By Collins Onuegbu
I read the independence Nigeria broadcast of the Nigerian president this morning. Far away from Nigeria, I was emotionally detached from the Independence Day but his speech brought me back quickly. My first reaction when I got to the section tongue lashing the Igbos of Nigeria was to look to confirm if it was authentic. Nigeria is rising in ranking in the fake news department and even a fake presidential broadcast is not big news anymore. But yes, it was. And it did not really disappoint. Our president hast turned his speeches and remarks about national issues into those rituals whose product is to further divide the country. And he has chosen the South East as his object and target to achieve this. Ever since he won election and made his famous 97% and 5% comment, his actions and comments have always singled out this section of the country to preach his version of Nigerianness that singles a section of Nigeria he believes is less Nigerian than the rest.
I have tried to adduce several reasons for this. From a political perspective, it may be because they did not vote for him and he has used his bully pulpit as the president to bully them. And they have responded with equal ferocity. While the extremist among them have funded and become part of the separatist movement, IPOB who owe their new-found fame to the president’s missteps and outburst, the moderates who are in majority have been onlookers or political opponents. It is normal in politics to either build bridges with your opponents or bash them to keep your base. See how Trump of America uses the blacks to preach his vision of making America great again, to appeal to is base. Buhari, our president uses the Igbos to preach his version of United Nigeria. Also, to appeal to his base. He keeps repeating his war sermon of how Nigeria fought a civil war that claimed two million lives. And subtly reminds the current generation of Igbos that their parents lost a war, two million of their sons and daughters and they should stop trying to die like their parents. By reminding his constituency of the war, the president seeks to isolate Igbos as those who fought against Nigeria 50years ago. And subtly warns that the fate of their parents may befall the current generation. This is both a threat and a blackmail. But it achieves its purpose of isolating the Igbos and strengthening his base. This is dangerous and divisive politics.
By making Igbos scapegoat in his presidency, he can rally the rest of Nigeria especially his core northern support. Anyone that wants to dismember Nigeria is an enemy of the North that is the biggest beneficiary of the current status quo in Nigeria. In all these speeches, he tries to pacify the Nigeria Delta, reminding them that they are not same as the east. This is to ensure that in isolating the South East, their kits and kin in the Niger Delta have no chance of joining them should they get angry enough to foment trouble. Oil is still important to his administration and he can keep a double standard for the sake of oil. The Niger Delta also did not vote for him. In fact, he defeated their son to win the election.
So, if we take the president’s actions as purely political, to keep his base and possibly win the next election, how does that leave Nigeria? Why do we have a president who preaches unity and indivisibility but his actions and speeches do the opposite. Are his actions uniting Nigeria? Is this the Nigeria we deserve?
And for those he targets, what should be their reactions? Should the Igbos allow the president to use them as cannon fodder, playing into his hands while he fumbles as president?
My advice to Igbos is to look beyond this president. And ignore him. He represents a part of the Nigerian history we must all grow beyond for Nigeria to progress for all of us. Retreating into Biafra and a defeatist complex befits the president and the protagonists of the status qou. Igbos boast that they have voted for Nigeria unity with their feet and investment, finding livelihood in every part of Nigeria. They should remind the president of that and rise above his divisiveness. In fact, they should challenge the president on his Nigerianness instead of retreating to their base for a president that is comfortable at his ethnic base. Is this president a patriot? Does he have a vision for a united Nigeria? Has he shown that as president he has promoted the best of Nigeria? His actions do not show this. Both before his presidency and inside it Whether it is in his open defense of Fulani herdsmen or his lopsided appointments. Or his selective fight against corruption that favors his party men. Or the selective treatment of corruption n among members of his regime. Or his bigotry, the president scores lower than the Igbos he wants to put down on Nigerianness. So, they should challenge him instead of cringing to the corners as he keeps bullying them.
We all have a stake in this country. More so the Igbos. They should not allow the president to define them as less Nigerian than the rest. And for the rest of Nigeria, we must all call the president to order. We all desire a united Nigeria. That cannot happen with a president whose action continues to divide us. Buhari must be told that Nigerians want to go beyond the civil war of his generation. His generation fought and killed two million Nigerians and called themselves heroes for that. He does not need to keep on reminding us of that evil chapter in Nigerian history. He is a Nigeria of the past and not the future.
Our independence should not be a reminder that we fought a war that killed millions of Nigerians. If he must, it must be to heal the wounds of that calamity. And not to drive a knife into the memories of the victims and their relatives. Independence Day is a time to set a vision of the future. And as a president it is his job to provide the leadership and guidance. Let us unite and tell the president and all who think like him that he should let us go. Let him and his type stop dragging us back to our past. We want a new future. That promises a better Nigeria for us. That benefits our diversity. That brings out the best in us.
We want to lead Africa. We want to be one of the most powerful countries in the world. We want our citizens to live in one of the most peaceful and productive countries on the planet. We want to have one of the highest life expectancies the world. We don’t want any of our future presidents to be treated in a hospital in the West for the simplest of infections. We want to take our kids out of the schools in Europe and America and let them have the best of education in Nigeria. We want to go to the moon. And launch communication satellite in space for science and technology.
We want to walk into immigration points anywhere in the world and show the Nigerian passport without nervousness and fear. But with pride. We owe it to our children and the next generation. We owe it to the black race. We owe it to our common humanity. Let our president either lead or get out of the way. His generation has caused more harm than Nigeria deserves.
Happy Independence Day.