The statement by the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) that the Igbos can go, is loaded with a conditionality. They can go, if by doing so, the Igbos are bowing to to popular wish. We know that there is divided openion among the Igbos on this. This statement is loaded with wisdom. The NEF is neither asking them to go, nor that they should go, on the urging of any person or group.
It is taken that the popular will is the will of the Igbo people. They, and they alone, should decide. If, and when they decide, either way, that will be acceptable, because it will be seen to be their popular will or interest. That will be democracy in action. In democratic dispensations, people are free to choose what associations or groups to belong . The people are free to congregate freely, to discuss freely, to agree freely, or not to agree, freely. It is up to them to decide
This position is different from the previous position, when Nigeria had to go to war for the unity of this country. But that was under the military. Even after that and up to now, the position had been on keeping Nigeria one. But this position has been causing a lot of problems to the country, including that idea of unity itself.
It is assumed that the Igbos would have thought very deeply on secession. If seceding is their final position, so be it, in this civilian democracy. However, if seceding is the position and desire of one man, or some youths, then,this can not constitute the popular will of the Igbos. The task here is to find out that popular will. Through discussions and dialogue, this can be found out. The Igbo political elite , and the ordinary people scattered all around the country should speak up. I am under a feeling that the number of Igbos in other parts of the country and in the diaspora are more than the population in the east. Would it be in their true interests as being canvassed by Kanu who is as well instigating other youths in the region ?
Putting that aside, let us try to find out the reality on the ground. I am of the opinion that the agitation for secession and the accompanying arson and killings in the South-east is as a result of their feelings of non-inclusion in the governance of this country. More so, they seem to see a lot of nepotism and use of religion and tribe in governance, which are used in discriminating against them as a bloc. They may be right and they may be wrong. But truly speaking, which tribe or group has not been complaining at one time or the other, starting from the almagamation of the north and south to date ? The degree of complaints of discrimination depend on which tribe or group that is on the saddle of power and which one is not. All groups have complained, on various issues, at different times. I need not recount it here, although the degree or intensity of the complaints is inversely relate to the group’s nearness to power. The further away they are from power, the more they complain, and the nearer they are to power, the less they complain. It also depends on the inherited culture of the people and the effects on the people that has in today’s governance and politics. For instance, people not familiar with the northern culture tend to feel that the north has always been satisfied with the state of affairs in governance and in Politics. But it is not so. We have to go to the culture of the people of the north in order to understand how and why they behave the way they do. Here in the north, we have the influence of culture and religion. The society is organised hierarchically. At the top you have the emirs and the aristocracy. It is centralised and levels of authority system, ( it is hierarchical). Therefore there is deference to position in the society. Those in the lower classes have to obey and respect the higher classes. They see it and accept it as their place in life.
Secondly, is the influence of religion, particularly on the lower classes. They will cite the teachings of their religion which says that the commoners should be obedient to their leaders. They are to be accountable to their leaders and not the other way round. The leaders too are urged to rule well and be fair to the people they rule. But they are not accountable to the people but to some superior spiritual authority and that is Allah. Allah controls the now and the hereafter and the leaders would be rewarded for what they do, if not now, but certainly in the hereafter. So, even if the people are not satisfied, they find consolation on the teachings of religion and they regard it as the will of Allah for them. They leave everything to Him.
That is the attitude northerners have tended to bring into governance and politics at the national level that tend to make them seem to be unanimous on most national issues. But that is not to conclude that they are satisfied. They may not be.
The Yorubas of the South-west on the other hand,tend to have similar centralised and hierarchical system of leadership. With their educational exposure, this tend to help them and give them the garb of uninamity. They voice out their complaints, but they also recognise and reverence their leaders, as having the final say.
But the situation of the Igbos in the east is different. They tend to have the same cultural characteristics with the minorities of the South-south and those of the middle- belt. All of them have a culture of Republicanism. They are individualistic and feel they should not pay obedience and obeisance to anybody. They believe very much in individualism. This affects them in Nigeria’s prebendal politics that is both tribal, religious and cultural. There seems to be the “clanging of many voices without a choir” and that is confusing. They carry this into politics. For everything, they will complain. They do not refer to the past, to recollect what ever advantage they might have had, but they seem to be concerned only about the present. Even the minorities of the South-south and the middle-belt have developed a mentality with regards to the way the major tribes treat them in their regions. I will call that the “siege mentality”.I will not go into that now.
However, suffice it to say that all groups in Nigeria have one complaint or the other. The difference among the various groups is the mode of expressing such complaints and the intensity.
It is in the light of all of the above that one can understand the complaints and secessionist agitations of the Igbos. But one should not blame them for that. In this kind of tribal and religious environment in which Nigeria operates, their reaction in the manner they do, should be understood .
The sum total of this, is that the various groups in Nigeria, have been responding in varying ways to the problems they experience in this union.
My understanding of the complaints is that they are reactions to bad governance and mismanagement of this country’s diversities and the different tendencies. The worse the government, the more serious the situation gets. What you see are symptoms, they are not the cause.
The more we mis read the symptoms and think we are dealing with the cause, the deeper we sink into the mess.
Nigeria therefore, has to pay attention to the quality of its political leaders, and the political leadership recruitment system so as to ensure that it is only the competent , capable and the best people that mount the saddles of power at all levels. Then of course, the restructuring of the country can also be done , with the center shedding a lot of its powers to the federating units. We also have to change our attitudes of viewing certain parts of this country as being parasites. Every part of this country has both human, land , and other natural resources to make it rich and to contribute to nation-building. It is just that the present system encourages laziness and lack of efforts and innovation. That is my take on this issue.
Joshua D Ephraim