At the height of the ghoulish tyranny of the late General Sani Abacha in 1996, former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, formed a group to intercede for a nation then gliding rapidly towards the precipice. He named it Nigeria Prays. But before he did, he had to meet the dreaded dictator to explain the motive. “You never know what you could do that would lead you to jail,” Gowon quipped in an interview published by Daily Trust on September 13, 2015. “And I did not want to experience the mosquitoes in Kirikiri,”
After getting Abacha’s nod, the man who led Nigeria through a bitter civil war (July 6, 1967 – January 15, 1970) that claimed about one million precious lives, hit the road praying. Gowon and Nigeria Prays crisscrossed the country, seeking God’s intervention to the myriad problems threatening to obliterate Nigeria. I’m sure if Sani Abacha ever had a vague idea or heard a whisper that he would be part of that divine intervention, he would have caged Gowon in Kuje Prison and thrown the keys to the ocean. Somehow, the tyrant expired and Nigeria wobbled to its current democracy.
Now, not only is the democracy tottering, the lines of cohesion that bind Nigeria and Nigerians are also fraying dangerously. Indeed, the fault lines have become so thinned they may snap any moment unless our recuperating President, Muhammadu Buhari, and his team move fast to end the dangerous rhetorics spewing from both sides of the Niger. Never since the civil war have we seen or heard the type of perilous outbursts that presently saturate the social media, and gradually sipping into the conventional media.
While Nnamdi Kanu and the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) group have been vehemently insisting on a Biafra that must not only include the five south-eastern states but also the south-south without Edo State, the coalition of northern youth groups, which had given Igbos residing in the north an October 1, 2017 deadline to leave the region, has also maintained that the quit notice stays. These are despite entreaties by well-meaning Nigerians and some members of the international community urging caution.
Sadly, the appeals appear to have fallen on deaf ears. Upper week, a yet-to-be-identified group dangerously spiked the anxieties gripping the land when it released a venomous anti-Igbo song in Hausa language on YouTube. Few hours before I began writing this, another group had retaliated, posting a noxious music video in Igbo that clearly aimed at balancing the terror of the Hausa song. The vitriolic songs in both releases would make even angels to shiver in fear for Nigeria.
With the proliferation of illegal arms everywhere, and widespread agitations across the land, these combustible songs would, if not stopped, achieve one thing: accelerate Nigeria’s march towards the Rwanda of between April and July 1994. After months of mounting tension, Rwanda was plunged into its darkest period yet, when members of the Hutu ethnic majority massacred about 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority, creating two million refugees, mainly Hutus. The prelude to the Nigerian civil war almost mimicked that. Though Rwanda rebounded beautifully from the aftermaths of the genocide, it is doubtful if Nigeria would survive another pogrom.
That is why the emerging separatist groups in Nigeria need to tread cautiously. That is why Nigerians, and Gowon’s group, Nigeria Prays, need to intensify their intercession for fatherland. Well, Gowon is trying his best. At least he has never missed any opportunity to weigh in on the nation’s security concerns. He didn’t mince words when he took the podium at a national security seminar organised by the Department of State Service, DSS, in Abuja, on August 2, 2017. There, he blew the clarion right into the ears of the sabre rattling youth, urging them, as “the future of this country”, to “ensure that we build the country in the interest of all.”
I wish other statesmen could emulate Gowon in speaking truth to all the separatist tendencies striving to tear Nigeria apart. Unfortunately, while prominent south easterners have been roundly condemning Nnamdi Kanu’s outbursts and openly dissociating themselves from his agenda, some people in the north who have benefitted immensely from Nigeria as a united entity, have been stoking the fire, directly or underneath. One of such persons is Professor Ango Abdullahi, a hitherto respected northern leader who, unfortunately, has openly endorsed the infamous quit notice on Igbos. Very sad indeed.
Let the truth be told, it is preposterous for any group to order another to quit a house they co-own. It is totally absurd, if not evil, for a group to behave as if other groups are mere appendages. Even if a group is appalled by the misdemeanours of another, the response should not be to resort to a tendency that can set the whole house ablaze. The constitutional democracy that we currently run in Nigeria guarantees freedom of speech. Even if some persons deploy that freedom recklessly, without due regard to the peace of the nation, it is not for any group or persons to arrogate the power of the state to themselves. Law enforcement is there to take care of matters. We must not carry on as if we have learnt nothing from our recent history.
