The month of June has remained a memorable one in the history of Nigeria for decades, though no day of it is declared a public holiday by the federal government of Nigeria in commemoration of any democratic event.
Since the memorable past, particularly in the year 1993, June 12 become an unofficial recognized day by Nigerians especially from the southwest geopolitical zone. The day has been revered as a democratic day because, as it is believed, it was the day the first transparent free and fair election was conducted in Nigeria won by MKO Abiola and annulled by then military President, Gen. IB Babangida.
Since 1993, though many democratic events have often occurred within June, 12 June is celebrated for that singular event and public holiday for that day is yearly declared by governments of states of the southwest of Nigeria. Yet, it has been impossible to name University of Lagos (UNILAG) after MKO Abiola. Many politicians and civil right groups have canvassed for June 12 to be celebrated nationwide as a democracy day rather than May 29 which commemorates the final transition of governance from the military to the civilian in 1999.
That is by the way. The significance of the month of June in Nigeria has been reminisced in 2017 with many declarations, all seeking relevance at the national political stage. In Nigeria, it happens that political declarations are often interwoven with intertribal sentiments cum individualistic collocation. This time, it was a drama of witticism and suspense. It was like a confusing play, an aimless travesty that many of the dramatic personae lost their bearings. It was not merely a monodrama as it used to be whereby single persons would craft words on leaves and pass them on to the press. It was organized controversial reciprocals. And the Nigerian youths were in the center of all.
The Nigerian youths in the month have displayed the glut of patriotism in them as the real builders and leaders of the nation. They have used June to tell themselves that the destiny of Nigeria is in their hands and that they must, without subjugation, exert all their youthful force to reclaim their fatherland from some few individuals who derive pleasure from inflictions on the people and the nation. Again this time, the youths organized themselves in coalitions, holding meetings and issuing out press statements as threats, as warnings, as retributions and as cautions. At the end of all these, all the Nigerian youths are winners. Or let’s borrow the words of former head of state, Gen. Yakubu Gowon: “No victor, no vanquished”. Nigeria is one and will remain united. It is, therefore, clear that it is a duty on the Nigerian youths to preserve their motherland against any internal manipulations.
Yes, there has been the agitation for self determination; the agitation for resource control; the cry over marginalization; the feeling of political exclusion and the call for cessation especially the most currently pronounced struggle by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) for the realization of Biafra. Nigeria has witnessed a civil war. Those who witnessed it are not ready for a recurrence. Several civil disturbances all in the name of regional agitations, equity and fairness in governance have replayed themselves from time to time, and from region to region. And until June 2017, the youths have never taken a twist in all the political conundrums.
Just like a joke, the political stage was tensed up with the first declaration by the Arewa youth in Kaduna, asking the Igbo to vacate the north within three months – till October 1, 2017 – or face forceful eviction. Tagged “Kaduna Declaration”, the youth on Tuesday June 6, 2017 claimed to have reviewed the position of the north over the call for secession by groups the Igbo. The declaration by the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) stated that the North will never partake in any contrived arrangement that would have the Biafran Igbo as a component. “We reiterate our call on Nigerian authorities and recognized international bodies to hasten the initiation of the process for the final actualization of the Biafran nation and with it the excision of the Igbos out of the present federation”, threatened.
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) had, many times, threatened to declare Biafra as a sovereign state. Once, IPOB declared that no part of the defunct Biafra Republic would be left behind in its quest for self determination. A statement by IPOB’s spokespersons Barrister Emma Nmezu and Dr. Clifford Chukwuemeka Iroanya, claimed that both the South-South and the Middle Belt were still part of the Biafra territory and would not be allowed to remain in Nigeria. Also the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) ordered immediate vacation of the North by the Igbo population following the Kaduna Declaration. Uche Madu, MASSOB leader, said the quit notice did not come as a surprise. “We pledge our total support towards this divinely approved quit notice,” Madu had declared inter alia.
But a day after the Igbo quit notice, a Niger Delta group known as South South Youth Volunteer Force (SSYVF) gave Northerners in the South-South three month ultimatum to vacate their region. Its spokesman, Tamunosisi Japhet in a statement said that the South South and South East are one, same way the North East and the North West are one. The youths also warned their Arewa counterparts that the South South will not accommodate them should they carry out their threat. Another group has declared August deadline for northerners to quit Igboland.
