Insecurity in Nigeria and the inevitability of falling back on ethnic fault lines have become a recurring phenomenon in Nigeria.
That is what on Monday, the 11th day of the month of May compelled the governors of the 17 southern states to meet in Asaba, Delta State capital. The mission was to deliberate on the state of the nation, particularly with respect to the growing insecurity of lives and threat of secession by some southern ethnic nationalities. And which is largely due to the non acceptance of the central government to effectively address the challenge of religious extremism driving violent insurgency, conduct a referendum to find out if every part of Nigeria wants to remain in the union, failure to deal with the herders-farmers conflicts with sincerity, plus the reluctance to devolve political power to the states by the federal authorities also known as political restructuring.
The very significant day that the political leadership of southern states collectively spoke with one voice about the apparent oppression and marginalisation of the long suffering people of the south is bound to become a day as remarkable and memorable as June 12,1993 which is the day that the late MKO Abiola’s victory at the polls as president of Nigeria was annulled by then military government led by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, IBB.
Remarkably, as a way of immortalising the late MKO Abiola, June 12 has been declared by the current administration as democracy day in replacement of the former May 29 date, on which outgoing governments had performed the political ritual of handing over the reins of power to their successors. Hopefully, 11th May, 2021 would be remembered in history or commemorated as the day that the good people of southern Nigeria spoke out forcefully in an effort to liberate themselves from the shackles of oppression by shifting from hushed complaints about internal colonization from under the table where it has been for some time, to the top of it.
I’m drawing a parallel between 12th June ,1993 and 11th May, 2021 because it is the day that 17 southern governors dropped the ‘bombshell’ communique which has been overdue. The release of the 12 point statement is so epochal it could end up being as defining and significant in the politics of our country as the 12th June event that has become a watershed moment in the annals of political developments in Nigeria.
Wittingly and unwittingly ,the day could assume a historical significance basically because it is the day that the south found its voice; and likely to be the day that our country got retrieved from the grasp of those practicing prebendal politics. Which is a political theory espoused by Richard Joseph in his book:
“Democracy And Prebendal Politics In Nigeria”
In Joseph’s calculations, prebendal politics is a phenomenon that is steeped in farcical predispositions. It is a political system where elected officials and government workers feel that they have a right to a share of government revenues and use them to benefit their supporters, co-religionists and members of their ethnic group. Those who subscribe to the theory are of the belief that it is the web in which our country has been trapped for some time. But more so in the past decade or so.
How redeeming is it that for the first time, the governors of the southern states who hitherto seem to have been browbeaten and cowed by their counterparts in the northern side of Nigerian equation , as they appeared to have acquiesced with oppression and suppression, now tend to have shaken off political partisanship and woken up from their slumber which has left citizens in the region at the mercy of the marauding outlaws and criminal elements disguised as herdsmen that have been committing heinous crimes such as rape, murder and generally wrecking havoc on hitherto peaceful and tranquil communities, and indigenes stretching from the forests of Ondo and Oyo states in the southwest to Ughelli in the Niger Delta region, all the way to Enugu and Abia states in the southeast. Given how sensitive humans can be when it comes to land matters, simply because while human populations are growing at geometric progression, land is probably being added at arithmetic rate (considering land reclamations from the sea), it is needless pointing out how incensed and riled up the folks whose ancestral lands, homes and means of livelihood are being threatened or already seized without hindrance by the aggressive intruders also known as killer herdsmen or bandits are.
In the absence of the federal government’s commitment or inability to offer protection to the critical masses under its care nationwide; and especially as the presidency had made it clear after Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, berated President Mohammadu Buhari for shirking his constitutionally assigned responsibility to protect all citizens: And the response to the effect that security falls under the purview of governors (even when they are not operationally the chief security officers of their states) the 17 southern states governors appear to have elected to take their destinies into their own hands.
Considering that our country is now severely under siege and currently only held together by tenterhooks, the 17 southern governors decided not to continue to standby and look while they kill their brothers (throwback to Bob Marley’s hit song “Redemption Song”) by convening the timely and timeous meeting in Asaba, now known as “Asaba Declaration”.
It is reminiscent of the ‘Kaima Declaration’ which was a proclamation of Niger Delta republic by major Isaac Adaka Boro, who after the 1966 coup and before the civil war broke out in 1967 attempted to make the Niger Delta subregion an independent republic.
Boro’s rebellion lasted only 12 days before his ill equipped and ragtag militia was crushed by Nigerian armed forces led by Col Odimegwu Ojukwu, then Eastern region governor and General Aguiyi Ironsi, then military head of state.
Quite unlike the Kaiama declaration, the Asaba affirmation or announcement should be deemed by Aso Rock Villa to be a friendly rebellion in the manner that incidents of friendly fire occur between friendly forces in battle fronts. That is particularly so because the governors did not equivocate about their belief in one Nigeria and therefore are not dancing to the loud drumbeats of their kith and kins with secessionist inclinations across the southern region and even in north central Nigeria.
Rather, they notably affirmed their faith in one Nigeria,but with a caveat that a national dialogue should be convened to confront the demons suffocating Nigeria directly rather than the current pretense by Aso Rock Villa that all is well in Nigeria and that our country is better off than it was a decade ago.
In my assessment, the most significant item in the 12 point communique from the meeting addresses the root cause of the violence and banditry currently bedeviling our country which is Open Grazing. It is a malaise which the leadership at the centre has failed to tackle. When a situation of open grazing of livestocks resulting in conflicts between herders and farmers reared its ugly head in Ghana and Benin Republic, the authorities in both countries swiftly outlawed the practice. The law was swiftly backed up with action by directing the law enforcement agencies to enforce the order strictly. The political action taken in the neighbouring countries was like pouring a fire extinguisher into a burning inferno that stopped the combustion, instantly.
In stark contrast, our leaders have been ambivalent, if not complicit about the issue of open grazing of cattle by herdsmen which has assumed a pandemic dimension.
