The eviction order by Northern youths to Igbos in the region to leave before October 1, brings to mind the events that preceded the Nigerian/Biafran war, prompting the question of whether the country can survive another civil war
By Olu Ojewale *
THE warning came from the pulpit on Sunday, May 28. On the day, Tunde Bakare, a pastor and general overseer of the Latter Rain Assembly, Lagos, warned that Nigeria was on the verge of another civil war following the yet-to-be addressed incessant killings of other Nigerians by Fulani herdsmen. Bakare, who spoke during his sermon that day, declared that Nigeria “is moving towards another collapse” with the division among different groups and violence in the country.
The pastor warned that the activities of the herdsmen could endanger the nation’s unity as affected Nigerians might be forced to retaliate against the rampaging herdsmen. He said: “We are pushing ourselves into the precipice of another civil war. “All these marauders, called herdsmen; if you don’t checkmate them quickly, and the people begin retaliation against what they are doing, we will begin to kill ourselves again. And violence and corruption will rob us of the great future which God has for us.”
Now, it is not the Fulani herdsmen alone that are driving Nigeria towards the precipice, a coalition of Northern youth groups seemed to have helped to further heighten the political tension in the country. The Coalition of Northern Youths, CNY, on Tuesday, June 6, issued a statement ordering Igbo people in the north to vacate Northern Nigeria by October 1, or face a mass action.
They also informed Northerners living in the East to return home. The CYC had addressed the media in Kaduna, Kaduna State.
The signatories to the declaration by the CNY include: Nastura Ashir Sharif of Arewa Citizens Action For Change; Shettima Yerima of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum; Aminu Adam of Arewa Youth Development Foundation; Alfred Solomon of Arewa Students Forum; Abdul-Azeez Suleiman of Northern Emancipation Network; Joshua Viashman of Northern Youth Vanguard; Mohammad A. Mohammad of Northern Youth Stakeholders Forum; Mohammed Tasiu Pantami of North East Assembly and Nathaniel Ajegena Adigizi of North Central People’s Front.
The groups blamed their decision on the activities of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, and the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, which have repeatedly called for a break-up of the country without being cautioned by the elders from the region.
The CNY said further that it was angered by the May 30, shut down of the South East by the separatist group to mark the 50th anniversary of the Biafra declaration and honour their fallen heroes who died during the war.
That notwithstanding, the declaration has been greeted with general condemnation in some quarters and indignation in others, thereby fueling uneasiness in many parts of the country.
The Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council, OYC, on Wednesday, June 7, told Igbo living in the North not run away but prepare to defend themselves against possible attack by northerners. Addressing journalists after a meeting in Enugu, Okechukwu Isiguzoro, national president of the OYC, said the ultimatum issued to Igbo by the northern groups was a call to arms, and should be treated as such by security agencies.
“Igbo resident in the North should get ready to defend themselves in the event of any provocation and attack from the Arewa youths,” Isiguzoro said, while also warning that the development could lead to another civil war in the country.
The Ohanaeze youth leader said: “They are at it again and this is a sad reminder of the civil war. This is how it started as a joke and before we knew it, a coordinated and simultaneous attack was launched against the Igbo in the North.
“This is a sad development considering the efforts being made to unite this country. This is a sad commentary considering the sacrifices Igbo have made in this country.
We, however, wish to state unequivocally that the Igbo are not cowards. We are not afraid of Alhaji Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, Yerima Shettima and their cohorts. Ndigbo want to make it categorically clear that we are ready for them. We cannot be intimidated by their ranting..
“The era of taking properties belonging to Ndigbo by force is gone. We won’t let that happen again. To this end, we are calling on our people in the North not to shift any ground; they should remain where they are; this country belongs to all of us. Any attack on our people shall receive commensurate reaction.,” he said.
Rather than sounding the war drum as the OYC, the MASSOB chose a middle course by urging Igbo living in the Northern part of the country to start returning home as directed by following the CNY. Uche Madu, MASSOB leader, in a statement, said the quit notice did not come as a surprise. Madu said: “MASSOB is aware that such rascality will happen. As a matter of fact, this is the only rascality exhibited by sponsored Arewa youths to forcefully exit the people of Biafra residing in Arewa land that MASSOB will 100 percent support. Their Boko Haram tactics didn’t work as planned. We pledge our total support towards this divinely approved quit notice.
