By OFFIONG OKON
Since a group of Northern youths issued an ultimatum to Ndigbo of the South East residing in that part of the country to quit by October 1, this year, hell has been let loose. There is palpable fear in the land. Uncertainty pervades the public sphere.
Is Nigeria once more on the brink? Is the ghost of the 1966 bloodbath about to be resurrected with all its vengeful, hateful savagery? Is another civil war in the offing? Wither Nigeria, Africa’s wobbling giant nation? These are pertinent questions in need of urgent answers.
It is reassuring that ringing condemnations of the October ultimatum have poured in from all quarters. Beginning from Kaduna, the host State, from where the Arewa youth served the quit notice, the State governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, has since distanced himself from the provocative pronouncement.
The presidency, under Acting President, Professor Yemi Osibanjo, has equally risen to the challenge. A flurry of consultations with major stakeholders in the Nigerian project has taken place as a damage control response. To date, 36 state governors, the service chiefs, the mass media, natural rulers and respected elders have been engaged across the land all in a bid to douse the raging tension ignited by the Kaduna declaration. This has been followed by government’s assurances to preserve and defend the unity of Nigeria as one united, indivisible country. Beautiful country, beautiful people!
The picture that emerges from these desperate moves of the past few weeks to stem the looming danger, is that of a people and their leaders who love their country so dearly that any threat of a possible break–up, signals the end of the world for them.
But wait a minute: where were these patriots when over the years, innocent Nigerians in certain parts of the country were routinely killed, their homes and businesses destroyed at the slightest pretext? Where were they when the people of Southern Kaduna were being slaughtered in their homes, sometimes in their sleep, their wives and daughters raped and their places of worship burnt down by known and unknown gunmen? What about Mrs. Bridget Agbahime who was murdered in front of her shop in Kano in the presence of her husband and her killers are still walking free in that ancient city? Or Pastor Mrs Eunice Elisha of the Redeemed Christian Church of God who was killed by some criminal elements while on early morning preaching in the nation’s capital, Abuja, and the security agents are yet to tell the world who did what and why.
Were these one chance champions of national unity in Siberia when for the past three years, Fulani herdsmen, armed with AK–47 rifles, have been spreading death, destruction, tears and misery in most of the South East, South South, South West and North Central parts of the country? Are we pretending that we don’t know the owners of the cattle and those who arm the herdsmen who have been terrorizing different parts of the country with so much impunity?
Why have the generals who claimed they fought to keep Nigeria one, the famous letter writers and the noisy comrades decided to lose their voices in the face of these unity-threatening atrocities against innocent Nigerians? Where in the world are human beings slaughtered and whole communities sacked for cows to feed? Shouldn’t it be the other way round? That is, cows being killed to feed humans? Weren’t these senseless and selective killings the immediate cause of the Nigerian civil war? Are we bent on travelling that perilous path again? Haven’t we leant enough lessons from that tragic national calamity to avoid the mistakes of the past? For how long can a country continue to thrive on hypocrisy, deceit and lies?
Perhaps, the quit notice by the Arewa youth to Ndigbo may not be bad after all, if only to serve as a wake–up call for us to face some home truths. This is the time for us to end the endless lies and deceit and decide whether we want to live together or not. And if we agree to live together, the basis of the union must be clearly spelt out. In doing this, two fundamental issues must be settled to smoothen and strengthen the union.
The first is religion. We cannot continue to tolerate in a modern, multi–cultural, multi–ethnic and multi–religious state, a situation where any band of rampaging hoodlums can pounce on anybody or group: murder, maim, rape and destroy their properties in the name of religion, without the culprits being brought to book. In some cases, the rioters unleash mayhem on their so–called compatriots because of events outside our shores like the United States of America, the Middle East and Denmark. This is sheer wickedness and unmistakable pointers to the deep-seated hatred harboured by these criminals and their principals, hiding under religion, against their so-called country men and women.
After all, we were all born into one religion or another. None of us, including the religious bigots or their sponsors, can claim that they have ever seen God. If they dispute this fact, they should tell the world how God looks like. We cannot continue to condone this kind of madness and still pretend that Nigerian unity is not negotiable. It is the height of hypocrisy.
Resource control is another issue that has to be seriously addressed. I cannot produce oranges in my backyard and someone, somewhere in Abuja takes over and says that because I have only five children in my household, I should make do with five oranges, while he keeps 30 being the number of children in his household. It just does not add up. It is unfair, unjust and oppressive. I cannot be the one to cater for your large family to the detriment of mine. Justice demands that I cater for my children while you cater for yours.
Okon writes from CRUTECH, Calabar