The Road to Rwanda, By Shola Oshunkeye
But while we condemn those threatening to set the country on fire or balkanise it, the Buhari administration would do Nigeria a huge favour by discarding its propensity to treat these agitations as unnecessary outrage over a trivial matter. To continue to live that lie may lead the country to a cataclysm yet unwitnessed in history.
At the height of the ghoulish tyranny of the late General Sani Abacha in 1996, former head of state, General Yakubu Gowon, formed a group to intercede for a nation then gliding rapidly towards the precipice. He named it ‘Nigeria Prays’. But before he did, he had to meet the dreaded dictator to explain the motive. “You never know what you could do that would lead you to jail,” Gowon quipped in an interview published by Daily Trust on September 13, 2015. “And I did not want to experience the mosquitoes in Kirikiri.”
After getting Abacha’s nod, the man who led Nigeria through a bitter civil war (July 6, 1967 – January 15, 1970) which claimed about one million precious lives, hit the road praying. Gowon and Nigeria Prays crisscrossed the country, seeking God’s intervention to the myriad problems threatening to obliterate Nigeria. I’m sure if Sani Abacha ever had a vague idea or heard a whisper that he would be part of that divine intervention, he would have caged Gowon in Kuje Prison and thrown the keys into the ocean. Somehow, the tyrant expired and Nigeria wobbled to its current democracy.
Now, not only is the democracy tottering, the lines of cohesion that bind Nigeria and Nigerians are also fraying dangerously. Indeed, the fault lines have become so thinned they may snap any moment unless our recuperating president, Muhammadu Buhari, and his team move fast to end the dangerous rhetoric spewing from both sides of the Niger. Never since the civil war have we seen or heard the type of perilous outbursts that presently saturate the social media, and which are gradually sipping into the conventional media.
While Nnamdi Kanu and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) group have been vehemently insisting on a Biafra that must not only include the five South-Eastern states but also the South-South without Edo State, the coalition of Northern youth groups, which had given Igbos residing in the North an October 1, 2017 deadline to leave the region, has also maintained that the quit notice stays. These are despite entreaties by well-meaning Nigerians and some members of the international community, urging caution.
Sadly, the appeals appear to have fallen on deaf ears. Upper week, a yet-to-be-identified group dangerously spiked the anxieties gripping the land when it released a venomous anti-Igbo song in Hausa language on YouTube. Days later, another group had ‘retaliated’, posting a noxious music video in Igbo aimed at balancing the terror of the toxic Hausa song. The vitriolic songs in both releases would make even angels to shiver in fear for Nigeria.
With the proliferation of illegal arms everywhere, and spiking negativism across the land, these combustible songs would, if not stopped now, accelerate Nigeria’s march towards the Rwanda of between April and July 1994. After months of mounting tension, Rwanda plunged into its darkest era yet, when members of the Hutu ethnic majority massacred about 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority, creating two million refugees, mainly Hutus. Whoever was around between 1966 and 1967 would bear witness that the prelude to the Nigerian civil war mimicked that; though much lower in magnitude. Rwanda, under President Paul Kagame, who won his third term not long ago, has rebounded beautifully from the aftermaths of the genocide. It is doubtful if Nigeria would survive another pogrom.
That is why the emerging separatist groups in Nigeria need to tread cautiously. That is why Nigerians, and Gowon’s group, Nigeria Prays, need to intensify their intercession for fatherland. Well, Gowon is trying his best. At least he has never missed any opportunity to weigh in on the nation’s security concerns. He didn’t mince words when he took the podium at a national security seminar organised by the Department of State Service (DSS) in Abuja, on August 2, 2017. There, he blew the clarion right into the ears of the sabre-rattling youth, urging them, as “the future of this country”, to “ensure that we build the country in the interest of all.”
Let the truth be told: It is preposterous for any group to order another to quit a house they co-own. It is totally absurd, if not evil, for a group to behave as if other groups are mere appendages. Even if a group is appalled by the misdemeanours of another, the response should not be to resort to a tendency that can set the whole house ablaze.
I wish other statesmen could emulate Gowon in speaking truth to all the separatist tendencies striving to tear Nigeria apart. Unfortunately, while prominent South-Easterners have been roundly condemning Nnamdi Kanu’s outbursts and openly dissociating themselves from his agenda, some people in the North who have benefitted immensely from Nigeria as a united entity, have been stoking the fire, directly and/or underneath. One of such persons is Professor Ango Abdullahi, a hitherto respected Northern leader who, unfortunately, has openly endorsed the infamous quit notice on Igbos. Very sad indeed.
