We have had good times as well as bad periods. The difference between then and now is that the bad times did not occur with the rapidity it is happening today. Forget the bold face and bravado some display, beyond that are fears and doubts about events in our nation and what these hold for its future. Nigerians are truly troubled and that is because of what they see. The social relations among the component parts is bad and in fact appear to be at the lowest ebb. The source of this problem can be correctly laid at the feet of the ruling class, who stop at nothing to hold ethnic and religious flags high, continuously doing so in spite of the harm this has caused the nation and her people. Issues of rivalry, religious and ethnic contentions among component parts are nothing new. Read history books, most of the countries we call developed had their own baptism of fire along these lines.
The difference between them and us is the approach. Whenever there were agitations, those nations did not waste their times trying to ascertain whether the voice was Esau’s and the hand Jacob’s; rather they had a world view which suggested that inside every agitation could be found a fundamental flaw and inside it also is the seed of progressive national transformation. I agree with that mindset; no agitation or advocacy would thrive to the point of attracting support, becoming visible and moving to the point of sustainability if there is no validity in its claim or pursuit. If American society, for instance, had listened to a few, especially the benefiting class, and held down the blacks as slaves till today, everybody agrees that the nation would not have grown to the point of becoming a world power.
Today we have succeeded in destroying the Northeast both in human and material terms. The reason is not because a group of deviant citizens decided to stage an uprising or was it because the state unjustly attacked the group and killed their leader. No, the reason can be located in careless and reckless approach to serious challenges of nationhood that has become the hallmark of various governments in this nation. In the case of the Northeast we branded the deviants as religious fundamentalists and since a name determines approach, we labeled them personae non grata and the next thing was to militarily assault them. We thought that would bring peace but more than 10 years now the fight is still on, consuming lives and properties as well as taking a huge toll on national finance and cohesion. Today, I am not sure how many Nigerians know who members of Boko Haram are; who their sponsors are and what they actually want.
We have negotiated with them resulting in partial release of some the abducted Chibok girls. This has raised a cardinal question: if you can negotiate with them to effect the release of victims, how come we cannot elevate the process to include possible compromises and consensus to save the nation from further unnecessary bloodletting and general instability which flows from it?
If our leaders have the requisite ability for constructive engagement, it would have been the nation’s forte and by now it would have been somewhat of a state policy, which successive administrations would have seen the need to always deploy. That way, some of the complicated challenges we have would not have been or found fertile soil to grow into the monster they have become. As Martin Luther King, Jnr, rightly observed and validated by history, ”Violence or force solves no problem, it rather creates a new and complicated one and throws up successive new generations who would live in desolate days and nights of bitterness within an established legacy of dislike and chaos.” Ibrahim el Zak’zaky, leader of the Muslim Shiites in Nigeria was said to be growing wings. Our answer to that was to unleash the military and by the time the whole macabre dance ended, 400 lives had been extinguished for no just cause. A development that would have been excellently handled administratively. Vice President Osinbajo’s diplomatic shuttle to Niger Delta and the results he got is a pointer to what constructive engagement can do.
Two weeks ago the Nigerian army was moved into the Southeast and they began operations in Abia State. Some have described it as invasion, unleashing, storming and militarization, even though I know the implication of giving a tag. In making a nation what should concern us most should be the system, the structures, policies and procedure and if we take all these together we would quickly discover that there are things enemies of our nation pushed the president to do on this matter which he might not have done if he had the benefit of wider counsel.
The controversy surrounding when to deploy soldiers, against whom, to do what and the procedure seem to be a very weighty matter, which we must find answers to in the interest of good governance. The military’s usurpation of job assignment (proscription) is very suggestive and exposes some tardiness associated with this exercise.
Government has the responsibility to maintain law and order but achieving it through excessive application of force is not ideal. If deviants can be seen to be maltreated and dehumanized, they can also be arrested and taken to court. It is time we find spilling of blood and termination of innocent lives repulsive and work to prevent such occurrences. It is also time those who give advice to advise well. Pursuing national development from a narrow perspective would always throw up bigger combustions.
Many believe that the government and the nation would have had high moral grounds against the Southeast if amid the cries of exclusion the zone was given the positions of the Secretary to the Government of Federation (SGF) and at least one security chief. There is need to also take a look at the outcome of the past national conferences or convene another.
Whatever is the case, round table discussion has become more pertinent than it ever was. Building a nation is not without its challenges, what is required is not violence or force but application of the finest kind of rationalization, tolerance, patience and the spirit of give and take.