Considering that the number of Nigerians that have lost their lives directly and indirectly in the unending herder-farmer conflicts on one hand, and settler-indigene clashes as well as internal terrorism by religious insurgents on the other hand, has dwarfed the statistics of those lost to Covid-19 pandemic, insecurity deserves a multi sector and multi specialty task force akin to the Covid-19 special task force established by the federal government and led by the Secretary to the Government Federation, SGF, Boss Mustafa, which has largely succeeded in its mandate, especially because of private sector involvement via CACOVID. Experience has shown that a combination of experts in different fields working together to tackle an identified issue is usually more efficacious. In that regard the security and safety of lives and property in Nigeria can no longer be the exclusive preserve of our armed forces. The formation of civilian JTF in the North to combat boko haram and the recent trend of establishing of vigilante corps across the four regions -HISBAH in the north, AMOTEKUN in the southwest, Ebube-Agu in the southeast and Delta Hawk or Midwest Shield in Edo/Delta (in the making) are all testimonies that Nigerians have lost faith in the ability of the conventional security agencies to protect them.
Just as the nation did not rely on only medical experts to stave off the menace of Covid-19, a task to stem the tide of insecurity in the manner that coronavirus was fought to a stand-still is overdue.
But why the leadership of Nigeria seem to have been indifferent to the plight of the masses who are being systematically decimated by the outlaws camouflaged as herders ; and which international and local human rights activists have estimated to be in excess of 20,000 souls that had been sent to their early graves in the past couple of decades , beats the imagination. Compare the 20,000 statistics to the 2,067 that have died from Covid-19 pandemic, then it would be clear why Nigeria is currently ranked number 3 on global crimes index, GCI.
If readers are not swayed by what has been termed rhetoric by those that are compromised because they have vested interests, they would be persuaded by the statistics.
The irony of it all is that while coronavirus is a disease condition that had defiled science and of which scientists worldwide are racing to find a medical cure (not just vaccine) religious insurgents and violent herders that are like a Frankenstein monster wreaking havoc on Nigerians, are actually products of mismanagement of human relationships. So, instead of just searching around the world only for Covid-19 vaccine of which we have received over four million doses, why don’t we also ask the best in the world (for instance, Israel, UAE and South Africa) for guidance on how to manage our multi ethnic and religiously volatile society to rein in the internal terrorism-arising from religiosity, separatism and herders-farmers conflicts, which are the three monsters that are about to eclipse, if not asphyxiate our beloved country?
While l was still having difficulty processing the reality of the statistics of the innocent killed as a result of the sheer irresponsibility being displayed by the authorities elected to lead and protect them, and still not being able to wrap my head around the apparent nonchalant attitude of our leaders to the social chasm that has resulted in our country becoming a land flowing with blood and tears, instead of milk and honey, which l presume God had ordained our country to be;in light of the enormous natural endowments that we are blessed with: l have no other option than to recommend that perhaps our leaders should be subjected to some psychological evaluation to determine whether they are not afflicted by “The Perils Of Indifference” a phrase coined by Elie Wiesel, a writer famous for his witness to the sufferings endured by the Jews in concentration camps in Nazi Germany during Holocaust.
In Elie Wiesel’s wisdom “indifference is always the friend of the enemy.”
In his speech while addressing President Bill Clinton and the US Congress in 1999, Wiesel who drew on his experience in a Nazi camp stated the following:
“What is Indifference? Etymologically, the word means ‘no difference’. A strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil. What are the causes and inescapable consequences? Is a philosophy of Indifference conceivable? Can one possibly view indifference as a virtue ? Is it necessary at times to practice it simply to keep one’s sanity, live normally, enjoy a fine meal and a glass of wine, as the world around us experiences harrowing upheavals?”
Wiesel’s questions to the executive and legislative arms of the US government and indeed the entire American people in 1999 goes straight to the heart of the crisis in Nigeria and resonates with Nigerians.
How long can our leaders be indifferent to the harrowing experience of folks being cut down by the bullets and cudgels of insurgents, violent bandits disguised as herdsmen and crushed by the hunger ensuing from their inability to ply their trade or engage in useful means of livelihood? That is the inconvenient query that our leaders must respond to urgently to avert the imminent danger that is threatening to explode in our face as a country .
Some analysts have drilled down the reluctance or reticence displayed by some of our leaders and the acquiescence of the authorities in Aso Rock Villa and National Assembly, NASS as well as the judicial arm of government with the dastardly crimes of the outlaws disguised as herdsmen to the fact that they are presumably the kinsmen of those in the commanding heights of the three major arms of government.
As such, the collective interests of Nigerians have been relegated, while giving priority to and accommodating the idiosyncrasies of the aggressive herders who in the past millennium had peacefully plied their trade ,but some of whom have now gone rogue by becoming merchants of death.
Although, the rampaging bandits,not excluding kidnappers and separatists in the south, have become such a blight and menace to the larger society by slowly but surely drawing our beloved country into a low tension war, the practice of animal husbandry through open grazing which is a pastoral system bequeathed on the herders by their forebears and a practice which has imperiled others that they share space with, needs to go with the wind. And it is within the purview of the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government, that have apparently been deaf, dumb and blind on the matter, to pass laws that would modernise the practice by introducing ranching or any other modern practice. That the crisis has been allowed to fester is a failure of imagination.
Now, imagine how many ranches could have been established in Sambisa forest and other forests around our country if the $1.5 billion dollars recently (mis)invested in the turn around maintenance of the moribund Port Harcourt refinery were applied in solving the herders-farmers crisis in order to stem the tide of violence which seems as vicious as a furious ogre hell bent on devouring Nigeria .
While sentimental attachments to ancestral beliefs and ways of life are understandable, some of such practices are antithetical to the harmonious coexistence with other members of society that also have similar rights. So it deserves to be at worst, jettisoned or at best, modified.
That’s because discarding old practices and adopting modern ways that are amenable or compliant with current dynamics of society are part of change in life which should be embraced by all who don’t want to become fossilized. It’s from the foregoing prism that the benefits of changing animal husbandry from the current nomadic practice to ranching which is more progressive and has more potential for profitability and prosperity for herders should be considered. And l made that case in an essay titled: “Pastoralists And Farmers Conflicts In Nigeria’: Time For Fulani Capitalism, Not Herdsmen Terrorism“ an essay which l wrote and published in vanguard newspaper of 15 February 2021 and also widely shared via online media platforms.
