WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
We are back to the familiar narrative: musing on why it could not just ‘click’ for us as a nation and as a people has preoccupied my thinking with regard to governance for a while. What did we get wrong? What did we do wrong? And at what time did we miss out on the prospect of putting this country on the path of meaningful progress? The country is never lacking basic ingredients of national development; actually, Nigeria is abundantly blessed across borders when the factors of development are considered. From human capital to material resources, the country is naturally endowed and readily the envy of other nations.
So what has been the challenge? The people, the supposed manager of the resources of the country; and this is not erroneously referring only to those in the corridor of power, but the entirety of Nigerian men and women who have become collectively indoctrinated to behave in the same manner when it comes to their interrelationships with the country and issues that relate to the nation. The men and women on the streets, the leaders at families and society settings, the artisans and market men and women, the civil servants and the men and women who are today referred to as the government, across the regions and across the states; are the problem that Nigeria has today.
This is not a problem that begins today or in some not too distant past. It is a perennial issue that began with us from the very beginning of the birth of the republic which has erupted over the years for lack of decisive decision to remove it. It is not a problem emanating from any particular ethnic unit, but a general one that did not spare any group; it was for this reason that the nation’s independent was delayed by a whole two years for the north to get ready for independence; the reason the east took the country through the horrible civil war; and the very reason the notion of a more educated west was being sang. From the beginning, we have made the obvious choice of refusing to agree that Nigeria is one country; in every way possible and in all availing circumstances, we have always voiced out ethnic preferences and non-desire to care about the federated Nigeria above our individual ethnic nationalities. Some years back, I was appalled watching a senior citizen from western Nigeria who retorted that he was a Yoruba man ‘first’ before being identified as a Nigerian, and so he would have loyalty to his people, that is, his ethnic nationality, above loyalty to Nigeria. That is apparently, the disposition of most Nigerians of today, just as much as those before us. In 1965, 1966; in 1883, 1984; in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and again in 2019; the prevailing factor in all our individual responses to national issues has always been ethnicity. The election crisis we had created, the national disturbances, have all been because we saw the need to defend the pride of our ethnic nationalities.
It is because of this same problem, that the fathers of the nation at independence could not come together to agree on the path to effective appropriation of the resources of the nation for optimal development. That is the reason why instead of planning the path to technological development of the nation on a common front, while the Nigerian nation was still young, we were busy discussing formulas for sharing national wealth. It is our failure to ever agree to come together across ethnic regions that resulted in no uproar against the abandonment of the national agricultural sector with the emergence of crude oil; a decision we are still suffering from and find so difficult to correct till date. Instead of being at a unifying table, we were busy as early as 1960, planning ethnic-based coups and counter coups. The foundation we therefore laid was faulty and became even more faultier by our refusal over the decades to resolve the fundamental errors of our nation’s formation.
Our political coloration, affiliation and the game itself, fully revolve around ethnicity. We line up to vote, never at any time for the benefit of Nigeria, but of ethnic regions and individuals. The north line behind their own, the east behind their own and the south behind their own; all our political disagreements that amplified our differences and opened up to become the non-peaceful Nigeria of today, are just because of our non-ending fights for ethnic interest.
The civil war that created the line we have not been able to erase and cross till today was nothing but ethnic jingoism; a drive and agenda to please the call for ethnic freedom. What did all of us, from both sides of the divide come out of the civil war with? Deaths, destruction, and the eternal hatred and mistrust across regions that is, till today, making our unity a mirage.
Nigeria of today, coming from the disunity-infested testimonies that are based on our created parochial differences along ethnic differences, is more like a wasteland, an infertile ground where nothing survives. We have gone through decades and through government administrations, and yet have not been able to get most things right – including the basics. The same complaints of 1965 are the same complaints of today; in fact, most things were better then compared to now. Our education system is so moribund and primeval, to the point it could not serve as the fulcrum it ought to be for the development of the country; the universities turning out half-baked graduates, who are at their best good at theories and abilities to cram and pass examinations and never the real act of solving real problems in the larger society. Nigeria graduates are either unemployable or have to cost employers additional training costs before they could become useful in the workplace. This ought not to be, but it is the reality of our country, precipitated on our leaders’ abandonment of the sector while they are busy tending and looking out for sectional interest.
