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Peace at last?
by CHUKS OLUIGBO
August 26, 2017 | 12:03 am| | | Start Conversation
The announcement by the Coalition of Northern Youth Groups (CNYG) that it has withdrawn the notice given to the Igbo living in the northern part of the country to vacate the region before October 1 or face physical attacks seems to be eliciting hope that peace may soon return to the troubled country.
The group had made the announcement on Thursday at a World Press Conference held at Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja, the nation’s capital, and attended by Kashim Shettima, Borno State governor and chairman, Northern Governors’ Forum, Kabiru Gaya, former Kano State governor, Sani Daura, a former minister, and Shetima Yerima of Arewa Youths Council.
Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, spokesman for the coalition, said the withdrawal of the quit order was as a result of series of consultations and pressure from different groups, including the Northern governors, traditional rulers, the director-general of the DSS, and some officials of the presidency.
But no matter who influenced the decision, many Nigerians think the most important part is that the youths have withdrawn the quit order, signalling that they are ready to swallow their pride and make sacrifices for the continued unity of the country.
Chuks Ibegbu, deputy national publicity secretary, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, in a reaction to the announcement lauded Arewa Youths for withdrawing the quit notice, saying it was a welcome development.
“The withdrawal of the quit notice is a welcome development. I am happy that the Arewa youths have to realise that it was wrong in the first instance for any person or group of persons to issue a quit notice to any group to leave Nigerian territory. The Arewa Youths got it wrong ab initio as they have no constitutional right to sack Ndigbo from their area,” a national daily quoted Ibegbu to have said in a telephone chat.
“I am also happy that the present administration has said it without any equivocation that every Nigerian is free to live in any part of the country. We have to remind ourselves that injustice, marginalisation, among others, led to hate speeches and restiveness in the land. The present administration should try as much as possible to address the perceived political imbalance to stem further agitation across the country,” he said.
Recall that on June 6, a coalition of Northern youth groups had issued a quit notice to all Igbo living in the region, giving them until October 1, 2017 to vacate the North.
The groups included Arewa Citizens Action for Change, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Arewa Youth Development Foundation, Arewa Students Forum, and Northern Emancipation Network.
In the statement which came to be known as the ‘Kaduna Declaration’, the youth groups had also asked Northerners in the South-East to leave the area, warning that as from October 1they would commence “peaceful and safe mop-up of all the remnants of the stubborn Igbos that neglect to heed this quit notice” to “finally eject them from every part of the North”.
They cited as reason for their decision the pro-Biafran activities of some Igbo, centred around the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), especially the May 30 sit-at-home protest observed in all the states of the South-East, saying these actions and similar confrontational conducts “amount to a brutal encroachment on the rights of those termed as non-indigenous people residing and doing lawful businesses in those areas illegally demarcated and defined as Biafra by the Igbo”.
“All northern civil societies and pressure groups are, by this declaration, mandated to mobilize for sustained, coordinated campaigns at their respective state Government Houses, state Houses of Assembly, local government council secretariats and traditional palaces,” said Suleiman, spokesman of the coalition, who read the press conference text on behalf of the group.
“Our first major move shall be to reclaim, assume and assert sole ownership and control of these landed resources currently owned, rented or in any way enjoyed by the Igbos in any part of northern Nigeria,” he said.
The quit notice quickly generated reactions, earning condemnation from many quarters and commendation from a few others. While the Northern Governors’ Forum disowned the youth groups, the Northern Elders’ Forum expressed support for the quit order and railed the NGF for disowning the groups.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo, an umbrella socio-political organisation of the Igbo, called for an immediate arrest of Shettima for issuing an assault order against the Igbo.
Following the government’s apparent silence, the Nigerian polity became heated overnight. Taking a cue from the North, youths in other parts of the country began to issue threats.
On June 7, a group of purported South-West youths codenamed the Youths of Oduduwa Republic came up with ‘The Lagos Declaration’ in which they made it abundantly clear that they “shall no longer tolerate the madness of the Igbo region intimidating, harassing and defrauding the Yoruba nation with their empty calls for Biafra”.
“As from today, the 7th day of June 2017, any mention of Biafra again on our soil will automatically, without recourse to any other warning, earn the Igbos an eviction notice from all of the six states that form Oduduwa Republic namely, for the avoidance of doubts, Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ogun, Ondo and Ekiti. We shall within three months of such act of agitation for Biafra do everything possible to chase the Igbos out of our land so we all can leave in peace and regain our dignity as human race,” the group said.
Similarly, the Middle Belt Youth Council issued a statement asking that the Arewa youths that issued the quit notice to Igbo and their sponsors be arrested and charged for treason. It distanced the Middle Belt from the quit notice and said that if indeed Igbo were evicted from Arewa, the Middle Belt would welcome them.
On its part, the apex Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, called on all Southerners resident in the North to start returning home, while IPOB asked the Igbo and other Southerners resident in the North to start packing to leave the region, saying the stance of the Northern groups’ coalition had vindicated its position. The Yoruba Unity Forum called the quit notice outrageous, provocative and treasonable.
Some South-South leaders also joined the fray, saying the Northern groups’ position indicated that a time-bomb was ticking that may lead to the disintegration of Nigeria.
Some political observers, however, said the Southerners in the North should ignore the “empty threats” of the Arewa youths.
But while the crisis raged, the Northern youths followed up their quit order with an open letter to Yemi Osinbajo, then acting president, urging him to initiate a peaceful process that would allow the Igbo who were agitating for Biafra to have their way as guaranteed by a number of international conventions to which Nigeria is signatory.
Looking back at history, they listed all the things they considered as the sins of the Igbo since 1960, alleging that the Igbo demonstrated hatred for Nigeria’s unity barely five years after Independence by way of the January 15, 1966 military coup which ushered in what is now known as the dark days of military rule in the country. They said they had reservations as to the efficacy of the government’s approach in ensuring lasting solutions to the ongoing tension, adding that “the seed of hate planted in the name of Biafra is evidently so deep that the ongoing interaction between you and the leaders from the South-East cannot in our well-informed opinion douse or address the deep-seated underlying problems”.
The letter brought about its own bit of tension as many Nigerians of Igbo extraction took to the social and traditional media to debunk all the allegations made against the Igbo by the Arewa youths. Some said the Arewa youths, in their attempt to paint the Igbo black, had merely embarked on ugly historical revisionism.
Hate speeches were freely traded on social media across the ethnic nationalities. It took the intervention of Osinbajo to mitigate the tension-soaked atmosphere.
Osinbajo, who had earlier held a meeting with foremost leaders of Northern extraction, South-East leaders, Emir Muhammad Sanusi II of Kano, and other traditional rulers from the South-East and the North, followed up with a meeting with governors of the 36 states of the federation, where he emphasised the unity and indissolubility of Nigeria as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution and told the governors that they were very critical in the whole process of reconciling the differences and dousing the tensions in the country.
Now that the Northern youths have withdrawn their quit notice, many Nigerians expect other groups that issued such threats to also withdraw theirs. They also expect that a process of true reconciliation would begin. Many say the solution lies in the government heeding the deafening calls for restructuring and initiating a process towards actualising that, otherwise the anticipated peace would only become peace of the graveyard.
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