From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
In this interview, Prof. Armstrong Adejo of the Benue State University (BSU), insists that anyone who is saying Nigerians should defend themselves is only beating the drums of anarchy. The professor of history also noted that the negative consequences of disintegration of the country far outweigh its benefits, hence the need for all hands to be on deck to ensure the country remains indivisible. He spoke on other salient national issues.
Recently, Nigeria celebrated it’s Democracy Day on June 12 amidst high level of insecurity. How would you analyse June 12 and issues surrounding it?
Well, my own perception of the whole issue from the historical angle is that each time we seem to have some kind of flashpoints in our history, there is an indication that all is going to just give up. If we look back, in 1962 in the Western region, the matter of census and its related political mission came up; the Action Group as well as the Northern People’s Congress,
the politics between Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Tafawa Balewa came to a crest within that period and everybody thought it was over with Nigeria; if you were in the Western region, you would think the world was giving up. Yes it was. And within the same period, in the Middle Belt, we had very serious uprising particularly in the Tiv area. People started fighting each other in the name of defending political parties and defending personalities. So also it was in the West. At those points, anybody who lived through that period thought that Nigeria was going to break. But we passed through and went through. Then we entered the Nigerian military coup that took place in January 1966. Right from the North all the way down to the Southern part of the country was ripped apart. People who were mature enough and who were politically exposed thought Nigeria was also going to disintegrate. Well, we managed and went into the civil war and that civil war was fought on
the fronts of trying to maintain and sustain one Nigeria and Biafra did not succeed. We passed through. In between, the military rule seemed to have managed to put Nigeria together because of the capacity of the use of brute force. And on that note, we have been able to sustain our unity and our sovereignty since 1966. When the June 12 matter came and the election was annulled, we still had cause to worry over the existence of Nigeria. And mind you, earlier, some kind of secret research that had been conducted in America was pointing to the fact that within a decade and a half, Nigeria was going to disintegrate into various ethnic nationalities. But we have withstood that. And I think that there is a divine purpose for that. A lot of people may not like to hear that in terms of holding this country together; one, that with the type of population we have in this country, if there is any disintegration, the spillover effect to all parts of Africa and the rest of the world will be monumental. And God has kept us together. Secondly, the type of character and the quality of minds that we have been producing in this country is such that we are a light and a torch to the rest of Africa and also humanity. Thirdly, even before the creation of Nigeria, the acculturation that began to take place in this country was such that nobody could have stopped it; long distance trade between the North and the South went on steadily. And in all parts of the country, it was clear that people were ready to integrate. And so, people were not surprised that we ended up as a country. And the question even in historical terms that some of us put is that which country of the world is not even artificial? Another thing is that unity is not a deliberate natural process; it is a historical process in terms
of deliberate efforts by the people to live together. And I think we have been able to do that in the last 60 years. And this is why when we watch again right from last year when we had this EndSARS protest, we know quite well that the period that Nigeria entered into, especially with the Covid-19 was such a tight period that all manifestations of our suffering began to come to the fore. And it wasn’t an isolated question. All parts of the world were experiencing that. But because of some certain flashpoints in our thinking and the historical agitations that have been building up, poverty became very clear; issues of political divisions and diversities became very clear, and everybody sat and started making noise at the same time. It was even difficult to hear anybody’s voice. People were saying disintegrate, others were saying restructuring without clear definition of what that restructuring means. Others were just saying no, it is not Nigeria that is the problem but it is we who are operating in it that have a problem. And so, it was a cacophony of voices. And like people have pointed out, these problems have come to a crest because of the level of criminality we are experiencing in this country. And you know, Nigeria has this welter of criminality because we have traveled round the whole world. We are a people who are very imbibing of virtually every culture in this world. Our consuming capacity and the taste of our consumption is such that we are a restless people. And because of this, everybody wants things to happen spontaneously.
But as it is now, do you think the President has what it takes to confront the issues currently plaguing this country?
I think he has what it takes but he has been so slow. When the issue of this criminality began, when the issue of herdsmen began, everybody expected that he would have confronted that directly and immediately even if it’s by words of action. But he was so silent over it and allowing the instruments of the organized security to tackle this. And the state security itself, because he is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, needed a proper direction. He didn’t provide that. There is no doubt about it. It is only now that he is coming out to say something more clearly and it is almost too late. Because a lot of people have formed a perception that he is not interested, and which is wrong because there is no leader in any part of the world, irrespective of what his political leaning and ideological dispositions are, would want to chip away any bloc of his country deliberately. But when you don’t act at the appropriate time, and given the nature of the cacophony of voices in this country, you know there is a lot of interpretation when there is no communication; people go into all rumour and that kind of rumour becomes a meal itself and an industry. And I think that is what has actually heightened the Nigerian perception. And secondly, either because of his nature of training, he doesn’t like statements that come from people as if it is a command. And I think as a transformed political leader, that should not be the issue at all. Even if voices are there that seem to command you as the Commander in Chief and you know it shouldn’t come from that angle, your own is to moderate it. If he had given a definite position to the military, to the Police and Civil Defense that this criminality must be treated as criminality, I think a lot of things wouldn’t have ballooned into what it is today. But I think we have a responsibility. When I think to reflect on it, a lot of people politically have taken advantage of that gap. Even those who have the capacity to address issues are transferring their own responsibility to the center which is wrong. Because like anybody knows, security is not a question of top down level but a diffused issue of tackling even from the bottom is more effective than talking about coming from the top. What I’m saying in essence is that governors, because of their political lineage and also because of their local allegiance which seem to be that some of them cannot even speak authoritatively against militants and kidnappers, they must look for an excuse. And the way they speak automatically engineers a lot of things. And if individuals start speaking the way they (governors) are speaking, automatically, you can imagine what will happen if publicly a highly politically exposed person would say if this does not come to Nigeria, Nigeria will not exist. You can imagine what must have taken place outside the public circle. And the young people are ready to imbibe this culture.
Now, we begin to hear about calls for self defence. But how can one begin to defend him or herself with maybe cutlass against an AK47-wielding criminal. Do you think that this call is not going to further plunge this country into more confusion?
Definitely, the call to arm is a potent force for a greater level of destabilization and violence. If each of us starts arming himself, we will even become a potent problem for the next neighbour, not even to talk about national issues. People raise certain solutions under emotion and under very difficult situation that seem to becloud what will happen tomorrow. We are in a tense situation and everybody is saying defend yourself; I think that is not a potent way to go. We must focus on the apparatus of the state. The government and its tentacles, whether at the sub national level, or central level, this task is for them. The constitutional role of government is to protect its people. Transferring that responsibility to the individual is an abdication of their responsibility. And it is a call to anarchy and I think nobody should support that. First, if we clear this problem today, people don’t seem to realize that the consequential issues of arming ourselves in this country will be even greater than what we are now facing because at the appropriate time when people no more have enemies, they will turn the same arm against their neighbours and Nigeria will become something else. This is what we should be looking at. And I think what we should even be thinking is not to call for individuals to arm themselves. Let the regions organise security outfits like what the South West has done in Amotekun or what the South East is doing if they’re sincere about what they are doing. Those are the outfits that can be legalised in such a way that they can be equipped with instruments of force, with materials that can confront the enemies. But by the time you start talking about the individuals, fine, the individual will arm it but he doesn’t need to be armed to fight the enemy that is on a wider circle. He will use that to fight his next neighbour tomorrow. And I think that is the point we should be making. Because Nigeria must survive.