In fact, is it not trite that while the northern elites have adopted modern changes by living in palatial homes , rather than huts; driving state of the art cars as opposed to riding on horse and camel backs; and acquiring Western education in preference to being illiterates, which are in contrast with the lifestyle of their forebears that is the excuse for their insistence on maintaining the status quo of nomadic herdsman-ship inherited from their ancestors? Yet only the talakawas or poor masses are being encouraged by the elite to remain stuck in the past by continuing with the ancient practice of nomadic cattle rearing which does nothing more than to keep the poor in perpetual servitude to the wealthy whose cattle the herdsmen are apparently looking after . Think about it!
Does a cattle herdsman who is nomadic and can’t gain Western education have a pathway to exiting poverty?
Would exposing the critical masses to the concept of ranching so that they can have the opportunity to acquire education in order to advance to the next level of prosperity in the manner that the elites have transformed their lives from dwelling in huts to living in modern homes, and from relying on horses and camels as means of transportation to motor vehicles not be better for society?
Could nomadic cattle herding be a tool for sustaining the feudal system whereby the poor would continue to serve the wealthy? In my opinion, the tragedy of nomadic cattle herding (for lack of better terminology) which is a practice almost exclusive to a particular ethnic group is a candidate for a case study by social scientists in the manner that lgbo apprenticeship system or culture was studied in Harvard University as a business model. The finding about lgbo apprenticeship which is as old as the lgbo nation turned out to be similar to the concept of venture capitalism now prevalent in the industrialised and advanced society and which only emerged in the past few decades. The negative and positive (assuming there is) effects of nomadic cattle herdsman-ship in Nigeria, may be compared and contrasted with that of Kenya to see how poorly our leaders have performed in the management of that critical aspect of the lives of Nigerians engaged in that practice who are preponderantly of a particular ethnic stock.
Below is the summary of a study titled “The value of pastoralism in Kenya: Application of total economic value approach” and conducted by
D. M. Nyariki & D. A. Amwata:
“The findings of this study show that Kenya’s pastoral sector has an economic worth of US$1.13 billion with the livestock sector and non-livestock sector accounting for 92% (US$1.04 billion) and 8% (US$0.0903 billion), respectively. The annual national pastoral livestock offtake was valued at US$0.189 billion, while annual meat offtake was estimated at 154,968 tonnes, valued at US$0.389 billion. The national annual meat consumption was estimated at 553,200 tonnes, of which pastoral meat contributed 154,968 tonnes or 28%. The TEV approach integrates the many aspects of economic value contributed by pastoral systems, including market and non-market goods and services that are usually not accounted for. An accurate estimate of the contribution of pastoral production can be instrumental in lobbying for enhanced investment in the pastoral areas to boost environmentally sound development.”
I won’t be surprised if there is no similar analysis of animal husbandry in Nigeria.
Nevertheless, looking at what Kenyans have been able to accomplish through a dexterous management of her pasture in contrast with the Hobbesian state of life that a similar endowment (abundance of cattle) has instigated in our country, my heart breaks into a million pieces.
Commendably, some governors in the north particularly, Kano State governor, Abdulahi Ganduje, is reportedly taking positive steps towards establishing ranches that would help in reducing open grazing and thus cancel the risk that the lifestyle or practice poses to his kinsmen. With the southern governors being sensitive to the current volatile political atmosphere pervading our country ,they nicely presented the rationale for the call for the banning of open grazing in southern Nigeria thus:
“Development and population growth has put pressure on available land and increased the prospects of conflict between migrating herders and local populations in the South. Given the above scenario, it becomes imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South, including cattle movement to the South by foot.”
Since the above proposal appears to me (and l guess all men and women of goodwill) to be quite justiciable and justifiable, (as reflected by Kano state venture into ranching) l was aghast by the rather incredulous, caustic and reductive statement credited to some northern elites , particularly, the senate President, Ahmed Lawan who without addressing the more dangerous crisis of herders-farmers crisis, challenged the governors to first restructure the political systems at the state level before calling on government at the national level to do the same. The point that the senate president seems to be making is that the governors should remove the logs in their eyes before asking the president to remove the speck in his vision. And my deductions from Senator Lawan’s spontaneous comment is that he recognizes that political restructuring is an imperative for our country to move forward. But his position is that charity begins at home. So the governors should bell the cat.
In which case he is basically demanding that the tail should wag the head? Is that not standing logic on its head in a political environment where constitutional power is centralized and somehow monopolized at the centre via concentration of the functions of government in the exclusive list ? Is it not the reason for the call by the 17 governors and indeed most Nigerians including the committee set up by the ruling party APC and led by embattled Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai for the devolution of power from the exclusive and concurrent lists to enable states to be autonomous? I would like to assume that Mr. Senate President’s comment which was made on the spur of the moment is sentimental rather than objective. And it may also be a Freudian slip, like president Buhari’s 97% versus 5% hypothesis about lgho votes and appointments into public offices. That is because it betrays the senate president’s perhaps unconscious bias against political restructuring which is clearly the desire and refrain on the lips of most Nigerians that are passionate about one Nigeria.
Co-incidentally, political restructuring is a task that NASS is also currently undertaking via the constitution review committee that the Deputy Senate president, Ovie Omo-Agege is leading.
With the negative bias of the Senate president via his response to the 17 southern governors demand established, Nigerians can only imagine what the outcome of the 1999 Constitution review exercise would be. We need no soothsayer to convince us that it would likely be another futile effort like the 1994/5 and 2014 national and constitutional conferences that gulped billions of naira, and consumed enormous human efforts after which they were not adopted or implemented as they are still gathering dust on the shelves of national archives.
The Attorney General of the federation and minister of justice Abubakar Malami has also joined the fray by further muddying the water by comparing the mayhem caused on lives and livelihoods by the violent herders which prompted the ban on open grazing in southern Nigeria that he has claimed as illegal. He even compared the open grazing ban to the hypothetical banning of the sales of automotive spare parts (mainly by Igbos) in the northern parts of our country.
