Recent happenings in the south eastern corner of Nigeria, clearly shows that vital lessons have not been learnt from history. The resort to military solution to contain the separatist agitations by the Muhammadu Buhari administration, without first exploring and exhausting all channels of dialogue is a clear indication that it has failed to look beyond Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB into the legitimate feelings of marginalization and exclusion by majority of Nigerians of south east origin.
The failure of the Buhari administration to address the cries of marginalization of the people of the south east, a situation that is clearly manifest by the unprecedented exclusion of that part of the country in some important levels and organs of government. In the President’s first forty seven appointments no Nigerian of south east origin was considered worthy enough. From the President’s kitchen cabinet, to his defence and internal security apparatus, Nigerians of south east origin are excluded. Since his inauguration on 29th may 2015 and over two years into his first four year mandate, President Buhari has not set foot on the soil of south east Nigeria either for official or informal engagements. Some of the president’s supporters have argued that his appointments are based on trust and loyalty. This position however, falls flat because it is an indictment on the president’s nationalist credentials [a critical requirement for leadership] if he only trusts people from his own section of the country. Furthermore, that a whole a section of the country he governs cannot be trusted with vital positions gives credence to the feelings of heightened marginalization by Nigerians of south east origin. This lack of inclusiveness on the part of the Buhari administration is directly responsible for the rise of NnamdiKanu’s IPOB. Therefore, if NnamdiKanu’s IPOB is a threat to national security, it is because President Buhari’s sectionalism is a threat to national unity and territorial stability.
Urgently needed today in the south east are a show of love and not a show of force. President Buhari, a veteran of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war clearly failed to learn the most important lesson of that bitter episode of our national history. The bitter civil war was elongated by two years by the show of brute force by war time commanders like Benjamin Adekunle whose command of First Infantry Division of the Nigerian Army saw him waging a ruthless war against Biafra. The warrior in Adekunle gave no room for the finesse of niceties of diplomacy and exploration of alternative dispute resolution mechanism. All he wanted was to ‘’kill the Igbos’’ by bullet and starvation. His show of excessive force begin with the re-naming of his command as’’ Third Marine Commando’ ’for maximum frightening effect, to his relentless artillery bombardment strict implementation of air, land and sea blockade of the Biafra territory did not weaken the Biafra resolve to secede. Instead, it actually strengthened them to fight till death because Adekunle left them with no chance of reconciliation. This was evidently demonstrated when in 1969 the Biafra secessionist forces under the command of Joe Achuzia re-captured the important town of Owerri from the Nigerian army in a renewed resurgence that had the potential of turning tide in favour of the rebels.
To bring the war to a conclusive end, it took the Soldier-Diplomat in Olusegun Obasanjo, who replaced Adekunle as commander of the First Infantry Division of the Nigerian Army to bring the rebels to the negotiation table. From the outset Obasanjo’s objective was not to display his fighting skills like the Soldier- warrior, Adekunle. Obasanjo’s was a peace mission, which can’t be achieved by fighting relentlessly but by dialogue, guided by negotiations, concessions and reconciliation. Obasanjo’s war time strategy was show of love and less force. War time Images of him breaking and sharing kola nuts with top commanders of the opposing rebel camp attests to his diplomatic skills. Whereas Adekunle’s show of force dragged the war for over two years, Obasanjo’s show of love brought the war to an end in a matter of months with the unconditional surrender of the Biafra military high command to the Supreme Military Council of Nigeria.
At the end of the civil war, the Nigerian state and political leaders across all divides showed enormous love towards Nigerians of south east origin. Apart from the incidences of ‘’Abandoned Properties’’ issues within the old Eastern region, all properties belonging to Nigerians of south east origin in the Northern and Western region were returned intact. By 1979, less than a decade after the civil war, Nigerians of south east origin were politically integrated and included fully in the affairs of state with Alex Ekuweme and Edwin Umezeoke emerging as Vice president and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively and ChubaOkadigbo featuring prominently in the presidential kitchen cabinet as political adviser. This high level of inclusion in ShehuShagari’s NPN government of Nigerians of south east origin in the second republic is despite the fact that the people of the region voted overwhelmingly for NnamdiAzikiwe’s UPP. The Shagari administration not only granted state pardon to the leader of the Biafra secessionist republic ChukwuemekaOjukwu, he was given the NPN platform upon his return to Nigeria from exile in Ivory Coast in 1982 to vie for a senatorial seat in his native Anambrastate. The effect of this show of love was the absence of cries of marginalization by the south east and no further agitations for the realization of Biafra. By the next election in 1983, the south east reciprocated this show of love, when NPN made inroads into the important state of Anambra, the home of then vice president Alex Ekuweme. In an interesting twist, thatChukwemekaOjukwu was roundly defeated in his bid to represent his people in the Senate was a clear indication that the Biafra Utopia that he symbolizes has been rejected and the reality of a united Nigeria wherein no section is excluded, which holds great promises of individual prosperity and collective progress has been embraced by his people.
By 1999 when Nigeria returned to civil democratic rule, political leaders across board embraced a delicate power sharing formula that ensured every part of Nigeria was given a sense of belonging. The six geo-political zones were equitably represented at every level and organ of government. That Ralph Uwazurike’s MASSOB didn’t gather enough steam for take-off was because the Olusegun Obasanjo administration ran an all-inclusive administration in which Nigerian’s of south east origin were given opportunity to serve their beloved country from the President’s kitchen cabinet, to economic team and security council. Between 1999 and 2015, the leadership of Nigeria lifted the lid off the limits of sensitive positions Nigerians of south east origin could occupy from IGP of Police to chief of army staff and secretary to the federal government.
Unfortunately, the Buhari administration has clearly reversed these gains of our nation’s match towards the unconditional unity and progress. That NnamdiKanu’s IPOB is enjoying legitimacy today among a large section of Nigerians of south east origin is not because of his hate-filled rhetoric against the Nigerian state or his separatist agenda. Thelegitimacy of NnamdiKanu’s separatists agenda is hinged on the non-sensitivity of the Buhari led administration to look beyond partisan divides and put the nation ahead of all other considerations by taking deliberate steps towards addressing the imbalance in his government to include the south east among other things.The more the president continues to ignore the genuine feelings of his administration’s marginalization among the south east people the further they are pressed away from Nigeria towards NnamdiKanu’sseparatist agitations. To take the fire out of the raging flame ofNnamdiKanu’s IPOB is to show love to the people of the south east by the government and peoples of the Nigerian federation.