“MASSOB congratulates the Arewa political, religious, traditional and opinion leaders who sponsored their youths wing by using Arewa House in Kaduna, for this greatest meeting of a coalition of Islamic fundamentalist.”
The MASSOB pleaded with Igbo not to wait for the three months quit notice to expire before they vacate the region. The pro-Biafra group charged Igbo to re-invest their investments in what it described as Biafra land. “As there is no other alternative to stop Biafra freedom, the northern leaders have resorted to using their youths wing to start terrorising the people of Biafra living in the northern region.
“What they saw during the sit-at-home exercise to mark the 50th anniversary celebration of Biafra declaration by General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu marvelled them irrespective of the promises made to them by their stooges in Biafra land.”
Afenifere, a Yoruba cultural group, which has variously complained against Fulani herdsmen that have been a torn in its flesh for sometimes now, has warned the North of playing a dangerous game by asking the Igbo to vacate the North. Yinka Odumakin, Afenifere’s spokesman, in an interview warned the North that declaring war against Igbo would not work. He also warned that there would be an ethnic massacre if the NYC should carry out its threat.
Going back memory lane, Odumakin argued that in 1967, the Igbo’s were not fighting anyone but simply protesting against their marginalisation, which led to the civil war. He read a similar situation to what is on ground, warning: “Carrying out their threats would be a prelude to another pogrom. These elements have over the years showed their propensity to attack people, but like Chinua Achebe said, they are holding a knife to the tiny rope that still holds the country together. I hope that if they still have elders, their elders should call them to order, otherwise, it may be the beginning of the end of Nigeria, as we know it.
“They should know that in 1967, they had a coalition to fight the Igbo but that coalition is no more there today. We know the people that fought the last war and won it. I can boldly speak for the Yoruba nation, that if the north thinks they can declare another war against the Igbo, it would not work. If they see any Yoruba man joining them to fight the Igbo, then that person must be a mercenary. The Igbo were not fighting, neither were they causing any crisis, but were just trying to make their grievances known in a peaceful manner. Why should they be threatened? For northerners to tell them to leave the North is sad for the polity.”
Sharing the same sentiments, Femi Fani-Kayode, a former minister of aviation, similarly warned that there would be grave consequences if the CNY should carry out its threat of kicking the Igbo out of the North.
In his tweets on Wednesday, June 7, Fani Kayode said: “Threatening the Igbo and kicking them out of the North won’t help. This time round the Middle Belt and the whole south will stand with them. We want peace by restructuring and not violence. Unleashing genocide against the Igbo or anyone else in North will have grave consequences.”
Rather than supporting either the North or the South East in the ongoing political realignment, the six states of Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Cross River, Edo, and Rivers States would prefer cession. The Rondel Solidarity Movement, RSM, a new aggressive but non-violent group, is championing the cause by asking the Nigerian government led by President Muhammadu Buhari to grant independence to the Niger Delta region.
Reacting to the CNY’s call on the Igbo to leave the North before October 1, the group argued that the threat would affect all southerners and thus, would want the processes for the independence of the Niger Delta region to be completed by 2018. The demand of the group was contained in a statement signed by Efe Edet-Tamuno, spokesperson of RSM, entitled: “Independence for Niger Delta Region: A Demand for the Independence of Rondel from Nigeria in 2018,″ which was made available to Realnews on Wednesday, June 7.
The statement of the RSM said in part: “We the people of the Region of the Niger Delta, Rondel, represented by members of Rondel Solidarity Movement, RSM, – a newly born aggressive but non-violent umbrella body for all intellectuals, groups and associations in the Niger Delta Region, having lived together in the past as a loose federation under the Benin Empire and the great Ijaw and other kingdoms, desirous of searching for our own country since northerners in Nigeria have decided to evacuate southerners from ‘their Nigeria’ – we today, 07.06.2017 wish to announce the fusion of our various groups into one strong and united non self seeking group to champion our developmental causes and help build our region into a nation of justice, freedom, peace and prosperity.”
The group said after six hours meeting at a secret location in Rivers State, it resolved to ask for self actualisation in view of the CNY’s decision to divide and destroy Nigeria.
