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The world is watching Nigeria with understandable trepidation – Obaze

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With the 54th anniversary of Biafra Remembrance Day celebration just over, the reverberating effect of the total lockdown on the South-East of Nigeria and the nation in general is still being felt. OrientDaily’s SIMON NJOKU, Associate Editor and Dr. NKALA AZUBUIKE, Member, Editorial Board, engaged OSELOKA H. OBAZE, a policy and governance expert, former United Nations official and 2017 PDP Governorship candidate in Anambra State in analysis of the implications of the event for the polity and the international community. Excerpts:

The resurgence of the clamour for the Republic of Biafra has become topical discussion once again as discourse on Nigerian unity is stirred. Can we have your opinion on this scenario?

National unity is hard work involving component parts.  One must feel a sense of having a stake and being bound by a cause in order to seek unity.  History is a continuum and often, quite instructive. Yet many people readily recall history when there is any attempt to suppress key elements of it that relates to them. It has taken the Germans 100 years to admit to untoward conducts meted out to the Hereros in Namibia and the Canadians donkey years to acknowledge cover up of the fate of children in Kamloops Indian Residential Schools.  To some inside and outside Nigeria, Biafra is a cause celebre. But the reality is that you cannot divorce or redact  Biafra from Nigerian history. In that context, so long as people can think, have choices and opinions, the notion of Biafra will subsist, not necessarily as a nation, but as a mindset and state of mind. People are well disposed to whatever makes them feel good or feel needed. But then,  separatist agitations are not peculiar to Nigeria. The reality is that Biafra recidivism has been made possible by the prevailing injustices and lack of political balance in Nigeria. The Constitutional provisions for Federal Character has been thrown to the dogs, to the point of glaring marginalization and disenfranchisement. That is our present reality, if one must speak truth to power. It ought be understandable, therefore, why segments of the nation feel aggrieved.

It was alleged that the explanatory memo to the 1914 amalgamation of Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria contained a proviso that the experiment will run for 100 years (1914-2014), after which the ethnic groups will be free to make choices of whether to stay within the federation-if yes, why the restrictions for plebiscite?

That proviso of the memo is speculative and thus an academic exercise. A footnote or explanatory note serves only as a reference; any action point well-intended beneficial adumbration, should have been in the body of the core document.  The explanatory memo was therefore nothing but drafting by legerdemain. Yet agreeing to a plebiscite takes great courage on both sides. The reality is this: the Igbo are far too invested outside Igbo land and in other parts of Nigeria. Divestment of any sort will be an onerous task and will definitely compound any separation processes. Even if agreed to, the risk that a plebiscite will fail remains real and high, despite the traditional emotionalism and rhetorics. Hence, the fervor for restructuring is rife and should be understandable. 

The British Deputy High Commissioner in Nigeria was in the South-East of late, meeting with Igbo elites, what is the interest of Whitehall in Nigeria, given your experience as an international civil servant and former UN diplomat?

Well, the vestiges of colonialism haunt the British and Nigerians alike. Every titration has an endpoint.  If Nigeria was an experiment, the British are perhaps watching the jigsaw and mosaic come apart at its seams.  They ought to worry, not knowing if the endpoint will be amicable or visceral. Nigeria imploding will be catastrophic. The cliché “if you break it you own it” is aptly applicable. Consider for instance, the French quagmire in Mali and the Sahel.  Nigeria’s problematique, has British DNA all over it, and Whitehall knows it. 

In your considered opinion, Igbo presidency in 2023 and dialogue for restructuring of Nigeria, which should come first?

We are confronted with a chicken and egg scenario. An Igbo presidency bereft of restructuring is fraught with imponderables. Accomplishing restructuring before an Igbo presidency is a very tall order. By the way, the terminology “Igbo presidency” can be quite misleading, troubling and for some, scary. I think we ought to be speaking of a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction. That can be envisaged and accomplished, but it will require strategic engagement across board to bring it about in 2023. 

