As Thomas Paine, the English-born American philosopher, once wrote, there are times that try men’s souls. Nigeria is in the throes of such debilitating times, more so for Ndigbo.
It has never been this bad since the end of the civil war in January 1970. What is needed to pull the country back from the brink is a leader with empathy, a leader who inspires and uplifts. Unfortunately, President Muhammadu Buhari does not fit that mould.
After reading his comment on the crisis in the Southeast on Tuesday, I simply came to the inexorable conclusion that he does not get it. Or worse, he is an inveterate sadist.
Buhari is not a social media aficionado. Granted, he has a verified Twitter handle – @MBuhari – but he is not a Donald Trump, the former U.S. President. Buhari rarely tweets. But when he does, it underscores the importance he attaches to an issue. And he did so on Tuesday.
“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,” he tweeted after a meeting with the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu.
So offended was Twitter that it deleted the tweet. What a shame. Our President has joined the infamous club of world leaders in Twitter’s Hall of Infamy, sanctioned for conducts that fan genocidal embers.
Buhari’s tweet was a triumphal act which he relishes anytime he is dealing with Ndigbo. He just reminded restive Igbo youths that he conquered their fathers in a civil war and is prepared to crush them once again if they dare him. But he is addressing the wrong crowd. Igbo youths under the age of 50 don’t count themselves as part of the crowd Buhari and his ilk conquered in a war half a century ago. They are irrepressible.
Of course, the president is entitled to his fantasy, but he misses the point. Ordinarily, his age should afford him the ample opportunity to introspect. If Buhari was someone given to solipsism, he should be asking himself why Nigeria loses its soul anytime he is in power. Blaming others for his self-inflicted leadership woes is a sign of weakness.
Reacting to the president’s tweet, @DrOlufunmilayo said: “When Buhari speaks to bandits, he begs them. He appeals to them. But when Buhari speaks to citizens, he threatens us. He uses language that can be used to justify harm, violence and massacre against the same people he swore to protect.”
@UNCLE_AJALA said: “Civil war that killed plus or minus 3m Igbos 51yrs ago, and still hurting so many people is what President Buhari is using to threaten people in 2021, while Boko Haram members are getting rehabilitated … it’s so unbelievable.”
This is the crux of the matter. Reminding Igbo youths how over 3 million of their folks were slaughtered just a day after the remembrance of the holocaust smacks of lack of emotional intelligence. It is callous.
Why does Buhari loathe Ndigbo so much? His supporters accuse the Igbo of hating him. So, whatever crime he is committing against them is a well-deserved comeuppance. Those who propagate this harebrained notion hinge their ludicrous argument on the fact that Ndigbo have consistently rejected him at the polls even when he picked two of their sons – Dr Chuba Okadigbo and Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke – as running mates in the 2003 and 2007 presidential elections.
While it is true that Ndigbo are never enamoured of Buhari’s leadership qualities and, therefore, serially rejected him at the polls – and they have been vindicated by his woeful performance – it doesn’t translate to hatred.
After all, one of the most revered Igbo leaders, Dim Chukwuemaka Odumegwu Ojukwu, contested both elections on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and his party also lost in the Southeast just as Buhari’s All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) did. Does that mean Ndigbo hated Ojukwu?
Some others say Ndigbo hate Northerners. Some who want to be more mischievous narrow it to hatred for the Fulani. But they forget that Buhari is not the first Nigerian president of Fulani extraction.
In 1979, just nine years after the civil war, Shehu Shagari, scion of the Sokoto Caliphate, was elected president with Dr. Alex Ekwueme as his deputy. In that government, Ume-Ezeoke was Speaker of the House of Representatives and Dr. Joseph Wayas, was Senate President. Ndigbo worked well with Shagari. The same applies to President Umaru Yard’Adua, also a Fulani.