Fittingly, the chairman of southern governors forum, who is also the governor of Ondo state , Rotimi Akeredolu, and a legal luminary , by virtue of being a former chairman of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA has responded to the Attorney General’s claim in kind. I totally agree with Akeredolu’s admonition and advise to Malami that he should go to court to prove that the ban is illegal. That is the way constitutional matters are resolved in civilised climes not through violent repression by government agencies such as the police, armed forces and EFCC or a resort to self-help by the aggrieved via banditry. I can recall how the issue of oil/gas derivation principle based on seashore (contiguous or not) was fought fiercely in court between opposing parties during the nascent stages of our return to multiparty democracy in 1999 until it was resolved. The refusal by Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime to remit Lagos State’s federal revenue allocated to it simply because Lagos State unilaterally created local government development authorities, LCDAs was also fought and resolved in court.
It is also still fresh in my memory how the 2/3 majority of our population calculus or equation of the number of Nigerians that must vote for a candidate to be declared the winner in a presidential election was settled in the Supreme Court.
After its resolution through the victory won in court by Richard Akinjide in favour of the NPN candidate, Shehu Shagari, the challenger, UPN leader, Obafemi Awolowo, had to concede defeat and subsequently the rule became enshrined in our country’s constitution.
So, I welcome the engagement of the southern governors and the federal government in court, since such a process would enrich our jurisprudence and fine tune our laws.
In any case, the southern governors forum was only affirming a decision that had been reached on 2018 and announced in a communique by the National Economic Council, NEC comprising of all 36 state governors and the FCT including the minister of finance and governor of the central bank of Nigeria (CBN); subsequently by northern governors forum in February, 2021, and by Nigerian Governors’ Forum in the same month, before the Southern Governors’ Forum on May 11, 2021.
It is noteworthy that when the southwest states in the country decided to set up AMOTEKUN- a regional vigilante group to protect the region from the onslaught of marauders, the Attorney General also expressed similar reservations by claiming it is illegal. That is despite the fact that HlSBAH and Civilian JTF – similar vigilante outfits had been set up in Kano and a handful of other northern states long ago. What justifies such double standards of what is good for the goose not being good for the gander?
Another area of focus in the governors communique that would excite the long suffering citizens of the southern region who have become crestfallen, if not weary of subjugation akin to being second class citizens in their own country, is the issue of inequality reflected by the apparent negligence of the federal character principle enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That is particularly with respect to the appointments of heads of all the critical security agencies in the country ranging from the Armed Forces to the Police Force as well as the Directorate of State Security, DSS , National Intelligence Agency, NIA and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the Customs and even the lmmigration Services currently being monopolised by the people of a particular ethnic and religious stock which is a negation of the spirit and letter of inclusiveness enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as a counterpoise or cure for the fear of dominance by any majority tribe or ethnic nationality, which unfortunately is currently deemed to be the case. For instance, when a security council meeting is held today with President Buhari, the minister of defense or national security adviser, the meeting might as well be conducted in vernacular, not English as 99% of those in attendance would be people of a particular tongue and tribe. Is that not scandalous in a country of ethnic nationalities in excess of 250 compelled by the British in 1914 via amalgamation to fuse together with three major ethnic nationalities -Hausa, Yoruba and lgbo forming the tripod on which the nation has been standing? It is astonishing that a cursory look at the present configuration of our country formed by the British merchant Frederick Lugard, would reveal that the nation’s current security architecture appears to be anchored only on one leg instead of a tripod which it was barely a decade ago. It is looking like that because the other two legs- lgbo and Yoruba now appear as if they have been infected with political gangrene or leprosy.
How can such a political circumstance, atmosphere and environment not be as toxic as we are currently witnessing?
Most significantly welcoming to me is that the 17 southern governors restated their call for a United Nigeria. It is contrary to the position of Nnamdi Kanu-led Independent People of Biafra Movement, IPOB in eastern Nigeria fighting for the creation of a country of Biafra and Sunday Igboho’s pursuit of the establishment of Oduduwa Republic in south west Nigeria. That simply vitiates the allegation by some northerners that the governors’ action was a rebellion simply because they did not first of all consult their northern counterparts.
After dilly dallying for so long, the verdict reached by the 17 southern states governors, which include a call for the President to approve the establishment of state police and convene a national dialogue, as well as reconfigure the revenue sharing formula now skewed in favour of the federal government, has now given fillip to the overwhelming calls by concerned individuals from across the political and ethnic spectrum of our beloved country irrespective of political affiliations or creed for a viable and lasting solution to the violence that has been allowed to fester in the past six years: Particularly after the highly ethnicity and religion driven and therefore polarizing election campaigns in 2015 and 2019.
Since the case had been made by the presidency and even by a fellow governor such as Nasir El-Rufai to governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state, whose state in the middle belt had banned open grazing with dire consequences via unrelenting attacks on the good people of Benue state by violent herdsmen (with Ortom himself reportedly being targeted and escaping death by whiskers) the stage is set for the hitherto ethnic fault lines in Nigeria to become as wide as a menacing gulf.
And if that happens , it would be as if time had stood still in the 107 years period that the southern and northern protectorates got amalgamated into one country by Lugard, the merchant turned agent of imperialist Britain.
That the merger of the northern and southern protectorates which were more or less strange bedfellows with no cultural or religious affinity before the forced combination is being re-enacted via the constant convocation of northern and southern governors forum to chart separate ways forward for the two regions that are supposed to have fused together by now, is rather perplexing and unfortunate.
In an uncanny manner, the 2013/14 merger of five opposition political parties to form the All Progressive Congress, APC with the sole objective of ousting then ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in 2015 appears to be a throwback to the 1914 amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates by the British simply for the sole purpose of enhancing commerce for the imperialist that was extracting natural produce and solid minerals from the colonies which they started laying claim to after the partitioning of Africa at the end of the world war and during the Berlin conference in 1884.
Before dwelling further on the present, it is imperative that l delve a bit into the past to enable me contextualise how our country by omission or commission got sucked into the narrow ethnic and religious vortex currently draining Nigeria of blood and oxygen for continued sustenance as one country.
