FOLLOWING the quit notice issued by 15 northern groups under the aegis of the Coalition of Northern Youth Groups, asking the Igbo to leave the North by October 1, a move which has been condemned across board, the fragile peace among Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities has become even more delicate. Not only did this hate-provoked notice engender further animosities among the ethnic groups in the country, retaliatory quit notices have since sprung up from different ethnic nationalities in the country.
For instance, the Igbo and the Yoruba who had silently been at daggers drawn against each other over the January 10, 1952 cross-carpeting of some persons into the Action Group (AG) which denied the National Council of Nigerians and the Cameroons (NCNC) dominance in the Western Parliament, as well as insinuations on the handling of the Civil War, made it clear that they would maintain a united front, as a strong message to whoever attempted to hold their nations down. Rising from a meeting held in Lagos State to deliberate on the quit notice, they jointly said that an attack on the Igbo was an attack on the South as a whole. Represented by their apex sociocultural organisations, Ohanaeze and Afenifere, the leaders said they had decided to come together in the interest of peace, equity, social justice and political tolerance. They also called for the urgent restructuring of the country as a panacea to separatist agitations.
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has, however, begun a far-reaching diplomatic shuttle aimed at quenching the fire of separatist agitations. In one of the shuttles which materialised in the form of a meeting with some northern leaders, Osinbajo warned that dire consequences would attend hate speeches made with the intent of disrupting the peace of the country. Speaking at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, he vowed to ensure that any form of divisive utterances was met with the full force of the law. He said: “I want to ensure that there is no doubt at all that it is the resolve of the government that no one will be allowed to get away with making speeches that can cause sedition or violence because when we make these kinds of pronouncement and do things that can cause violence or destruction of lives and property, we are no longer in control. Those who make those speeches are no longer in control.”
The next meeting which, according to the Acting President, was “very urgent and crucial,” was held with top leaders of the Ohanaeze and South-East governors. While counseling the Igbo not to be tempted to venture into an ethnic tit-for-tat as the gale of hate speeches swept across the country, Osinbajo urged them to always endeavour to speak out against hate speeches and comments capable of polarising Nigeria along ethnic, sectional and religious lines. He said: “Wars today hardly end. No one who has seen the horror of war even on television would wish it for anyone. We should not tolerate hate speeches or divisive comments.” He reiterated the Federal Government’s resolve to clamp down on troublemakers, advising that “Our emotion should not be allowed to run so wide as to threaten the existence of anyone anywhere in Nigeria. We will do everything within our power to protect the lives of every citizen in any part of the country.’’
We commend the rapprochement which the Acting President is pursuing among groups calling for secession in the country. Meeting with Hausa, Igbo and other leaders of thought in the polity whose understanding of the fragility of Nigeria’s ethnic relations and the need to maintain peace in all forms are very crucial to the well-being of the country, is a step in the right direction. There is a need for calm in the polity, as any song of war is capable of setting Nigeria on the path of war and acrimony. We recall that Osinbajo’s earlier visits to the Niger Delta part of the country where militants had taken up cudgels against the Nigerian state, causing a phenomenal drop in the country’s oil production, had yielded enormous fruits in the stoppage of pipeline vandalism.
However, we make bold to state that the factors triggering separatist agitations in the country are far beyond the commendable consultations which the Acting President has been embarking upon. If the colonial government which took its time to study the differences among the ethnic nationalities’ histories, cultures and worldviews could acquiesce to the call for federalism by Nigerian nationalists as the most appropriate system of government for Nigeria, it goes without saying that any other system that falls short of this system can only lead to anarchy and a high decibel of separatist agitations. There is thus the need to go back to the roots of Nigeria’s mis-practice of federalism, especially the unitary government it runs under the guise of federalism.
While the consultations with different ethnic groups being undertaken by the Acting President are good for the moment, it is apparent that they alone cannot solve the problem. They are akin to postponing the fire till the next time.