Not a few tongues have wagged since a radical Northern youth group issued an ultimatum to Igbos to leave the North in three months. Not a few ‘patriots’ have risen to condemn that reckless demand and describe it for what it is: a thoughtless demand by ill-advised youths meant to cause further disaffection amongst the fractious entities that make up Nigeria. The ultimatum was reckless, as has often been restated, but then it is a reaction to another thoughtless, indeed mad, agitation by some more thoughtless and partisan Igbo youths since the 2015 electoral defeat of former President Goodluck Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party.
The reckless Northern youths did not speak in a vacuum. They did not just come out to blab their mouths from nowhere. They did not come out to dance naked in the market square for nothing. Indeed, they came to meet their equally naked Indigenous People of Biafra compatriots in a dance of folly. They were pushed into sounding irresponsible by an equally irresponsible Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB, who have dangerously played the wild card of bloody disintegration since the PDP, some of whose chieftains unarguably back their irresponsible actions, was shoved out of power. If you are in doubt of this fact, what is the attractant in Biafra that draws such professed Igbo haters like Femi Fani-Kayode and Ayo Fayose to the IPOB nectar? The lingering hate messages that have been promoted to a general art in Nigeria today were pioneered by the duo as they adopted desperate means to see the PDP and Jonathan remain in power beyond 2015. Where were Nnamdi Kanu and his Biafra before the 2015 election? Or was it that Igbos were not marginalized before then?
However, the misguided Northern youths could be accused of having carried their reaction too far, and we would do well in condemning them for that. They should have seen through the plot to know the rotten underbelly of the demand they were responding to and to know that not all Igbos but an unruly, vocal minority were behind the agitation. They would have been better schooled to understand where the issues that tail spinned into the insensate demand for Biafra since the 2015 election started and focused their darts on the wellheads of hate that birthed the Biafran malady instead of putting every Igbo on the spot with their reckless ultimatum.
I will not mince words in condemning what the Northern youths did. Gracefully, Nigerians did not mince words in condemning them. God be thanked, Northern leaders and various opinion leaders in the North did not kiss them, pat them on the back and offer them dubious approval. At least, in the open. If you feel they did otherwise at the back, it is your job to prove. What even infuriated me and many other well-meaning Igbos was that in issuing the ultimatum, these youths did not make any effort to differentiate between the Igbos that saw the irresponsible hectoring of IPOB as a way of reaching back at the Nigerian state for taking away the feeding bottle from their mouths and those that have been genuinely cautioning IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu in their voyage of stupidity. They made no effort to separate the wheat from the chaff and draw a distinction between Igbo that wanted out of Nigeria and those who believe Nigeria best serves the Igbo people as a united entity. Perhaps, the fault is with us Igbos for not speaking loud enough to disown the anarchists that endangered our lives and interests in a clear quest for selfish political interests.
The vindictive Northern youths lumped every Igbo together and threatened to expel them from the North. They made no effort to even leave out innocent Igbos that have lived in the North for decades, who have been enculturated into their system, bore their children, pay their taxes and do their businesses in the North and who have contributed immensely to the progress of the North. To these hooded youths, they all must suffer for the sins of Nnamdi Kanu, IPOB and their backers. This is wrong and translates to playing into the mischievous hands of Kanu, IPOB and their hideous backers.
Whatever prompted the Northern youths to spew such bile in demanding the withdrawal of Igbos from Nigeria, there is nothing to justify that nauseous moratorium. There is nothing that gives credence to the acerbic wordings that were on display when this ultimatum was issued. There is nothing to vindicate the liberalization of the theater of stupidity which the Northern youths sought to display. There is nothing to suggest we had gotten to the bend where rattling of ethnic and sectional saber has replaced the directive principles of state policy in Nigeria. So, in all its ramifications, the demand of a section of Arewa youths met all the negative adjectives that have been used to describe it by cross section of Nigerians and most especially, Northern opinion leaders sans one or two beclouded voices.
But then, we cannot gloss over the factor that brought about the irresponsible outing of Northern youths. The gross act of brigandage and irresponsibility displayed by IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu was the reason. Even as these dangerous excesses have been collapsed into a mantra of agitation for a separate nation called Biafra, it was an overplay of crass irresponsibility. How and when Biafra and such quirky outbursts that were brought to bear on its demand became a toy in the hands of politically-driven and atavistic mongrels is yet unclear. When Biafra became the plaything for all manners of scoundrels and reprobates that were manipulated by fleeing political poetasters is still a subject of conjecture to those who watched the dangerous employment of Biafra for nefarious ends since 2015.
We should be clear on this. Biafra has maintained that forlorn, eerie, melancholic sentiment amongst Igbos since January 1970 when the effort to secede was put down by the Federal authorities. But then, considering the cost of the first botched attempt, it rankles that Biafra, as desirous as it may be to many Igbos, could be employed in the dangerous partisan way it had been employed since 2015. It is unthinkable that political speculators that lost their deposit in the general election of March 2015 should tinker with Biafra in such ways as to lead a bloody uprising that would certainly have exerted much higher toll among Igbo if other Nigerians have taken up the hate challenge and call to war that IPOB and Kanu threw as soon as Jonathan and PDP lost the last election. That is the reason why Igbos who ostensibly invested so much emotion in the Jonathan/PDP victory in the election bought so heavily into the vacuous hate and venom that Kanu/IPOB laundered after the election. The outcome of the election met many Igbos thoroughly disheveled such that buying into Kanu/IPOB’s cheap, irresponsible pranks was so easy. Helped by an army of diaspora economic refugees and cultural savages that invested and lost heavily in the election, Biafra became a very charming talisman to cure the sad effects of the election.