To be fair to the current rulers, violence arising from hate and other prebendal issues have never been anathema in Nigeria. That’s because our history is replete with needless blood-letting as signposted by the list of massacres that have taken place either between rival ethnic groups over land , government against ethnic nationalities agitating for statehood or environmental rights as well as non state actors like terrorists in pursuit of religious extremist agendas and bandits driven by greed as catalogued by Wikipedia.
Let us start from the 1960-64 Tiv riots resulting in the death of an unknown number of victims which occurred during the protests against the NPC-led northern region government’s anti-people policies. There was also the anti-Igbo pogroms in 1966 in revenge of the 1966 coup tagged ‘lgbo coup’. This was followed by the Asaba massacre of 1967 whereby an estimated 500 men were assembled by the Nigerian army and shot to death during the civil war. On the heels of the Asaba tragedy in Delta state was the 1975 Ugep massacre in cross river state that took place when soldiers accused the town’s people of the murder of a drunken soldier.
Another orgy of blood shedding happened in Bakalori, Zamfara State in 1980 when the government of then Sokoto State (before creation of Zamfara State) decided to build a dam in the town. The authorities offered to relocate the inhabitants who refused and the police moved in to forcefully do so resulting in massive blood flow before any drop of water could come out of the dam .
We can not also forget the Umuechem massacre in 1990. This happened when the youths from Umuchem in Rivers State staged a protest to Shell’s office demanding for electricity, water, roads and compensation arising from environmental degradation. Instead of meeting their demands, the police applied excessive force in managing the crisis resulting in a massacre of the youths.
A similar situation occurred in Odi, Bayelsa State in 1991 when Nigerian soldiers literally razed down the village in a reprisal action against inhabitants who allegedly killed some soldiers during the conflict in the Niger Delta.
In 2000, there was the Kaduna riots between Christians and Muslims after the sharia law was introduced in the state. It was followed in 2001 by Jos riots also between Christians and Muslims, and bordering on the matter of sharia.
In the same 2001, Nigerian Army once more massacred the people of Zaki Biam in Benue State while avenging the kidnapping and murdering of 19 soldiers by the outlaws suspected to be Tiv militia.
Just like history repeated itself in 2001 in Benue State after the 1960-4 riots in pursuit of creation of Benue State, which led to massive deaths, the Miss Nigeria 2002 article published by ThisDay newspaper of which Muslims took offense triggered inter-religious riots which resulted in a second massive wave of violence and loss of lives in Kaduna State. That happened barely two years after the riots sparked by sharia law in the same year 2000 in Kaduna.
In 2004/5, there were the Yelwa massacres in Yelwa, Shendam and Kano, which were religiously motivated killings between Muslims and Christians that went on for about a year.
These were followed in quick succession by the Ogaminana massacre in 2008 when the Nigerian police killed and brutalised indigenes of the Kogi State town including the aged and infirm as well as children in a reprisal action.
Like Zaki Biam in Benue State, and Kaduna in Kaduna State , there was a repeat of human carnage when a local election stirred up another bloodbath between Muslims and Christians in the hitherto serene and tranquil city of Jos that was so alluring that Europeans couldn’t resist settling there a long time ago. Owing to the insecurity generated by indigenes- settlers conflicts and herdsmen and farmers clashes, Jos is now a shadow of its old self.
Curiously, these documented killings happened before the emergence of Boko Haram in 2009 in the Maiduguri, Potiskum and Bauchi axis. The religious extremists are said to have been responsible for the death of about 1000 people that were reportedly killed for refusing to convert to Islam.
The dreaded religious insurgents, Boko Haram finally attracted global attention when they bombed the United Nations, UN building in Abuja. Owing to lack of space and tightness of time, l did not catalogue the massacres in Nigeria arising from herders -farmers conflicts as well as deaths arising from the activities of bandits since 2010.
But given the foregoing historical facts about the massacres that have occurred since the founding of Nigeria as a nation in 1960, inter-religions , inter -ethnic and government violence against citizens have been the bane of Nigeria even before independence .
So the Nigerian landscape is literally soaked with the blood of thousands of innocent Nigerians either murdered or massacred by fellow citizens over religion , by those who espouse extremist brand of it or those killed by fellow citizens while trying to grab their ancestral land and those who get killed while trying to assert their environmental or human rights that government or its agencies sometimes violate recklessly. The bloodshed and flow of it since independence has been so much that it would be as if the blood of citizens was meant to fertilize the soil of our country .
Clearly, from the record above ,applying violence to suppress violence has not been efficacious in our country hence the situation is such that
rather than abate, it has been on an upward trajectory.
So what explains successive governments inability to minimize violent conflicts and reduce avoidable loss of lives arising from mismanagement of inter-religion and inter-ethnic relationships in Nigeria ?
In an opinion piece titled:Religious Insurgency & Failing Leadership of Nigeria: A Time For Dialogue that I wrote and published in Daily Independent newspaper of 24 December, 2020, and also shared widely on major online newspapers, l made a case that applying force alone towards ending the crisis of religious insurgency and and farmers -pastoral conflicts wracking our country would not be enough to achieve peace and security in the polity. That is evidenced by the fact that instead of the rate of violent conflicts causing huge loss of lives and insurrections by religious sects and separatists going down, the number has unfortunately spiked . As such there is a need to engage in useful dialogues with the aggrieved and possibly the outlaws.
While that advise is a sound one, the treatise on what is wrong with our country by Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, ex Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN governor, and immediate past Emir of Kano seems to me a critically incisive contribution to the debate about Nigeria’s past and the future . In my view, the very cerebral Sanusi seems to have the answer to the question of what is responsible for the leadership miasma that l raised earlier. And it is eloquently conveyed in the speech which he reportedly made at the launch of the book by Sir Olaniwun Ajayi at the MUSON Centre, Lagos.
Below is a reproduction of part of the very profound and succinct comment which I came across on the social media (attributed to the former emir) about why our country has remained in a ‘work-in-progress mode which is more or less a summarised narrative about the causes of the prickly relationships amongst the ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria:
“Before colonialism, there was nothing like Northern Nigeria, Before the Sokoto Jihad, there was nothing like the Sokoto caliphate. The man from Kano regarded himself as bakane. The man from Zaria was bazazzage. The man from Katsina was bakatsine. The kingdoms were at war with each other. They were Hausas, they were Muslims, they were killing each other.
