By  Idowu Akinlotan 
Published On The Biafra Post
June 28,2021

If Abuja, the federal capital, is not a part of the North-Central, President Muhammadu Buhari’s establishment of five universities across four geopolitical zones out of six may put the lie to the continuing marginalisation of the Igbo Southeast. The new institutions are to be established in the Southwest, South-South, Northwest, and Northeast. But the Igbo are unlikely to consider the establishment of the institutions fair. In fact, they are more likely to see it as one more proof of the deliberateness of the marginalisation inspired against the Igbo which began before the Buhari presidency but has been remorselessly given fillip since 2015. They see and feel the unfairness against their ethnic group, but by now, other than feeble remonstrations, they are probably paralysed by a sense of frustration and ennui. In the past six years, the more they complain, the more their grievances provoke official intransigence. They campaign for a sixth state for their zone, but the federal government points at the size of the Southeast, the proverbial landlocked dot in the circle, and snub them. They see how since 2015 some of the country’s service chiefs – one of the newly appointed chiefs has proposed one for his state too – site tertiary institutions in their states at public expense, and covet one for their zone. But because they have not produced a service chief since that abominable culture took root, despite being one of Nigeria’s ethnic tripod, they have been left holding the short end of the stick.

In response to what the Igbo described as a long-running and long-standing pattern of marginalisation, Southeast protest groups have roused themselves to challenge their continuing diminution. One of the groups led by Ralph Nwazuruike, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB, Est. 1999), became strident, unorthodox, irreverent and loud. The region’s leading political elite recognised the group as a challenge to their regional dominance. But years of attrition inspired by federal might eventually balkanised the group, birthing the more incendiary Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB, Est. 2012) led by the hysterical Nnamdi Kanu. But whether MASSOB or IPOB, the Southeast elite knew which side their bread was buttered. They opposed Mr Nwazuruike, denounced Mr Kanu, and though they lacked the courage to trigger or even win a frontal confrontation with the two, thereby forcing the elite to pull their punches, they had no illusion about what IPOB and MASSOB represented to their political hold on the region. They knew they would be supplanted should the agitators have the upper hand.

Since IPOB got the upper hand, however, the region’s governors and political elite have run the gauntlet of federal might and Biafra mob. Just like President Buhari – not to talk of a disproportionate number of northern opinion moulders and politicians – who was chary of condemning Boko Haram in its early years, Igbo leaders had engaged in hand-wringing until the president unleashed a string of sanctimonious and bellicose characterisation of the Igbo. They were landlocked, he gloated, as if the core North was not also landlocked. They were a dot in a circle, he growled, mocking the size of their five states and their overwhelming need to exhale into other geopolitical zones. And in any case, he said with a finality that was distinctly unpresidential, excessive, mendacious and provocative, they were well represented in his government. He exaggerates, of course. But that is his distorted view of his administration’s inclusiveness policy, notwithstanding that he comes across as divisive and insular. And when the now linguistically inclined president deadpanned about the violent language he would speak to the Igbo/IPOB – whom he regards as his coterminous enemies – the threat was complete and the humiliation final.

Weeks of militarisation of the region by government security forces, encouraged by weeks of attacks on police stations, INEC offices, and a few other government buildings by alleged agents of IPOB and their Eastern Security Network (ESN) created a siege atmosphere that seemed to prime the region for war. The problem was not beyond dialogue, many Nigerians counseled, since IPOB and other aggrieved people in the region, behaving like symptoms of a disease, were merely responding to hostile conditions engendered by a federal administration unenthusiastic about meeting the Southeast either half way, an administration that continuously baits the region. But finally, the Defence minister, Bashir Magashi, belatedly led a delegation to dialogue with the region’s leadership elite, thus thawing the ice. Wary of indirectly encouraging a war they neither wished for nor assented to, nor were even prepared for, Igbo leaders balked and began speaking effusively about the merits of national unity.

