By Kayode Komolafe
What is really happening to the southeast of Nigeria?
The honest answer to that crucial question of our time should be that there isn’t a coherent official explanation yet of the incipient anarchy enveloping the zone.
It is necessary to have a comprehensive account of the forces at play in the troubled zone as part of the broad strategy of tackling insecurity bedevilling the whole country. After all, the horrific killings in the state have been largely blamed on “unknown gunmen.” Now, that is not accountability about the lost lives.
In his National Day broadcast last Friday, President Muhammadu Buhari spoke of a yet-to-be named “federal legislator” allegedly sponsoring violence in the region among others. The President announced that security agents were on the trail of the promoters of violence in the southeast and other parts of the country.
Not only must the alleged sponsors of violence be named, they must also be prosecuted, according to the law. For months now, there have been unsettling reports of killings and destruction of public and private properties in the zone. There seems to be a reign of impunity in the southeast (as in other parts of the country) because the news of killings is not usually followed by the news of prosecution of those who committed murder.
The House of Representatives called yesterday on the National Security Adviser (NSA) Major-General Babagana Monguno and the security agencies to activate state apparatuses accordingly to overwhelm those unleashing violence in Anambra state in particular. Now, the call of the federal legislators on the NSA is properly addressed. The crisis in Anambra may seem localised; it is actually a Nigerian problem in terms of the full implications as would be demonstrated later in this reflection.
In the view of the lawmakers, stemming the tide of violence in the region is an obvious precondition for the success of the November 6 election. The worries expressed by the legislators were triggered by the wave of killings and attacks on state institutions in the state. Politicians, security agents and private individuals have been killed. Police stations, INEC offices and prisons have been attacked. Private properties have also been destroyed. In fact, the killings of the last few days were said to have taken place in Idemili area of the state alone.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) also made its own unsettling observations about the next month election. The chairman of the commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, lamented yesterday the deterioration in the atmosphere for an election in Anambra like this: “Many innocent lives have been lost and property destroyed. From the reports we have received, the stated goal of many of the attackers is that the governorship election scheduled for November 6, 2021 must not hold.
“This is worrisome for the commission. We are deeply concerned that specific electoral facilities and materials could once more become targets of attacks…”
Yakubu spoke about the safety of electoral staff including the ad hoc ones, who are mainly members of the National Youth service Corps (NYSC) and students of tertiary institutions. He is also concerned about the security of the innocent voters who would be exercising their rights to vote.
The insistence of INEC to go ahead with the November 6 governorship election in Anambra State should be supported by all stakeholders. Here, different institutions have separate roles to play.
First, the job of INEC is squarely to deliver a credible election. The commission has been preparing to achieve this goal for months despite the destabilisation of its efforts by those attacking the offices of the commission and destroying its materials in the state.
Secondly, it is the duty of the police and other security agencies to ensure a peaceful atmosphere for the election. The security forces should muster the necessary capacity to stop the festering violence. There cannot be a credible election in the state amidst bloodletting. Increased violence would only diminish the legitimacy of the election. The commendable resolve of INEC to conduct the election would turn out to be an illusion if the security agencies don’t perform their own duty in the circumstance. After all, INEC under the leadership of Professor Attahiru Jega was determined to go ahead with the general elections in early in 2015 until the then National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, “advised” otherwise because of the Boko Haram war in the northeast. Some military operations were subsequently conducted for some weeks (including the activities of mercenaries) in order to create a sufficiently conducive atmosphere for the elections in the zone. The government enjoyed the understanding of the public and politicians alike at the time because it was the realistic thing to do in the situation. The Anambra case in 2021 is a bit different, you may say. And that would be right. In this case, INEC is dealing with the governorship election of one state. So there is, of course, the obvious advantage of the concentration of attention and resources by the security (and possibly defence) forces on the state. The southeast situation today is also not identical with the Boko Haram war that raged in the northeast in 2015. It is indeed unfortunate that INEC is compelled to prepare for the election in Anambra as if it the exercise would be taking place in a war-zone.
Thirdly, the determination of the political forces in Anambra to have a successful election in the state is also an important factor. It is worth remarking that that the major political parties participating in the election have shared the optimistic outlook presented by INEC on the feasibility and quality of the election. After all, regardless of their partisan divides, all the politicians are targets of those who have proclaimed their opposition to the conduct of the election. So the resistance to the anarchistic proposition of the anti-election forces should be a basis of unity of all politicians.
