Can arrest of agitators solve Nigeria’s secession problem?
Around May 30th this year, bandits kidnapped about 200 children from an Islamic school in Tegina, Niger State. The Nigerian government refused to pay a ransom to free them; just the same way the government of Kaduna refused to pay the 800 million naira ransom demanded by the bandits after they stole about 20 students from their university campus in April.
The kidnapping incidents across schools in northern Nigeria will fill pages if one starts to catalogue them, but an estimated 800 students have been kidnapped for ransom from schools and universities since December 2020.
Nigerian authorities’ responses have been rather awkward or feeble at best. The authorities appeared to incentivise the criminals as they have paid out $11 million, about N4.95 billion in ransom between 2016 and 2020, according to a recent report by the Economist.
Non-state actors such as cleric Sheikh Ahmed Gumi spoke for them openly, defending and enabling their depressing atrocities. Some state governors have romanced with them instead, appealing to them to shield their swords, and granting forgiveness and amnesty for those arrested. At some point, President Muhammadu Buhari also appealed to the bandits to shield their swords instead of deploying with full force, the apparatus of the state to end their dastardly activities.
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The implication is the booming of the banditry and a kidnapping enterprise across northern Nigeria. The marauders have grown bolder ever since. On Sunday this week, the bandits shot down a Nigeria Air Force alpha jet aircraft.
Juxtapose that with the effectiveness with which the authorities have cracked down on secession agitators, and what you will get is a country sharply divided and which the instrumentality of the law applies distinctly.
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Take Nnamdi Kanu, for instance. Recent trouble started for the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB leader after a successful sit-at-home campaign in May across Southeast Nigeria to honour the millions of Igbos who perished in the ill-fated Biafra struggle from 1967 – 1970.
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The Nigerian authorities got the jitters with the high compliance level that it thought it imperative to make the extra efforts to reign in his ever-growing influence. A sign of those extra efforts came from President Buhari’s statement after the sit-at-home exercise that “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand”.
Many were rather surprised that the President whose tongue had remained tied despite the atrocities of the bandits would find his tongue loosened for such tough talk. Many more were disappointed that the President could threaten a section of the country with war. And although Nnamdi Kanu, a dual citizen who also possesses a British passport was thousands of miles away from Nigeria, the Nigerian authorities connived with foreign allies to abduct him on foreign soil and bring him back to Nigeria to face trial on treasonable charges.
For Sunday Igbo, the Yoruba Nation agitator whose arrest at Cotonou airport on Sunday the Nigerian government now celebrates, it is still hard to pinpoint what his crimes are, although the authorities have alleged stockpiling of weapons. Prior to his arrest, his Ibadan home was invaded in a Gestapo style by Nigeria’s secret police, killing some of his aides in the process. Igboho slipped through their fingers and ended in the Benin Republic where he has now been picked up, thanks to Benin Republic’s alliance with Nigerian authorities. Igboho has already filed charges against the Nigerian government at the International Criminal Court of Justice at the Hague and it remains to be seen if an extradition hearing in Benin would go in his favour or not.
While the arrest of Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu may look like a victory for the Nigerian government, one must never forget that the reasons for which these two men became agitators for the breakup of the Nigerian state have yet to be addressed.
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Nnamdi Kanu believes there is nothing in the Nigerian arrangement for the Igbo nation, a perspective shared by many Nigerians, especially those who have become proponents of a restructured Nigeria. President Buhari has done nothing to prove him wrong since his election in 2015.
For failing to garner enough votes from the Southeast region in the 2015 election, he made it clear that the region should not expect much from him; and for the first time since Nigeria’s return to democracy, the exclusion of the Igbos from the government became so apparent much to everyone’s dismay. President Buhari ensured no Igbo held any major office, even those who held any prior to his election were shown the door. Much could not be said to have also changed in the form of federal infrastructure in the region. It is ironic that the man, who would now go to great lengths to preserve the fragile unity of Nigeria by cracking down on secessionists, would make the least efforts including by following the federal character principle enshrined in the constitution to promote this unity. This exclusion politics gave weight to Nnamdi Kanu’s secession rhetoric and bore credence to IPOB’s breakaway movement.
Perhaps many would remember that there would not be a Sunday Igboho as an agitator had the federal government not ignored the atrocities of Fulani herders in the Southwest. For far too long the Fulani marauders in the name of herdsmen wreaked havoc in the region, kidnapping for ransom, destroying farms, raping and maiming their women. The security forces controlled by the federal government pleaded helplessness, so despite frequent attacks on farmers by herders, no one was prosecuted. It took a Sunday Igboho to say enough is enough and issue an ultimatum to the herders before some form of intervention by the authorities to return the region to a certain level of safety.
The exclusion of the Igbos and the reign of terror by the Fulani herdsmen are not the only things that ail Nigeria. A litany of malaise has caused gross dissatisfaction in the land. Unfortunately, the majority of the citizens have chosen to take the high road by grumbling under their breath while waiting for the next election. However, there remains a thousand Nnamdi Kanus and hundreds of Sunday Igbohos who could no longer grumble under their breaths like dogs. They are mad enough that they must demand the breakup of the Nigerian state; and unless things change for the better and quickly, reigning in the fiery anger of these two cannot end Nigeria’s secession problem.
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The Buhari government and the government that comes after it must understand that for a united Nigeria to thrive, they must continuously demonstrate beyond the sheer might of the state that there is something in it for all parties in the Nigerian union.
DISCLAIMER: The article above is entirely the opinion and views of the writer and does not reflect the views and perspectives of Nigeria Today News.