I hate divorce. I have been using an Airtel mobile line since 2001 when GSM services were launched in Nigeria. And even though they have changed their name from the original Econet to Vodacom (for about five minutes) to Vmobile to Celtel to Zain and finally to Airtel, I did not consider “porting” for one day. In fact, I still have my original Econet SIM card in my locker. I reluctantly changed it when I bought a smart phone and needed all this nano stuff. I have suffered a lot of discomfort with my 0802 in 16 years — poor network, dropped call, overbilling, failed roaming and slow data. But through it all, I remained committed to my choice. Such is my attachment to relationships.
Let me now contradict myself. Recently, I walked into a branch of Access Bank Plc to close my account. As I completed the formalities, left the banking hall and the door closed itself behind me, I was broken-hearted. I had been banking with them since 2004. I used to love the bank and their services so much that I became an unpaid marketer. But after struggling in the last one year to resolve issues on my account without luck, I painfully told myself divorce was inevitable. I believed I had done all within my power and, for my sanity, I needed to move on. And so it is for many relationships — they collapse because divorce is about the only option left.
So here you have my dilemma: if indeed I hate divorce, why did I end my 13-year-old relationship with the bank? Why am I enduring one relationship and discarding the other? Double standards? Hypocrisy? These two experiences will come handy in today’s discussion, which is on Nigeria’s strained nationhood. Many of my friends have often challenged me — and even mocked me — over my opinion that Nigeria can work and that we should remain one. They say that I’m being naïve, that I’m playing to the gallery, that I’m trying to be “politically correct”. I doubt if these categorisations describe me well. I write out of personal conviction. And, well, I hate divorce.
There are ongoing calls to dismantle the Nigerian federation, ongoing for decades actually. These calls are presented in different formats and with different motives. There are those who genuinely believe that for Nigeria to make progress, it needs to balkanise. I have come across people who argue sincerely that Nigerians don’t belong together and our differences are too sharp for us to forge a workable nationhood. But there are also those making these calls purely for political gain — not out of any authentic conviction. I’m also super convinced that some opportunists are riding on the back of these agitations to fight back at President Muhammadu Buhari.
My argument against balkanisation, or divorce, is based on my relationship with Airtel. Even though things get bad at times, I have not ported to another network because I am not sure I will be better off. Telecom operators in Nigeria face similar challenges: high capital replacement costs, poor power supply, unnecessary expenditure on infrastructure, lack of security for equipment and facilities, persistent fibre cuts, multiple taxation, inability to raise tariffs to defray increasing costs, and so on. All these hamper their operations. Changing from one network to another guarantees nothing. I would rather stick with the devil I know than the angel I don’t know.
The same thing applies to Nigeria. Most Nigerians suffer from the same challenges: no water, no power, no security, as well as inept and corrupt leadership, starting from our local government areas. But we have been programmed to think our problem is someone from another part of the country — hence the campaign for divorce. I have randomly asked ordinary Nigerians from all “tribes and tongues” about their most urgent needs and their answers are so similar. They all complain about bad roads, bad schools, bad medical care, bad electricity supply, bad everything! People complain about their council chairmen as much as they complain about their governors.
I do not know of any state in Nigeria where the children of a governor or a minister attend public primary and secondary schools. I do not know of any governor that receives treatment from a primary health care centre closest to their mansion. North or south, Yoruba or Fulani, Muslim or Christian! The leaders take good care of themselves. In the national assembly, the lawmakers are sharing money and cars like kolanuts — and I am yet to hear that a Muslim senator or a Christian house member rejected his own. What this tells me is that it is not one part of the country or one religion that is the problem — it is the human beings we call leaders. How does divorce resolve this?
There seems to be an assumption, or a settled notion, that the moment we break up, the people formerly known as Nigerians will, like magic, start enjoying abundant flow of water, 24/7 security, excellent primary and secondary education, great medical care, unspeakable infrastructural development and all that make human beings feel like human beings. I wish I could share in this optimism. There seems to be this prevalent logic that balkanisation is the magic formula to the inept and corrupt leadership pillaging Nigeria at every level. I wish I were this optimistic. The Nigeria I see is under attack by political vultures, regardless of their ethnic and religious identities.
Most Nigerian politicians, I dare say, are genetically and endemically of the similar quality. If Nigeria finally breaks up and we are still ruled by the same hardened criminals who rejoice in oppression — their greed and wickedness undiluted — the gory tale of the latter house will be worse than the former. It will only lead to the restructuring of our suffering. It will only lead to the multiplication of the sorrows of our people. I know many people who have ported from one mobile network to another only to regret it shortly thereafter. You would hear them say: “This one is even worse!” Just as the telcos are alike, so are our problems alike across the 36 states and 774 LGAs.