There should be a consensus on making civility a central part of politics in the state.
It should be remembered that in 2019, Anambra was one of the states in which INEC was forced to postpone legislative elections in some constituencies.
The third point is worth stressing because, with a measure of justification, some politicians in the state have distinguished between the separatist agitation of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the acts of the criminal elements responsible for the recent killings.
However, it doesn’t appear that the government that has proscribed IPOB would readily share this perspective in solving the problem fundamentally.
This divergence in the political perspectives to the problem is at the root of the problem.
That’s why the hurdles to scale in the build-up towards the November 6 election should be understood within the general climate of insecurity in the whole of southeast.
To start with, the administration of President Buhari should have a rethink on the ban on IPOB. The organisation should be should be legitimised. The truth is that a segment of the political elite in the southeast shares its separatist aspiration. Some politicians have openly justified IPOB activities as a response to the “marginalisation” of the Igbo in the politics of Nigeria. The political scars of the 1967-1970 civil war are still prominent for any sensitive politician to see in the southeast. The separatist agitation feeds on the substratum provided by these scars of the mind.
Beyond partisan politics, the point has been consistently made that the Igbo elite feels excluded in the polity, whereas the poltical elite from their region should constitute a power bloc. This much was implicit in the position of Ohaneze Ndigbo presented by its president, Professor George Obiozor, when President Muhammadu Buhari visited Imo state the other day. Obiozor made the point clear: more than any other thing what the Igbo need is “the sense of belonging” in the Nigerian union.
As a corollary, IPOB in turn should conduct its agitation peacefully both in rhetorical and physical terms. Those found to have committed crimes while flying IPOB flags should be isolated and prosecuted. The government has unwittingly mystified the group by being draconian in its response to the activities of the separatists. After all, no plebiscite has been conducted to prove that a majority of the people of the southeast support separation from Nigeria. If such a vote is fairly taken today, the separatists would be demonstrably in a minority. The same principle applies to other zones of Nigeria ridden with varied discontents.
When crime is clearly separated from legitimate agitation for self-determination, it would be easy for the governments at all levels to find a political answer to the legitimate question of self-determination.
Yesterday’s resolution of the southeast governors to stop the weekly sit-at-home protest ordered by IPOB may turn out to be a turning point in the battle for the minds of the people of the southeast. It may become a test of supremacy in moral terms. For some time now, IPBOB has enforced its paralysing sit-at- home order in the southeast in pursuit of its cause. The fact is that the organisation has been forcefully controlling the streets of the zone. Some members of the public comply with the IPOB order to stay home out of the fear of being attacked on the street.
However, the matter goes beyond a mere turf battle between the state governments on the one hand and the non-state actors on the other hand.
The governance problem of the southeast is deeper than it appears on the surface.
The employment of violence to stop the Anambra election has brought to the fore the responsibility of the state and local governments for security as part of governance. By the way, in those states in which the local governments have been emasculated, the third tier of government would not be expected to perform this governance function. The local governments do not function in some states because the governors deprive them of funds.
While the pressures should be sustained on the federal government to tackle insecurity in the southeast, it would be wrong to ignore completely the proportionate duties of state governors to be responsible for security in their respective states. Come to think of it, like their counterparts in other states, the southeast state governors allocate to themselves security votes from their state treasuries. The security votes should be spent on combating insecurity. So it is not enough to plead marginalisation and helplessness in the circumstance.
Beyond the politics of exclusion in making federal appointments, poverty has created a ready army for those bent on employing violence among the alienated and disoriented youths. The governors should not only counter the order of IPOB, they should also govern their states competently so as to fulfil the constitutional responsibility of ensuring the “security and welfare” of their people.
While the federal government should build federal roads and bridges in the southeast; the state governments should also construct the state roads.
They should invest the limited resources at their disposal in the development of the human capital for the future of the zone. Investments in education and health should be increased.
It is, therefore, crucial for the immediate future that the Anambra governorship election should hold as scheduled. This could be the wise option if the issues are viewed within the broad context of the challenge of security and governance in the southeast, nay Nigeria. Failure to hold the election would compound the political problems in the land.