Let the truth be told: It is preposterous for any group to order another to quit a house they co-own. It is totally absurd, if not evil, for a group to behave as if other groups are mere appendages. Even if a group is appalled by the misdemeanours of another, the response should not be to resort to a tendency that can set the whole house ablaze. The constitutional democracy that we currently run in Nigeria, even if adulterated, guarantees the freedom of speech. Even if some persons deploy that freedom recklessly, without due regard to the nation’s cohesion, it is not for any group or persons to arrogate the power of the state to themselves. Law enforcement is there to take care of matters. We must not carry on as if we have learnt nothing from our recent history. Whoever is not attuned to his history is a living dead.
But while we condemn those threatening to set the country on fire or balkanise it, the Buhari administration would do Nigeria a huge favour by discarding its propensity to treat these agitations as unnecessary outrage over a trivial matter. To continue to live that lie may lead the country to a cataclysm yet unwitnessed in history. The fire we see all over Nigeria now is certainly not a storm in a tea cup; and can never go away through denial. The fire would only burn out if the administration digs deep and remove the taproots of the problems.
In other words, the administration must urgently and honestly redress those underlying factors that birthed the incendiary situation. These include: Halting the continuing marginalisation of some constituent parts in the governance of the country; reversing the inequitable distribution of resources and advantages accruing to the constituent parts; and stopping the feeding of a gluttonous centre while the states dry to their bones like kwashiorkor kids. Equally needing urgent attention are: the uneven spread of developmental projects in the country, diversion of resources, policy somersaults, brazen theft of public funds, widespread poverty in the midst of plenty, improper planning and poor execution of projects.
This is not forgetting the wobbling economy that has made hunger a perfect companion of the poor. The poor and the deprived drown in their tears as their situation worsens daily. But the gods neither feel their misery nor understand their language of tears. Except those whose pre-occupation is looting, and their rank is swelling by the day, the genuinely rich are also crying.
There is also the worrisome issue of crime and criminality. The media is awash daily with reports of inconceivable crimes and criminality; some of them committed under the nose of law enforcement. Despite the grim evidences that we see, the gods insist that the national economy is receding from recession. Yet, stomachs of citizens have not stopped retracting due to unrelenting hunger. Since they say a hungry man is an angry man, is it any surprise that extreme vexation grips Nigeria? All these problems must be comprehensively addressed for the nation to regain its peace.
Incidentally, the answers to these important questions lie in volumes and volumes of reports now gathering dust in Aso Rock. One of them is the report of the 492-member 2014 National Conference organised by the Goodluck Jonathan Presidency. More than two years after mounting the saddle, President Buhari is yet to touch the report.
The aforementioned are, perhaps, what the proponents of restructuring added up and began to canvass as the negotiation of the terms for the rebirth of a new Nigeria where equity and justice would reign. They are not asking for balkanisation. They are not saying the country should break. Professor Wole Soyinka and other patriots have made this point clearly, over and again.
At a colloquium held recently in Kaiama, Bayelsa State, Soyinka restated the case for the negotiation of Nigeria, declaring: “Negotiation includes ensuring that there is no marginalisation. Negotiation means control of resources. Negotiation has to do with restructuring a nation in a way that the components and constituents are not feeding an over bloated centre to the detriment of their own development. The language we should use is what are you willing to sacrifice? What effort are you willing to make to ensure Nigeria remains intact? That is the question.”
Incidentally, the answers to these important questions lie in volumes and volumes of reports now gathering dust in Aso Rock. One of them is the report of the 492-member 2014 National Conference organised by the Goodluck Jonathan Presidency. More than two years after mounting the saddle, President Buhari is yet to touch the report. Rather, the administration makes things look as if the only achievement of President Goodluck Jonathan and his team is taking corruption to a level where even Satan sneers and feels scorned.
Yet, experts in policy and public administration believe that the Jonathan National Conference did a great job in answering some of the questions that have stirred the nation’s conscience over the years.
For instance, on Public Finance/Revenue Allocation, the 2014 conference recommended that the federal government be given 42.5 percent; state governments, 35 percent; and local governments, 22.5 percent. These are against the extant formula of federal government, 52.68 percent; states, 26.72 percent; and local government councils, 20.60 percent. The conference also recommended that in order to accelerate the development of all parts of the country, the percentage allotted to “population and equality of states in the existing sharing formula be reduced while that assigned to social development sector be increased to a much higher percentage”.
There is nothing outrageous in conceding that marginal increase to the states and local councils. Even if we discount the legendary profligacy and kleptocracy of governors and council chairmen, the increase would have, at least, buoyed states’ finances and helped tackle some of the problems that currently beset those tiers of government. But would the president ever look in that direction? He has not seen anything of value in that investment which gulped billions of naira and spanned five months. Perhaps, if he had dusted the report and peeped, he may have stumbled on some things that would have helped douse the fire of agitations that currently riles Nigeria. He may have been able to stop the current dialogue of the deaf in which each party is stone dead to what the others are saying. Even if for a season.
God bless Nigeria.
Shola Oshunkeye is the CEO of Omnimedia Nigeria Limited, and executive director of the non-profit, Sustainable Development and Transparency Foundation.