In a swift reaction, the Middle-Belt Youth Council (MBYC) condemned the quit notice. The President of the council, Emma Zopmal, in a statement said the middle-belt region has no problem with the Igbos who are very enterprising people. “The Middle Belt region of Nigeria believes in one Nigeria. This is because Northerners are living in many parts of the South-East without molestation. Middle Belt has been a home for the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, South-South and the South-West without any form of discrimination against anyone. We’ve accommodated every Nigerian for centuries now. We deserve respect and commendations.”
On June 6, the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) worldwide, on its own stand, lashed out at the Movement for the Actualization of a Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) for including the Niger Delta region in its Biafra map. The group’s spokesperson, Barr. Henry Iyalla, said that the Niger Delta agitation predates the Biafra struggle. The group said: “We wish to state clearly that the Ijaw and Niger Delta struggle for self-determination predated the Biafra agitations. It is on record that even before the Biafra declaration of independence in 1967, Major Jasper Adaka Boro during the twelve days revolution declared a Niger- Delta Republic in 1966. This was before the advent and struggle for the actualization of Biafra.”
Solomon Chukwu of MASSOB had claimed that those who say South South or Niger Delta was not part of Biafra were ignorant “Most of them are politicians in the South South zone who are saying it out of mischief. History has it that people like Ojukwu’s second in command, Gen. Philip Effiong, fought for Biafra till the end. Was Effiong not from Akwa Ibom State?
Another group on June 7 followed suit by declaring what it called the Region of the Niger Delta (Rondel), through Rondel Solidarity Movement (RSM). Its spokesperson, Efe Edet-Tamuno, in a statement urged all the intellectuals, groups and associations in the Niger Delta to fuse into RSM to demand shift from resource control to Independence Movement. “No inch of Rondel in the six states of Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Cross River, Edo, and Rivers States shall ever be ceded to any other people or nation for any reason whatsoever and all those people drawing maps up and down are hereby warned to desist forthwith or risk our disproportionate vengeance including present and future social and economic sanctions..The Igbo people, and indeed all Africans and foreigners, are heartily welcome to visit, stay, live in or do legitimate business unencumbered anywhere in Rondel now and in the future.”
Furthermore, the Oodua Nationalist Coalition (ONAC) and the Oodua Liberation Movement (OLM) also warned against any act that will lead to collapse of the country’s security and disintegration of the country. Gbenga Awosode, Sunday
Akinnuoye and Mallam Suleiman Musa Akintunde, in a joint statement on behalf of the group proclaimed: “Nigerians should be alert knowing that this threat is coming few days after rumours of a coup became widespread”.
Besides, on June 10, the youths of the Southwest of Nigeria issued what they described as Oduduwa Republic Lagos Declaration (ORLD). The Secretary General of the group said the Southwest of Nigeria has become tired of the generational threats of the Igbo extraction of a forced union, thus the violent threats for Biafra, threats that have outlived the youths. They expressed dismay with cohabiting the Igbo who are even dominating their political arena. They described as madness the tolerance granted the Igbo in the region despite the Igbo have been intimidating, harassing and defrauding the Yoruba nation with their empty calls for Biafra. “As from today, the 10th 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 live in peace and regain our dignity as human race”, ORLD proclaimed.
In their reaction, Igbo resident in Oyo state said no amount of provocation would incite the people to fight any form of war again. The Onyendu Ndigbo of Ibadanland, Chief Aloy Obi, said those agitating for war against Igbo should be prevailed upon to allow the people to reside in any part of the country as provided by section 42 of the 1999 constitution. In the same vein, the Eze Igbo Kano, Dr Boniface Ibekwe said northerners are tolerant and well-mannered toward other ethnic groups living in their midst. According to him, Kano remains their state of origin where most of their children were born and brought up. He urged the Igbo in the state to continue to pursue their legitimate businesses without fear of harassment.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council (OYC), the youth wing of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, opted for status quo ante on the grounds that the Igbo cannot leave over 44trn naira of their investments to develop the north. National President of the OYC, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, said the ultimatum issued by the Northern groups was a call to arms and should be treated as such by security agencies. Also the South East/South South network, SESSNet, has asked security agencies to immediately swing to action and arrest the situation. The group said that the threat was evidently as a result of the unity displayed by the Igbo in the Southeast and the Southsouth to obey a “sit at home order” to mark 50 year anniversary of Nigeria-Biafra war that claimed the lives of over three million Igbo.
