Problem solving theory tells us that it is a turn to technicism rather than a genealogical tracing of the problem to be solved to where it might be coming from. The Northern Elders Forum, (NEF), has turned to problem solving approach in its latest response to the threat of Igbo secession. The forum must have been at pains deciding that if the Biafra agenda is “as widespread as it is being made to look” and enjoys the support of Igbo leaders, the country should be advised not to stand in the ways of the Igbos. That statement can only be understood as indicating its frustration with the secessionist efforts of the Igbos but also a way of daring the Igbos. But, frustration cannot be the basis of a policy option. And even as civil society organisations have become focal points in the policy mill, there is something surprising in the NEF seemingly coming to terms with Igbo secession, very much contrary to what successive Chief of Army Staff have articulated. What might explain this shift to realism and problem solving on the part of the thinking platform at a time leading lights of the state are operating at a different wavelength? Is this a manifestation of the so-called civil society – state conflict or of the depth of the disarray in the polity that the falcon and the falconer can no longer hear each other?
Why didn’t the platform argue for a thorough-going national dialogue which is basically what the totality of the ethnic and mass democratic organisations are asking for? Why is the platform not posing the question in terms of the sudden shrinking of the state to a point where the state is absolutely missing from national life? How has it come to be that the president is perceived to be implicated in the insecurity crisis? If we cannot dismiss perception, then why is it not important to deal with this perception?
If we turn around the position of the NEF as it relates to the Igbos, the implications of the ‘riot act’ are too wide ranging to contemplate. For practical and theoretical reasons, Igbos cannot afford to go anywhere. They could but they have no guarantee that the loses will not outweigh whatever gains, both now and in future.
Theoretically, they will turn on themselves shortly after leaving Nigeria. That is not a reality they can avoid. It is a reality that would have nothing to do with their population overstretching available land or competition over material resources. It will happen because the Igbo-ness of the Igbos will temporally disappear and it has to be found. The contestation over establishing who is Igbo and who is not in the new nation will collapse it. At the moment, their being in Nigeria is the solution to that because, in the current configuration of Nigeria, they are Igbos because they are not Hausa-Fulani or Yorubas or any other identity. When they leave Nigeria, the outside by which any entity is defined will temporarily disappear and has to be re-established. Fighting that out within themselves is not escapable. It is the same for every other ethnic group which has to confront the fact that we are all defined by what we are not if they are leaving a national space where this has been settled for them by existing diversity. This is one of the problems hooking the Igbos who, unlike the Yorubas but like the Middle Belt, keep resorting to a flat or unproblematic sense of the dangerous concept called identity.
The practical problems they will confront is how to organise a successful state on a continent where no existing state is not confronting instability built into the very logic of the nation state. And, of course, the question of who takes the loot! It is assumed that the Igbos understand what the Northern Elders Forum means when it calls Nigeria a country “we have all toiled to build”. Who goes with the loot will arise because it is never going to be a case of a successfully negotiated sharing of the loot. The brigandage and chaos that will characterise the affirmation of Igbo exit, especially if Yorubas are following immediately, will be such that no negotiated sharing would be possible. Brigands will take over and the siege will paralyse society or any notion of it, showing up blacks for what they have been held to be: people who can never organise a state without the help of their superior Others.
The third problem with the latest position of NEF is the strategic one. In the age of deterritorialisation, options such as restructuring as is being touted by all manner of pundits by way of solution to the Fulanisation or whatever ‘isation’ narrative will not work. Deterritorialisation or the point that we can hardly trace anything to any cultural point or territories nowadays is something to take seriously. The digital nature of contemporary capitalism means that we can bring ‘there’ here or do damage from a great distance or even construct space from a hideout. That is particularly the lesson of the geopolitics of violence in the contemporary era. Both ideologues and activists of secession in Nigeria are relying on old geometry in their simplistic notions of restructuring or devolution as answers to perceived or experienced enemies. Digital capitalism may not be that developed here yet but it won’t take far before we are in the middle of it.
This is probably something that needs to be expatiated but, for now, it is clear that the only viable options would have been for the NEF to join others in articulating the case for a thorough-going national dialogue. There are no alternatives to fixing meaning from contending narratives of the problem by each player in the field. Any other option will be mirror-imaging and it will not work. If no other options are there and we are not asserting ourselves in terms of the option that will work, then we are all in a dangerous situation more than we might be thinking because it won’t be too far before gangsters take-over.
Of course, if the Buhari administration were capable of reflexivity, the cheaper and faster way out would have been a Government of National Unity. Aggregating the best of each of the contending centres of power in Nigeria today in a Government of National Unity will reconnect with a shared national purpose and bring the temperature down. Beyond that, it will give the Buhari persona the safe landing from the ignominy it is trying to escape by behaving the way it is behaving. By its understanding of its mission as a ‘revenge’ one and because of its static sense of meaning, it will most unlikely take this option. But, it might be making a very big mistake because certainty or certitude, as they say, is the chiefest enemy of security. Very ancient statement but even more apt today!