Nigeria lives in combustible times and the political nationals of different states are hellbent at playing the game to the ground. In recent history, the amalgamated nation-state is going through its toughest rumble in its democratic ambience. The sharp differences evidenced by the political machination of the elitist bloc are manifesting very fast even in developmental discourse.
Religion and ethnicity have always been a twin-bargain construct often exploited for social misnomer since the 1990s, religion has taken on a more central role in Nigerian politics and been a more explosive force in social upheavals. Whereas, in the past, religion’s social impact was often filtered through an ethnic prism, today’s Nigeria is seeing both ethnicity and religion engendering identity-based political paradigm which politicians are leveraging to consolidate bases and sectional electoral ratio.
At different times in recent history, the nation has witnessed watered debates and clashes of a Muslim North or a Christian South, or in other instances, of religion standing relatively alone as a driver of conflicts. By no means has the country’s debate about unity lost its prime position in the nation’s politics overall, but religion and ethnicity are clearly now a growing divide over which the unity of the nation is increasingly stretched.
There is a cause for worry. For the first time since the civil war in the 1960s, the word ‘hate’ has successfully warmed its way back into the debates of the oneness of the country. A more sapping perspective is the fact that every debate is deliberately or inadvertently skewed towards biases that are driven by a Faultline in flaming hate. And unfortunately, the government has come out to recognize the presence of resentments among nationals, condemning the growing trend but with little or no follow up concrete actions, to the point of rechristening what elite agitators called ‘restructuring.’
From time immemorial, the ‘restructuring’ argument has always been an intra and inter elite romance garnished with some forms of political gives and takes. The topic has now assumed an explosive dimension, climaxing at its highest decibel of flimflam and frenzy with the struggle for ethnic self-determination by Biafra agitators.
The configuration of the skirmishes between sections of the country and security agencies, the in-fighting within communities or intra-ethnic rivalry as well as the scuffles between killer herdsmen and farmers have largely been viewed through biased lenses with Eastern Nigeria playing the victim game of being oppressed by Northern oligarchy that has been accused of lopsidedness in terms of representation at the Federal level. In recent times, it has always been tough, if not impossible, for the Federal Government to neutralize this argument given the high political push the argument enjoys.
What began as a cry of marginalization for Biafra agitators has morphed into a bitter separatist drive and calls for a national referendum to determine the status of the union – some argue that the nation has never been united on governance plot.
Some young people from Northern Nigeria have issued a ‘quit notice’ for people of Igbo extraction to vacate the region and go to Eastern Nigeria since some young Easterners are calling for separation from Nigeria. Based on the notice, Igbos were expected to leave by October 1st, 2017. Letters to this effect were sent to the United Nations. This notice rattled Easterners and sent fears that permeated the proponents of secession. Shortly after, FG threatened to arrest the young people that issued the notice. No arrest was actioned. The notice was later withdrawn.
Weeks after, some young people from Southern Nigeria issued a notice, calling attention to the fact that it would declare Niger Delta Republic on October 1st, 2017. This date seemed like a defining time to forward to. Western Nigeria elders met at a location to intensify their calls for the fragmentation of governance of the country as this has been touted to have worked in the 1960s, 70s. Antagonists of this call have argued that a 19th century approach cannot be deployed to fix 21st century problems.
What is undebatable is the blunt fact that this reinvigorated and politically powered ethnic restiveness is a rise against heavily loaded inefficient central government as well as the ethnicization of the presidency which have become the hallmark of the post-colonial Nigeria.
The FG has launched different military operations to crack down on separatists and hate speech promoters. Recently, a military ‘python dance’ operations was confronted by Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the crisis quickly escalated to other parts of the region where northerners in the East were attacked by their host Igbo indigenes. Igbos in the north panicked, Eastern governors quickly regrouped to proscribe IPOB. Northern governors reached out to Igbos in the north to douse the tension and visited the East to send the message of an indivisible Nigeria. The FG has secured a court order to tag IPOB a terrorist organization. Biafra agitators claimed military confrontation and proscription are attempts at ethnic cleansing.
The restriction of the military to the barracks have failed to resolve the National Question. In fact elections, including a historic regime change, have tended to exacerbate the regional and ethnic fault lines, opening the door to a resurgence of primordial sentiments and new centrifugal forces.
The eroding conditions of human security, especially as related to identity-based politics make it difficult for groups of different extractions to negotiate new foundations. It becomes more difficult if the survival of the groups is largely dependent on a form of livelihood. Then the protection of this type of economic resource becomes a motivating trigger for clashes in the times of heightened tension.
Nigeria, in its current fragile set up requires more than confrontation. No amount of ‘show of force’ can wish away the Biafran question, the Niger Delta and regional autonomy as well as the monstrous deep seated hatred among frustrated nationals of different ethnic groups.
In the prevailing conditions of massive hunger and unprecedented misery indices, it is obvious that something will have to surrender sooner than expected. As it is, the possibility of a political solution is almost foreclosed. Ethnic, religious and regional edginess is likely to deteriorate; armed critiques by rogue liberation groups trying to impose a solution on the grave national crisis will become prevalent as foot soldiers are largely uneducated and frustrated by socio-economic exclusion; social cannibalism will turn to a security nightmare. The impending apocalypse and cruising bedlam will be uncontrollable and Nigeria may become world’s hate capital.
However, there seems to be no consensus on the way forward. The simplest approach will be to find a way to answer the national questions through the consolidation of thoughts of the national council which is made up of the past and present presidents, as well as filtering the recommendations made at the last CONFAB which requires that bitter politics be jettisoned. This might be a long path to take considering the interplay of political forces which is openly being bandied around as a prelude to 2019 elections.
Jonah writes from Lagos and tweet @Obajeun