the North to leave the region by a certain date? Do the government and the APC themselves have a unified position, a rational and convincing vision for the unity and continued existence of our country in the modern world around which all the members of Buhari’s cabinet and the leaders of the APC can be united?
The answer to this last question is, as most Nigerians either know or suspect, a ringing “No”. Beyond routine invocations of the unity and indivisibility of Nigeria, the Buhari administration and the APC have, so far, had nothing of substance to tell Nigerians and the world. On what basis am I making this very alarming claim? Well, in the first place, I take it that if there was indeed a vision, a rationale for Nigeria’s continued existence and unity, the government and the APC would be only too eager to share it with Nigerians and the whole world. To keep Scotland in the United Kingdom, the British government had to campaign hard, it had to convince the Scots that it would be much better for them to stay with and in the United Kingdom than to leave. But the Buhari administration and the APC feel no such obligation, no such pressing need, even in the face of mounting waves of disunity in the country. Far more crucial, far more disturbing is the fact that we know that between different or diverse elements and forces within the government and the ruling party there are substantial differences on the question of Nigerian unity and continued corporate existence, even if there has never been any concerted efforts by politicians in office or power to address these differences or contradictions within their ranks.
At this stage in the discussion, let me pause, dear readers and compatriots, to confess that as I write these words, I desperately wish that what I am stating here, what I am declaring loudly is wrong or mistaken. In other words, I am hoping that perhaps sooner or later, perhaps sooner rather than later, someone influential and authoritative in the government and/or the ruling party will step forward and issue a comprehensive statement that would demonstrate to Nigerians and the whole world that Nigeria’s rulers have a powerful and convincing vision for the country’s unity and continued existence in the modern world. I look and look and look to find a single member of the administration or the APC leadership to whom Nigerians and the world can turn for an articulate and inspiring expression of the basis of Nigerian unity and I cannot think of a single person! In great trepidation but not without any hope at all, I turn to the known differences and contradictions on the question of Nigerian unity within the ruling party in particular and the country’s political elites in general. What do I find? In answering this question, I plead: let reason be our guide.
I find that the government, the ruling party and the political elites, from all four corners of the land, are unwilling and unable to stop the wanton looting and wastage of the nation’s wealth, assets and resources, a fundamental causative factor of disunity in our country. I find that the broad division within the ruling party itself and the political elites in general between those who are for a strong center and those for a loose center is more imagined than real, that everyone is in government and in politics for personal self-enrichment, not for their “people”, their “tribe” or their “nationality”. Most pertinent of all, I find that though in general the North is for a strong center and a strong presidency while the South is for a loose center and a presidency with greatly reduced spheres of authority and sovereignty, our politicians vigorously pursue these positions only when they are not in office or power; as soon as they become part of an incumbent administration or ruling party, they considerably tone down their avowed views and positions.
Let me express this particular trait in concrete and graphic terms. Thus, of the politicians from the North, I say that only when they felt the specter of being kept away from the presidency for a long time on account of the death of Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua did they finally accept that a national conference was necessary; now that a northerner is back in power in the presidency, they are considerably chary of calls for “restructuring”. What of the politicians from the Southwest? Their calls for restructuring and genuine federalism are not typically made by those in office; and if they are made at all by such politicians, they are made not thunderously but with a whimper. Finally, the politicians of the Southeast: their charges of marginalization, of a “Wazobia tripod” that has had only two legs since the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war are made not as matters of principle but as bargaining positions for the spoils of power and office.
Of course, since Nigeria is bigger than the two-legged “Wazobia tripod”, the contradictions and challenges of Nigerian unity are multiple and diverse. In other words, we are talking not of a geopolitical centipede but a millipede! As I observed in last week’s piece, IPOB thinks of Nigeria in terms of three “nationalities” only: Arewa, Biafra and Oduduwa. Indeed, although he is not completely silent about the fact of Biafra’s multi-ethnic identity, only very rarely does Nnamdi Kanu talk of the other “nationalities” within the Southeast and South-south zones, the geographical and demographic focus of his ambitions and desires. In this, in being so hegemonically “Wazobian”, Kanu is being quintessentially Nigerian.
We cannot of course get rid of or ignore the “Wazobian tripod”. But neither can or must we be restricted to it when the subject of discussion is the question of Nigeria’s unity and corporate existence. Are we caught on the horns of the dilemma of there being no choice between a broken tripod and a mere millipede whose status in the hierarchy of nature is well below the soaring skies of the bald eagle, our national symbol? Yes and no. This will be the starting point in next week’s concluding essay in the series