President Muhammadu Buhari returned to the country on Saturday, to a tumultuous welcome from ecstatic citizens. But, while the President was away, so many things have happened. And as the saying goes, “plenty water has passed under the bridge.”
What are the issues that the President would need to confront or that confront the president as he settles down to the business of governance? If, as he says, he has kept abreast of happenings at home, I am sure he would have known about the renewed clamour for restructuring by some sections of the country; the October 1 quit order by one section to another section of the country; the poverty ravaging the land; and the mutual distrust of component parts of the country, among others.
While he may not have to take on all the issues in one fell swoop, since he certainly needs time to settle down, however, he would sooner than later have to confront them.
Earlier in the year, June 12, precisely, I wrote a piece on what I believe are the germane issues affecting and afflicting our nation, and why we should tackle them urgently, if we will continue to live in peace and harmony.
I am re-presenting the piece below, for the attention of Mr. President, since he was away when it was first published…
Federation of the angry!
If you are a Nigerian living in Nigeria, or you had your gaze hooked on happenings in the fatherland, you would think Armageddon may well be nigh. You would believe that the cataclysm prophesied by the Americans is about to happen. And if you are the fearful or lily-livered, you would fear and tremble at some of the volcanic eruptions emitting from the mouths of some of our brothers.
No one can blame the perplexed citizenry. No Nigerian who witnessed or read about the fratricidal feud, which ravaged the country for 30 crazy months, would not be worried at the way things are going, and the fear that things could snowball into something less palatable.
How can we have a situation where both the youths and, sadly, the elders are talking hate and anarchy at the same time? What kind of nonsense is going on? This is not good for our country. These are not the kind of statements that build a strong, virile nation.
If anything, Nigeria is sitting on a time bomb, which could explode sooner than we think, except we call the mongers of hate and drummers of war to order. Then, urgently call a conference, meeting, round table or whatever name we wish, to iron out our differences.
We can’t continue to sweep the issues that challenge our nationhood under the carpet. We can’t continue to pretend that all is well, when all is far from being well. We can’t continue to patch things up, hoping that, by pretending and hoping, our troubles will be over. By so doing, we will only be postponing the doomsday.
What am I getting at? The agitation in the South-East and the response by the northern youths, and some of the elders, are quite baffling, but not altogether surprising. The altercation clearly shows the misgivings, suspicion and mistrust that have characterised the relationships among Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities, especially the major tribes in the country.
For far too long, these sentiments (suspicion and mistrust) have been suppressed, instead of being confronted. For too long, we have had parts of the country in muffled grumblings, sometimes loud, but oftentimes ignored and shoved aside, as inconsequential rantings. But, problems as experience tells us, are not wished away, but solved.
Nigeria’s successive leaderships have continued to play the ostrich. They talk soothing about the indissolubility and sovereignty of Nigeria not negotiable; that we must continue to live as one nation. But, their governance and leadership style often promote factors that question the same sovereignty they claim to champion.
When a leader champions ethnicity and cronyism, is he promoting the concept of one, indivisible country? You can check the records of those who have ruled our country to date, what do you find? Largely clannish, sectarian leaders! Are these the ingredients that build a united nation? A nation of equal citizens, united in the dream of nurturing and building a land of peace and prosperity?
Nigeria is going through this terrible pass because we have blatantly refused to confront three key issues that strangulate and divide us: Equity, justice and fair play. No nation can have peace or make progress, without fair play, without equity, without justice, no matter how far it pretends to go. That’s at the core of the current crisis.
Every part of the country believes it is being short-changed. The Niger-Delta that produces the largest chunk of the wealth of the nation, can’t seem to reconcile its squalid condition to the amazing wealth that has been taken from its soil; the South-East can’t understand the reason it continues to be treated like second class citizens in the allocation of the nation’s resources and political positions; the South-West demands that to each region a commensurate allocation of what it contributes to the national till, and the North is aggrieved that other parts of the country continue to deride it as parasitic, when it believes it had in the past also chipped in its wealth to national growth.
So, what we have had since 1960 is a federation of the angry. Every part is aggrieved. Every part is feeling cheated and short-changed. That’s the reason when a leader or President gets to power from a section of the country he tries to satisfy his people, because their turn to chop has come. And the other sections feel left out. And agitation starts. And the cycle continues.
Indeed, in real sense, what we have had are tribal and regional leaders posturing as national leaders; leaders who see the country from the lens of tribe and region, rather than nation. The bitter truth is that we have Nigeria without Nigerians. That is the stark reality facing us. That is the reason ethnic tensions are easy to ignite once some rabble-rouser or ethnic jingoist in the East or North or West, lights the flame.
The way out of this malady, this insanity creeping in to eclipse our tottering nation, is simple: Call a frank and urgent discussion of the federating parts of the union. Yes, we have had different conferences and talk shops, I agree. But, what’s wrong in talking? And then, acting on the recommendations of the talk.
And as I have argued here in the past, “If we must talk, let’s talk seriously, we must be free to talk all the talk. No area must be designated, ‘no go.’ Let the talk centre on the totality of our being, our nationhood. Let us be free to discuss if we wish to live as one or separately. There should be no hypocrisy or pretence. Of course, I want to be part of one, big, united family. But in a union of perpetual acrimony and mutual distrust, we must be free to discuss our nationhood and terms of our union. You may be shocked to find that many of the delegates will vote to remain one united and indivisible country, despite the scare-mongering and sabre-rattling. But, let us be free to freely discuss.”
We do not need to shy away from the burning issues, or sweep them under the carpet. It is because we have always run away from crucial conversations or failed to take action on the hydra-headed issues confronting our nation that we are fast driving down the precipice, the edge of the cliff. A little shove, we are in the deep, in the ocean, the valley of eternal regret. God forbid!