The Yoruba were Ijebu, Owo, Ijesha, Akoko, Egba. When did they become one? When did the north become one? You have the Sokoto Caliphate that brought every person from Adamawa to Sokoto and said it is one kingdom. They now said it was a Muslim north.
The colonialists came, put that together and said it is now called northern Nigeria. Do you know what happened? Our grandfathers were able to transform into being northerners. We have not been able to transform into being Nigerians. The fault is ours.
Tell me, how many governors has the southwest produced after Awolowo that are role models of leadership? How many governors has the east produced like Nnamdi Azikiwe that can be role models of leadership? How many governors in the Niger Delta are role models of leadership? Tell me. There is no evidence statistically that any part of this country has produced good leaders”.
The former emir’s argument is clearly unassailable in my view.
He also emphasised that:
“Tribalism is not our problem. Tribalism and religion are artificial problems created by selfish leaders for their own personal interest”
Emir Sanusi concluded his verbatim treatise with even more thought provoking conclusions;
“There are only two major tribes in Nigeria. The Elites and the Masses. Once you make lots of money, you belong to the elite tribe. When you are a commoner or suffering, you belong to the tribe of the masses. If you are an elite, and you need more power, or elective position, you sow seeds of tribalism and religion among the masses, so as to sway their emotion for your personal victory. This happens at both the national and state level. Unfortunately, after the election when they have won and joined their “sworn enemies” to drink and party, the gullible masses continue to fight each other.
Even smart people who belong to the masses, sometimes will sow seeds of tribalism and religion among the masses, and then the masses will carry them up until they belong to the elite class. It is a classic strategy used over 3000 years ago in the Art of War. A commoner who aspires to sit with the elites, could stir up powerful tribal or religious sentiments, such a wave if properly utilised either by shedding blood or destabilising the elite, carries the commoner to the elite class. But once there, he immediately mingles and makes peace with the elite tribe, and turns his back on the same masses that helped him get there.
We are the largest economy in Africa and soon the world will fear us. Western powers don’t like big economies that threaten them. America will do anything to break China, but China is wise to resist that. China has 1.6 billion people, we have only 170 million, and we are talking of breaking.
Comparing Nigeria, the largest country in Africa to China, the most populous country in the world, the former emir made the following point:
“China has 5 major religions which are Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity. Nigeria has only two major religions, Christianity and Islam. Yet we claim that religion is our problem”
After reading Emir Sanusi’s incisive and inspiring argument, who would not come away with the impression that the leadership knows what ails Nigeria?
So, as Chinua Achebe concluded in his book “The Trouble With Nigeria,” our country has a leadership challenge. And it implies that the nation is still not fortunate enough to have a patriot or patriots in political leadership.
It is exactly why Nigeria has been groping in the dark for so long without finding the direction for progress in the past 60 years since independence from the colonialist.
Now, l must confess that curiosity and incredulity had taken a better part of me since the advent of this administration and it became a habit for the 19 northern states governors to be holding regular meetings after which they release communiques detailing their deliberations that are focused on the challenges peculiar to their region with action plans for the progress and prosperity of the region without minding whether the ox of other constituents of the country are gored.
The question that such exclusive meetings used to elicit in my head whenever they were held is: after the 1914 amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates by the British colonialists (about 107 years ago) what explains the northern leaders seeming determination to continue to emphasize the ethnic fault lines in Nigeria pre amalgamation?
Typical of the manner in which political phenomenons evolve in our clime, the 17 southern states that fall under the defunct southern protectorate, pre 1914 had also formed their own forum when then Lagos state governor, Bola Tinubu hosted the first forum in 2002. While the northern governors forum meeting was frequent, after it was first held in 1959, the southern one has only just been held in Asaba after about 12 years or nearly two circles or terms of four years of constitutionally mandated governorship tenures of eight years. Without a scintilla of doubt, the fall back on pre 1914 amalgamation fault lines is clearly one of the wedges against the complete fusion of the north and south. Why can’t a bonafide Nigerian become an indigene of the location where he/she has been dwelling for at least five – 10 years as it is done in the USA where we borrowed our presidential system? Again, could the resistance to the blending of north and south be a function of the northern or feudalistic culture of not wanting to be assimilated into other cultures, but only mix with members of their stock as being witnessed in the Middle East? For instance, while being ensconced by wealthy countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, etc, Yemenis are wallowing in abject poverty of an Olympic proportion, why?
I recognise that the forgoing comparison may be offensive to some of my friends from the north , but I’m not being personal in my analysis. Rather, I’m simply being pragmatic, factual and intellectual by putting the issue in a crucible with the sole aim of finding lasting and sustainable solutions to the fratricidal conflicts hobbling our beloved country and preventing her from truly transforming into the giant of Africa and bastion of hope for the black race that God had ordained her to be. According to a statement recently credited to the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Saad Abubakar, God did not make a mistake by allowing Nigeria to be formed by the multiple ethnic nationalities that have come together as one country. So we must all work hard to sustain her unity.
But alarmingly, the north and south divide is so magnified now that our country seem to be racing to the bottom as the erstwhile gap is currently being widened into a major rift or gulf between the north and south, Christians and Muslims , without the required concerted efforts to arrest the drift or seismic shift. That in my view is what the call for a national dialogue by the southern governors represents. Which is why they should be commended as opposed to being vilified by their northern counterparts.
This is more so as the lack of homogeneity amongst Nigerians estimated to be not less than 250 tribes is being inadvertently magnified by northern governors versus Southern governors forums divide. That the exclusive parleys have become a major predilection of politicians in the current dispensation, is an indication that the union is yet to be truly consummated as the inter tribal relationship has been in a freeze.
That attitude clearly counteracts and undermines the blurring of the fault lines or better still, imperils the blending of the multifarious cultures which past leaders- both politicians and military dictators alike- promoted via the introduction of several measures aimed at inculcating and entrenching the culture of one-nation, one-destiny .
