Recently when I joined up with Jaafar Jaafar and Abdulaziz Abdulaziz as Northern writers in the campaign for the appointment of an Igbo military officer to the position of the Nigerian Chief of Army Staff, it was a deliberate and sincere effort towards the socio-political stability of the country, which appears deeply riven, at this point, on the issue of the affirmation of its diversity. It was also an attempt to draw attention to the need to insulate a critical institution like the Nigerian Armed Forces from pernicious disaffection by all the different stakeholders of the Nigerian nation.
As a beneficiary of the hospitality, good-naturedness and warmth of others in Nigeria, and particularly the Igbo in Asaba, Delta State, which I consider another home away from home during my NYSC, I have always used every forum to appreciate the Nigerian diversity, while pointing out the difference between the regular fellow citizen – whose fate and circumstances are similar to those of mine – and those who have very limited tolerance for difference, and are inclined towards violent discriminatory – if not separatist – acts.
Discrimination and a narrow point-of-view have always been a great source of concern for me, as it encapsulates some of the things that are fundamentally wrong with Nigeria. While I belong in the company of those who have been routinely called names and casted aspersions on by others, because we insist on national unity rather than separatist campaigns or agenda, it was of great shock to me to read a recent piece “Open Letter To The Most Senior Biafran In Buhari’s Government” by two Igbo intellectuals, Rudolf Okonkwo and Chido Onumah. In the first place, they addressed their missive to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Jideofor Onyeama, who was described as “the most Senior Biafran in Buhari’s Government”! I don’t even know what that means, especially as there are other ministers in the present government who are senior to the gentleman referred to both in age and experience in politics and government. One then wonders the purpose of this reference.
The opening paragraph of the widely syndicated letter quickly confirms its intent, as the writers make no pretence at concealing the intensity of the animosity they hold against the President of Nigeria. Not only did they condemn President Muhammadu Buhari in very strong terms, but they also deploy the most derogatory of language, with such examples as: “his (Buhari’s) cognitive impairment has greatly deteriorated, even though that is no justification for his murderous and genocidal rhetoric.” Imagine such a choice of words in describing the leader of a country!
While addressing the Foreign Affairs Minister, they wrote thus: “From his (Buhari’s) utterances, the gap between things his innermost mind conjures and what his mouth utters has been completely erased. We also chose to write you (Onyema) because you are the most senior Biafran in Buhari’s government. We know that in your world, Biafra is the worst tag that anyone could put on you. Unfortunately, the people you work with, in and around Aso Rock, see you as a Biafran. You can keep running away from it, but in the deepest corners of their eyes, Biafra is like a shell on you. And like a snail, you cannot cast it off.”
I only hope the two writers know the implications of the above statement to other Nigerians, whether within or outside the government, who don’t share in their Biafran agitation and quest. The import of the very offensive remarks quoted above could easily create suspicions in the relationship between the Igbos and non-Igbos in the Buhari Administration, and by extension among other Nigerians.
In another paragraph in their “Open Letter,” the writers seek to put the Minister in a tight corner, as if he is in cahoots with them, when they say that, “Over the last six years, we are aware of your (Onyema) hard work on the international stage to rescue this government’s reputation. As this government squandered both at home and abroad the enormous goodwill it received in 2015, you have worked hard to reassure the international community that the wheel of the Nigerian vessel had not come off and would not come off. Based on recent events, you do not need a soothsayer or us to tell you that the wheels came off a long time ago. What the international community was telling you in private weeks ago, they have made a tiny bit of it public following the debacle that is Buhari’s reaction to Twitter’s sanction of his genocidal tweet against the people of the South-East.”
From the above, are they claiming that they were privy to the proceedings of the meeting?
Also, while they expressed their utter disdain for the President, they yet never disclosed that the same Buhari had nominated Igbo politicians as his running mates in previous elections, which however failed because the majority of South-Easterners refused to vote for the tickets he was on.
Meanwhile, when Buhari finally choose a Yoruba man as running mate, they not only became possibly the best-known opposition candidates in Nigerian history, but they went on to win elections into the presidency on two continuous occasions.
