A struggle for the soul of Nigeria

August 16, 2012
7 mins read

WHEN the Niger Delta toughie, Asari Dokubo, threatened a bloody war against Northern Nigeria, at a press conference in Abuja last week, he hinged that, amongst others, on the threat to impeach President Goodluck Jonathan, by the House of Representatives.

The fact that the motion was moved by Minority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, ACN, from Lagos State, did not move the mind of the Niger Delta lumpen; the impeachment motion, he argued, was part of a ‘Northern Agenda’ against the Ijaw president. Dokubo, therefore, threatened to teach the ‘arrogant North’ a lesson.

When his war starts, he boasted that the North will suffer, because he will block the North from the sea and cut off the supplies of fuel and food (!) from the region.

From lumpens to revered intellectuals, it is standard practice to accuse the North of ‘arrogance’, whenever individuals or groups from the region state their preferences about constitutional or governance issues in the country. It is acceptable when groups or individuals from the South agitate for ‘resource control’, ‘state police’, ‘50 per cent derivation’, recognition of ‘geo-political zones’ or Sovereign National Conference of ‘tribes’, in Nigeria.

Agitation and noisy advocacy

When they disturb us with the din of their agitation and noisy advocacy, they are not ‘arrogant’; no! Those are ‘progressive’ items of a typical Southern Nigerian intellectual, politician or lumpen agitator’s CV. If the North dares to state its preferences, it is excoriated; abused and labeled ‘conservative’; arrogant’; or exhibiting a ‘born to rule’ mentality, etc.!

In 1999, power was ceded to the South, and with the exception of Umaru Yar’Adua’s tenure, the North has effectively been on the margins of power (and I explore this narrative only guardedly and in the Nigerian elite manner of reducing power to the regional origins of the president of the country!); but given the way the region continues to be vilified and accused of responsibility for almost every crime of governance failure in Nigeria, one would be excused to assume 1999 didn’t happen.

Yet the North is marginal in the economy; it lost out in the bureaucracy and the conspiracy to isolate it from power remains constant. Those holding the knife and the yam, as a Hausa proverb puts it, cannot stop the blame game against Northern Nigeria.

It was that mindset, which accounted for Dokubo’s bellicose statement last week. It was an interesting week, which saw elements of Ogoniland declare ‘autonomy’ just as the Bayelsa government issued an Ijaw anthem! The state security apparatus seemed too busy questioning Pastor Tunde Bakare or stopping Nasir El-Rufai from boarding a flight to be able to stem the treasonable content of statements and actions from the Niger Delta. There is a heightened struggle for the soul of our country.

The Boko Haram insurgency has emboldened closet secessionist forces to ratchet up the noise for SNC of the ‘tribes’ of Nigeria. The anger of these forces was stoked when the Northern Governors’ Forum rejected state police and Alex Ekwueme’s geo-political arrangement. There is a simplistic assumption in many quarters, that these items are the magic bullets to shoot away the problems of Nigeria.

The narrative reduces Nigeria to the sum total of its ethnic composition, thus missing vital strands of the complexity of our country. The more they push the ethnic platform, the more our concrete realities of life defeat the thesis. When intellectuals from the South-West and South-East argue for the ‘geo-political zones’, in my view, it is fed from the assumed homogenous composition of their own ‘zones’. They never factor into their thesis, the complex ethnic mosaic in a place like Northern Nigeria.

They also ignore history and the territorial and multi-ethnic nature of the history of almost every major nation-building process in what became Nigeria. Those familiar with Nigeria’s complexity can appreciate the Northern rejection of a restructuring of our country on the basis of ethnicities or the so-called geo-political zones. Let me illustrate with my experience in broadcasting during the late 1980s and 1990s.

The old Kwara State, before the 1991 creation of Kogi and excision of Borgu, built local radio stations in Otite, near Okene, Egbe and Koro, near New Bussa, to expand the reach of Radio Kwara. Two events tied to these projects gave me the pause and allowed me to understand better, the nature of Nigeria. In 1990, then military president, Ibrahim Babangida, paid an official visit to Kwara State.

As part of the build up, I was assigned to broadcast from the New Bussa station, to sensitize the community. The station had programmes in Hausa, Bissayan, English and Fulfulde. On my second day at the station, I received a delegation from Agwara and Wawa.

They spoke the same language in the two towns as in New Bussa, but they complained about our presenter was from Bussa; that he regularly cast certain historical aspersions against the other communities.

They wanted me to convey to the authorities in Ilorin that they should either employ people from their own communities too, or better still, broadcast programmes only in Hausa, since all of them spoke Hausa and none can claim ownership of the language! Similarly, we commenced a weekly magazine programme for the Ogori and Magongo communities; they were the only two towns speaking their language in the old Kwara.