It noted that since the CNY group made its statement nobody had been arrested, tried or jailed even when the treasonable felons were well known, and “they are all not hiding whereas a certain Nnamdi Kanu of Biafra was incarcerated for over two years for daring to discuss Biafra and a certain Kola Edokpayi of Rondel is currently incarcerated for daring to challenge the government in Edo State.”
The Rondel said further: “Following the treasonable ultimatum issued by the Arewa Youths with tacit backing of the Arewa Consultative Forum and Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs led by Sultan of Sokoto either of who has not openly condemned the felons and call for their incarceration like they would do when the table turned, and being fed up of being described by the president of Nigeria as five percent undeserving of the benefits of Nigeria, thus desirous to found our own country where we will be treated as citizens with full rights…”
The group made a catalogue of 20 demands including moving from asking for resource control to call for an independent country made up of the six states to that form Rondel. It wants its independence from June 7, 2018. It promised that the new country would be operated on a parliamentary system of government.
Rondel, it said derived its name from acronym Region of Niger Delta, which would transmute to Republic of Niger State should the CNY make good its treats.
The group’s resolutions said among others: “That our motivation for decision to leave Nigeria are first President Buhari’s treatment of our people as five percent, Northerner’s nearly exclusive illegal and immoral occupation of our oil wells destroying our ecosystems and the eviction notice by Arewa Youths with tacit support of government and the Arewa leaders.
“That in the event of a breakup and the Biafrans, the Omoluabis, Middle Beltans, etc have their separate countries, we will be willing to enter into economic partnerships to help each other grow their economies and societies to achieve the Millennium Developed Goals.
“That this Resolution serves as a warning and a Notice to the Nigerian government, the International community, including all the northern states of Nigeria that henceforth, if any Igbo or indeed any Southerner or Middle Beltan Nigerian is ever attacked or killed again anywhere in the north in a hate or xenophobic attack, we shall declare our Independence within three months. This is not a threat but self preservation.
“That since the Arewa youths have given the Igbos (that implies all southerners, we are not fooled) three months notice to vacate ‘their Nigeria’, we give all northern oil bloc owners three months notice from October 1, 2017, for them to leave the Niger Delta Region or face unpredictable adverse consequences.
“That we are now ready to take our destiny in our own hands and end this parasitic forced marriage of perpetual disaster since 1914.
“That we in the Region of Niger Delta declare today 07.06.2017 as the commencement date for our independence struggle.
“That the minimum demand for negotiation is arrest, prosecution and conviction of all those who were involved in the provocative treasonable felony. Condemning their action or threat to arrest them will not suffice this time…”
Indeed, governors of the 19 Northern states would definitely not want matters to degenerate to that level. Hence, on Wednesday, June 7, after their meeting which was held in Maiduguri, Borno State, disowned the coalition of Arewa groups, who issued an ultimatum to Igbo to vacate the Northern part of Nigeria within three months or be forced to leave.
The governors, who spoke through Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State and chairman of the Northern States Governors Forum, in Maiduguri on Wednesday evening, said they were in touch with heads of their security agencies and had taken measures that would guarantee the rights of all Nigerians to live in the 19 states in the three geo-political zones within the north.
The governors also called on security agencies to arrest the promoters of the coalition and probe the motive behind their action, saying the call by the group was a suspicious act that fell in line with recent trend of confiscation of arms and coup rumours which, they said, could be a coincidence.
“On behalf of the governors of the 19 Northern States, we totally condemn such irresponsible pronouncements by those groups. We condemn, we disown, and we are totally distancing ourselves from those faceless groups who don’t have the mandate of the people of Northern Nigeria to make such loud pronouncements.
“Section 41, Subsection 1 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is very explicit in safeguarding the rights of all Nigerians to reside in any part of the country with no hindrance whatsoever. But then, when you see a toad dancing in the broad daylight, the drummer is not far off from the main road. We wish to call on the security agencies to beam their lenses on these groups, and unearth the faces behind the mask. Some months back, there were cases of importation of arms, illegal importation of arms intercepted at the ports, then we started hearing rumours of a coup d’etat.
“Now, a group, or a bunch of groups that do not have the mandate of the people came up with remarks capable of destabilising the north and the country as a whole. We are one nation tied to a common destiny, the governance of Northern Nigeria is not in alignment with those pronouncements, and we will take whatever measures that is necessary to safeguard the lives and properties of Nigerians living in any part of the North,” Shettima said.