Those who accuse Ndigbo of hating the North are deliberately mischievous. I am writing this piece from my hotel room in Kano where I attended the 2021 biennial convention of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. I can say without equivocation that there are more Igbo entrepreneurs in Kano than the indigenous population. And Kano is not an exception. Ndigbo are in all the nooks and crannies of northern Nigeria, doing their legitimate businesses, contributing to the growth of the local economy. They build homes, not just houses, in their communities of residence. They pay their taxes and other development levies. Some are the reason why there is electricity in their adopted communities.
It is on record that some Igbo people in the north have singlehandedly constructed roads in the communities where they live. These are not signposts of hatred.
So, Buhari should introspect. Rather than pointing fingers of blame at imaginary enemies, he should purge himself of animosity. It is abhorrent for a president to deploy state resources in inciting violence against an ethnic group. That gambit worked in 1966. It will fail in 2021.
Buhari’s recourse to chest-thumping, always waving the civil war flag to remind Ndigbo that he conquered them is ridiculous. The president is not the only Nigerian military officer who fought the war. He was only a Lieutenant then and there is no record of his outstanding exploits in that war of attrition. So, why is he behaving as if he single-handedly extinguished the Biafran flame?
As I noted recently, Ndigbo are not Nigeria’s problem. Declaring war against them at the drop of a hat is unconscionable. Today, soldiers have been deployed to the Southeast with a clear presidential mandate to kill. And what a great job they are doing. Innocent youths are mowed down on the streets. Young men are yanked off the embrace of their weeping mothers and taken away. Most of them are murdered in cold blood by what has become an army of occupation.
There is no accountability. Thousands have disappeared as soldiers carrying out the explicit orders of their Commander-in-Chief storm students’ hostels and churches to whisk away youths in the name of hunting down Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) activists.
Alaigbo is in turmoil. Sadly, this war is not inevitable. All that was needed is a leader with character, sobriety and an acute sense of justice. Unfortunately, Buhari is not such a leader. But genocidal leaders will always pay a steep price.
In the Southeast, we have a wimpy political class. The governors are not only mortally afraid of speaking truth to power but also willing to throw their own people under the bus if only to appease an unappeasable emperor.
Since nature abhors a vacuum, the yawning leadership void has been filled by an irascible non-state actor, Nnamdi Kanu, who has effectively stepped up to the plate and impressionable Igbo youths in search of a hero have found in him the superman they have been looking for.
As I noted recently, there is no Igbo leader today that has as much hold on Igbo youths as Kanu. Such enormous power should come with great responsibility. That seems not to be the case. Biafra or no Biafra, Ndigbo need to be alive. Brainwashing Igbo youths to confront soldiers that have no respect for any rules of engagement is suicidal.
Today, some Igbo are as afraid of Kanu as they are of Buhari. This my way or the highway philosophy of IPOB detracts from the struggle. Threats against those who do not necessarily disagree with the struggle but have a different idea of how things can be done without bloodshed smacks of a budding autocracy. Blood is sacred in Igboland and any strategy that will orchestrate the wanton spilling of precious Igbo blood should be reevaluated.
Mass self-immolation, which is what I am seeing in this “it is either Biafra or war” battle cry of IPOB is not a sign of bravery. It is a red flag of a society on the path of self-destruction.
You don’t wage a war against a bull in a China shop, because even if you win, you risk losing all. You deploy tact and wisdom in guiding the bull out of the shop. That is not cowardice. Ndigbo who are calling for restraint are neither fraidy-cats nor quislings.
Calling Nnamdi Kanu out if he errs is not an act of betrayal and, therefore, does not deserve a fatwa. With the way things are panning out, particularly the stratification of Alaigbo along the lines of those who are for and against Kanu, we risk Igbo on Igbo violence. It is a slippery slope.
Ndigbo don’t need to fight another war even for the sake of a territorial Biafra. Buhari is a rampaging bull who has no qualms replicating the tragedy of the late 1960s. Playing into his hands is foolhardy. This war is not inevitable.
Ikechukwu first contributed this piece to The Nitche where he’s the CEO