According to Igbo leaders who met in Enugu on June 19: “We condemn in totality the activities of violent and secessionist group in south-east and elsewhere. We firmly proclaim that we do not support them because they do not speak for South East. While we firmly promise to protect everyone either from our region or other regions living in our places, we plead with other regions to please note the threat to our people and please address the threat to our people and protect them. We condemn the killing of security agents, burning of infrastructure facilitate and killing of civilians in South-East and even in other regions. We request our security agencies to discharge their duties with the rules of engagement and law. We request our nation Assembly members from South-East to please support state creation and state police in ongoing constitutional amendment. The impression that Southeast governors are silent over our youths’ agitation and secession is not correct. South-East governors, Ohanaeze President, National Assembly members and notable leaders from South-East had come out publicly in the past to speak against such agitation. In other not to find ourselves in that unfortunate situation, South-East leaders have set up a committee to engage such group and allow the elders to address their fears.”

No self-abnegation can be more mortifying. The Igbo had at first been reticent, some of their analysts say, because there was no corresponding federal denunciation of herdsmen, Northwest bandits, and Northeast Boko Haram in the core North despite the enduring suspicion that all three terrorist groups had received some sort of official or regional connivance. Neither MASSOB nor IPOB/ESN, has engaged in the pillage, rape, land seizure and farm destruction akin to what herdsmen and bandits have carried out without let or hindrance, but it was IPOB that first attracted official terrorist label in 2017 while rampaging herdsmen, some of them foreign based, had and continue to receive official justification. No one has forced the core North political leaders to apologise on behalf of herdsmen, bandits or Boko Haram; but Igbo leaders have had to supplicate the country on behalf of a Southeast group that threatens to supplant them, provoke their overthrow and routinely lather them with abuses and all sorts of deprecation. Yet, in 2017, Igbo governors had declared IPOB illegal.

The Igbo are probably inexpert poker players. Had they been adept at bluffing, they would have known that as uncaring and indifferent to their cause as the federal administration has in these latter years become, there is a limit to which it can speak the violence language it threatened the Southeast. The administration wields the ghoulish symbol of war as a sword of Damocles over the collective head of the Igbo, but the alliances and forces that prosecuted the Nigerian civil war are all obliterated, making it impossible to coax the kind of cooperation that undid the Igbo in 1967. The Igbo have now eaten crow, and at least the spectre of war has seemed considerably diminished. But it will be a mistake to think that because the Southeast leaders have backed down, the seeds of future conflict have been extirpated. The Buhari administration’s constant dithering over restructuring, in the face of what is clearly an untenable and indefensible political structure, is certain to prolong the country’s existential malaise.


APC, media bill and presidency

JUST when the Nigerian media thought that it had won a huge respite for press freedom, it is again facing the battle of its life as the Muhammadu Buhari presidency, acting in stealth and through third parties, unsheathes its restless sword against the fourth estate of the realm through an amendment intended to reshape the media landscape from vibrancy to docility. The media defeated all the military governments that sought to castrate it since the end of the civil war, nay since colonial rule, and has lived to write the stories and obituaries of those infamous governments; there is no question that it will write an even more intense and fearsome epitaph to the current administration’s poor leadership, with a copious mention of all the dramatis personae involved, from the disingenuous and increasingly disagreeable Information minister Lai Mohammed to the boneless executive stooge Olusegun Odebunmi (Rep- Oyo Surulere/Ogo Oluwa constituency) in whose name the latest assault is being promoted.

Fortunately, the media never shirks a fight nor its duty, and having the advantage of time on its side, will fight this latest treachery against the constitution with all the gusto and experience it had mustered in its many decades of battling visionless military governments. The current administration has, in all its execrable essentials, acted and spoken as a military government veering towards fascism, but it has less than two years to go in office. It will of course fight with all the bitterness and fierceness it is capable of and accustomed to, especially knowing it has a little time left; but if history is any guide, it is inconceivable that it can win, regardless of how much regulatory venom and constitutional amendments it musters. But that will not deter it from doing maximum damage. Right from inception, when non-democrats seized the commanding heights of the administration in 2015, it always seemed that party members and leaders alike, not to say the trusting but sometimes amnesiac media in Nigeria, had backed the wrong horse. They are now ruing their hastiness.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) is now clearly regarded as Janus-faced. It presented a different, beguiling and perceptive face to the electorate in 2015, but has ruled since then with another face –  brutish, threatening, unconcerned with the future, and self-centred. There were a few Nigerians who warned that the party under its candidate was hoodwinking its way into office, but a majority of Nigerians frustrated by the shenanigans of the Goodluck Jonathan presidency believed that should the devil himself offer to lead the assault on the last administration, the country would rally to his side. See what they wished for. Well, immediately the new administration assumed office in 2015, it proceeded post haste to effect the most radical and dispiriting change in perspective and substance any new government was capable of.