Fulfilling a social responsibility

An old photographer who worked in the Ministry of Information became presenter. Radio Kwara thought it had fulfilled social responsibility until a deputation from Magongo complained that our presenter, Olufemi Oki, only catered to the interest of Ogori. They assured it was incorrect to talk of Ogori/Magongo.

Yet they were the same people! It took the decision to alternate the presentation between an Ogori man and a Magongo individual, before we found respite. Such examples abound in many parts of our country. Those who reduce us to a sum total of ethnic groups or even more bizarrely ‘tribes’, ignore these dynamics.

Similarly, there are far more dialectically profound social forces underlining the realities of Nigeria today and these include the deepening class contradictions and the emergence of new urban-based, social forces, demystifying the ethnic paradigm, including class forces impacting upon rural Nigeria.

One of the most oft-cited arguments for a Sovereign National Conference, SNC, is the Constitutional Conferences of the 1950s which prepared Nigeria for Independence. Yet, even they were not organised on ethnic or ‘tribal’ basis. Nigerian political leaders as representatives of various political tendencies met to determine the shape of things at independence.

They were not representatives of ‘tribes’. It is indicative of the frightening and reactionary regression in our national space, that six decades after those conferences, members of the political elite who have creamed off unearned advantages from Nigeria as well as intellectuals who should be thinking for the country, have retreated into the cocoon of  ‘region’, ethnicities and ‘tribes’ to further their ambition to delegitimize our country.

Take just one example of this trend. Intellectuals like Ropo Sekoni, who used to teach at the University of Ilorin, now argue from the safe distance of an American university tenure, that a proposed Constituent Assembly, ostensibly charged with writing ‘a newly negotiated constitution by the peoples of Nigeria’, should reject the present federal constituencies, because ‘that is loaded in favour of the North’.

So ‘to avoid paralysis of Constituent Assembly, each of the six zones should send equal number of delegates to the conference(from Sekoni’s standpoint, democracy is no longer about population strength)’. As we shall see, such a ridiculous suggestion is a means to an end.

At this National Conference, almost like the proverbial market in the sky, that welcomes only bird traders (kasuwar sama sai tsuntsu, a Hausa proverb which is also rendered in Yoruba as ‘oja oju orun, eye nikan lolena’!), Ropo Sekoni said “proposals should be by 60 per cent of delegates votes”.

He then issued what the French call a coup-de-poing and the real secessionist basis of the entire thought train: “But states or regions (he is apparently confused about which is which at his Constituent Assembly!), that do not want to be part of the decision made by such majority should be given the opportunity to form their own country (s) without any penalty”!

So we should be dragged screaming and kicking, after millions had died in a Civil War, to preserve Nigerian unity, to a ‘Constituent Assembly’; ‘SNC’ or any such gathering, to become acquiescing witnesses at the unfurling of an elaborately prepared agenda by the Ropo Sekonis of this world for the dismemberment of Nigeria, from the safe remove of America!

He had titled the piece “Only the Nigeria that the North wants?” in The Nation newspaper of August 12, 2012. As usual, the bête noire is ‘the North’; but it was not what the North wanted but his own undisguised call for secession and dismemberment of the country, using an anarchic, undemocratic and badly thought out formula for a ‘Constituent Assembly’!

Such deluded thinking ignores those complex dynamics which govern the Nigerian condition and no serious region or political elites, certainly not the North, will be part of such a hypothetical conference that will allow ‘states or regions….to form their own country (s) without penalty”. Dream on then, dear Ropo Sekoni!

Nigerian situation

The Nigerian situation is very bad today; but in all that we see canvassed, the agitators have often stayed at the superstructural levels of constitution making, creation of new states, demands for regional autonomy and so on. These reflect longings by fractions of the ruling class for fiefdoms they can corner in parts of the country, to satisfy unending desires for prebends of looting.

The political economy escapes them. The imposition of neo-liberal capitalism; with the overthrow of public concern at the heart of governance, and its replacement with private licentiousness, seems okay for these fragmented elite groups. Chief Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir Ahmadu Bello, ran societies where the state was centrally deployed at the service of the Nigerian people. They were responsible and responsive to the yearnings of the Nigerian people.

Today, the state is an instrument of piracy in the hands of bandits who have become multi-billionaires; and which ex-governor today is not a billionaire? These are central issues which agitators for ‘SNC’, ‘regional autonomy’ and so on, have refused to put at the heart of their narrative. Most of the problems we face are located in the political economy; if we interrogate those issues more closely, we might discover the route to solving the secondary, superstructural contradictions they huff and puff so much about!


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