“The Federation of Nigeria is today as corrupt, as unprogressive and as oppressive and irreformable as the Ottoman Empire was in Eastern Europe over a century ago. And in contrast, the Nigerian Federation in the form it was constituted by the British cannot by any stretch of imagination be considered an African necessity. Yet we are being forced to sacrifice our very existence as a people to the integrity of that ramshackle creation that has no justification either in history or in the freely expressed wishes of the people.” –Emeka Ojukwu, Ahiara Declaration, 1969.
Almost 50 years after, the sentiment that Emeka Ojukwu shared in a 1969 speech has remained relevant in Nigerian discourse. Is Nigeria reformable or irreformable?
In the last few months, whoever you are, whatever interpretation you have given to what is going on, we can all agree on one thing – that a paradigm shift has taken place in Nigeria. The status quo is dead. You can even go as far as saying that a revolution is on the way.
In the least, we are having a national conference that past governments did not want us to have. The kind of national conference we had in the past excluded the so-called radical elements in the country. As it is now, they are the ones driving and dominating our discourse. Whether it is the Niger Delta militants or the Boko Haram insurgence, they are insisting that the conference must be sovereign.
Since 1999 when the Fourth Republic came into existence, the National Assembly has been talking about amending the constitution. They have failed to do so because the people in those houses of parliament are essentially the people who failed the nation. They are just there to protect their interest. Since they failed to amend the constitution, we have argued that a constitutionally mandated sovereign national conference should take place.
So far, some people, mainly from the North, have put up resistance. But it was something inevitable.
Why has the national conference so far held failed? They have failed because the urgency of the conference, the urgency of the need to restructure Nigeria has not been seen as imperative.
That changed with the coming of Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB and the reactions that the movement has evoked.
In our Biafran discussion on Al Jazeera, everyone agreed that Nigeria is a failed state, including former governor of Anambra state, Mr. Peter Obi. He agreed that he was one of those who failed Nigeria. The former governor stopped short of saying that the failed state works for him and his like.
The Biafran movement is an indictment of Nigeria. It is quite understandable why Buhari’s generation who fought the war must be pained to see the resurgence of Biafra. It must feel like a repudiation of their greatest achievement- keeping Nigeria one.
But smart ones like Ibrahim Babangida are reading correctly the handwriting on the wall and are declaring that, “the time has come to restructure Nigeria.” The stubborn ones like Olusegun Obasanjo are still barking the wrong tree by rejecting restructuring in favor of doing the same thing that has led us nowhere. Nnamdi Kanu, like what Malcolm X did to white America, has made the conservatives across Nigeria to take one look at his alternative and to quickly shift the ground they have refused to shift all along. That shift in ground is the embrace of restructuring.
What restructuring is, and the extent to go, is left for Nigerians to decide.
Nigeria, like most failed or failing nations, never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. When the Scottish expressed their dissatisfaction with the structure of the United Kingdom, the country was re-structured to provide for a Scottish parliament. We must not wait to exhaust all alternatives before we do the right thing. This is not one of those chances to be missed.
The truth is that Nigeria has not been fair to its citizens, Ijaw, Efik, Hausa, Igbo, Igala, Yoruba, the Urhobo and everyone in-between. Nigeria’s failure is stifling to its components. Unfortunately, the Igbo are the least patience with failure amongst all the groups in Nigeria. Nnamdi Kanu gave expression to these frustrations. They are already at the point where it is urgent… what Martin Luther King Jr. called the “the fierce urgency of now.” There is an urgent need for an immediate and robust action that is positive, reassuring, and unequivocal about our sincere desire to chart a new course.
If you see Nnamdi as a failure, he is the failure that failure produced. If you see him as a tempest, he is the tempest that tempest produced. If you see him as a separatist, he is the exclusionist that exclusion produced.
By locking him up and disobeying court orders to free him, the government has turned him into the Nigerian nightmare. He is now a tsetse fly that perched on the scrotum. No Igbo political leader had been an effective advocate of the complaints of Igbo people since Emeka Ojukwu died. Then, Nnamdi Kanu entered.
Nnamdi Kanu is to Nigeria of today what Malcolm X (before he went to Mecca) was to America of the 60s. He is to the Nigerian progressives what Malcolm X was to Martin Luther King jr. and the civil right movement of the 60s. The Conservatives in America felt that Martin Luther King Jr. was a dangerous enemy of America. Then they saw Malcolm X and quickly embraced Martin Luther King Jr.
There are recent signs that Nnamdi Kanu has the capacity to moderate his tone and his approach. Recently, he stated that he does not hate the North. He even said he liked Shehu Shagari and Umaru Yar’Adua better than Goodluck Jonathan. In one interview, he pulled back from condemnation of the Yoruba stating that, “Yorubas have changed.” As he gets more attention, he appears to be restraining the impulse to go for insults and diatribes.
The adoring crowds that Nnamdi Kanu pulls is not a reason for him to stay on the path of “extremism in the pursuit of justice.” Instead, it is one more reason for Nnamdi Kanu to be introspective. Nnamdi Kanu needs to go to his own ‘Mecca’. It is up to him whether he goes or not. As they say in Queen’s language, it is his funeral. But whatever he does next will determine whether he ends up as Malcolm X or Malcolm Y.
Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo is the author of “This American Life Sef!”