IPOB vs Nigeria in the aftermath of Python Dance II offensive
The key to stability in Nigeria is neither economic progress nor military conquest. It is an equitable political system.
John Bunyan, the English writer and preacher who lived in the 17th century, wrote that “He that is down needs fear no fall” in his famous poem with the same title. This is a protection for the losing side in any contest, sport or war. It, in effect, compels the winner to be magnanimous in victory. Once floored, the loser is not afraid of further bashing by his conqueror. Beyond the fact of his defeat, the loser is made to suffer no further indignity.
But “losers” are endangered species in Nigeria. Since the military, in its Operation Python Dance II, unleashed terror on members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Nigerian state and people have been quite mean in victory. With the barbaric treatment of captured IPOB members seen in video footages, the Nigerian military swiftly declared the separatist group a “terrorist” organisation. The state governors in the Southeastern region of the country also proscribed IPOB’s activities. These initial illegal actions have now been legitimised thorough a legal process.
With the whereabouts of IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, unknown since the military crackdown commenced on September 15, Nigerians are seemingly not bothered about his safety. We have provided various justifications for the military heavyhandedness. We sneered at IPOB for starting what it couldn't finish and Kanu's fiery rhetoric. We jeered at the notion of the marginalisation of the Igbos, ostensibly because all Nigerian ethnic nationalities arguably have also been marginalised, if not now, certainly in the past.
IPOB, which had been raining verbal assaults against the Nigerian state, has now been crushed by the military. But this victory can be very deceiving. Agitations like IPOB's don't simply end because of an episode of military conquest. If military conquest would end the agitation for a sovereign state of Biafra that is sliced out of Nigeria, IPOB would not have emerged in the first place. Nigeria roundly defeated the Biafran army in the civil war fought between 1967 and 1970. Estimated over one million Igbos were slaughtered or starved to death during the war.
As Financial Nigeria's editorial partner, Stratfor recently recollected, in 1859 John Brown intended to spark a slave rebellion with his attack on Harper's Ferry, now West Virginia. With the attack, Brown wanted to end the institution of slavery in the United States once and for all. But his plan met abject 'defeat.' The Marines killed Brown and his raiders. Those who escaped were captured and executed for treason. The failure of Brown's effort was completed as no slave rose up in response to his move or the total annihilation of his movement.
However, Stratfor captured the events that unfolded afterwards thus. “The events at Harper's Ferry unsettled Southern slaveholders, leading them to organize militias and view Northern states as a territorial threat. The failed raid forced the issue of slavery into the 1860 elections, and 18 months later the opening shots of the U.S. Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter in South Carolina.
“Certainly, Brown's raid alone did not cause the Civil War – the conflict had already been brewing for a generation – and it did not end slavery through rebellion, as he had envisioned it. However, it did inflame a tender fault line between the abolitionist North and the pro-slavery South, provoking violence that eventually led to a military and political solution ending the age of slavery in the United States.”
However obnoxious IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu are made to appear in defeat, they have forced “restructuring” of the country into the front and centre of political dialogue in Nigeria. If the current dialogue leads to restructuring of the country, which is seen as a pre-condition for a prosperous and sustainable Nigeria, then Kanu would have made vital contributions to political reengineering of the country.
Ignorant and Ridiculous Claims
The many grounds on which the agitation by IPOB has been faulted are both ignorant and ridiculous. IPOB is accused of rejecting the marginalisation of the Igbos when all Nigerian ethnic groups are marginalised. Even if it were true that all the Nigerian constituent ethnicities have been marginalised, it doesn't delegitimise IPOB's rejection of the marginalisation of the Igbos. The Nigeria that is desirable is one in which all its constituents are equal partners and where no citizen is denied an opportunity on the basis of his or her ethnicity. The Nigeria that must be rejected by all is one in which marginalisation of any constituent part is the norm.
It is said that the Igbos were very prominent in the past administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. Therefore, the Igbos should gladly sit out the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, since they recently had their moments. In business parlance, this would be tantamount to accepting losses in the current year because of the profits recorded in the previous years.
Political progress needs not be chequered; it should be cumulative. What the Igbos are up against under the current administration is not a rotational arrangement whatsoever. They are against the prejudice of Buhari, who instead of
being magnanimous in his electoral victory secured despite meagre Igbos' support, decided to leave them out of his administration. He infamously said he would not treat as the same the constituency that gave him 5% percent vote compared to the one that gave him 97%.
Buhari hails from the Hausa/Fulani ethnicity that believes it is its right to rule the country in perpetuity. The “born to rule” slogan was carried out through the unconstitutional military rules of the 1970s to the 1990s. But now under a democratic system, the desire of every ethnic group to participate at high levels of the federal government is obvious. The challenge the country faces is how to design a framework that combines merit with broad participation in government.
