Arewa Youths’ “Eviction” Order Escalates Nationwide Discourse on Restructuring of Nigeria

by Mazi Sam I. Ohuabunwa OFR

Process matters on its face value

     Sam Ohuabunwa, OFR is a lay minister & international consultant.

Last week, I raised some issues on the Biafra struggle and opined that the Igbo have demonstrated that they loved this country and wanted its unity more than any other ethnic group in Nigeria. I further stated that indeed it looked to me that, deep down, Nigeria did not really want the Igbo, but was merely tolerating them. And I concluded with offering my suggestion that if the Acting President and indeed this administration wanted true unity, the shortest cut was to try and look at all the reports submitted by PRONACO, the 2005 National Political Reform Conference and the 2014 National Conference. In them, we can find good ideas on how to make this arrangement workable and mutually beneficial.

The next day, a motley group of sponsored youth groups, generally classified as Arewa youths, spoke from Arewa House in Kaduna. I have found time to read their press releases (1st & 2nd) and I have also followed comments made by other Arewa leaders, especially Prof. Ango Abdullahi and the ubiquitous Dr. Junaid Mohammed. My deductions and comments are as follows:

First, the Arewa Youths and perhaps, those they speak for are tired of living with the Igbo in one country and would want that arrangement changed. They have several reasons they resent the Igbo. But it looks like the most obvious is the amount of property the Igbo own in the North and their apparent prosperity wherever they live. Rather than live in batchers and in makeshift temporary structures, they buy massive plots of land and build multi-storey block houses and establish chains of businesses. They do not behave as strangers or those in transit; they settle and live like indigenes and sometimes live more affluent lifestyles than the indigenes.

This has irked some of the Arewa people for a long time, perhaps from the foundation of Nigeria, but since the Nigerian Constitution permitted that, they really could not do much except during the moments of ethnic or religious crisis when they often descended on Igbo property. They, therefore, saw the recent Biafra agitation, particularly the very successful stay-at-home order of 30th May, 2017, as an excuse to boldly express this long-held animosity.

Second, the Northern “Youths” themselves are definitely very unhappy with Nigeria and thus sound very frustrated with this federation which seems to offer them little hope. With the high level of out-of-school children, the high incidence of the Almajiri phenomenon, high level of Youth unemployment, general lack of opportunities and grinding poverty around them, they are no longer sure that they see any benefit in belonging to Nigeria as it is currently structured. Their angry and abusive responses to the statements made by governors of Kaduna and Borno States indicate that the “Youths” may even be angrier with the Northern political leaders than they are with the impetuous Igbo.

Third, it seems clear that all is not well with Nigeria and all those who are pretending that all is well or that we should not talk about it are angry that the Igbo, who seem to be comparatively materially better off in Nigeria, are the ones clamoring for change. That is why the Arewa youths and their supporters thought that giving the ultimatum for the Igbo to leave the North will, frighten them enough to abandon their struggle for equity, justice and fair play. After all, there was a time there was a call for Oduduwa Republic by the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC). The Niger Delta Ijaw, under the auspices of the Avengers and other protesting youths, called for a Republic of Niger Delta recently.  But, perhaps, the ethnic groups these youths represent, which may either not have such material possessions in the North or they may not be so materially inclined as the Igbo, never received any such threats to vacate the North. So, there is this perception that if you want to get the archetypal Igbo, go for his wealth and he would back down.

Fourth, this outburst by the coalition of the so-called Arewa Youths has further deepened and polarized the Nigerian nation. Many other youth groups have publicly stated their demands on Nigeria. The Middle Belt seems to have now established a clear separation from Arewa North. They have offered to accommodate the Igbo if they get driven from the Far North, for example. So, every ethnic group in Nigeria is finally waking up to vent their long-suppressed animosities thereby giving a fresh impetus to the need to renegotiate and rearrange the relationships in a manner that will be more mutually satisfactory. Many agree with the Igbo that either the arrangement is not serving them well or it is gravely skewed in the favour of some people.

Fifthly, we must acknowledge the very strong statements made by Governors El-Rufai of Kaduna and Shettima of Borno states who stood up strongly and firmly to denounce the hate speech authored by the Arewa Youths group. Those timely statements may have helped to stabilize matters and prevented the situation from degenerating. Though the “Youths” are yet to be arrested and the added inflammatory statements from Ango and Junaid were counter-productive as usual, Nigerians had some sense of relief.  But the situation remains ominous.

Precolonial Lower Niger anchored Nigeria

Emerging federations include the Lower Niger territory, a precolonial delimitation that corresponds to 1st Republic’s Eastern & Midwestern Regions.

The central government and the National Assembly must follow up some of their lame declarations with swift actions. The Nigerian security forces, which had no qualms in mowing down the MASSOB & IPOB youths who threatened no one in words or action, except expressing their desire for justice, equity and fair play, must find the simple courage to do the right thing by arresting the errant youths and bring them to quick justice! Many Igbo still suspect that the Arewa youths or those they have been indoctrinated with their hate speech will try to enforce their misguided threats because this has happened severally before in the past. My prayer and hope is that this does not happen again!

Sixth and finally, let me state that this escalation of the discourse by the Arewa youths may seem extreme in some respects. But they have spoken out their minds and we all now know how they feel deep within themselves. I am hopeful that it will finally stimulate our political leaders to seize this opportunity to get everyone around a table to salvage things before it is too late. That, to me, is the divine call on Acting President Yemi Osinbajo.

May God help him to act swiftly.