What are the popular names in Nigeria of 2021? Nnamdi Kanu, Asari Dokubo, Sunday Igboho and the likes; and what are they popular for? Is it for the peace, unity or development they bring to the table for Nigeria? No! They are ethnically accepted celebrated hoodlum-turned champions, purportedly championing the courses of their respective ethnic interests. Where are the Nelson Mandelas, Mao Zedongs, Tunku Abdul Rahmans, George Washingtons of Nigeria? Where are the Gani Fawehinmis who worked and fought for Nigeria as a nation and not to please their personal interest or that of their ethnic nationalities? We are severely short of men and women who will prioritise Nigeria above every other consideration. Regrettably even the majority of the national leaders we have been having, think first of what they could do for their own people while in control of power before considering what they should do for Nigeria as leaders of Nigeria.
So today, we have become embroiled in insecurity that we could not fathom a way out of; we wonder why the nation’s security outfits were incapable of sweeping off the bandits just a go; why the Boko Haram wings could not just be clipped; why kidnapping could not once and for all crushed in the country. We need not wonder too far. We have learned how to kill, maim and make settlements across the nation uninhabitable over the last sixty years via incessant ethnic clashes with no any fruitful resolutions by our leaders. Do we prefer to pretend we do not know that more Nigerians had in the past and till now lost their lives to ethnic clashes than to all of the operations of Boko Haram, present banditry and kidnapping put together? We learnt how to kill and maim without remorse while perpetrating our desires for ethnic and religious superiority. Coupled with other exigency factors, we have metamorphosed to another level of killing and maiming in the ongoing insecurity in the country.
Do we have a way out of this trap of toxic ethnicity, I doubt. With each passing day, we get more engaged and entrapped in the act. Every now and then, a new Sunday Igboho is produced; a new agitation for ethnic freedom is created; a new frontal for enmity, disunity and cold war is opened; and the voices speaking for the nation are but few and already overshadowed. Maybe God will consider us worthy of certain inventions with time.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr, “The richer we have become materially, the poorer we become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.” When would we begin to learn the less sophisticated art of loving one another across the barriers of ethnic nationalities and religious differences?
As potent as ethnicity is, so also is religion as a co-factor responsible for the current realities of instability, decadence, and disunity of the Nigeria nation. I am religious; I believe in the connection with the divine through the instruments of religious worship. I have no issue whatsoever with any religious belief because I do not share that belief. But I have all the problems with what religion has become to Nigerians and what the practice of it has done to the unity and prosperity of the country.
Two things fundamentally became wrong with religion in Nigeria; one, it lost its potency as a tool for instilling morals; and secondly, it becomes, perhaps one of the most potent political tools in the hands of politicians in the country. Summarily, religion has become a hack, a business; a money-making venture, so much that one the lyrics of the famous Fela easily comes to mind with the point that the religious leaders now have prioritised living in affluence above raising a generation that fears God. How can we have in a country that has ten times as many religious houses than manufacturing industries, also parade this much number of societal deviants, criminals and misfits? Religion in the country has totally ignored morals. After the street thugs and rogues, the religion leaders come next in the classification of readymade tools in the hands of politicians and elements who feed off the citizens. Pulpits and floors of religious houses have been turned into campaign grounds for politics and politicians; preachers and imams now go all the way to cajole their flocks to bend to a particular political affiliation. While the churches and mosques need leaders who will uphold morality and with the fear of God, they have instead produced, not in a few numbers, men who are in love with power, publicity and the financial gains of political relevancies and affiliations.
And more worrisome, politicians having recognised the innate capacity of religion as a tool for assuming control of a population as much as creating a deadly frontal support base, have gone relentless, activating and mobilising the same across the country, until toxic religious competition becomes our undoing as a country. We cannot continue along this direction; and it is high time we retraced our determinations and create the needed religious harmonies needed for a united Nigeria nation. What is happening currently in Kwara state is practically uncalled for. When states should be concentrating on discussing developmental agenda, we are at this age and time disseminating our energy and resources on school apparel. This is odd and not the way to go, but unfortunately represents the true reality of Nigeria society and government priorities. The state in question which is doing poorly academically is not concerned about how to improve the quality and performance of the state education sector but sees school apparel as a priority.
Ethnicity and religion, as potent as they seem to be would not have become the existential threats they are to the systems of the country today, if not for a third and most potent manipulator of the two as a weapon for personal aggrandizement. The reality is that everywhere globally, there are always periodic ethnic and religious bickering, but it is worrisome only when it becomes constant and spreads without abating. Very early in the life of the Nigeria nation, politicians recognised the potency of administering the duo of religion and ethnicity as divisive tools to gather regional support, create hatred for oppositions, win elections and distract attention from their non-performances as political leaders.
