Nigerian Diversity, Criminality and the False Drums of War, By Adewale Ajadi
I wonder then why those who should know better are beating drums of conflict against the Fulani. Our history with the Fulani cannot justify the response. Furthermore, why are all the Fulani lumped together in this pursuit of conflict? Surely, every ethnic group has their criminals and one of the bases of multi-ethnic existence is to address the crime and punish it, rather than stereotype everyone…
I wonder what posterity will make of our time. The 21st century is a time of great interest and possibility. We are trying to resolve and reposition our world for assured abundance and prosperity, with the confusion of the damaging possibility of fundamental changes in weather, economics, power and movement. Yet, we are now pawns to forces that operate beyond national boundaries, with many hiding behind the illusion that they could only survive independently and comfort their kind, as long as they kept the ‘other’ beneath them. It is in the context of this swift and unending waves of changes that we all face the new hyper attention to insecurity in our country. Nigeria, the most diverse of places that holds no space for any dominant ethnicity once again highlights that maxim of human diversity, which is ‘your either use it or lose things’.
Simply, diversity is either to be positively utilised and engaged productively or it will unleash its capacity as a vehicle of discord and destruction. In our mess of post-election opportunism, with all kinds of influence-peddlers seeking relevance, the spate of violent attacks associated with the Fulani presents the best ‘wedge’ issue to push the returning president on the defensive, and perhaps also destabilise the country. Nevertheless, we know that kidnapping was used as a primary tool in the Niger-Delta conflict, was adopted in the South-East powerfully and had a brief but potent efficiency around greater Lagos for a while. It is most certainly not exclusive to any ethnic group. The shock of hearing unelected people appropriate the South-West geography and champion war-like responses on behalf of the Yoruba seemed such false news until it has come to loom large, regularly, in the media. On the other side of this, a media response from the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission calling for cool heads and championing a considered reflection of governors of the region, was a genuinely welcome voice and totally in line with the operating principle of the DAWN Commission. The organisation’s rational position in the face of the tornado of highly self-important ethnic champions was significant moral courage.
The South-West is arguably the most diverse space of Nigerians. Its success as a viable home of commercial Nigeria is not only due to the presence of Lagos but as the cosmopolitan backbone of the federation. Growing up in Ibadan of the 1960s and 1970s, I lived among the Nigerian middle and professional classes, irrespective of ethnicity. It can be argued that Ibadan’s recent loss of prominence to Lagos coincided with notions of indigeneship that sent many scurrying for their newly-created state enclaves. Nevertheless, across the South-West, the Nigerian diversity would find a space to live and enjoy possibility. I wonder then why those who should know better are beating drums of conflict against the Fulani. Our history with the Fulani cannot justify the response. Furthermore, why are all the Fulani lumped together in this pursuit of conflict? Surely, every ethnic group has their criminals and one of the bases of multi-ethnic existence is to address the crime and punish it, rather than stereotype everyone, tagging the unborn, newly-born, law abiding, old et al. as scapegoats. There is possibly no stock here at all, it seems an unfortunate behaviour being protected around the world.
A friend, colleague, wise sage and leadership educator, Mark Gerzon, has identified three leadership styles and approaches to the unrelenting changes of the 21st century. He identified Demagogic Leaders, who use the opportunity presented by the fear of change, as well as the unrelenting arch of events, to divide people along ethnic or national fault lines, while blaming the “other”. They leverage vulnerability to ensure that they have access to power, often targeting those who feel left out, using their sense of grievance as a tool of empowerment. They orchestrate conflict, manipulate misunderstanding and encourage hatred. We see them across Europe and the Americas guiding the world into xenophobic blocs, fanning trade wars and leveraging every opportunity to pass judgement with little understanding or listening to the other.
It has not helped that the newly elected governors seem to be sitting on the fence at best, hesitating from bringing into perspective how this is not a regional crisis but a wave of criminality that greater effectiveness of policing and extension of government presence to rural outposts can manage.