It was very easy for me to close my account with one bank because I knew I could enjoy better services elsewhere. This is no counter factual. I have accounts with other banks and I have been enjoying better services, so I was not leaving the known for the unknown. Rather, I was moving from a known bad service to a known better service. I had tasted and seen before taking my decision. If I have this assurance with balkanisation, if I have tasted another part of Nigeria and I am sure things can only get better when we break up, I will certainly stop being naïve, stop playing to the gallery, and stop trying to be politically correct. I will wake up and smell the Utopia.
I will like to say something though. Some things happen in this country that get me angry and make feel maybe balkanisation is the way out. I hate it when some people think they own the country and their wishes must always prevail. At such times, thoughts of balkanisation cross my mind. But then I realise that as it is in Abuja, so it is in the states and local governments. There is hardly any part of Nigeria where some people don’t behave arrogantly and leave others feeling marginalised. My fear then is that the more you break up Nigeria, the more you magnify local differences and awaken latent conflicts. What was not a big issue before sudden erupts and gets a life of its own.
I have many examples to cite. In Oyo state, Oke Ogun are complaining about being relegated in the power equation. In Ogun state, the Ijebu want their own state. In Lagos, the Awori have been grumbling. Funny enough, someone once told me that when Awo was premier of the Western Region, he was busy developing Ibadan with cocoa revenue from Ondo! For years, Nsukka people complained of marginalisation in Enugu state, the same with Ukwa/Ngwa people in Abia state. In core northern states, Christians complain that they are denied state sponsorship of pilgrimage as well as appointments and land to build churches. Balkanisation hardly eradicates conflicts.
For those who genuinely believe breaking up Nigeria will suddenly lead to competent and patriotic leadership, where is the evidence? What is fuelling this ecstasy? As I had no hesitation in closing my bank account because I knew I was moving to a better place, I will also have no hesitation in changing camps if better leadership is assured in a balkanised Nigeria. No sane human being will want to live in a country full of rancour and tension if he has the assurance of living in peace and prosperity in another. But what is that assurance? And why should divorce always be the first option in marital conflict? What is the guarantee that your next spouse will be better than the current one?
When the police fired teargas at a peaceful rally by the “Return or Resign” agitators in Abuja on Wednesday, I said to myself once again: “Nothing ever changes.” This was the same attitude the last administration had towards the Bring Back Our Girls agitators in 2014 — something I believe did irreparable damage to President Goodluck Jonathan. When will the police realise we live in a democracy and every citizen has the right to protest and be protected? If some citizens are calling on President Buhari to return to Nigeria or resign, it’s their right. I would advise the police to focus more on kidnappers and armed robbers and leave the protesters alone. Change.
I recently got a WhatsApp message asking us to imagine what would have happened if it was President Jonathan, and not President Buhari, that was out of the country for over two months for medical purposes. The writer asked us to imagine how activists and APC in particular would have organised media wars and public protests. While I agree with the writer, I would hasten to say that this was why I criticised the way President Yar’Adua was being ridiculed when he fell terminally ill in 2010. I still insist that sickness should not be politicised. I insist that Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has all the presidential powers. Nobody can stop him from exercising them. Period.
What is Nigeria turning into? Sunday last week, a gunman invaded the morning mass at St. Philip’s Catholic Church in Ozubulu, Anambra state, and killed 12 people. The story is that he was on a reprisal mission to take out one “Bishop”, allegedly a drug dealer based in South Africa who was said to have murdered one “Giniyee” reportedly for double-crossing him in a drug deal. Of course, the predictable politicised narrative that Buhari’s “jihadi army” (Boko Haram) carried out the attack was already trending on social media before the true story finally emerged. The saddest thing for me is the ease with which criminals operate in this society. We are losing it. Scary.
In May, I exchanged emails with Dr. Abdul Raufu Mustapha, an associate professor of African Politics at Oxford University, UK, on my upcoming book. I sent him a synopsis containing my core arguments. He promptly replied, drawing my attention to certain developments that would help my work. He ended his email with: “I think the core arguments need to be sharpened more.” In another mail, he pointed my attention to several reference materials that could be of help. It was a week after our exchange that I learnt he was battling with stomach cancer. On Tuesday, August 8, he died. What a loss. Such a deep intellectual and fantastic human being! What a loss. What a loss. Painful.