By Jerome-Mario Utomi
In one of my opinion pieces published about four years ago and entitled; Wobbly Tripod and Doctrine of Trinity, I narrated how as a young lad, I grappled with the teaching about the doctrine of Trinity.
To refresh our minds, it was during my catechism class as a Catholic Christian and the topic of Trinity posed a huge task to me. This doctrine is a dogma which teaches that God, the Supreme Being, is actually three persons in one. These three persons, as I was later told, are God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit coexisting as one entity sharing equality in substance, essence and divinity.
This teaching which I had considered strange and untenable logic left me lost in the maze of high voltage confusion as I laboured to fathom how possible it was to compress three persons into one. Though I was totally disoriented by the logic of Trinity I tried not to betray my disconnect with the topic. Alas! I could not pretend for too long that I was flowing with the class for my teacher soon observed the utter confusion and frustration raging in my mind. And to douse the nagging helplessness enveloping me as regards comprehending what he was dishing out, he quickly declared, “Trinity is a mystery.” However, rather than clear my confusion, his declaration further left me crestfallen. What is a mystery, Sir? I found myself asking. He then went ahead to define mystery as “a revealed truth that is beyond human understanding but guided by the Holy Spirit.”
Each time I ruminate over the present separatist bug which has caught all sections of the country and place it side by side with the marriage of two unwilling brides who had no say in their forced and ill-fated union- amalgamation of the northern and the southern protectorates on the 14th February 1914,a day set aside to celebrate love all over the world, by Sir Lord Luggard- as well as the pre- and post-independence political structure of Nigeria, memories of my catechism class Trinity confusion come flooding.
The British colonial overlords probably intended the protectorates to operate in a symmetrical manner with no part of the amalgam claiming superiority over the other. This arrangement conferred on the fledgling country the form of the Biblical trinity explained above. And at independence in 1960, Nigeria became a federation, resting firmly on a tripod of three federating regions-Northern, Eastern and Western Regions. Each of the regions was economically and politically viable to steer its own ship, yet mutual suspicion among them was rife. In fact, regional loyalty surpassed nationalistic fervor with each of the three regions at a juncture threatening secession.
The late Premier of the Western Region once described Nigeria as “mere geographical expression” and later threatened “we (Western Region) shall proclaim self-government and proceed to assert it”, a euphemism for secession.
In the same vein, the Northern Region under the Premiership of the late Ahmadu Bello never hid its desire for separate identity. Just before independence, the region threatened to pull out of Nigeria if it was not allocated more parliamentary seats than the south. The departing British colonial masters, desirous of one big entity, quickly succumbed to the threat. In fact, the north at that time did pretend it never wanted to have anything to do with Nigeria. For example, the motto of the ruling party in that region at that time was “One North, One People, One Destiny.” And the name of the party itself “Northern People’s Congress, NPC,” was suggestive of separatist fervor, distinct identity.
However, of all the secession threats since independence it was the one issued by the Eastern Region in 1966-67 following the bloody counter-coup of July 1966 and subsequent genocide by northern soldiers and civilians in which thousands of easterners living in the north lost their lives or maimed, and the failure of Gowon to implement the Aburi Accord which was aimed at settling the crisis, that was much more potent because it was actually carried out. The result was the declaration of Eastern Region independent country with the name, “Biafra” on May 30, 1967 by the then Military Governor of the Region, the late General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.
Currently, a wave of secessionist sentiments is sweeping across the country with restive youths in the north and south east as the main gladiators. Some groups in the southwest and south-south have also joined the fray to demand the marriage of 1914 be ended as the basis for its continued existence has severely been weakened. However, the very vociferous agitation for Biafra’s restoration by Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, led by youthful Nnamdi Kanu has been the loudest of the separatist movements.
Though separatist bug has also caught some sections of the country, there is no denying the fact that even with the defeat of the Igbo in the Nigeria/Biafra civil war, the majority of the people, especially those born after the war harbour immense sentiment for separate political and cultural identity for the Igbo nation in the mould of restoration of the short-lived Republic of Biafra.
For example, at the return of democracy in 1999, Ralph Uwazurike , an Indian-trained Lawyer, from Imo State ignited a passion for Biafra among south east youths via his separatist platform ‘’ Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra’’ (MASSOB). MASSOB and its founder enjoyed tremendous following and respect among mostly youths of the region that it almost became an alternative government in the south east. The group’s sit-at- home orders were religiously obeyed just as the one declared by IPOB on May 30th was a monster success.
Uwazuruike’s support base has since drastically waned following dissent in MASSOB. But from the ashes of MASSOB’s bye-gone years of strident pro-Biafra agitation came Kanu and IPOB, a much more vitriolic but charming personality and organisation.
Kanu happened on the national and international limelight through a pirate radio Biafra which he used as a vehicle to promote the agitation to actualise the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) quest for independence. Two factors have so far worked for Kanu in his separatist agenda: His long incarceration by the Buhari government over Biafra and the recent quit notice given to the Igbo residing in the north by Arewa youths. Both factors, apparently unknown to President Buhari’s handlers, have helped and still helping IPOB and Kanu’s cause.Fundamentally, his incarceration for almost two years helped to project him to his supporters, a mass of Igbo youths, and the international community as a prisoner of conscience and freedom fighter.
While those of us who believe in the unity of Nigeria may not agree with Kanu’s campaign or campaign of any group or ethnic nationality to dismember Nigeria, the truth must be told to the effect that the whole gamut of restiveness of youths, whether in the south-east, south-south, north or south-west, and resurgent demand for the dissolution of Nigeria stem from mindless exclusion, injustice and economic deprivation orchestrated by successive administrations .
I believe that the likes of Kanu would instantly fizzle away and their cause dies naturally, if Nigeria is restructured to ensure more inclusiveness. But agitations for the death of Nigeria cannot go way when nepotism and sectionalism continue to be evident in the manner of political patronage and distribution of our common patrimony as currently obtained.
But at the present moment — precisely four years after the piece, the nation is still but a Wobbly Tripod.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;j[email protected]/08032725374.