Then there is the second group who are Managerial Leaders, who bury their heads from the wider trends of insecurity but focus on technical interventions and transactions in the forlorn hope that their professional conduct avoids emotive issues and promotes efficiency that will inevitably lift all boats. They often craft seemingly normative laws and guidance but, however, frustrate many who feel ignored, isolated or even blamed for national conflicts, if their traditional hegemonic assumptions are being marginalised. The third group are Bridging Leaders, who are committed to creating a space for every key group in designing the way ahead, ensuring that people collaborate beyond the lines of conflict to leverage the whole, rather than be blinded by parts.
As I watched our version of Demagogic Leaders emerge in the South-West, pushing, planning and being encouraged by those whose presence used to reassure us that we were all Nigerians, it seems they are trying to co-opt the playbook of one Mr. Kanu. However, unlike in that case, silence will not be allowed to be used as agreement. First, the fact that DAWN Commission and its leadership chose to use its platform for a rational regional dialogue reduces the legitimacy of these ‘ethnicity pimps’. It has not helped that the newly elected governors seem to be sitting on the fence at best, hesitating from bringing into perspective how this is not a regional crisis but a wave of criminality that greater effectiveness of policing and extension of government presence to rural outposts can manage.
The present spate of insecurity has been very destructive across the country, with many lives lost and brutal mayhem being unleashed mostly in the North. The eyewitness allegation against the Fulani stands in contrast to the difficulty that most Nigerians have in understanding Fulfulde, as well as the spectrum of physical attributes of the Fulani, alongside the stereotyping of the different sub-groups of the Fulani. Never mind that the ethnic politics of criminal activity is always a mugs game. We never did it when kidnapping was the exclusive preserve of some core ethnic group. The opportunistic pattern of criminal activities in Nigeria is a well set out pattern. We need to truly explore the root causes of not only the criminal acts but the intra-community patterns of our new heightened conflicts.
Reducing these issues to ethnicity not only magnifies falsehood but also generates the hysteria that will not resolve the issue. The president, who I deeply support, has to move beyond law and order and develop a strategy for using our diversity productively, mobilising young people for a more designed and framed space of national engagement beyond the absurdity of ethnic vilification…
In the past three years, in my day work with Synergos Nigeria, we had raised and highlighted the conflict of herdsmen and farmers long before the issue emerged in the early 2017. Sadly, the first casualty is always proper analysis. However, our work not only takes in other drivers such as climate change, social change, absence of government, dispersal of technology, including guns and mobile phones, as well as blatant political manipulation, and also coupled with media misrepresentation. Yet, and simply, the demographic explosion of the population of young under-employed and unemployed people seems to be at the roots of this amplification of criminality and conflict.
Whether in the Niger-Delta, the North-East, the South-East, wherever there is a substantial cluster of young people who are able to develop criminal industry outside the oversight of government and governance, all kinds of criminal activities take root. In the last decade of the 20th century, this would have been an offshoot of home invasions or armed robbery. The 21st century, with the ATM and mobile phones, has reduced the Nigerian habit of holding large caches of money at home, hence kidnapping has now been adopted as the most effective crime. You have, as the criminal, the asset captive and you can milk it for funds for as long as you want. Everyone is at your mercy and you can ultimately make a clean getaway. We also now have truly hard drugs to mask any humanity and the amplified brutality dehumanising the victim. This is simply pervasive throughout the land, with cults, ethnic militia and political thugs, and often, with all roles played by the same actors.
Reducing these issues to ethnicity not only magnifies falsehood but also generates the hysteria that will not resolve the issue. The president, who I deeply support, has to move beyond law and order and develop a strategy for using our diversity productively, mobilising young people for a more designed and framed space of national engagement beyond the absurdity of ethnic vilification, as well as religious bigotry, if there will be a multi-ethnic society. We need a new police service that is designed to use the best of local intelligence with the objectivity of a truly professional law enforcement. It is too early for state police because they will become ethnic militia. Nevertheless, it is possible to have an unarmed State Bureau of Investigation, whose role is to collect local intelligence and map out patterns of insecurity, working with the police to develop local enforcement strategies, as well as provide oversight in ongoing investigation. Critically, the role of the National Orientation Agency on building a multi-ethnic and multicultural Nigeria cannot be overemphasised but for now, organisations like DAWN Commission, avoiding the ethnic takeover and hysteria, are our type.
Adewale Ajadi, a lawyer, creative consultant and leadership expert, is author of Omoluwabi 2.0: A Code of Transformation in 21st Century Nigeria.