But while we condemn those threatening to set the country on fire or balkanise it, the Buhari Administration would do this great nation a huge favour by discontinuing to treat the agitations as unnecessary outrage over a trivial matter. To continue to live that lie would spell doom for the country. The fire we see all over the country is certainly not a storm in a tea cup. It won’t go away through denial. The fire would only burn out if the administration digs deep and uproot the taproots of the problems.
In other words, the administration must urgently and honestly address and redress those underlying factors that birthed the incendiary situation. These include: halting the continuing marginalisation of some constituent parts in the governance of the country; reversing the inequitable distribution of resources and advantages accruing to the constituent parts; and stopping the feeding of a gluttonous centre while the states go about like kwashiorkor kids. Equally needing urgent attention are: the uneven spread of developmental projects, diversion of resources, brazen theft of public funds, widespread poverty in the face of plenty, improper planning and poor execution of projects.
This is not forgetting the wobbling economy that has made hunger a perfect companion of the poor. The poor and the deprived drown in their tears as their situation worsens daily. But the gods neither feel their misery nor understand their language of tears. Except those whose pre-occupation is looting, and their rank swells by the day, the genuine rich are also crying. There is also the worrisome issue of crime and criminality. Criminals commit inconceivable crimes even under the nose of law enforcement and officers appear helpless. Despite the grim evidences that we see, the gods insist that the national economy is receding from recession. Yet, stomachs of citizens have not stopped retracting due to unrelenting hunger. Since they say a hungry man is an angry man, is it any surprise that extreme vexation grips Nigeria? All these problems must be comprehensively addressed for peace to reign in our nation.
Come to think of it, are these not the things that the proponents of restructuring added up before they started canvassing for the negotiation of the terms for the rebirth of a Nigeria where equity and justice would reign? They are not asking for balkanisation. They are not saying the country should break. Professor Wole Soyinka and other patriots have made this point clearly, over and again. The Nobel Laureate restated the point at a colloquium held recently in Kaiama, Bayelsa State
“The nation has got to be negotiated. Negotiation includes ensuring that there is no marginalisation. Negotiation means control of resources. Negotiation has to do with restructuring a nation in a way that the components and constituents are not feeding an over bloated centre to the detriment of their own development. The language we should use is what are you willing to sacrifice? What effort are you willing to make to ensure Nigeria remains intact? That is the question.”
Incidentally, the answers to these important questions lie in volumes and volumes of reports now gathering dust in Aso Rock. One of them is the report of the 492-member 2014 National Conference organised by the Goodluck Jonathan Presidency. More than two years after mounting the saddle, President Buhari is yet to touch that report. Rather, the administration makes things look as if the only achievement of President Goodluck Jonathan and his team is taking corruption to a level where even Satan sneers and feels scorned.
Yet, experts in policy and public administration believe that the Jonathan National Conference did a great job in answering some of the questions that have stirred the nation’s conscience over the years.
For instance, on Public Finance/Revenue Allocation, the 2014 conference recommended that the federal government be given-42.5 percent state governments-35 percent and local governments-22.5 percent. These are against the extant formula of federal government-52.68 percent, states-26.72 percent, and local government councils-20.60 percent. The conference also recommended that in order to accelerate the development of all parts of the country, the percentage allotted to “population and equality of states in the existing sharing formula be reduced while that assigned to Social Development sector be increased to a much higher percentage”.
There is nothing outrageous in conceding that marginal increase to the states and local councils. Even if we can discount the legendary profligacy and kleptocracy of governors and council chairmen, the increase would have, at least, buoyed states’ finances and helped tackle some of the problems that currently beset those tiers of government. But would the President ever look in that direction? He has not seen anything of value in that investment which gulped billions of naira and spanned five months. Perhaps, if he had dusted the report and peeped, he may have stumbled on some things that would have helped douse the fire of agitations that currently rile Nigeria. He may have been able to stop the current dialogue of the deaf in which each party is stone dead to what the others are saying. Even if for a season.
God bless Nigeria.