But there are those who believe the Igbos are far from marginalised in Nigeria. Their proof is the successes of Igbo sons and daughters in business. Therefore, since Igbos are doing fine in business, they cannot be politically marginalised.
It is true that Igbos are very enterprising. This has seen a few of them build business empires for themselves in the country. But the success of the Igbos is often grossly generalised. While a couple of Igbos control a sizeable section of the Nigerian corporate world, the enterprises of the vast majority of the Igbos are on the streets and the corner shops. Following the expropriation of Igbo's wealth outside its heartlands after the civil war has been the political marginalisation of the Igbos, extending to the military and the civil service.
In Nigeria's state-controlled rent economy, it is arguable that the Igbos' business successes may have been politically curtailed. Besides, whatever financial success is achieved by the hardworking Igbo owners of Seplat Petroleum Development Company Plc, which is dual-listed in Nigeria
and London, could easily be surpassed by those who leverage political connection to appropriate to themselves the country's oil wealth.
In any case, how does the success of Igbos in business compensate for the stunting of the careers of Igbos in the public service and in national politics? Why should success in business and in public sector careers of Igbos be zero-sum? But if the predilection of the Igbos for enterprise is given full expression, it can only help raise the national wealth. However, Nigeria is operated not to optimise the potentials of its constituent parts and peoples.
Finally, the separatist agitation by IPOB is said to be unstrategic and lacking in political sophistication. IPOB and its sympathisers, we are told, should have pushed for a constitutional clause that allows for a referendum in any part of the country that desires to secede. Firstly, no country devices a constitutional provision for its dismemberment. Secondly, the constitutional provision for referendum is part of the cumulative gains of years of political reengineering, which often involves wars. Such provisions, in effect reflects the maturity of the polity rather than enabling secession of its constituent parts.
And, thirdly, we continue to see in the advanced democracies procedural logjams in exercising the constitutional provision for referendum towards secession. The 2016 Brexit referendum was held with the belief of the government of the day that “remain” would win. However, Brexit is proving to be the worst political gamble since the Second World War. The 2014 Scottish independence referendum held with the majority voting to remain in the United Kingdom. But as the odds for separation has now increased with Brexit, a second Scottish referendum is unlikely to hold any time soon.
The Kurds in Iraq, last month, held a referendum to secede from the country. After 92% of the voters voted for a separate Kurdistan, the Kurds in Iraq now face the prospects of a military crackdown by the government in Baghdad and diplomatic pressure from outside Iraq on concerns for regional stability. The agitation for a sovereign Catalonia started in 1922. The long road to the October 1, 2017 referendum for independent Catalonia from Spain has led to a political impasse – the outcome of previous referendums. The truth is that there is no easy path to separating from a state, in spite of the collapse of the Soviet Union – which, in any case, was a confederation – and the dismemberment of its satellite, communist neighbours in the 1990s.
Leveraging IPOB's Agitation
It is not only economic crisis that must not go to waste. There are ample lessons to be learnt from political crisis as well. The agitation by IPOB has brought to the fore, once again, the problematic of the Nigerian federation that functions mainly to constrain the political and economic progress of its constituent parts. As a result of IPOB's agitation, a broader spectrum of the Nigerian political class now wants the country to be restructured. While a number of the politicians now mouth commitment to a restructured Nigeria, and it remains to be seen if it would be actualised, some immediate practical steps can be taken to assuage the current grievances.
One, President Buhari should make conciliatory moves towards the Igbos. This must include good representation of the Igbos in his next appointments. Two, IPOB should be removed from the list of national terrorist organisations, with deproscription of its activities to follow. Three, Nnamdi Kanu must be released immediately or encouraged to come out of hiding. Four, President Buhari has to pledge to address the violence by the Fulani herdsmen around the country. He must swiftly condemn any fresh attacks, ensuring the offenders face the legal process. Five, political detainees should be freed, with their further fate determined through the judicial process. Six, the Buhari administration should take other steps to de-escalate tensions that are brewing in the country, with substantial state strategy built to demilitarise the polity.
The key to stability in Nigeria is neither economic progress nor military conquest. It is an equitable political system. Further to that, government at various levels must invest in education and the civil society must insist on transparency and accountability from the leaders.
There are those who denigrate Nnamdi Kanu as a 'nobody' seeking cheap political popularity. Such unfortunate views show that as Nigerians we are active collaborators with government in undermining our constitutional civil liberties and personal dignity. But if Kanu was a 'nobody,' he definitely has earned the status of a 'somebody,' following his prolonged incarceration for leading a peaceful agitation. He would transcend to immortality if murdered by the Nigerian state.
If IPOB's noisy agitation leads to the fashioning of a better Nigeria, which should be the case, the contribution and personal sacrifice by Nnamdi Kanu to this outcome would be undeniable. The hate components of his bombastic rhetoric remain condemnable. But his agitation was peaceful and not by arms.
Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari