SKC Ogbonnia explains why President Muhammadu Buhari must develop the capacity for dialogue and value for all Nigerian lives.
President Muhammadu Buhari
Dear President Buhari,
I had planned to meet you one-on-one during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. But recent events have convinced me that the central issue of this letter has outgrown a private affair.
Not long ago, I was thinking that your recent long-stay in London could be a blessing in disguise. Besides the need for your full recovery, I fervently prayed that your brand of medical tourism, in of itself, could abreast you with at least three common principles that are conspicuously lacking in your democratic power. The first is that leadership is more enduring through dialogue than through terror. The second is that a leader of a nation is the father of all—regardless of political, cultural, social, or tribal differences. The third is that opposing viewpoints are the spice of democracy.
Little did I know that my prayers were a castle in the air. A leopard, we were warned, hardly changes its spots.
Many instances abound but none is more fanatic than your approach to the new Biafran agitation. Upon your return, instead of employing dialogue to attend to a myriad of problems begging your attention after a long absence, you chose to demonstrate your wellness by commanding the Nigerian Armed Forces to “crush” or, more plainly, to kill some youths opposed to your regime in the name of Biafra.
Mr. President, my position on the new Biafran agitation is an open book. For avoidance of doubt, my innocent opinion is written all over my various essays on the topic, for example, “How PDP and APC created New Biafran Agitations” and “Buhari and Nnamdi Kanu Fighting the Wrong Enemies”, and many others. To make it simple, I am for a united but equitable Nigeria. I do not subscribe to the IPOB agenda nor fancy Nnamdi Kanu’s style. But there are pertinent issues in their advocacy that must not be ignored.
In short, notwithstanding the sensational issue of secession for which Biafra is better known, you cannot feign ignorance of the fact that the rallying point of the agitation is anger against politicians like you, who dwell in ocean of huge wealth, not by the dint of any hard-work or intellect but through mere access to power. You, Muhammadu Buhari, cannot claim not to know that these Biafran youths, like other Nigerian youths, are angry at people like you and I, whose children school overseas and receive expert medical attention in foreign hospitals while the masses at home have nowhere to go for their own wellness.
On top of that, Nigeria currently has a president, you, who is generally seen a tribalist, sectionalist, misogynist, and religious bigot veiled in one garb. A majority of the Eastern youths, in particular, no longer sees you as their president. And you cannot blame them.
In the first place, you began your democratic regime by vowing to punish the people of the Eastern Region for the simple reason that they emulated their Northern counterparts to vote for their native son in the 2015 presidential election. You have since doubled down your vow with lopsided political appointments and projects that show utter disdain for the same region. Today, while you are doggedly commanding the Nigerian Armed Forces to “crush” the Eastern youths agitating for Biafra, you conveniently used dialogue, and wisely so, to contain their Northern counterparts who issued quit notice to the Igbo living in your region. Further, another group from your tribe, the Fulani Herdsmen, have been terrorizing the Middle Belt and Southern Nigeria, raping women and killing innocent civilians with impunity; yet you have continued to carry on as if the victims are the animals themselves.
As if your brazen pattern of sectionalism is not enough, your regime is now in a shameless back-and-forth dance with a confusing stance of either proscribing IPOB, associating it with terrorism or declaring the Biafran youths as terrorists. Which one, Mr. President?
Either way, did I really hear “terrorists” as the plural of terrorist?
Before you make up your mind, let us consider what a terrorist truly means. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, terrorist is defined as “a person who uses unlawful violence or intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.”
Your Excellency, with the Holy Qur’an on your hand, please quietly go into “the other room” and look at yourself in the mirror and answer the following twin questions: Who is the terrorist in the current Biafran crisis? Could it be you, General Muhammadu Buhari, who is intimidating and murdering civilians opposing your regime by way of self-determination as enshrined in the UN charter or the innocent victims themselves?
There is no need to grapple with the questions any further. The answer can be gleaned from an emerging world view that once again casts you as a dictator bereft of ideas to lead but desirous to garner followership by intimidation. This explains why Tom Marino, a high-ranking member of the Trump presidency and the current US Drug Czar, then a Congressman and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, was bold to warn the United States, just a year ago, to withhold selling arms to Nigeria until you, President Buhari, demonstrates true “commitment to inclusive government and the most basic tenets of democracy: freedom to assemble and freedom of speech.”
Mr. President, that view has not changed. The Americans, that I know, know commitment to the most basic tenets of democracy when they see one. They already know that your Operation Python Dance in the South-East Nigeria is stark opposite. The world knows that the military action is nothing but a scheme to rekindle the zeitgeist of the Biafran war—hoping to regain your waning popularity within our party and the nation at large.
But Nigerians are wiser. That is why patriots from the east, north, and the west, including my very humble self, are uniting against you. We recognize that your Python Dance—no matter how constitutional or elegant—is misguided and ill-timed. Unlike you, the vast majority of Nigerians recognizes that dialogue is the way forward, not terror. Unlike you, we recognize that the lives of these Biafran youths are not less important than the lives of your children and grandchildren silver-spooned by the way of our common wealth.
You will also fall into the temptation of deploying your Igbo appointees to attempt to paint a different picture at the UN gala. But that strategy is also a vain hope. Their voices will be outnumbered by the true Nigerian ambassadors in the Diaspora, who are deeply entrenched in the global political economy, the Igbo elites very well-included. These patriots, most of whom have understandably maintained stoic silence, will be provoked to counter you with the truth anywhere. As I had counselled in the essay, “Buhari’s New Change Ought to Begin with His Igbo Problem”; Your sole wining option is to trek back to where the rain started beating you; the world in 2017 is no longer that of 1967.
So, Your Excellency, come back home. Come back home. The current Biafran crisis is not as insoluble as you portray it to be. Even a blind squirrel can sometimes find a nut. What is needed, therefore, is for the “change” to truly begin with you. With a new lease of life, you can still muster the willpower to become a detribalized leader who truly believes in united but equitable Nigeria. You can still develop the capacity for dialogue and value for all Nigerian lives. The problem, though, is that you have not tried. True
SKC Ogbonnia+ writes from Houston, Texas, and can be reached through [email protected]