As if fabled for having “one week, one trouble” (apologies to Anezi Okoro, author of the 1972 book with that title), Nigeria’s existential reality has encountered severe strain and stress, like never before, these past weeks.
Not even during the three-year civil war, from 1967 to 1970, which claimed millions of lives, was the nation so shaken to its foundation, such as the current schism has the potential to wreak on the polity and corporate being of the nation.
Agreed that that unavoidable war had its roots in alleged manipulation of the system by a section(s) of the country against other sections, resulting in a Military coup, a counter-coup, a pogrom, a declaration of the Republic of Biafra, and an eventual civil war in a bid by the Federal Military Government to keep Nigeria as one “indivisible and indissoluble entity,” as later enshrined in the (1979) 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Although its effects were felt all over the country, the epicentre of the war was the Eastern Region, comprising the present-day five states of the Southeast and four states of the South-South geopolitical zones.
The Biafran soldiers’ incursion into the Midwestern Region (Bendel State, now Delta and Edo States) and advance on Lagos, then seat of the Federal Government, were rolled back by the Federal troops, and the government ultimately divided the country into 12 states, ostensibly to brake the backbone of the “secessionists,” thus excising Cross River (Cross River and Akwa Ibom) and Rivers (Rivers and Balyesa) States from the Eastern Region that makes up the five states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo in today’s Southeast zone.
Tracing this history is important, as the alarm bell is sounding louder every day from all corners of the country. The forces that have tugged at its gravitational fulcrum for decades seem to find a new impetus in the agitation for separate entities from Nigeria.
Aggrieved elements in the nationalities are in overdrive, all over the place, sneering and shouting, and daring everyone else: The Southeast against the country; the North against the Southeast; the South-South against the North, and the country; and the rest of the country against the North.
Throw in the mix the Middle Belt and Northern Minorities’ craving to carve up the nation into 12 regions and 54 states, and it becomes a case of Nigeria against itself.
If, as per the series of protestations and demands, overt and covert, the Southeast secedes as the Republic of Biafra; the South-South as Niger Delta Republic; the Southwest as Oduduwa Republic; and the North Central as the Middle Belt Republic, what’s left of Nigeria will be the so-called core North: the Northwest and Northeast zones. And “when push comes to shove,” there’s no guarantee that the latter will not also choose to go its separate way.
Perhaps, for the first time in the nation’s history since Frederick John Dealtry Lugard (1858-1945) amalgamated the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914, to form the “geographical expression” called Nigeria, the movers and shakers of the society, who, actually, are the behind-the-scenes instigators of the whirlwind rage of today, have seen the handwriting on the wall: the probable disintegration of Nigeria before their very eyes.
It’s fire on the mountain! Hence, the frenetic utterances and actions of the government and the elite, to whip all voices of dissent into line through the engagement of so-called “leaders of thought” from the conveniently-agreed six geopolitical zones, and other stakeholders that are not affiliated to these zonal power repositories and, at the same time, independent of the government.
Besides hosting various groups at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, like a Puritan, is virtually on the road these days, preaching the massage of peace and unity, brotherliness and good neighbourliness, while also cautioning those bent on disrupting the system to check themselves or be severely sanctioned.
The refrain of the preachment of a peaceful coexistence has three headers, to wit: “Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable.” “Nigeria is an indivisible and indissoluble entity.” “To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done” (echoes of the Civil War slogan).
And to whip up nationalism and patriotism in the citizenry, some groups are calling for the reintroduction of the discarded National Anthem, “Nigeria we hail thee.” According to them, the old anthem truly emphasised Nigeria’s strength in its diversity. What a nostalgia!
But have these people been living in denial, or suddenly realised that our strength and greatness rests in our diversity, which they have played upon and trafficked in for personal and sectional interests for decades?
Maybe, they never envisaged that a time would come when not only the Southeast, but also the South-South, the Southwest and even the North, in an attempt to rid the region of the Igbo, would inadvertently crave for independence from Nigeria.
This is what, in pidgin, is called, “Oduma du bodi” (self-inflicted injury). It’s a case of “Those who are too clever sometimes overreach themselves.”
We have overreached ourselves as a nation, to the point that every section is scrambling to get out of the “marriage of convenience.” Or is it inconvenience?
When the rats start abandoning the ship, it’s a sign that no currents, no navigational equipment or expertise will keep it afloat, and sailing. It would go down like the Titanic!
We pray the Nigerian ship will not get to that point of cataclysm. And we hope the proper lessons would be learned in these testy times, and a truly sombre reflection undertaken to enable us right the ship, and pull back from the borders of the precipice.
Otherwise, our story would be like the tortoise’s, which because “it does not know where the rain drenched it, will also not know where the sun will dry it.”
* Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.