By Olusegun Adeniyi
Last Sunday, the charismatic ‘House on the Rock’ Pastor, Paul Adefarasin told his congregation that no country has survived two civil wars. He warned that if the current situation degenerates, nobody can foretell the consequences. After calling on the government and other stakeholders to come together to address the challenge, Adefarasin then added a controversial statement that has gone viral: ”I bring you greetings from Pastor Ifeanyi (his wife) who is busy taking care of the frontier of our world and preparing our escape route. If you don’t have a plan B… I know you have faith. I have faith too but I have a plan B. With technology I can speak to you from anywhere in the world. Get yourself a plan B. Whether that’s an Okada to Cameroon or flying boat or speed boat as we call them to Seme Border or a hole in the ground, get your plan B because these people are crazy. They are nutters. The whole bunch of them. And watch the signs because it can happen like this. God forbid!”
With insurgents, bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers and sundry other criminals seizing the national landscape and terrorising our country, it is no surprise that many are fast losing hope in the capacity of Nigeria to muddle through this time, as we did in such moments in the past. We cannot blame them. When burglars feel so emboldened as to make ‘foolish attempts’ within the precincts of the presidential villa and in the home of the Chief of Staff to the president, you know ‘water don pass garri’ to borrow a popular street lingo. But whatever may be the situation in the country, the reality is that only a tiny elite has the opportunity and resources for ‘Plan B’. For the vast majority of our people, there is no place to run.
The security challenge in the country is of course mind boggling. What compounds the problem is the failure of leadership that has ensured we are more divided at a time we should all rally to confront our common enemy. That is the import of Tuesday’s resolution by the 17 southern governors who met in Asaba, Delta State. In a 12-point communique read by its Chairman, Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, the governors banned open cattle grazing in all the 17 southern states and demanded the establishment of state police to tackle the growing insecurity in the country. They also urged the president to address the nation, be fairer in political appointments and convoke a national dialogue for the purpose of restructuring the country for “true federalism”. Noteworthy is their observation that “the incursion of armed herders, criminals, and bandits into the Southern part of the country has presented a severe security challenge such that citizens are not able to live their normal lives including pursuing various productive activities leading to a threat to food supply and general security.”
A former Nasarawa State Governor who also once chaired the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), Senator Abdullahi Adamu, has accused the Southern governors of habouring a secessionist agenda. “We have had this from them at various times as individuals. They have the right to express opinions on governance in Nigeria but what I have difficulties in understanding is why, (apart from being members of the national council of state, they have a forum for governors…) this secessionist attitude and why this separatist attitude? Why did they now aggregate themselves as southern governors? This is very secessionist, separatist and this is most unfair to the collective will of the country,” he said.
Adamu has a point. A sectional approach to a national problem is dangerous, especially given our current situation. But who do we blame if the southern governors play to public sentiment in their domains? It should concern the presidency that six of the governors who signed that statement belong to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In a crisp tweet yesterday, Director and Head, Africa Practice, Euroasia Group, Ms Amaka Anku summed up the tragedy of Nigeria: “Zero leadership from the federal government, leaving a huge vacuum for partisans and extremists to fill. State governors playing to the gallery to distract from their own failures—convenient to deflect attention with meaningless shows of ‘action’”.
Meanwhile, there is hardly any commentator in the Southwest today, including the roadside mechanic, who will not tell you that the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo reportedly said that Nigeria is ‘a mere geographical expression’. And they will use that to give a lecture on how sectional this administration is and that the only way forward is to ‘partisan’ the country. Well, an interesting document I found in January was Chief Awolowo’s first address as Action Group leader on 28th April 1951. At the party’s conference in Owo, Ondo State, Awo said about our country on that day 70 years ago: “It is true we speak different languages; but it does not require any laborious research to discover that, broadly speaking, we originated from common stock; and that in any event our political and cultural associations have been of such long standing as to make us look upon one another as close relations. And above all, we are Nigerians whom both Nature and Constitution have joined together. It is within our power to remain together.”
The critical point in Awo’s statement is that staying together as a country is a choice. And like all nations, it is something we have to work for with a leadership that can rally all stakeholders. Can Adamu, in all honesty, say that President Muhammadu Buhari has promoted that cause given the way our diversity is being mismanaged by deliberate clannishness and in-your-face nepotism? That is what has encouraged the rise of ethnic entrepreneurs, especially in the South. It is also why some failed governors who ‘speak for their people’ remain popular despite their ineptitude.
Ordinarily, there is nothing significant about the call by Southern governors to restructure the country. When the forum met the last time in October 2017 in Lagos, their host at the time, former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode said they were committed to the indivisibility of Nigeria but sought ‘true federalism’ and devolution of powers as the basis for the sustainability of the unity and economic prosperity of the country. So, in effect, the forum has only joined the current debate on the subsisting pseudo-federal system in the country by reiterating its earlier position. But the tone, content, timing and context of Tuesday’s statement is quite loaded.
