Anthony Sani, the Secretary General of the sociopolitical group, Arewa Consultative Forum, tells BAYO AKINLOYE that the Igbo leaders have tacitly endorsed hate speech by the Indigenous People of Biafra
Some northern elders have said Igbo leaders are trivialising the hate campaign and divisive activities of Nnamdi Kanu and the Indigenous People of Biafra. What do you think?
Hate speech is a serious issue that is capable of splitting the country through avoidable conflagration or war. Yet, Igbo leaders have tended to tacitly endorse the hate speech by the Indigenous People of Biafra through their reticence until very recently – and despite their knowledge of dire experiences of civil war.
The northern leaders have equally been accused of shielding northern youths said to be guilty of inciting others to violence through the notice to quit they issued to Igbo living in that region. Don’t you agree with that?
To accuse northern leaders of shielding the northern youths is most unfair. We say the accusation is most unfair because northern leaders did not support the notice to quit. For example, the Arewa Consultative Forum said even though it appreciated the youths’ frustrations with the activities of IPOB, the forum did not support the notice to quit because it was unconstitutional and illegal. We said two wrongs do not make a right. Hence, we did not support it. The Northern Governors Forum did not support the notice to quit. The same way the Northern Elders Forum did not support it except one member who supported it out of his anger at the activities of IPOB. After the notice to quit, northern governors and their leaders made a spirited effort and pressured the northern youths to withdraw the ultimatum given to the Igbo to leave the North – this has come to pass. So, how have the northern leaders supported violence through the notice to quit? We should be fair in apportioning blame.
The northern youths have been persuaded by the northern governors and northern leaders to withdraw the notice to quit. This has gone a long way in dousing the tension. To me, that is a heartening development which should attract plaudits from all well-meaning Nigerians – and not from northern governors and northern leaders alone.
Many in the South-South and South-East are saying the youths ought to have been arrested and prosecuted for making inciting comments. Is that a genuine call?
While it is correct to say that the notice to quit was illegal and could encourage hoodlums to take advantage (of the situation) and cause mayhem, I am not sure it was directly inciting as alleged; more so that the youths have denied making such incitement.
Do you support the rearrest of Nnamdi Kanu?
This is a legal matter of which I am not an authority. You would note that Nnamdi Kanu was arraigned on charges of treasonable felony and was granted bail on medical grounds with clearly spelt out conditions which he accepted of his own volition. But Kanu has observed the bail conditions more in the breach. This has tested the will of the Federal Government which has gone to court to either enforce the bail conditions or have him rearrested. But some other people believe that Kanu’s rearrest will make him a political factor in the polity. To this group, it is better to ignore Kanu, while some others are of the view that the Federal Government should dialogue with Kanu and bring about a political solution. But, do we now reward bad behaviours with recognition and concessions by playing up Danegeld in Biafra? To me – unless it is impossible – I would prefer that the law should take its course.
Do you think the Federal Government has dealt fairly with Kanu, incarcerating him for months without being tried?
I am not sure his trial hasn’t begun. The delay in trying Kanu cannot be laid at the door of the Federal Government which is not expected to force the judiciary that is well known for its goodness in delay. Even Mr. President (Muhammadu Buhari) has himself expressed his regime’s frustration with the judiciary in the delay of cases that have to do with corruption. So, the case of Kanu cannot be treated in isolation of how the judiciary treats cases in Nigeria. Mind you, the delay by the judiciary is responsible for many indicted people in the legislature making laws for us.
Do you think Kanu’s agitation for an independent state of Biafra is wrong?
I think the concern is in the methods of the agitation employed by IPOB, which include the use of uncouth language capable of incitement. He even used the word ‘zoo’ to depict Nigeria and in blithe disregard for the fact that this same term was used in Rwanda to cause ethnic cleansing with dire consequences. There are countries where agitations for the split have taken place without the resort to the use of foul language and hate speech as we have experienced with IPOB. We have Catalonia in Spain; Quebec in Canada; and Scotland in Britain. Why should there be hate speech that is capable of incitement?
Your group publicly condemned the stance of Igbo leaders concerning Kanu. Some believe it would have been better for northern leaders to discuss the issue with them without making a public condemnation. Do you agree that your public denunciation of the role being played by the Igbo leaders can worsen the already bad situation?
While I agree that dialogue is preferred to an altercation in a democracy which is a contest of ideas and reasons, your position is a matter of judgment. Those who encourage dialogue in the case of IPOB ignore the dire consequences of rewarding bad behaviours with recognition and a form of concession. We must discourage threats and intimidation in a democracy which is a contest of ideas and reasons. It is not a bullfight.
Some people believe that to set a good precedent both Kanu and the Arewa youths should be arrested and prosecuted by the police. Do you share that view?
While I share the view that two wrongs do not make a right, it is important to be realistic. The (Arewa) youths were spurred into issuing the notice to quit by their frustration arising from the activities of IPOB – more so now that they have been persuaded to withdraw the notice to quit; which they have withdrawn. That underscores the impression that the two offences do not have the same weight nor can it be treated the same way.
There was an anti-Igbo song composed in Hausa that went viral on the Internet. No one has been arrested for that. Do you think the government and security agencies lack the will power to tackle hate speech in the country?
You would note there have been many instances of crimes in this country which perpetrators are not arrested immediately, either due to the need for thorough investigations or due to shortcomings by the authorities. The delay in the arrest of those who sang the hate song may not be due to the dearth in will power but due to the need for thorough investigations or shortcomings on the part of the security. It is important to note this point lest anyone ascribe wrong impressions on why they have yet to be arrested.
Do you support the fact that Kanu and others in the South-East have the right to demand an independent state of Biafra?
They have the right to demand anything within the law.
Do you agree that the South-East people are the most marginalised region in the country?
I find it very difficult to share the view that the South-East is the most marginalised (region). I recall President (Goodluck) Jonathan once said, when he was the governor of Bayelsa State, he thought the Ijaw were the most marginalised. But, when he became the president, he discovered every ethnic nationality in Nigeria claimed to be marginalised, and he began to wonder who was marginalising who. We better note that since 1970, the Igbo have been part and parcel of the Federal Government as the vice president; senate president; speaker of House of Representatives; secretary to Government of the Federation; coordinating minister; ministers; governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria; service chiefs; and as national chairman of the ruling party. The South-East held sway under Jonathan for five years. For them to still play victim may be understood but not acceptable. Nigeria has about 371 ethnic nationalities, most of which have not enjoyed ingress to the Federal Government compared to the Igbo.
The Hausa, whom the Igbo malign so much, have produced only Gen. Murtala Mohammed as head of state who ruled for only six months and died in the same circumstances like the Igbo’s Gen. (Johnson) Aguiyi-Ironsi – who also ruled for six months. Yet, the Hausa do not play the victim of marginalisation like the Igbo. Nigeria is going through hard times. But hard times should bring about national grandeur; bring about purposeful leadership at all levels and the best of everyone across the nation. I also believe the Igbo should note that the certain benefits of our togetherness in a big country are far more than the uncertain gains of the split. No country is without challenges – was there such a country, there would be no need for government. Our situation is not beyond redemption.