ON Tuesday, June 6, Nigeria’s fragile ethnic relations witnessed yet another deadly blow. Fifteen groups of youths from the northern part of the country under the aegis of the Coalition of Northern Youth Groups (CNYG) issued an ultimatum to the Igbo ethnic stock living in that part of the country to, within three months, quit their land, an ultimatum which they said would expire on October 1.
At first, the ultimatum sounded like a joke from some idle youths. The expectation from the rest of Nigeria was that elderly Nigerians from that part of the country who understood the nature of the fragility of the inter-ethnic relations in the country would call the apparently misguided youths to order.
However, the stridency of the call has ignited a seismic shake in the Nigerian polity. Shockingly, some otherwise highly respected Nigerians from the North and different groups have joined in the self-serving chorus.
While the Northern Governors Forum disclaimed the call, saying it was not representative of the position of the North, some other groups have openly backed it. For instance, the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) supported the call, saying that it was representative of the Northern view.
The NEF leadership said that the welter of criticisms that had trailed the ultimatum notwithstanding, the Igbo should leave the North in three months, in compliance with the Northern youths’ ultimatum.
Last week, in a chat with newsmen in Zaria, Kaduna State, the NEF spokesperson, Professor Ango Abdullahi, claimed that it was hypocritical for the Igbo to continue to live in other parts of the country while agitating for Nigeria to break up.
According to him, “I am disappointed in the decision taken by the Northern Governors’ Forum disowning and condemning the agitation by these young, agile and progressive youth groups. Let me ask these governors who they are representing. Are they representing spirits, ghost or the people of the North?”
The Kaduna State government’s reaction to the calls by the CNYG and the NEF was most timely. The governor of the state, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, had not only disclaimed the call by the youth coalition, but also ordered that they should be ferreted out and arrested.
Many explanations have indeed been given to the CNYG’s call and the backing it is receiving from otherwise respected persons and groups in the North. The first is that it was made in retaliation following the calls by Nnamdi Kanu of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) who is facing treason charges but was recently released on bail.
Kanu and his clique have ceaselessly agitated for an independent Biafran State, a narrative that is vexatious to many people and groups that benefit from the incongruous unitarist federalism that Nigeria has practised since the 1966 coup.
Some have also suggested that the call on the Igbo to quit the North could be a ploy by some people to cause chaos in the polity and actualise their nefarious agenda.
We commend the Kaduna State government for its prompt and decisive action and also gives kudos to those who have risen above the separatist call of the CNYG. The logic that escapes Professor Abdullahi and others in his boat is that Kanu does not necessarily represent the view of the entire South-East of Nigeria.
To single a people out for condemnation and recrimination following the perceived infraction of a few persons is illogical.
As things stand, the northern elements behind the latest call may still have to issue more ultimatums to other parts of Nigeria who believe that the lopsidedness of the Nigerian political structure is at the root of the fragile relationships among Nigerians.
Yet, the way to permanently shut up the Kanus of this world is to go to the root of the problem: the Nigerian state is fragile and needs restructuring.
While most northern groups keep sticking to the wonky unitarist structure that has dragged the country down in all spheres, those who know that it is the bane of the Nigerian existence have always kicked against it.
No matter the number and frequency of arrests made of those who ask for the restructuring of the pseudo-federation and those who, when this call is not heeded, take up individual gauntlets to affront the polity, the problem is still there and can only worsen. Unless the country goes to the root of its problems, it is only toying with fire.
It must be said that even though fissiparous tendencies have always existed in Nigeria, they have been further ignited now because there is a general perception that the present government is not fostering a sense of national belonging in terms of the spread of appointments across the geopolitical zones.
To worsen matters, the parlous economy causes people to blame their hunger on ethnic disequilibrium. Those who chase shadows by issuing quit notices to fellow nationals from their region should lend their voices to the call on the government to restructure the country.