The governor called on all Ndigbo to remain calm and go about their legitimate businesses, assuring that: “Nobody can dare to intimidate, harass or dehumanise them in any of the 19 northern states, our governors will not allow that.”
The same kind of assurance was given by the federal government on Wednesday night. Lai Mohammed, minister of Information and Culture, who warned Nigerians against making statements capable of undermining the country’s peace and security, insisted that Nigerians were “free to reside in any part of the country, as the government has the capacity to maintain law and order.”
Besides, the minister warned: ”There is zero tolerance for actions and speeches capable of inciting one part of the country against another, and the security agencies are fully on the ground to deal decisively with any individual or group that engages in incendiary activities.
Mohammed advised Nigerians, irrespective of where they reside, to go about their daily activities without fear. He also assured that security organisations were on top of the matter and that the culprits would be brought to book.
Earlier, Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, in whose domain, the CNY made its statement ordered for the immediate arrest of the youth group leaders who issued the ultimatum.
El-Rufai, who described the northern youth leaders and their action as irresponsible, said his government would not allow Kaduna State to be used to threaten the safety and property of its citizens of Igbo extraction.
Speaking through Samuel Aruwan, his senior special assistant on Media and Publicity, on Wednesday, June 7, the governor assured every Nigerian in the state of “their freedom to reside where they choose,” and that the “constitutional right of every Nigerian to own property, move freely and to live in peace and harmony is sacrosanct.”
The governor’s statement said in part: “The Kaduna State government believes in and will uphold the right of every Nigerian to live safely and develop his/her full potentials within its territory.
“Reckless disregard for the rights of other citizens drips through the press statement by these “northern youths” who have chosen to use the discourse around restructuring to promote their own agenda of hate, division and incitement. This sort of opportunists cannot be allowed to distort debate, or turn it into a pretext for a barely-disguised agenda of displacement and dispossession of some citizens.
“We will not tolerate such irresponsible statements and conduct in our state. The statement issued by the ‘northern youths’ violates the laws of Kaduna State. Therefore, the Kaduna State government has directed that its ministry of justice should prepare charges and prosecute the signatories and anyone complicit in arranging this egregious assault on the rights of fellow citizens.
“Preparatory to prosecution, the police have been directed to immediately arrest, interrogate the signatories to the statement and investigate all the circumstances and persons that may be implicated in the matter.”
Nevertheless, at the time of filing this report, there was no arrest or arraignment of any of those who signed the inflammatory statement.
On Thursday, June 8, Abdulazeez Suleiman, spokesman of the CNY, said the call by the coalition for the Igbo to leave the North had been grossly misunderstood. Hence, Sulaiman said in statement: “After meeting to review the fallout of that Tuesday’s Declaration, our groups have arrived at the following fundamental observations : some elements have, for reasons best known to them, mischievously distorted the intent of our original script by alluding such words as ‘violence, ‘ ‘threat, ‘ ‘war’ and ‘mass action’ to it.
“We find this mischievous because as cultured, thoroughbred northerners, we have never anywhere and at any time, under whatever circumstances, called anybody to violence as a means of conflict resolution. In strict observance of that tradition, we never employed violence as a means of pursuing our interest and at every opportunity, we opt for peaceful engagements and implore people to eschew violence in all its ramifications.
“This informs why, a majority of discerning Nigerians, not necessarily northerners alone, understood and identified with our express call for the Biafrans to be allowed to actualise their long-held secessionist aspiration.”
Nevertheless, the Northern Elders’ Forum, NEF, on Friday, June 9, expressed support to the call by the CNY for Igbo to leave the region within three months.
Ango Abdullahi, the NEF spokesperson, told journalists in Zaria on Friday, June 9, that it was hypocritical for the Igbo to continue to live in other parts of the country while agitating for Nigeria’s break up.
Abdullahi said: “I am disappointed in the decision taken by Northern Governors’ Forum disowning and condemning the agitation by this young agile and progressive youth groups.
“Let me ask these Northern governors, whom are they representing, are they representing spirits, ghost or people of the north?
“Recently, people from eastern part of this country, specifically Igbo, were busy calling for the Sovereign State of Biafra and from all indication their leaders including governors are behind them.”
*Culled from Real News