My attitude to Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB is nuanced. I respect his democratic and universal human right to seek independence or other freedoms for the Igbo people just as I vigorously support the Yoruba quest for federalism and regional autonomy. Like Kanu, I reject dejure or defacto hegemony in Nigeria in which there are classes of citizenships and/or tiers of political or economic rights and powers.
The story of BIAFRA is essentially about Ojukwu and the Igbos rejection of hegemony in the aftermath of the July 1966 counter coup; and the legitimate imperative of Ojukwu protecting the Igbos after the killing of over 33,000 Igbos in Northern Nigeria in May and September/October 1967. While I understand and indeed sympathize with the Northern perception of the January 1966 coup as an Igbo-led attempt to decimate the Northern military and political leadership and grab political power, the July revenge coup was full and complete response and retribution especially with the killing of Ironsi and many Igbo military officers and the take-over of power by General Gowon and the Northern Military. Nothing could justify the subsequent mass murder of Igbo civilians across the North and in my view Ojukwu was left with no alternative but to protect his people. And it was Gowon and Nigeria, not Ojukwu and Biafra that renounced the Aburi Accord which was freely negotiated and agreed by both sides, and which was the last opportunity to prevent civil war.
I do not regard any side as complete victims or villains in Nigeria history however – Igbos, Hausas/Fulani, Yoruba, minorities etc – all have sinned and everyone has some legitimate grievances which is why the solution is a genuine national conversation in an attitude of negotiation, rather than arrogant proclamations that “Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable!”
It is not a co-incidence that calls for restructuring have reached a crescendo under Buhari – his “strategic intent” to entrench Northern and specifically Fulani hegemony, is indisputable! He declared a 97% and 5%; he has put all strategic military and security positions in Fulani and Kanuri Muslim hands; his other state appointments are overwhelmingly parochial and sectarian; he has granted defacto immunity to Fulani herdsmen for crimes that include widespread murder, arson and terrorism; and has leveraged state policy and power in a blatant attempt to appropriate lands all over the country for these herdsmen. In effect, the elevation of the cries for restructuring, true federalism and on the Biafran side, secession is a direct response to Buhari’s evidently hegemonic aspirations and actions and his righteous indignation at the response to his actions is self-serving and misplaced.
Buhari’s attitude to the Fulani herdsmen has been particularly abhorrent! Officials of the regime have either outrightly ignored their killings or laboured to either defend their activities or rationalise government’s lack of response, while the casualties of their terror mount. In his infamous speech of August 21, 2017, Buhari tried to create moral equivalency between the herdsmen and their victims when he spoke about “farmers versus herdsmen clashes”. In the first instalment of this series, I noted that “the evidence suggests that “Fulani herdsmen” are the aggressors in their disparate conflicts with farmers virtually all over the country” and observed that “killings by so-called “Fulani herdsmen” significantly reduced while Buhari was away – It will be interesting to observe if the murderous activities of the “herdsmen” will resume their alarming tempo now that Buhari is back”
I got my answer very quickly – on September 8, 2017 less than 3 weeks after Buhari’s return, according to multiple media accounts, herdsmen attacked Ancha village in Bassa LG of Plateau State killing at least 20 people and injuring 5 others. The state Commissioner of Police confirmed the incident. As far back as 2015, the Global Terrorism Index named Fulani herdsmen as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the entire world with 80 victims in 2013 and 1,229 by 2014. The numbers have risen astronomically since 2015! As at the day Operation Python Dance 2 was launched, IPOB had not killed a single person! Rightfully, both the US and EU have rejected Buhari’s proclamation of IPOB as a terrorist group.
I personally do not seek the break-up of Nigeria. I believe a restructured, federal, non-theocratic and non-sectarian Nigeria with devolution of powers, state police, fiscal federalism and regional autonomy offers a “win-win” for all sides and even supporters of Biafra will reconsider their stance in such a scenario. Even the North-West, North-East and Middle Belt will do better in such circumstances. In my view it is not rational analysis but emotional considerations such as desire for hegemony; an unwillingness to compete for development and thus seeking to hold others to a specified pace of (under) development; or fears of unravelling of Nigeria or loss of power over it that fuel opposition to restructuring.
While I respect Kanu’s agitation and his courage I’m not sure about his strategy and tactics. He may in fact end up offering the hegemonic forces he opposes a pretext to crush and subdue his people (again!) or even to re-enact military rule! And worse still, instead of insulting the Yorubas as he has often done, Kanu should be intelligent enough to recognise that he needs to build alliances in the West, South-South, Middle-Belt and North rather than alienate potential allies. It is unfortunate that the government appears prepared to endanger our democracy and sacrifice diplomatic relations with our international allies in the effort to subdue IPOB and silence other voices of dissent in Nigeria. All these are not good signs and do not bode well for our democracy and the upcoming elections in 2019.