Subsequently, Igbos became purveyors of hate, laboratories of abuse and vendors of impotent swear words who employed the social media as tool to ventilate bile and opprobrium. The pitiable spectacle of Igbos reduced to a bitter, swearing, insulting and hate-vending recluse that flips off at the slightest prodding and the social media became a dangerous vehicle that transported these hate messages to crevices unimaginable. The sorry spectacle of a forlorn, bitter recluse pawing away his anger and frustration on the borderless social media via the fabrication of, oftentimes, silly, childish and despicable rubbish and fake news marked an all-time low for the Igbos that were just needed to manage their loss and plan a comeback after the precarious damage they did to themselves to 2015. With the futility of such harebrained tactics in an emerging world where fake news and insipid propaganda have only a very short time, the Igbos nudged themselves further into mass perdition and these found expression in a chaotic demand for Biafra with no definable border and no agreeable mode of relationship. In fact, what best damns the demand was that it was led by ruffians, motor park touts and okada riders who should ordinarily warm the backseats of any serious drive.
Perhaps the Northern youths would not have reacted the way they did if most Igbo leaders and opinion leaders cautioned the excesses of Kanu and IPOB. They did not. They rather played the ostrich and offered a hidden prop not knowing that they were creating the impression of being behind the anomie. Because Igbo got to the corner where the tail wags the dog, it was very easy for elders, the educated and the professionals to yield place to okada-riding, barely literate ragamuffins who took over the airspace and threatened every voice of reason with a combination of insults, threats and curses. Through a mixture of cowardice and acquiescence and of course, a quaint neighing for native popularity, these elders silently aligned with the miscreants and together, issued fatwa to the few sane voices who cautioned against these malfeasances. The most pitiable in this lot is the body of retired hustlers and political fortune traders and professional rent seekers called Ohaneze and its affiliate groups, which found themselves in a Golgota of sorts as a result of their purblind, partisan roles during the 2015 election. Finding the Biafra mantra of IPOB and Kanu so irresistible to keeping their tribal flanks, Ohaneze and its affiliate unions waxed subtly acquiescing to Kanu’s noxious acts. Biafra became a refuge for the litany of failed politicians and public office holders whose decades of grand failure to Ndigbo while satiating their selfish cravings led Igboland to its present state. Waving the Biafra bandana and sounding off so beautifully about the utopian promises of a Biafra became their favorite preoccupations.
Today, these anarchists have fully embraced the art of forging fake news and distributing same on the social media for the purpose of building eternal fear in the minds of Ndigbo, ignite a larger insurrection and start a war fare as means of realizing their intents. What is, however, surprising is that these gamut of ethnic warmongers were oblivious of the grave danger they were posing to Igbos outside Igboland as well as their investments and well being. This, more than anything else, showed the leadership atrophy and arid vision that afflict Igboland. That we all played deaf to the timeless warning for caution especially given the danger such impetuous recklessness as displayed by Kanu and IPOB posed to the lives and interests of Igbos in all parts of Nigeria shows that the mainstream Igbo problem is leadership atrophy which has left the race so naked as it is today.
With the above scenario, it was easy for the fiendish Northern youths to conclude that Igbos are wholly united with Kanu and IPOB in craving for dismemberment of Nigeria as they alluded in their irresponsible statement. But how wrong they were. What is happening in Igboland is a frantic political project, as recently revealed by Ralph Uwazuruike and has nothing to do with a Biafra where life will be miraculously painless and cozy. It is a deadly project to settle political scores, chicken out of the larger and more intricate Nigerian political space and hew a kingdom for the local oppressors, having battered their political chances in 2015 Nigeria. It has nothing to do with the interest of Ndigbo. It has nothing to do with the marginalization which those frantically backing the IPOB insurrection created and sustained for decades. It has nothing to do with the threatened interests of tens of millions of Igbos who do their business and eek out their livings outside Igboland. It has nothing to do with the wellbeing of Ndigbo who are now being desperately incited to leave their comfort zones for a utopian Biafra that promises to beat the existing Nigerian space in terms of chaos and bedlam, should it come in existence.
In some ways, it is good that the northern youths issued their satanic declaration. More than anything, it is uniting Nigerians to pull together and disavow such similar moratoriums as they issued. But most importantly, it is serving Igbo with the real dangers in encouraging such irresponsible acts as IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu levied since 2015. It forces Igbo leaders out of their nests to see danger when it comes and make efforts to arrest it than get cowed by ruffians and cower away in indifference. I can bet that Nigeria will be more united henceforth to beat down such stupid behaviors that IPOB and the Arewa youths and such other messengers from hell exhibited. Who knows, it might even help strengthen the unity of Nigeria.
Peter Claver Oparah writes from Lagos. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .