A few days ago, four Northern Governors visited their embattled Rivers State counterpart, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, to discuss the problems he has been having with various opponents. The visitors were met at Port Harcourt Airport by a baying anti-Amaechi mob, which slung rocks at their convoy.
I know some of the senior Rivers people who have been fighting our Governor; and when I cornered one of them to complain about this shameful incident, which gave the world the impression that our state is populated by savages who think that it is OK to launch attacks on un-belligerent guests, I was told that:
“Those Northern Governors are known Amaechi sympathisers; and they deserved to be stoned because they are outsiders who should stay in their own zones and stop interfering in a Rivers State crisis that is not their business.”
This xenophobic hostility towards “outsiders” reared its ugly head again when it was announced that concerned citizens, including Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, and Femi Falana (SAN), the distinguished human rights lawyer, were planning to participate in a demonstration in Port Harcourt, to protest about the undemocratic conduct of some of Amaechi’s enemies.
A local militant outfit, Ijaw Freedom Fighters, IFF and an NGO, the Ijaw Peoples’ Development Initiative, IPDI, reacted to this news by issuing veiled threats and warning Soyinka et al that the safety of any non-Niger Deltans who showed up at the protest march could not be guaranteed.
According to IPDI spokesman, Austin Ozobo: “The crisis in Rivers State is a minor issue that does not need external solution as warring leaders could resolve their differences if they mean well for Rivers.”
Ozobo is right about one thing: The opposing camps have the power to end the crisis and should make peace if they have the state’s best interests at heart.
However, I’m amazed that Ozobo regards the conflict as “minor”, given the wide-ranging damage it has caused and the fact that it has hugged domestic newspaper headlines for several weeks and attracted international attention!
Disgraceful acts of violence have been inflicted on indigenes and visitors. There have been alarming hospitalisations. There has been a thuggish invasion of the State House of Assembly premises and a crude attempt to impeach its Speaker.
The Governors’ Forum has been split into two factions. And the Governors’ Forum Chairman has been suspended from the PDP. And one of his most prominent supporters has been arrested for allegedly trying to kill a legislator colleague. And the Senate has called for the removal of the Commissioner of Police.
Meanwhile, a whole President of the Federal Republic and his First Lady have been openly accused of instigating this unholy mess.
How serious, scandalous, scary, toxic and high-profile does a political drama have to become before Mr Ozobo will face reality and describe it as “major”?!
As for all this anti-“outsider” talk, Nigeria is supposed to be a modern nation, not a backward collection of tribal or regional cabals that view each other with intense suspicion and only come together when they absolutely have to.
Most human beings, this columnist included, are prone to prejudice. But we should all grow up and become more high-minded and more patriotic and stop discriminating against each other on ethnic and geographical grounds!
I feel entitled to be part of (and to express views about) anything that is happening in any part of this country. I don’t feel that I should only dare to comment on – or throw myself into – debates and events that take place within my ancestral terrain.
I therefore think that if a Yoruba, Northerner or Igbo is worried about developments in Rivers State or any other segment of the Niger Delta, he or she should not be insulted for getting involved alongside Niger Deltans.
After all, not every quarrel can be resolved internally and privately. People who are at loggerheads are usually too wrapped up in their own selfishness or hurt feelings to see the wood for the trees…which is why the United Nations was established and why couples who are having problems often seek external advice from pastors, priests and professional marriage guidance counsellors.
All I am saying is that no Nigerian should be regarded as “outsider” when any issue that involves fellow Nigerians – from Anywhere – is at stake.
Also please note that while “outsiders” can sometimes play useful neutral mediation roles, they are also allowed, in my opinion, to take sides, disagree with whoever they want to disagree with and be “vexatious” (as Mr Ozobo put it!).
When I said, on this page, that Northern girls should be protected from grown men who seek to marry minors, a couple of Northern Vanguard readers contacted me to tell me that their customs were none of my business.
But I’m not going to meekly accept this ridiculous attempt to gag me because I am a Southern “outsider”. I will continue to speak for female victims of paedophilia because any human rights violation in my country is my business