The South-East Needs a Show of Love, Not a Show of Force, By Majeed Dahiru
The more the president continues to ignore the genuine concerns of his administration’s marginalisation of those of South-Eastern origin, the further they are pressed away from Nigeria towards Nnamdi Kanu’s separatist agitations. To take the fire out of the raging flame of Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB is to show love to the people of the South-East by the government and people of the Nigerian federation.
Recent happenings in the South-Eastern corner of Nigeria clearly shows that vital lessons have not been learnt from history. The resort to a military solution to contain the separatist agitations by the Muhammadu Buhari administration, without first exploring and exhausting all channels of dialogue, is a clear indication that it has failed to look beyond Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB into the legitimate feelings of marginalisation and exclusion by a majority of Nigerians of South-Eastern origin.
This marginalisation is clearly manifest in the unprecedented exclusion of that part of the country in some important levels and organs of government. In the president’s first forty-seven appointments, no Nigerian from the South-East was considered worthy enough to be among those chosen; from the kitchen cabinet to his defence and internal security apparatus. Since his inauguration on May 29, 2015, and over two years into his first four-year mandate, President Buhari has not set foot on the soil of South-East Nigeria, either for official or informal engagements. Some of the president’s supporters have argued that his appointments are based on trust and loyalty. This position, however, falls flat because it is an indictment of the president’s nationalist credentials [a critical requirement for leadership] if he only trusts people from his own section of the country. Furthermore, that a whole a section of the country he governs cannot be trusted with vital positions, gives credence to the feelings of heightened marginalisation by Nigerians from this region. This lack of inclusiveness is directly responsible for the rise of Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB. Therefore, if the group is a threat to national security, it is because President Buhari’s sectionalism is a threat to national unity and geo-political stability.
Urgently needed today in the South-East is a show of love and not a show of force. President Buhari, a veteran of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war clearly failed to learn the most important lesson of that bitter episode of our national history. The war was elongated by two years by the show of brute force by war time commanders like Benjamin Adekunle, whose command of the First Infantry Division of the Nigerian Army saw him wage a ruthless war against Biafra. The warrior in Adekunle gave no room for the finesse of niceties of diplomacy and exploration of alternative dispute resolution mechanism. All he wanted was to “kill the Igbos” through bullets and starvation. His pander to excessive force began with the re-naming of his command as the Third Marine Commando, for a maximum frightening effect, to his relentless artillery bombardment and strict implementation of the air, land and sea blockade of the Biafra territory, which nevertheless did not weaken the Biafran resolve to secede. Instead, it actually strengthened them to fight till death, because Adekunle left them with no chance of reconciliation. This was evidently demonstrated when in 1969 the Biafra secessionist forces under the command of Joe Achuzia re-captured the important town of Owerri from the Nigerian army in a renewed resurgence that had the potential of turning tide in favour of the rebels.
Obasanjo’s war time strategy was a show of love, and less force. War time Images of him breaking and sharing kola nuts with top commanders of the opposing rebel camp attests to his diplomatic skills. Whereas Adekunle’s show of force had dragged the war on for over two years, Obasanjo’s show of love brought it to an end in a matter of months…
To bring the war to a conclusive end, it took the soldier-diplomat in Olusegun Obasanjo, who replaced Adekunle as commander of the First Infantry Division of the Nigerian Army to bring the rebels to the negotiation table. From the outset Obasanjo’s objective was not to display his fighting skills, like Adekunle did. His was a peace mission, which can’t be achieved by fighting relentlessly but through dialogue, guided by negotiations, concessions and reconciliation. Obasanjo’s war time strategy was a show of love, and less force. War time Images of him breaking and sharing kola nuts with top commanders of the opposing rebel camp attests to his diplomatic skills. Whereas Adekunle’s show of force had dragged the war on for over two years, Obasanjo’s show of love brought it to an end in a matter of months, with the unconditional surrender of the Biafra military high command to the Supreme Military Council of Nigeria.
At the end of the civil war, the Nigerian state and political leaders across all divides showed enormous love towards Nigerians of South-Eastern origin. Apart from the incidences of “abandoned properties” within the old Eastern region, all property belonging to Nigerians of South-East extraction in the Northern and Western regions were returned to them intact. By 1979, less than a decade after the civil war, Nigerians from the South-East were politically integrated and included fully in the affairs of state, with Alex Ekuweme and Edwin Umezeoke emerging as vice president and speaker of the House of Representatives respectively and Chuba Okadigbo featuring prominently in the presidential kitchen cabinet as political adviser. This high level of inclusion in Shehu Shagari’s NPN government of Nigerians in the second republic was despite the fact that the people of the region voted overwhelmingly for Nnamdi Azikiwe’s UPP. The Shagari administration not only granted state pardon to the leader of the Biafran secessionist republic, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, in 1982 he was given the NPN platform to vie for a senatorial seat in his native Anambra State, upon his return to Nigeria from exile in Ivory Coast. The effect of this show of love was the absence of cries of marginalisation by the South-East and no further agitations for the realisation of Biafra. By the next election in 1983, the South-East reciprocated this show of love, when NPN made inroads into the important state of Anambra, the home of then Vice President Alex Ekuweme. In an interesting twist, that Chukwemeka Ojukwu was roundly defeated in his bid to represent his people in the Senate was a clear indication that the Biafran utopia that he symbolised had been rejected and the reality of a united Nigeria, wherein no section was excluded and which held great promise for individual prosperity and collective progress, had been embraced by his people.
That Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB is enjoying legitimacy among a large section of Nigerians of South-East origin today is not because of his hate-filled rhetoric against the Nigerian state or his separatist agenda, but due to the insensitivity of the Buhari-led administration in looking beyond partisan divides and putting the nation ahead of all other considerations.
By 1999 when Nigeria returned to civil democratic rule, political leaders across board embraced a delicate power sharing formula that ensured every part of Nigeria was given a sense of belonging. The six geo-political zones were equitably represented at every level and organ of government. That Ralph Uwazurike’s MASSOB didn’t gather enough steam for take-off was because the Olusegun Obasanjo administration ran an all-inclusive administration in which Nigerian’s of South-Eastern origin were given the opportunity to serve their beloved country, from the president’s kitchen cabinet to the economic team and security council. Between 1999 and 2015, the leadership of Nigeria lifted the lid off the limits of sensitive positions Nigerians of South-East origin could occupy, from that of the inspector-general of Police (IGP), to the chief of army staff and secretary to the government of the federation.
Unfortunately, the Buhari administration has clearly reversed these gains in our nation’s match towards unconditional unity and progress. That Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB is enjoying legitimacy among a large section of Nigerians of South-East origin today is not because of his hate-filled rhetoric against the Nigerian state or his separatist agenda, but due to the insensitivity of the Buhari-led administration in looking beyond partisan divides and putting the nation ahead of all other considerations. This would require the taking of deliberate steps towards addressing the imbalance in his government to include people from the South-East, among other things. The more the president continues to ignore the genuine concerns of his administration’s marginalisation of those of South-Eastern origin, the further they are pressed away from Nigeria towards Nnamdi Kanu’s separatist agitations. To take the fire out of the raging flame of Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB is to show love to the people of the South-East by the government and people of the Nigerian federation.