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Will Tinubu Negotiate with Agitators?

Will Tinubu Negotiate with Agitators?

Supposed negotiation with all genuine agitators, including IPOB as a way of dousing violence in the South East and other parts of the country was on the front burner of the presidential poll debate as key contenders pledged to utilize negotiation as a means to find solution to the crisis.

President Bola Tinubu, then the flag bearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC) even went further promising to make the South East a new hub of prosperity in the country.

Today, Tinubu is President amid great expectations especially in the area of insecurity as violent non state actors and centrifugal forces continue to mount deadly assault against the natives, public infrastructures and security formations across the country, especially in the South East which has rapidly become the new theater of instability in the country and the resurgence of compulsory sit-at-home.

Insecurity has always been a fundamental factor determining Nigeria’s electorate’s decision when it comes to choosing the occupant of the office of the President, particularly since the deadly Boko Haram phenomenon reared its ugly head on the nation’s political scene.

The insecurity factor has of recent time been exacerbated by the amplification of the farmers – herders crisis in the North Central, the emergence of banditry in the North West and especially the IPOB secessionist agitations in the South East.

While the Northern region as a whole is not new to instability and violent eruptions every now and then, the South East was relatively peaceful and stable hitherto, even when violent agitations of resource control was rocking its sister region of the South-South culminating in the famous Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) in August 2009.

While the mayhem in the North have largely been regarded as undefined and indeterminate with no clear legitimate agenda, the agitation in the South East like its counterpart in the South-South hadvsought to wrap itself around international and universal principles and norms in a bid to give it legitimacy.

The emergence of IPOB can be traced to 2015, as a successor to MASSOB, which was until then the vehicle that championed the legacy of the Igbo quest for the realisation of a sovereign state which they were unable to achieve during the 1967 – 1970 civil war that tested the bonds of Nigeria’s federal republic.

Negotiation With IPOB as Election Plank?

Insecurity was a key talking point for all the presidential candidates of the major political parties during 2022 presidential campaigns, debates and town hall meetings.

Tinubu, the then presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) during his campaign and engagement with South East leaders promised that he would engage Biafran agitators and negotiate with them if elected president.

Speaking in Abakaliki, Ebonyi state capital, on November 21, 2022, Tinubu said there was the need to come to table with all agitators, which he described as the best way to end insecurity in the South East region.

He said: “We want peace, we will talk to all the agitators, this thing is not done by conflicts. You can’t get your wishes by conflict but by sitting round the table to complain.

“We don’t want to go backward. We are progressives, we will move Nigeria forward. We will do the right thing. We will make South-east the Taiwan of Africa”.

He also promised to continue the reformation of the transport system, especially the railway sector, embarked upon by the Buhari administration.

IPOB, an outlawed group, has been blamed for the restlessness in the South East, where it declared weekly sit-at-home at the expense of the economy of the region.

The region at the last count has lost an estimated N4 trillion to insecurity in the last two years and this has continued to raise concern among leaders of the region.

The attacks, often linked to the outlawed IPOB, have led to the abduction and killings of several persons, mainly government officials and officers of various security agencies.

Beyond abduction and killing, the facilities of the various security agencies and those of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have been repeatedly attacked across the region.

The activities of IPOB and its affiliate body, otherwise known as Unknown Gun Men have provoked terror in the South East that many of its elites who supported Nnamdi Kanu at the intital stage of his movement have not only become victims of his sword but have become speechless even in the face of the carnage witnessed in the region almost on daily basis.

Former Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, who partially blamed elites of the region recently on his verified Twitter handle, confirmed this when he twitted that “the simple reason the elites in the South East are finding it difficult to speak out against those killing and dehumanising their own people in the East is the fear of reprisal attacks against their own properties and family members back home by these ‘unknown gunmen’. 

He said: “Their silence does not mean support for what is happening there. It is the responsibility of the federal government to restore law and order in all parts of the country and this I am absolutely certain the government of Bola Ahmed Tinubu  will do.

“Besides, we cannot isolate a region and its elites in a country where we see ourselves as one. It is our collective responsibility to assist the Federal Government in restoring order nationwide.

“The only thing I ask is that these same elites must either now be silent or totally support the efforts of the federal government (be it military or otherwise) in restoring order to that region. When they initially kicked against operation ‘PYTHON DANCE’ in the East, little did they know that the situation would degenerate to this level of savagery. Now, they know”, Keyamo had posited.

Renewed Call for Negotiation

There are many individuals within Nigeria who see the inauguration of a new president as an opportunity for a new approach different from the high handedness and purely militaristic method of the Buhari administration which is believed to have exacerbated the situation.

With Nnamdi Kanu still being incarcerated by the federal government,  observers believe releasing him could be the begining of a negotiated settlement.

Recently, the House of Representatives thinking along that direction called on President Tinubu to explore political and diplomatic means to address the issue of IPOB as a way of ending the menace of insecurity in the Southeast.

The call by the lawmakers came a day after gunmen attacked Ishieke Daily Market located in the Ebonyi Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.

The resolution of the House followed a motion by a member of the Green Chamber, Hon Eze Nwachukwu, on the need to forestall further killings in Ebonyi State.

In a similar vein, a group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council Worldwide, last month called on President Tinubu to invite the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu for a round table discussion. The group was responding to Asari Dokubo who had while speaking to newsmen recently after  meeting with President Tinubu branded the IPOB leader as a criminal, while also advising Tinubu not to release him.

Like the Labour Party’s presidential candidate in the last general election, Peter Obi, who also promised to negotiate with genuine agitators if elected, Governor Charles Soludo of Anambra State has urged the new government to change approach as the only way to deal with the security emergency in the southeast.

Soludo said, “One critical issue that we must draw your urgent attention to is the issue of systemic insecurity in the South East.

“While our efforts with the security agencies are yielding significant results, we believe that sustainable peace and security will be enhanced through wider non-kinetic engagements with all critical stakeholders.

“In this regard, may I repeat my previous calls and hereby request our President-Elect to release Mazi Nnamdi Kanu immediately after swearing-in (that is, if he is not released before then). We need him around the table as an important stakeholder in discussions about healing and sustainable peace in the South East”.

This call for negotiation with IPOB is coming within the climate of a new call for amnesty for agitators around the country, including bandits in the northern part of the country.

A former governor for Zamfara state, Senator Sani Yerima, made the case for the groups recently when he asked President Tinubu to negotiate with terror gangs operating in Zamfara State and other parts of the North-western part of the country.

Yerima who was addressing journalists after meeting with President Tinubu in Abuja said  government should negotiate with the terror gangs, locally called bandits, for a lasting peace in the North-west region.

He likened the negotiation he is advocating is similar to what the administration of former President Umar Yar’Adua did with militants in the Niger Delta, which gave birth to the amnesty programme.

According to him: “These people are Nigerians and I believe that the Nigerian military and other security agencies have the capacity to deal with them squarely if directed and are given the resources they require, support and the political will.

“But the collateral damage that will be associated with the actions they will take is what I believe should be avoided. In the past, the late President Umaru Yar’adua had a similar interaction with militants of the Niger Delta and it was successful.

“The major causes of this problem are poverty and ignorance. So, I believe that as Nigerians, if they are called upon or if the government now comes up with a rehabilitation programme, I am sure we will have a successful end to this crisis,” he said.

The President As Negotiator in Chief

President Tinubu on assumption of office pledged an open door policy, which has resulted in members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party walking casually into Aso Rock, and Asari Dokubo, a chieftain of Niger Delta militancy made history giving a press conference in that hallowed vicinity.

While the federal government under President Buhari was known for showing proclivity towards impunity, Tinubu has always had a good grasp of the importance of the respect of the rule of law to the smooth order and  functioning of society and progressive democracy. He has shown himself time and again as a man who does what needs to be done at the appropriate time. The President has been described as a strategist who knows how to give to get what he wants.

Ohanaeze Ndigbo recently named key stakeholders of the region to meet with President Bola Tinubu to intervene in the tide of insecurity in the zone.

Those present at the meeting included the President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo,  Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu; Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State, his Ebonyi State counterpart, Francis Nwifuru and former governor of Anambra State, Senator Chris Ngige.

Others are former Imo State governor, Mr Ikedi Ohakim; former Senate President, Pius Anyim; Osita Chidoka, Prof. Maurice Iwu, Senators Victor Umeh, Tony Nwoye, Sam Egwu, Enyinnaya Abaribe, Darlington Nwokocha, Dave Umahi, Prof. ABC Nwosu, Ambassador Kema Chikwe, Mrs Josephine Anenih, and Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo.

There is the believe that if the high powered Ndigbo delegation eventually meets President Tinubu with their proposal for peace, which will essentially include negotiation with IPOB, among others, Nigeria can be expected to see a new order of things in the South east as a prelude to greater general stability in the country. But will Tinubu negotiate with agitators as promised during his campaigns? Only time will tell.

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