First to be shorn of its ethical trimmings was naturally the executive branch itself. The cabal, under the phlegmatic leadership of its septuagenarian quartet, brusquely took over, purged the ruling party of any extraneous influence, emplaced those who would take dictations or are cut from the same cloth, and silenced the consciences of the idealists among their ranks who erroneously thought the progressives had finally arrived and would envision for Africa what the philosopher-kings who freed the continent from colonialism could only dream of. Then the administration proceeded to castrate the judiciary, and hiding under the anti-corruption mantra which it knew would seduce most Nigerians, set the cats among the pigeons while the country slumbered. But the Nigerian judiciary is notoriously slow and conservative, and was not as amenable to the caper the executive branch wished to pull off. So, the executive simply cut the Gordian knot, overthrew the dissembling leadership of the third tier, and has since then inoculated the judiciary against reason, law and commonsense. The executive arm needed less effort, and met with few complications, in disemboweling the legislature.

Now, it is the turn of the media, which has for long hidden under the grandiloquent label of fourth estate of the realm and drawn its moral strength from Chapter Four of the 1999 constitution. But as the Information minister told the House of Representatives Joint Committees on Information, ICT and Justice during a consideration – it looked less like the probe they claimed it was – of the Twitter ban, whatever rights anyone thought the flawed constitution vouchsafed to the Nigerian through Section37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 are qualified by Section 45. As far as the APC is concerned, they could always, if pushed sufficiently, find a constructive corollary in the constitution, any constitution, to abridge rights, promote tyranny, and regiment the country back to its Neanderthal past. The administration had since 2015 laboured to deal with a media that menaced the government’s intrinsic authoritarian disposition and detestation for rights and freedoms; but it had met a brick wall every time it mustered the courage and strength. Desperate to redeem lost time, and flustered by the constant needling of the press, the administration has finally found its Man Friday in Oyo, the puppet Hon Odebunmi, to lead the charge against free speech. Don’t believe presidential spokesman Femi Adesina and Information minister in their attempt to distance the government from the execrable bills against the press.

The desperation has seemed repugnant to many Nigerians. In fact they suspect that the obsessive desire to control everything, regardless of democracy, implies that the administration has a nefarious agenda to execute before 2023, whether in regards to Fulani hegemonic interests or in engineering some other political forces to birth new political realities, to prompt the realignment of political interests whose locus would be permanently shifted to predetermined destinations, or to create a dominant class or group. These objectives do not take into consideration the possibility, no matter how small, of a hypothetical tomorrow in which another party would win office. Should that happen, the same draconian laws that are now been inspired to dominate everywhere and everybody might be deployed to stifle the APC in opposition, just as the late military strongman Sani Abacha deployed the anti-coup decree promulgated by the Olusegun Obasanjo military government after the 1976 coup to entrap him in the 1995 phantom coup.

Mr Lai Mohammed has public relations and legal background. But he has offered himself in the past few years as a consummate propagandist entranced by authoritarianism, if not fascism. He must not expect history to be kind to him. There is no way he and the administration he serves unreservedly and heedlessly can win this needless battle with the media. They do not have the same staying power the Nigerian media possesses. They may whisper their admiration for the Chinese model of democracy and even prosecute both their domestic and foreign policies with the gung-ho adventurism of North Korea, but their hedonistic lordships have neither the discipline and depth to match the Chinese nor the self-flagellation and imperturbability the dynasty in Pyongyang projects. APC thinks they will always be in power, or retain power by engineering defections from other parties; but they have done enough to lose power in a free and fair election. However, there may be some method to their madness: by trying to promote individuals like presidential aide Lauretta Onochie into the Independent National Electoral Commission as a national commissioner in flagrant opposition to the law and common sense, they signal their readiness to redefine the rules and principles of democracy along the Oriental perversity which past African leaders had admired and clumsily operated to the shame of the continent.

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