The Inspector General of Police claimed that disbandment of SARS created vacuum in policing, Do you agree?

Obaze: The notion has some element of plausibility. Nature abhors vacuum. The void left by the disbandment of SARS, is real, even if one considers only the deterrent value. But that said, it was the inability to undertake a holistic reform of the Nigeria Police that led to the excesses of SARS. The insecurity challenges confronting Nigeria now can be considered opportunity costs. The police as an institution is still intact. They should meet their statutory responsibilities, failing which policing powers should devolve to the regions or states as the case may be. 

How do you think the Nigerian government can stop the current killings? 

The expansive bloodletting we are experiencing should give us pause.  Without being partisan,  the ruling APC government must take full responsibility for the breakdown of law and order.   It’s happening on their watch.  And what we are witnessing is reminiscent of Black-on-Black violence of yesteryears in South Africa. Essentially, it is the full manifestation of the trust deficit, between the rulers and the ruled and between the elite and the masses. As a nation, we have unwittingly devalued life.   We need to have a bipartisan national security summit. Like the song says, “the answers are blowing in the wind.” We need to collectively harvest the needed panacea by walking away from the compartmentalization of our security responses. When we did not have to, we overexposed our military by using them for civilian police duties and in doing so, politicized their role. Now that we need them for prevailing national security challenges, their utility and value seems suspect in some quarters. 

What do you think are the political implications of the success of the sit-at-home order by the banned organization, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) for the Nigerian government? 

Self-preservation and discretion are the better parts of valor. Remembering lives lost in the civil war remains emotive for many, more so, in the context of present day Nigeria and governance modalities. You may consider the sit-at-home compliance, a form of civil disobedience, not necessarily against the FGN but against Southeast governors and their dissembling modalities. It also underpins the fact that the scars of the civil war are not healed entirely. But essentially, people stayed home to avoid being harmed or to escape agonizing reprisals. 

What signal does this send to the global community?

The signal is not salutary.  It says that Nigeria as a nation and especially its presumed federalism, are essentially still work in progress after 100 years of amalgamation and sixty years of independence. Fate has kept the nation together. Deep respect, tolerance of each other, respect for minority rights, equity and courage will be needed, for the nation-building works so far not to come undone. The world is watching Nigeria with understandable trepidation. 

How would you advise IPOB to leverage on the success of the sit-at-home order?

I consider the sit-at-home a clamour to recognize 30th May as a reverential holiday in honour of those who died during the Nigeria-Biafra war. People died on both sides. So, the nation could create a Memorial Day honouring all those who died during the civil war. How it is celebrated across the ethnic divide, becomes a matter of choice and style. Since we made June 12 a national holiday, we have assuaged presumed offended sensibilities and taken the thunder out of the clap. That ought to be a considered approach to making the annual sit-at-home order by IPOB less contentious and divisive. Moreover, creating a Memorial Day for remembering war casualties has its precedents in several prominent countries. 

How would you estimate losses incurred by South-East businesses as a result of compliance with the sit-at-home order?

Taking a mental health day off, might seem expensive in term of economic costs and manpower hours lost; but in psychological and healthcare terms, the benefits are quite immense. The sit-at-home day off is analogous to one day spent at home during the Covid 19 lockdown. Families spent quality time together, bonded and tried to understand each other better. So the loss-benefit quotient falls into “is the glass half full or half empty” metaphor. 

Would you encourage subsequent compliance with this order and why?

It’s not my place to encourage or discourage the process. Personally, I stayed home and got a lot of personal stuff and writing accomplished without any distractions. Constitutionally, people are afforded the right of peaceful protest. Sit-in, sit-at-home or boycotts, are universally accepted methods of peaceful protest, civil disobedience and even resistance. There is a cause and effect situation here. You can take the air out of the yearly sit-at-home order and compliance by making the compliance redundant. In complex mechanisms and systems engineering, we build in redundancies as stopgap and fail safe measures. That is also possible in governance, if the leadership is adaptive. Make the day special and soon enough, it becomes routine. Attachments area

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