In my judgement , it was okay if the governors meetings were held between states within each sub-region such as north east , north central or north west. Or south west , south east and south south. The abhorrence of the exclusive meetings by northern and southern governors exclusive of each other is underscored by the fact that it would ultimately magnify and serve as reminders of the differences between both regions pre 1914 and which bodes the nation no good. It is such aberrations that have brought our dear country to the unfortunate impasse that she is currently passing through.
The assertion above is underpinned by the belief that fostering relationships between contiguous states for common aspirations such as security of lives and properties or common development aspirations within the zone may be understandable. But reverting to pre 1914 status quo ante is rather absurd and anti unity.
Simply because it would amount to the pursuit of the collective interests of the geographic expressions known as northern protectorate in disharmony with the southern protectorate pre 1914 with negative implications.
l had canvassed that point in one of my media Interventions titled: Threat to National Unity: Let’s Emphasise What Binds Us published in Leadership newspaper of 3 September, 2017 and widely shared on online media platforms.
For instance, in the milieu of the current ethnic identity nationalism and the associated schism which is a stark reminder of the unromantic origin of Nigeria, some un-seductive assessment and conclusions about the viability of Nigeria as a country by our leaders of the past have been popping up in the social media. Below are some very unedifying samplers:
“Nigeria is not a nation.
It is a mere geographical expression. There are no ‘Nigerians’ in the same sense as there are ‘English’ , ‘Welsh’, ‘French.’ The word ‘Nigerian’ is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the geographical boundaries of Nigeria and those who do not”.
A postulation credited in 1947 to Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the former premier of western region.
The following quote in 1948 has also been attributed to Sir Ahmadu Bello who served as the Premier of Northern Nigeria.
“Since 1914 the British government has been trying to make Nigeria into a country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their background, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any signs of willingness to unite …Nigeria is only a British invention”.
On the part of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, who later became the Governor-General of Nigeria, the following remark was attributed to him in 1964:
“It is better for us and many admirers abroad that we should disintegrate in peace. Should the politicians fail to heed this warning, then I will venture the prediction that the experience of the Democratic Republic of Congo will be a child’s play if ever it comes to our turn to play such a tragic role”.
While l have no idea in what contexts the comments attributed to the iconic leaders of the three major ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria were made, it is clear that at some point in time, our quintessential leaders of grand memory expressed skepticism about the viability of Nigeria as a country. So just as it has been proven that inter-ethnic and inter religion violence are not new in Nigeria, rhetorics and hypothesis about non viability of Nigeria were also expressed in the past as they are currently being expounded in our generation by the likes of Nnamdi Kanu , leader of IPOB and Sunday Igboho, the new driver of Yoruba nationalism. So clearly, ethnic nationalism has always been with us.
But one significant thing to note is that after the initial reservations about the viability of one Nigeria expressed by our founding fathers- Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and Obafemi Awolowo; when the trio took over the mantle of leadership following the exit of the British at independence in 1960, they collectively proceeded to build the foundation for the lasting legacies of progress and prosperity that they intended to bequeath before their reign was cut short by the military in the first military putsch of 1966.
Wittingly and unwittingly, it is similar skepticism about the viability of Nigeria as a united country expressed by our forebears before independence that is manifesting today amongst people of the new generation.
Given the skepticism expressed by our past leaders who later became premiers of western and northern Nigeria as well as the Governor General shortly after the British colonialists quit the scene after coupling a multiplicity of distinct ethnic nationalities , it is a feat, if not a marvel that our country has remained united as one country 60 years after independence. And the nation has remained one entity largely due to the concerted efforts made by past leaders to mend the cracks on the wall whenever they were detected.
And it is not a surprise to me that apathy has set in once again. But whether our current leaders can successfully navigate the ship of state through the dire straits is my big concern and worry.
However, hopefully, the current threat would also soon pass away when political restructuring, devolution of power from federal to state governments, including the presidency and governorship via meritocracy, as opposed to zoning or rotation becomes the new order.
And when ethnic harmony and tolerance of the various religions is established amongst members of the federating units before 2023, which is the time another crop of leaders is scheduled to take over the mantle of political leadership, then can we exhale as a country.
Working with the foregoing information and data about the origin of our country, it is easier to understand why social scientists have been applying the tool of trend analysis to make prognosis about the future of Nigeria. And it behoves of the incumbent President Buhari to ensure that he leaves a stable and prosperous Nigeria as his legacy, unlike in 1985 when he exited the stage unceremoniously and had no chance to leave an enviable footprint in the sand of time. It is owing to the tempestuous origin of Nigeria that American social scientists including John Campbel, one time American Ambassador to Nigeria and now the heads of a US Think Tank were able to pen a report about the possibility of a breakup of our country, if appropriate mitigating measures were not put in place to halt the looming catastrophe. But typical of the leadership of our country, instead of evaluating the concern for its positive or negative values , the report was ridiculed and discarded.
That is despite the fact that Nigerian politicians even as recent as the 1980s, recognizing the need to keep the country united, adopted the one-nation-one-destiny mantra which was the rallying call of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, (then ruling party) with Shehu Shagari from Sokoto as President, Alex Ekwueme from Anambra as Vice President and Adisa Akinloye from Ibadan as the national chairman.
Not only that.
All of a sudden, the slogan, To-keep-Nigeria one-is-task-that-must-be-done, which was the battle cry of the federalist forces fighting against secessionist Biafra, is no more being emphasised by the new breed of politicians in our dear country today who seem hellbent on breaking all the bonds and glue holding together the various ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria.
The negative fallouts of the de-emphasis of what holds us together as a country by some leaders in the present regime are the motivating factors for the current cries for separation from Nigeria by members of the proscribed Independent People of Biafra, IPOB who are threatening to decouple the southeast from Nigeria since the authorities have failed to accept their call for referendum owing to their belief that the Eastern region is being excluded from government since the end of the civil war over fifty years ago.
That is also the raison dete for those calling for the creation of Oduduwa Republic in the south west whose industries generate most of the Value Added Tax, VAT, and who have been useful allies to the north, but the threat of loss of their ancestral land to bandits and killer herdsmen is unnerving and jarring them.