Whereas they mention the already outlawed and proscribed group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) once in the entire lengthy article, they yet attempted to whitewash its leader by claiming that “Nnamdi Kanu is a product of Buhari’s incompetence” and that “Buhari’s paranoiac frenzy about anything Biafra turned what was Nnamdi Kanu’s agitation for justice and fairness into what it is today.” Surprisingly, they added that, “The president made Nnamdi Kanu a hero by locking him up and disobeying court orders to free him.”
Yet, it is quite easy to forget that there was hardly anything exclusive about the fate suffered by Nnamdi Kanu, as he had similar journeymen in Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.) and Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky who have been punished greatly by the same act of disobedience to court orders. These are Northerners who have suffered gravely in the hands of the government, but who have not instigated rampages that habitually kill the Police and other security personnel, while destroying public property in their region, just because of the injustice meted out to them by the state.
While IPOB is mentioned only once in the article, and this was in their defence, the writers nevertheless mentioned Boko Haram several times for obvious reasons, even though terrorists and acts of terrorism need to be engaged within the same frame and treated in the same manner. They even created an interesting leeway in their description of IPOB militants as ‘Biafran activists,’ as put in the sentence that, “whatever excesses Biafran activists exhibit pale in comparison to the activities of well-armed, long-established northern-based groups, most of whom are from the president’s ethnic stock.”
May I ask: what is the composition of this ethnic stock of the president? Is it Fulani, Kanuri, Arewa, Muslim, etc., because he is all of these?
Still, Rudolf Okonkwo and Chido Onumah fail to refer to the killing of dozens of security personnel, including officers of the Police and the Armed Forces, in the East and the destruction of security formations and facilities, including Police stations and Prisons, but they would rather blame the security agencies. According to the “Open Letter”, the two writers mentioned that President Buhari would send Onyema “to crisscross the world and lie for him…. lying that there were no killings of innocent young men and women in the South-East by security agencies.” What about the security personnel killed in the various outbursts of local insurrection, could it be that they are considered as less human than the others who got murdered and hence deserved no mention or for anyone to seek justice on their behalf?
What about the killing of Northerners, especially Muslims, alongside the looting, as well as destruction of their goods in the South-East by gangs of the so-called Unknown Gunmen?
The Biafran writers refused to refer to reckless incitements of the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu against the federal troops, even as he repeatedly describes Nigerians and the country as ‘animals and a Zoo.’ Neither did they mention that the IPOB that they have refigured as some sort of freedom movement has actually been proscribed by law for its various criminal, treacherous and treasonable offences.
The writers did not deem it appropriate to point out that their revered hero, Nnamdi Kanu is a fugitive who jumped bail and had his sympathisers, including lawyers and activists, lie so brazenly by sensationally claiming that he had then been abducted by security agencies, while he had really been ferried abroad by these same supporters.
As I had mentioned in one of my articles titled, “Between the Nigerian Igbos and Biafran Agitators,” (https://yashuaib.com/2017/06/nigerian-igbos-biafran-agitators/) written in June 2017, I said “the Ndigbo are spread across every nook and cranny of Nigeria. The Igbo speaks local dialects and respects the cultures of his host communities. He believes every part of Nigeria is a home away from home and adopts the same as his place of residence. Experience has shown that if you go to any community and you do not find an Igbo person there, your had better leave that town immediately. Any city without an Igbo person is not business-like. On the other hand, a Biafran agitator is not exposed to other parts of Nigeria besides Igboland, and even if he might have grown up in the diaspora, he only learnt the distorted history of Nigeria through myopic and eccentric points-of-views. The agitator hates other Nigerians and possibly believes in violent confrontations towards the actualisation of his dream of the Republic of Biafra.”
While I still stand on the fact that there are differences between peace-loving Igbos and IPOB militants and their sympathisers, as one who is permanently sold on Nigerian diversity and the strengths and possibilities it represents, I wish to urge that as Nigerians, we should all be very careful about the sort of divisive politics that we promote. And how we seek to cherry-pick events to lend a morbidly dark interpretation to our national experience at this, no doubt, challenging point in time, while working towards an end that might not be totally salutary.
Yushau A. Shuaib
Is the author of “An Encounter with the Spymaster”