THOSE who want to know why there is a rash of separatist agitations in Nigeria today need to do just one thing. They should examine the character and characteristic of the man who sits atop as the country’s president. If they do, they will readily recognise that the problem does not lie with the people. It resides in the personality of the president. The facts of the matter are all too clear. We stumbled into a presidency led by a revanchist, who cannot function in an egalitarian set-up. Our president is out to appropriate the spoils of war maximally.
The Buhari persona is a study in revisionism. Since the end of the Biafran hostilities more than four and a half decades ago, Nigeria has never had a leader that is so insistent on reversing the gains of the past. Whereas those before him made attempts at integration, our president is the harbinger of disintegration. Ironically, he is insisting on a non-negotiable Nigeria. That is the problem. Our president is living in the past. He thinks that we are in Nigeria of the 1960s. He does not recognise that the world, including Nigeria, has undergone through a lot of metamorphosis. You can no longer decree unity. In a modern setting, unity is earned. It is not forced. Our president still relies so much in the force of arms. He is not interested in the human element. He will not humanise governance. It does not matter to do so. For him, people must be whipped into line.
It still beats the imagination how Nigerians took the Buhari tendencies, which he exhibited during his first coming as a thing of the past. While enforcing his War Against Indiscipline (WAI) campaign between 1984 and 1985, Buhari trampled upon people’s basic rights. During that period, he ordered whip-wielding soldiers to whip Nigerians into line. They must form orderly queues. His economics, which The Economist of London called Buharism, was weird and bizarre. Instead of letting the currency depreciate in the face of trade deficit, he tried to fix prices and ban ‘unnecessary’ imports. He expelled 700,000 migrants in the hope that, that would create jobs for Nigerians. That was maximum rulership in a world that is moving towards liberalism. Little wonder that The Economist described his reign as head of state as “nasty, brutish, and mercifully, short.”
In choosing who will lead them at this point, Nigerians did not look back in time. If they did, they would easily have noticed that Buhari does not have the temperament for accommodation and integration. He is more interested in conquest than anything else. A bird’s eye view of the country’s successive leadership since the end of the Civil War will suffice.
At the cessation of hostilities in 1970, Yakubu Gowon, the war leader and Head of State, tried his hands on some sensitivity. He tried to give the vanquished the impression that they were still part of the Nigerian equation. That was why he placated their ego with the no victor, no vanquished declaration. Regardless of its vacuousness, the mantra gave the vanquished something heart-warming, even if momentarily. That was diplomacy. That was sensitivity on the part of Gowon.
Murtala Muhammed did not do badly. The war ravaged Biafran heartland had something to remember him for. He freed the territory from claustrophobia with the creation of Imo and Anambra States. Some local musicians of the time had fond memories of his reign, as captured in their songs. Many of them berated Dimka for assassinating him.
Shehu Shagari stepped in without bitterness. Apart from the fact that his second in command hailed from the conquered territory, he showed the people unforgettable magnanimity. He pardoned Ojukwu, Biafra’s war leader, and allowed him to return to the country heroically. Nothing can be more remarkable than that.
Biafrans have something to remember Ibrahim Babangida for. When he mistakenly devalued the Igbo nation structurally by giving the Eastern minorities more states than the majority Igbo through the creation of Akwa Ibom State in 1987, the people drew his attention to the anomaly. Babangida listened. And by 1991, he split Imo and Anambra into four states. That was a sensitive president at work.
Sani Abacha had something to commend him. He set up the National Constitutional Conference of 1994-1995. As Head of State, Abacha implemented aspects of the conference report. It was the report of the conference that gave us the six geopolitical zones that we operate today. In 1996, Abacha gave Nigeria six new states, each from a geopolitical zone. That was equity in action.
Abdusalami Abubakar’s was a transition government. He did not play games with us. He simply acted out the script that brought him to power and handed over to a democratically elected president within eleven months. That was honour. That was forthrightness.
Olusegun Obasanjo’s eight-year reign was a coat of many colours. But one thing was noteworthy. He did not give any section of the country cause to accuse him of sectionalism or discrimination. He was sensitive to the different shades of colours that make up the country.
As president, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had no record of discrimination against any section of the country. If anything, he made deliberate efforts to forge bonds of mutual coexistence and give one and all a sense of belonging. That was why he granted amnesty to the Niger Delta militants.
Goodluck Jonathan was the father of them all. He gave Nigeria his all. He relinquished power to the amazement and consternation of all, including Buhari. He did so for the love of country. He made that sacrifice in order that Nigeria would continue to hang together.
Regrettably, Buhari has reversed the gains made over the years by other Nigerian leaders. Some 30 years after our first experience with him, those who installed Buhari swore in the name of anything imaginable that the man has changed. Little did they know that the man is stuck to the past. Whereas Nigerian leaders are working towards mending fences and patching cracked walls, Buhari is insisting on widening the gulf. He is insisting on the spoils of war. He sees a segment of the country, as a conquered territory that must be held down at all times. The victor must derive maximum and limitless benefit from his conquest. Time has not worn that mentality of his thin. He is doing so because he thinks that his mission is to perpetuate the hegemony that once tore the country apart. That explains why he does not want to touch the report of the National Conference set up by Jonathan. He does not want an egalitarian Nigeria.
Since Buhari has cocooned himself in the island of oppression and repression, some people are trying to remind him that he cannot eat his cake and still have it. You cannot sow whirlwind and reap strawberries. Those who seek to trample on other people’s basic freedoms must be prepared for the inevitable backlash. That is the problem with Buhari’s Nigeria.