How Politicians and the Elites Tacitly Support Agitations for Secession 

Statements from certain individuals, cultural organisations, socio-economic groups, and other interest-based stakeholders in Nigeria appear to be strengthening and escalating separatist movements across the country. Some of these prominent persons and groups have criticised the government for pursuing these people, rather than focusing on more pressing issues in the country.

Among such people is Nigeria’s Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, who said he is ready to stand as surety again for the detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, despite his flagrant disregard for the terms of the bail he was given in 2017. Kanu jumped bail and left the country, and continually instigated a bloody separatist campaign, which culminated in the loss of lives and properties, especially in the South-East region.  Abaribe explained that he stands as a surety for the IPOB leader because he is from the South-East and sees it as his responsibility. It, however, smacks of irresponsibility when a duly elected Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is continually backing this kind of agitation that has since assumed a multi-violent and lawless dimension. Granted that he acted in good faith in 2017 by volunteering to be one of his sureties, subsequent occurrences should have made it glaring to the Senator that while the grouse of the Igbo may be legitimate, Kanu’s method of expressing it will yield no fruitful result whatsoever. It is actually doing more harm than good to the cause.

Similarly, the apex socio-cultural organisation in the South East, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, led by Prof George Obiozor, constituted a legal team that will represent Nnamdi Kanu in court when his hearing before the Federal High Court in Abuja resumes.  Ohanaeze stated that in as much it was not averse to the trial of Kanu, it however submitted that Kanu should be tried within the ambit of the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and in line with global best practices. This is mischievous from Ohanaeze, considering that Kanu has never been tried outside of the confines of the law in the first place. He was in fact the one that acted illegally by violating his bail conditions and fleeing the country to avoid arrest. The group is perhaps trying to maintain a position that it has forgiven the endless ridicule and opprobrium which it has been subject to from the combustible Kanu and his combatant IPOB, especially during the period when John Nnia Nwodo held sway as leader of the group. What Ohanaeze attempts to do is to show Kanu that they will not pay him back in his own coin, but treat him as a misguided son who needs the wisdom of the elders to guide him aright. Ohanaeze is on an exercise in futility; neither Kanu nor his recalcitrant followers recognise them or accord them with any respect. Ohanaeze should either come out to be in support or totally against the Kanu agenda; there is no sitting on the fence.

In another development, and in what looks like an open endorsement of separatists movement in South-West Nigeria, the Olubadan of Ibadanland, Saliu Adetunji, sent a delegation to Cotonou, Republic of Benin, to observe court proceedings in the case of Sunday Adeyemo, also known as Sunday Igboho, following his arrest in Benin Republic. He said the step taken had become necessary in order to assure those who had been besieging his palace, including protesters, that he was not folding his arms over the travails of Igboho and his aides. While it is not uncommon to see traditional rulers display affectionate shows of solidarity for their subjects, it is vital for these kind of gestures not to be misconstrued as a discreet seal of approval by the respected monarch; which has the ability to motivate more others to toe the same line and engage in anti-government activities.

In what can also be translated as an open support for the separatists, Afenifere, the apex socio-cultural group in the South-West, said there is nothing wrong with Igboho seeking asylum to preserve his life. The group also accused the Federal Government of hunting “those seeking relief from the oppressive situation in Nigeria” while neglecting kidnappers and terrorists. Such statements are half-truths tactically worded to stir up tribal sentiments.

The apex leader of the umbrella body of Yoruba Self-Determination Groups, Ilana Omo Oodua, Professor Banji Akintoye, also relocated to the Benin Republic after Igboho’s arrest. Insinuations in some quarters suggested he left the country to avoid being arrested, which he has denied; claiming he went to Benin in solidarity with the detained Igboho. He said he travelled to coordinate and supervise how to legally rescue the detained Ighoho from government custody as soon as possible. The elderly professor has been a huge beneficiary of the Nigerian project and even served as Senator for four years in the Second Republic. It is regrettable that he is spending his twilight years attempting to sever the cords that unite the country. No nation is perfect; and even if grievances exist, there are always laid-down procedures to address such. That is what the elder should champion; dialogue and peaceful resolution of crisis through constitutional and legitimate means; not anti-state actions capable of precipitating violent separatism. If all the aggrieved ethnic groups in Nigeria attempt to use similar means to hammer home their demands, the whole country will be inflamed and we will all be consumed eventually.

Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, also lampooned the Federal Government for arresting Igboho; he stated that the government should stop pursuing him and leave him alone, while also asking the government to tender an unreserved apology to him for the manner in which his home was raided. He similarly warned that there will be a huge squawk if the truth about how the Federal Government arrested Nnamdi Kanu becomes known. The professor challenged the Federal Government to show similar eagerness in arresting bandits and terrorists.   The literary icon could be sometimes unstable in his analysis and position on national and political events; discernible motives for some of his statements are not free of bias as he tends to allow his feelings for an incumbent government to becloud his objectivity on larger non-partisan matters. He is well aware of the futility and danger associated with these sorts of violent separatisms but he urges them on, just because he is disappointed with the central government.

Founder of Latter Rain Assembly and former running-mate to Muhammadu Buhari in the 2011 presidential elections, Pastor Tunde Bakare, also knocked the government for going after the secessionists. Hypothetically, if Tunde Bakare was the Vice President today, will he be making such statements? I guess not. He once declared that a divine vision has pronounced him as being destined to be President in the nearest future. When such a dream materialises, Bakare is free to look the other way and allow separatists to run down his own government.

Some sets of politically motivated individuals have also been consistent in their backing of secessionists. These dubious individuals emit ceaseless anti-government rhetoric while appearing to maintain a pro-masses position. This is, however, untrue, as they maintain an anti-government stance simply because they are not in government. Loss of access to government or political patronage leaves them latching onto any kind of show of opposition to the government in power, no matter how misguided. A ready example is Reno Omokri. All the period he was in government as a Presidential aide, he turned a blind eye to any public outcry or social crusades, but the moment his principal was out of power, he put on the apparel of a social activist, how convenient! Femi Fani Kayode is another example. He served as a Federal Minister for many years under President Olusegun Obasanjo and even served as Campaign Director for President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. All those times he was in government, he was an ardent believer in the non-negotiability of Nigerian unity; but the moment he became politically irrelevant, he declared Nigeria as a failed state that should be divided. He gravitated towards the likes of Kanu and Igboho, legitimising their secessionist campaigns, all because of political interests.

Omoyele Sowore is also another model of these political pretenders. He has a history of being a political acolyte of the present government, but the moment he fell out with them, he joined a new party and even contested for President in 2019; in which he put in a dismal outing. The aftermath of his political defeat has seen him hobnobbing with Nnamdi Kanu and the likes; amplifying their separatist agenda, while also embarking on anti-government protests on regular basis. One wonders if Sowore had been elected President, would he condone separatists and violent-instigators to wreak endless havoc under his leadership?

Certain sections of the Media have also been strategic in its support for the separatists movements in Nigeria. This is done through robust reportage given to the activities of the separatists, especially on the new media and social media platforms. The frenzy and web traffic such reports generate make these media outfits to sensationalise reports in ways that present secessionists as saviours fighting for the helpless citizens. They also fail to report gains recorded in the battle against insurgency, banditry, and other forms of armed criminalities in such manner. They capitalise on the widespread antipathy against the government to further fuel one-sided narratives.

One recurring theme from most of the assertions of those who subliminally support separatists is the claim that the government focuses all attention on the Southern secessionists, while doing nothing to the challenges of banditry, insurgency, and other forms of criminality, especially in the Northern part of the country. This is not totally true. The dimension the insecurity problem has assumed in the north is so enormous to the point that victories and gains being recorded by the military are under-reported because it is deemed inconsequential and insufficient by many sections of the media. But gains are definitely being recorded, even if marginal. Many hide-outs and camps of bandits and insurgents have been successfully raided in recent times, with a number of notorious criminals being apprehended or even wilfully submitting to the authorities to avoid being decimated. The government has a duty to ensure the security of all parts of Nigeria and it must fully nip in the bud any appearance of sprouting violence, be it in the North, East, South, or West.  

It has been established that most of these subtle shows of support from the elite and political class for violent separatisms are not in good faith, but only a means to attain certain predetermined political and selfish objectives. Nigerians must be wary and refuse to be stampeded into a situation where the masses will suffer the largest casualties. These same sets of elites are part of those responsible for some of our current national problems and they deserve no backing whatsoever. Nigerians should wake up and not allow politicians and activists with personal and sectarian interests to decide their destiny for them.

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