So it turns out that politicians schemed, induced and fueled ethnic intolerance and religious anger to maintain chaotic systems that support their desires and improve their chances of winning elections in the country. The list is endless; politicians cultivated the so-called fulanisation rhetoric as a bid to upturn the direction of the 2019 elections in the country, and the narrative was given publicity enough to ring across the corners of the country and set in motion effects that are still with us till now. That the fulanisation rhetoric, credited to ex-president Obasanjo, fantasised and spread by PDP is a contributor to increasing insecurity in the country, cannot be brushed aside. It was a script that individuals and groups could lap on to and begin acting out after the elections.
They all have the same denomination; IPOB agitations, coming from a man who spent time supporting a particular political party, and slowed down again right in the middle of his agitation to support again a candidate from the same political party. We saw the IPOB leader openly romancing and holding meetings with other national political and social nuisances, who were also ace members of the same political party he silently supported. ‘RevolutionNow’ sprang up sometimes in 2019, led by a politician who just participated in the nation’s presidential election and lost woefully; a politician who had immediately congratulated the winner of the election and seriously hoped for an opportunity to be appointed into the administration in some capacity, and a politician, who just merely few months into the administration and immediately it became clear there is no space for him saw the need to bring about a revolution in the country. He wanted more popularity or, perhaps, he was paid and set to heat up the system and set the incumbent Administration on a rocky start – second term – with Nigerians. With just these few preceding instances, we saw what politicians are willing to do in the name of playing the game of politics and what their actions as much as inactions are doing to the sanctity, peace and unity of the country. The same Sowore as at today, acted beautiful dramas in courts, got expelled from his party for gross allegations of malpractices and corruption, and he is seeing past followers coming out to lament and regret their stupidity at believing he was fighting a sincere cause. He was not; he was taking advantage of the known vulnerability of Nigerians to wage in political controversies that are current.
We, then at a time, had the ENDSARS movement that was reportedly hijacked from Segalink, a social media influencer, that was the sincere mastermind of the movement. He was said to be in the payroll of some gullible Dubai politicians who have and continue to turn Nigeria youths against the country with the exerting influence of money they dole out to our youths. Bent on creating a dent on the massive social and infrastructural developmental achievements of the Muhammadu Buhari-led APC, the witnessed ENDSARS nationwide protests was planned and implemented. The president, well aware of their intention and non-willing to allow them have their way, assent to their demands even before they are done making the demands, but they would not stop because they are not interested in an end to SARS; they wanted the government to respond in arms, they wanted the Obasanjo style response that will unleash the Police and Army on the protester and give them the scenario they wanted to show the global community. The rest is history; the purported massacre without evidence of actual victims, the wanton destruction of properties and national monuments, the global disparaging of the country, and now the infighting that is exposing the reality of the ENDSARS personalities are few of the takes from the saga.
And now, we have Sunday Igboho and his Kanu-styled Oduduwa Republic secession; a seasoned PDP member since 1999 is now ‘the voice of the people’ demanding a secession he knows would only cause harm to the people, not because he or his handlers want secession or the peace of the nation, but to commence the process of a possible takeover of the region for their party in the, yet, distant 2023. We have seen deaths and destruction because of his actions, and maybe we will still see more.
Boko Haram, banditry, kidnapping, corruption, social and financial poverty and developmental stagnations are indisputable realities of Nigeria for a while now, and despite current attempts at addressing them, will continue to stay with us. They are the normal in a society and system as divided as ours and filled with elements that are bent on taking advantage of the ills of the system to better their personal lives and take from the system. We would not overcome the aforementioned via our military forces, or mere government desire to get results; regardless of what effort we made, until we see ethnicity and religious strifes for what they are and begin the process of disarming politicians of these tools, we are only deceiving ourselves.
We may choose to ignore it, but see them all; IPOB, #ENDSARS, Sunday Igboho, #RevolutionNow, are all easily traced down to the same source: a strong affiliation to opposition political parties. And they all incite and hope to reap the mass ethnicity, religious and political affiliations based on anger and resentment from the citizens to further a selfish cause – not in the interest of the people or the country.
I have repeatedly heard the rumours of politicians being the forces behind most of the insecurity incidents in the country; as the sponsors of banditry, kidnapping and even the insurgencies against the country to maintain a national unrest as a tool for winning elections. I do not want to believe this is true and I so much hope it is not. But did the Benue state events before the 2019 elections not showed us how possible that could be? An election propagated and won on the back of orchestrated local violence and killings against the citizens of the state.
This week, I am going to ask this question as a food for thought for all of us; who is on the side of Nigeria? Perhaps all of us! How then can we expect the change that is synonymous to a caring society, of a united people in our present divisive, hate-filled Nigeria? We would not be done on social media expressing our disdain and hatred for the country and waking up to reality – looking for the wishful result of a united effort to grow a nation. It just does not work that way.
GOD BLESS THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA!