Take style, quit the quit notice
The ‘quit notice’ that Arewa Youth groups served in June for Igbos to leave the North and return to ‘Biafra’ was a dangerous gambit that succeeded in achieving a tactical goal, that of forcing Igbo leaders to distance themselves from IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu. It is however time to formally revoke it because one can achieve tactical success only to achieve strategic failure. The ten member committee jointly set up last week by the Coalition of Northern Youth Groups and the Igbo Delegates Assembly in the 19 Northern States is expected to submit its report to the two bodies today. They should not miss the opportunity to formally announce that the ‘quit notice’ has been rescinded.
I say it was a gambit because the North never intended to eject Igbos. Look at it this way; if all Igbo traders in the North were to unceremoniously pack their wares and leave, there would be no vehicle spare parts, tyres, plumbing materials, electrical fittings, roofing sheets, floor tiles or paint to buy anywhere in the North. Vehicles will screech to a halt and all uncompleted buildings will remain that way until we find a way to reach out to Taiwanese, which is uncertain. Even now, every motorist in the North knows the inconvenience he suffers when his car breaks down on a Sunday. The only saving grace is that young Igbo shop attendants live inside their masters’ shops. To circumvent the Sunday close-shop order, they open one door of the shop and pretend to be washing clothes, only to ‘help’ a desperate motorist who comes looking for a spare part.
Jobless Northern youths are envious of Igbo shops and they often attack them in times of inter-communal trouble, whether or not the Igbos are part of it. I wish to counsel patience. In my lifetime I have seen Northerners gaining on other people. Forty years ago nearly every taxi driver, mechanic, barber and photographer in the North was a Yorubaman but Northerners have since encroached into those areas while maintaining an iron grip on tanker driving, suya and street trading of foreign exchange. Last week when police paraded 62 kidnappers caught on the Kaduna-Abuja highway, I was impressed to note that almost all of them were Hausa, Fulani and Muslim. Years ago we would have been marginalised.
A much more dangerous aspect of the ‘quit notice’ is that hoodlums could take it upon themselves to actualise it, which could spell doom for Nigeria. The Arewa Youths that issued the ultimatum have no means of carrying it out. The Federal Government, governors of the Northern states, prominent traditional rulers, Arewa Consultative Forum [ACF] as well as Nigeria Police have all disavowed the ultimatum and pledged to protect every citizen’s constitutional right to live where he wishes to. Still, the people targeted by the ultimatum must be worried because our cities are teeming with jobless youths who are itching for a chance to loot shops. In Nigeria, government “assurances” of protection are not to be taken seriously. Some youngsters have already built up on the ‘quit notice’ and composed a song disparaging all Igbos as enemies of Northerners. For me who did my NYSC in the heart of Igboland, I cannot forget the wonderful hospitality I got in the rural areas even if urban folks are usually less hospitable than that.
Just like Nnamdi Kanu’s dangerous ‘Biafra’ gambit created imminent danger for Igbos living in the North, the Arewa Youths’ gambit also created present dangers for Northerners living in the East. Maybe there are fewer Northerners living in the East than there are Igbos living in the North and the former have much less wealth, but anyone who claims to be championing Northern interest should not imperil them either. This is not the first time it is happening. During my NYSC days in Anambra State, a fellow teacher brought a newspaper with a story that hoodlums attacked and killed Christians in Kano. I looked around the school compound for an escape route and muttered to myself, “Those hoodlums in Kano did not reckon that some of us are here.”
From all evidence, it is not the wish of the North for Nigeria to come apart. There are two main reasons for this, one temporary and one permanent. The temporary factor is oil, which provides most foreign exchange for the country and most revenues for all three tiers of government. Oil may no longer be a factor in a decade or two to come but the more permanent problem for the North is lack of sea coast, a debilitating problem for all countries that are landlocked. Kanu’s dream ‘Biafra’ is also landlocked which is why he expanded it on a map to include Niger Delta, Kogi and Benue states. Everything considered, no part of the country stands to gain from a break up of Nigeria. However, since the North has made its anxiety about the country’s possible break up too plain, Southern Nigerian elite figures have seized on that with a strident campaign for “restructuring,” with its faint hint of the country’s break up.
‘Restructuring’ is a gambit too, which is why there is still no clear understanding among its advocates of what it entails. For now it resembles the story of the six blind men that touched different parts of an elephant; everyone went away with his own understanding of what an elephant is. The Southern elite suggest that the country’s current structure confers undue advantages on the North and restructuring should whittle that down. Restructuring cannot however take away the North’s having a majority of registered voters, unless democracy is also restructured. Maybe the North produced more heads of state, more ministers and more heads of juicy federal agencies since 1960 than its numbers deserve, but to what end? Right now the North has more out of school children, higher maternal mortality rate, lower JAMB admission figures and more people below the absolute poverty line than other regions. I hope restructuring will achieve a more even spread of those numbers.
Let me tell my younger brothers, the Arewa Youth leaders, why they should jump at an opportunity to get out of the ‘quit notice’ gambit. I became President of a university students’ union when I was still a teenager. In 1980 I led a massive demonstration involving the students of four tertiary institutions to demand independence for Zimbabwe. I marched at the head of the rally but soon after I delivered a letter to the governor for onward transmission to Lagos, police arrested me and said student demonstrators vandalised some vehicles. I kept arguing, weakly, that ours was a peaceful rally and that it was hoodlums that hijacked it. Two months later I led another demonstration to protest the shooting of farmers at Bakolori. Again hoodlums hijacked it and police arrested me. I then quietly promised myself that I will not organise another demonstration again until the end of my tenure.
Ten days ago, Arewa Youth leaders met with the Chairman of the Northern States Governors Forum [NSGF], Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State. Both the governor and the youths’ leader later dropped hints that the ‘quit notice’ would be revoked within days but this did not happen. If the youth leaders were wise, what they should have done was to tell the NSGF Chairman, “We issued this notice because we could not stand idly by while Nnamdi Kanu and his ilk were abusing our leaders. However, in the North we the youths respect our leaders and we listen to their words of wisdom. Since you have stepped into this matter, we want you to tell your counterparts in the East to tell their youths to stop abusing our leaders. With that assurance from you, we hereby transfer this matter into your hands and we hereby revoke the quit notice that we served on Igbos to leave the North.”