I must laud the quick response by the federal government in assuring the citizens of safety of their lives across the country. It is noteworthy that the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, has taken control of the situation. The initiative for a series of consultative meetings with leaders of thought from the North and South-East parts of the country will go a long way in striking a mutual deal for peace and stability. He has once again warned against call to civil disorder in any disguise and against promotion of hate speeches that are capable of inciting violence or disruption of lives and property in the country. He acknowledged that living in diversity was with unique challenges and issues and noted that most important landmarks in the history of Nigeria were mixture of tragedy and joy. He recalled the loud agitations about secession from some groups of young people in the South-East, IPOB and groups affiliated with them, as well as the call by a group of young persons from the North, who gave an ultimatum to the Igbo in the North to vacate the region.
“These days, wars do not end and I am sure that all of those who have seen or experienced war in any form would not wish it on their worst enemies. This is not the time to retreat behind ethnic lines. As a government, we are determined to ensure the unity of the country along the lines of our constitution. I want to say that hate or divisive speech, or divisive behaviour, where it is illegal, will be met with the full force of the law”, he further warned.
Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau, has urged the Igbo and other Nigerians to go about their businesses without fear of molestation. In a statement by his Press Secretary, Ehisienmen Osaigbovo, the call for separation was unwarranted. He assured that government would bring to bear the full weight of the law on any individual or group violating the rights of citizens of the country. Also, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the security agencies have been placed on red alert to ensure safety of Nigerians anywhere they live in Nigeria.
Governor Nasir El Rufai urged the Police to arrest all signatories of the declaration and directed his Attorney General and commissioner for Justice to prepare charges of incitement against leaders of the groups. And following El-Rufai’s directive, the police said a manhunt has been launched for the culprits.
Police boss, Ibrahim Idris has ordered top officers to keep the peace nationwide after a meeting of the top brass in Abuja. He said threats by some tribal and regional groups have become of concern, adding that when the IPOB came out last month, the police adopted a procedure which they are adopting also with this new group. “I want us all to be alert and stop anybody, group or individual that attempts to prevent any Nigerian from carrying out his daily activities. The threats constitute a subversive activity against the security of the state and we cannot allow that to happen.”
On their own part, the governors of the nineteen northern states disowned the Arewa Youths. Borno Governor and Chairman of the Northern States Governors ‘ Forum, Kashim Shettima said they are in touch with heads of security agencies to guarantee the rights of all Nigerians to live in of the 19 states. The Governors demanded arrest and probe of the youths. “We wish to call on the security agencies to beam their lenses on these groups, and unearth the faces behind the mask. Some months back, there were cases of importation of arms, illegal importation of arms intercepted at the ports, then we started hearing rumours of a coup d’etat. Now, a group, or a bunch of groups that do not have the mandate of the people came up with remarks capable of destabilizing the north and the country as a whole. We are one nation tied to a common destiny, the governance of Northern Nigeria is not in alignment with those pronouncements, and we will take whatever measures that is necessary to safeguard the lives and properties of Nigerians living in any part of the North,” Shettima said.
The Emir of Katsina, Alhaji Abdulmumini Kabir, said that Nigeria will continue to remain one in spite of its multi-ethnic diversity. “Here in Katsina, I am ready to sacrifice my last drop of blood to ensure peace and protect all Nigerians residing in the state,’’ he said.
All said, it is of more significance the position of the South East Governors who have assured northerners resident in the zone of their safety. Governor of Ebonyi State and Chairman of South East Governors Forum, Engr. David Nweze Umahi, in a statement reiterated its commitment to and preference for the existence of a virile, united, prosperous and progressive Federal Republic of Nigeria where justice, fairness, equity, mutual respect and equality of opportunity to all citizens regardless of creed, ethnicity or gender. He said that the statement by the South East Governors is intended to accomplish a couple of objectives, one of which is the expression of the governors’ deep appreciation to all Nigerians on the unity and oneness of the country.
Of relief is the fact that all Nigerians including members of the Senate, House of Representatives, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and other regional organizations have condemned any attempt to break up Nigeria.
Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja.