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.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - By Jide Ak­in­tunde

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.

False Vic­tory

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.

Nige­rian Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari

Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the In­dige­nous Peo­ple of Bi­afra

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