Also in the mix is the militias, notably MEND in the Nigeria Delta subregion that have been agitating for the control of the oil/gas resources endemic in their region, from which they believe that they enjoy little or no benefits. But of which they suffer the consequences of severe degradation of their environment which has negatively impacted their means of livelihood and therefore want to secede from the Nigerian nation.
Consider a situation whereby Niger Deltans whose means of livelihood have been destroyed by oil/gas exploration activities are demanding that northern states allot them land around their lakes and rivers to ply their trade ? That is the equivalent of the demand by cattle herders that RUGA and related cattle settlements should be allotted to them in southern Nigeria. Think about that!
As a nation, whose national anthem at independence featured the following stanza : …though tribe and tongue may differ in unity we stand.” how did we get to the current cul- de-sac and such a hard place and a condition expressed or translated in my ika dialect as Erem, Eghom? Not willing to sell or buy which is an autarky of sorts.
Remarkably, and as evidenced by the aforementioned national anthem which has long been discarded with the spirit of unity also literally going through the window: regimes after regimes since independence, particularly after the civil war have made concerted efforts to unite the multifarious nations that make up Nigeria. They have done so by introducing schemes such as the federal character principle (now completely ignored in appointments into public offices) and National Youth Service Corp, NYSC, a scheme established to promote harmony amongst youths, which has also been destroyed in the past decade when youths became the cannon fodders for politicians to vent their ire when they fail to win elections; and the establishment of Unity Schools across all the regions aimed at uniting our children of adolescent age by familiarizing them with the variety of cultures in our country with a view to blending them:Which unfortunately is also an educational system now under the threat of extinction.
It is gutting and revolting that all the aforementioned innovative and beneficial efforts made by our forebears in the bid to achieve ethnic harmony nationally, have been literally thrown to dogs by our current political leaders. And that makes them pseudo nihilists.
It beats me hollow why lofty ethos and values such as federal character principle, to give our working class adults a sense of inclusiveness in public service; NYSC, offering our youths the opportunities to co-mingle with their peers nationwide; and Unity Schools aimed at inculcating in our young children the spirit of friendship as opposed to hate; all of which are aimed at reposing confidence in every Nigerian that they have equal rights and shared bright future are now more or less moribund.
Why are the well thought out plans and strategies aimed at gluing our country together tending towards being jettisoned in the current dispensation?
To say the least, I’m perplexed by the leadership in Aso Rock Villa and National Assembly, as well as the judiciary who seem to have become so blinded by religion and ethnic interests to the reality that the erosion of those critical nation building blocks are largely responsible for the cracks on the wall that may soon degenerate into a wide gulf, if appropriate measures are not taken to reverse the loud calls for the break up of our country either in the peaceful way that was the case in the former Yugoslavia that broke up into six countries or in the violent way that it was done in Sudan from which South Sudan was carved out in 2010 through the intervention of the United Nations, UN.
In their acclaimed book on negotiations: “Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreements Without Giving In” the duo of Roger Fisher and William Ury made the case that an unsatisfactory agreement does not stand the test of time and therefore bound to break up sooner than later.
As a matter of fact, the configuration of Nigeria after the military interregnum of 1966 that tilted the northern region above the southern region that were equal partners in 1914 via amalgamation and independence in 1960 is at the core of the ethnic and religious malevolence currently besetting the nation .
Therefore, the lesson should not be lost on our leaders that unsatisfactory arrangements always precipitate agitations by the aggrieved which ultimately could lead to violent backlash as evidenced by the way and manner that apartheid in Southern African region (whereby the white minority ruled over the majority blacks) ended with the whites facing reprisal actions in Zimbabwe, but narrowly escaped similar dire consequences in the country of South Africa owing to the wisdom applied by the leadership icon, Nelson Mandela.
Similarly, the Nigerians with separatist inclinations should learn useful lessons from the ugly experience of South Sudan. After a separation from Sudan in 2010, a feat achieved via a protracted war which bears the toga of being Africa’s longest war, has almost self-destructed by engaging in a civil war fueled by power struggle between former warlords in the past ten years after independence. The civil war has made South Sudan a textbook case of a scorched earth country of extremely impoverished people even when the country is crude oil rich like Nigeria. Nothing suggests that a similar situation may not occur in breakaway countries from Nigeria, in the event that such occurs.
So seceding from Nigeria to form another country may be alluring but it is often not as savory and as the prospect appears before it happens.
In conclusion, Nigeria is not the first or only country composed of multiple ethnic Nationalities to thrive on planet earth .
The UK, our former colonialist, is composed of the English, Scots, Welch and Irish. And they have remained in the United Kingdom, UK for hundreds of years due to the autonomy enjoyed by each ethnic nationality. Put succinctly, the secret of the sustenance of the UK as a united entity is that England never attempted to lord it over the other three members of the union. Occasionally, differences may arise, but the politicians often sit at a round table and settle their differences. That is exactly what Nigerian politicians were doing as evidenced by the numerous inter regional meetings held to iron out identified differences by leaders from the three major ethnic groups including the one in Ibadan in 1950.
The story of the founding of the USA, Canada and even India are not dissimilar to the circumstances that birthed Nigeria.
But politicians in those climes engage in useful dialogues after which their differences are identified and harmonized for successful resolution of conflicts which were never allowed to become intractable as our current crop of politicians have allowed herders- farmers conflicts and religious differences and radicalism to become intractable.
By and large, the political will to conclusively and patriotically address identified conflict triggers is basically what is missing in our beloved country, Nigeria and which is an elixir of sorts that all of us irrespective of tongue or tribe , faith or creed must strive to ingest in order to purge ourselves of the conscious or unconscious biases that we are all suffering from like a debilitating disease.
That is simply because we can only succeed together when we become ethnic and religion neutral.
That happened when politicians in the five opposition political parties-ACN, CPC, ANPP, factions of APGA and PDP subsumed their ethnic, regional and religious agendas with the higher mission to oust then ruling party , PDP.
We can all make a similar sacrifice this time as Nigerians (not just politicians) by putting aside our ethnic and religious differences in order to save the only country that we can call our own from a looming catastrophic disintegration.
-Onyibe, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA and a former commissioner in Delta State government, sent this piece from Lagos.