Drumbeats of War In Nigeria -By ‘Tope Oriola

Filed under: National Issues |


The three-month ultimatum issued by the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF) to the Igbos to leave Northern Nigeria by October 1, 2017 signals a real danger to the corporate existence of Nigeria. The statement was issued inside Arewa House, a symbolic edifice in the North. Those who drafted the document appeared intentionally vitriolic and the diction contains what may be considered as hate speech. The AYCF statement was not issued in a vacuum. The activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) had gathered momentum, fueled by the clueless decision to incarcerate Nnamdi Kanu. That singular decision had inadvertently produced a catalytic effect on the agitations of IPOB and MASSOB. The Nigerian state’s penchant for exacerbating conflict and the carousel of social injustice have been on overdrive for a while.

Regardless of where anyone stands on the issues, I hope we are sufficiently informed not to take sides with any of the two categories of extremists. Nevertheless, what we must all reckon with is that Nigeria is not working in its current format. There is no way to state that diplomatically. The trans-generational deception about national unity, the failure to ensure reconciliation and reconstruction of Igboland after the civil war, the consistent snub over memorialising the civil war, mounting socio-economic problems, state ineptitude in nearly all areas and a bitterly fought presidential contest in 2015 have all contributed to a toxic, non-rational and ethnocentric political atmosphere.

Make no mistakes about it: There are those who condemn IPOB or AYCF because their livelihoods are threatened by their pronouncements and actions. The present structure of Nigeria works for such people and breakup would signal the end of their stomach infrastructure. We are correct to condemn acidic statements on both sides but we must grapple with the underlying issues. I am deeply suspicious of people who claim that “national unity is non-negotiable”. It is no coincidence that those who often say that are former or current political office holders. No country is a naturally occurring phenomenon. All countries are human creations and humans can decide to go their separate ways.

However, those who are beating the drums of war should be careful what they wish for. Violent disintegration is a tricky business. How does AYCF intend to deal with the vacuum that would be created in the event of mass exodus of Igbos? Have you done a scientific scenario-building on the costs and benefits? How would such an exercise be conducted without resorting to violence? For those seeking secession: Do you have the means to be fully independent? How do you plan to deal with investments in other parts of Nigeria?

The acting president needs to address the country on these serious threats. Statements by the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), the Northern Governors’ Forum (NGF) and the Kaduna state government are a good start. However, the Nigerian government needs to convince all constituent parts seeking separation why they are better off in the union. The “marginalisation of everyone” in Nigeria has led to a dangerous blame game and feeling that all social problems would be solved if we got rid of our neighbours. The real issues at stake are the inequality in Nigeria, nepotism, poor infrastructure and the dream-shattering perpetual recession that have combined to produce millions of unemployed and alienated youth across both sides of River Niger. The Nigerian state’s incapacity to fulfil the basic obligations of a state is the real issue.

It is quite entertaining that the “youth” who read the AYCF statement would be at least 50 years old. Nigeria has either failed him or he has refused to grow up. Similarly disenchanted persons form the secessionist core in the South-East. We would be making a grave error of judgement to presuppose that they are all simply crazy people. They signal to us that more than ever before, there is an urgent need to discuss the terms and conditions of our union. The government must deploy state security apparatus to ensure that no blood is shed in any part of the country while constructively engaging all sides in dialogue.

Societies have moods and tend to be firmly set on certain trajectories. I believe we are drawing closer to bowing to demands for restructuring Nigeria, a sovereign national conference and/or referendum on our union. The consequence of ignoring all three options is unimaginable. In the book, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson offer strong evidence on the reasons behind differential outcomes for similarly situated countries such as South and North Korea and socio-culturally identical border cities such as Sonora, Mexico and Sonora, Arizona in the US. The authors argue that inclusiveness in decision-making is a key reason why South Korea has prospered, while North Korea remains impoverished, even though they went their separate ways only fairly recently. Acemoglu and Robinson also demonstrate that unwillingness of a small group of leaders to change and allow the rise of an open society (where talents find expression and creativity is rewarded) stifle economic prosperity. That should sound familiar in a society in which only well-connected people can obtain employment in key state agencies and businesses like the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Failure to open up society to new actors and allow human ingenuity to flourish may result in collapse, as the Soviets found out a little too late in 1991.

The drumbeats of war are growing louder but we must not forget the underlying issues. IPOB and MASSOB are not trying to leave Nigeria because they hate non-Igbos; AYCF may have its issues with Igbos but the fountain of the disdain is largely socio-economic. I hope that Nigeria avoids the road to Rwanda.

‘Tope Oriola is professor of criminology at the University of Alberta, Canada. Follow Oriola on Twitter: @topeoriola.