There is a notion that the constitution is at the root of the internecine strife that has worsened Nigeria’s social and economic conditions and persistently threatened our corporate existence. I believe that the malaise is much deeper and I am going to address that another day. Afterall, a constitution, according to American Emeritus Law Professor and Constitutional scholar, Herman Schwartz, is usually written within a specific timeframe, most often to deal with immediate problems. Yet “overhanging all documents written at a specific time and place is the fact that it is impossible to foretell the future—and the future will always be different from what is anticipated.” So, while it is good to re-examine the structure of our country, nobody should be under any illusion that it would resolve all the many contradictions that have combined to hold Nigeria down.
The absence of responsible leadership at practically all levels and a docile citizenry are a bigger challenge. As I have said on this page several times, Nigeria has for years been a state in retreat given the way government has become removed from ordinary citizens. It began with public utilities when people had to buy generators to provide their own electricity. Then we moved to digging boreholes to provide our water. Then we subverted the public schools for private schools of all hues. While our health institutions followed this tragic decline and neglect, everybody started providing their own security by erecting iron gates and employing security guards. Communities began relying on vigilantes. So, members of the Nigerian elite have always been good at making ‘Plan B’ rather than ensuring that government lives up to its responsibilities. No nation develops with that kind of cynical disposition to national challenges that ought to be confronted. Our current situation is compounded by a deficit of trust in Abuja. That is the crux of the matter.
In every sense, this is an anxious moment for Nigeria. But the lack of a rallying figure is what makes the situation dangerous. Under the system of government in operation, the president is expected to be the captain of the ship. That ship is now in serious turbulence at a period the chief re-assurer of the nation faces citizens in perpetual doubt. The contempt for equity in the distribution of opportunities in Nigeria’s diverse society is the main reason the country is now so badly divided. It is an emotional issue that was ignored until ‘freedom fighters’ seized the narrative in the south. Whatever may be anybody’s misgivings, that was the point underscored by the Southern governors in their statement on Tuesday: “In deference to the sensitivities of our various peoples, there is need to review appointments into federal government agencies (including security agencies) to reflect federal character as Nigeria’s overall population is heterogenous.”
What the Southern governors have done is to use their collective position to express what many top APC members from three zones in the country, (including serving Ministers) often whisper to whoever cares to listen about the lopsidedness in the distribution of opportunities under President Buhari. This is despite the dubious presidential statistics that awards 54.2 percent of all federal appointments to the South and only 45.8 percent to the North. Those who peddle imaginary numbers are yet to answer the questions I posed two years ago. Which appointee takes critical decisions: The DG/CEO of an agency superintending thousands of employees and resources that exceed those of ten ministries combined or a member of the board of a moribund federal parastatal that hardly meets? Put more directly, in a system based on patronage, how do you compare a special assistant in the office of the Vice President with the Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) or Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS)? Besides, how do you concentrate critical appointments in the security sector only in one section of the country in a plural society without creating problems?
To compound the challenge, the Freudian slip by President Buhari shortly after assuming office in 2015—that those who gave him only 5 per cent of the votes in the election that brought him to power should not expect the same attention and patronage as those who gave him 97 per cent of the votes—has turned out to be the defining ethos of his administration. So, regardless of whatever we may see on the surface (and I have said this before), what is fueling the crisis of division in the country today is not the criminal tendencies of some poor herders (who are no different from other opportunistic criminals across the country) but rather the mutual ethno-religious suspicions that have been allowed to fester because of the mismanagement of our diversity. When opportunistic zealots who use religion as a ladder to power get caught in the web of their own “moral vigilantist chauvinism” (apology to my friend, Leena Hoffman), the right thing to do is relieve them of national responsibility. But under this government, that is expecting too much. In fact, the more divisive a public official is, the more the inclination to keep such a character in office.
From the examples of many failed states, when ethnic or/and religious differences are magnified in a milieu where there is a preponderance of guns in the hands of young people with little or no formal education, it is usually better to redress both real and perceived grievances before they accumulate and fester. When those in charge of affairs are accused—even if wrongly—of promoting an agenda at variance with their oath of office, it is easy for unscrupulous politicians to manipulate feelings of relative deprivation, especially when benefits (including political as well as economic) decline and expectations increase. That is what is happening in Nigeria today.
I saw this problem coming very early in the life of this administration. In my intervention, I referenced a popular story which I said would serve the president and I will repeat it as my final word today. In one village was an all-knowing legend who had answers for every question and solutions to every problem. But also in this village was a small boy who took delight in confounding people and he was determined to demystify the legend. One morning, the small boy went to the old man with his hands clasped behind his back, holding a live chick. “I hope there is no problem my boy” the old man asked on sighting the boy. “No problem Sir”, replied the boy, “but I am here to put your knowledge to test. I am holding a chick in my hands and I want you to tell me whether it is alive or dead.”
The plan was that if the old man said it was alive he would squeeze the chick dead before presenting it and if he said it was dead, the boy would then present it alive. But the old man was wise to the plot. Smiling, he said: “whether the chick is alive or dead is a simple problem my son. The answer is in your hands.”
The message from the legend is simple to grasp in the context of what ails our country today. Whether we have a united Nigeria where citizens can maximize their potential regardless of where they come from or retreat to the Hobbesian state where citizens begin to look for ‘Plan B’ as a way of escape from self-inflicted tragedies, President Buhari is the master of our collective destiny: The answer is now in his hands!
To all my Muslim readers, Eid Mubarak!
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