Take style, quit the quit no­tice

Daily Trust - - SPORT -

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.”

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