In recent months, the renewed agitation for a sovereign state of Biafra by segments of the South-East youth population has dominated public discourse, with many pointing out the political motivations of such crisis following the outcome of the 2015 general election. On the other hand, leaders of thought in the Niger Delta geopolitical zone are currently accusing the Nigerian military of seeking to wipe out villages in the guise of hunting down pipeline vandals, saying it was a northern ploy to harass the people of the zone. Against this backdrop, the summit organised last week by the Ondo State government at the International Cultural and Events Centre (Dome), Akure, signposts the dilemma of Nigerian nationhood in many significant ways. Among other issues, it brought out the continued resonance of ethnic cleavages that have dogged Nigerian nationhood since the First Republic.
Discussants at the summit were Former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; immediate past Information Minister, Mr Labaran Maku, Senator Ben Bruce, Senator Shehu Sani; Afenifere spokesman, Mr Yinka Odumakin; former Labour Party chairman, Chief Dan Iwuanyanwu and a public policy analyst , Miss Nda Kato.
The summit had in attendance more than 5,000 participants including the Ondo State governor and members of the state executive council, as well as former governors of the state; the speaker of the state House of Assembly, Barrister Jumoke Akinjide and the state Chief Judge, Justice Olaseinde Kumuyi, as well as heads of security agencies in the state. It also featured a former governor of Ondo State, Chief Bamidele Olumilua; Afenifere chieftains, Dr Kunle Olajide, Dr Amos Akingba and Senator Femi Okurounmu; the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian National Summit Group, Mr Tony Uranta; national president of the National Conscience Party (NCP), Dr Yunusa Tanko, among others.
The key issues: Boko Haram
In his keynote address on the occasion, Anyaoku noted that Nigeria was plagued by extremely violent groups such as Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen, and not so violent groups such as the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra and its splinter movement, the Indigenous People of Biafra, because government over the years had failed to restructure the nation along the path of federalism. “Restructuring the present government by adopting a true federalism will go a long way in enabling us to achieve speedy development and the political stability which would reduce the enablement of centrifugal forces in Nigeria,” he counselled, while also opposing the devaluation of the naira, which he said would cause a rise in inflation.
However, Senator Shehu Sani, while agreeing with Anyaoku’s analysis of the Nigerian condition, objected to the categorisation of Fulani herdsmen with Boko Haram, saying that it amounted to criminalising an entire ethnic group. He said the climatic factors that make the Fulani herdsmen to migrate to the South with their cattle ought to be properly understood.
“I think what we need to see clearly is that, of all the forces identified, there was none attached to an ethnic group beside the herdsmen. It is wrong to say an Igbo hard drug pusher or an Igbo armed robber or a Yoruba yahoo yahoo or an Ijaw oil thief.”
The senator and human rights activist recalled that he had tried to find an alternative means of addressing the insurgency and took the risk of reaching out to the insurgents and initiating a process of dialogue about three to four times, but it was sabotaged by those who were benefiting from the bloodshed. He added: “ It is normally not possible to see an insurgent group that is not more than 2000 or 3000 to prove so impossible for a nation of more than 170 million people to crush, a nation like ours with a reputable armed forces that had performed creditably well in peacekeeping missions across Africa. He expressed hope that Buhari would degrade the capacity of Boko Haram to carry out attacks.
Referring to a recent statement by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Sani declared: “Somebody said the Chibok girls will never be freed. I can tell you that the Chibok girls will be freed and they are alive. All that needs to be done is to explore other options. Negotiation is still possible. We have reached a point whereby we need to do things differently, as governments over the years just promise to diversify the economy but do nothing. After 40 years of partying with oil resources, we have come to our senses and as a country we are now living in a moment of truth and a day of reckoning. Our solution is not in UK, USA or Saudi Arabia.
Inequality and political planlessness
Senator Bruce, while highlighting the inequalities in the country, noted that Boko Haram and the agitation for an independent Biafra were traceable to the inability of the majority of Nigerians to feed themselves. The country, he contended, could not develop when the leaders make promises they cannot fulfill. “The problem of Nigeria is the leadership, except Governor Mimiko. We are the problem. After we have rigged election, we go on TV and say that power belongs to God; don’t challenge this election. The leaders of Nigeria do not live in Nigeria; they live in Dubai. Their children don’t go to school in Nigeria. As long as our leaders make promises they cannot keep, Nigeria can never develop. As long as our leaders don’t understand our population explosion problem, we cannot develop. By the turn of the century, Nigeria will be more populous than China, India and America. If you cannot feed the people in Nigeria today, how are you going to feed 1.5 billion people in less than 100 years?”
The media mogul insisted that the issue of Boko Haram and the struggle in the South-South, South-East and any part of the country were all about hunger and the distribution of wealth. According to him, “Less than one per cent of Nigerians consume more than 80 per cent of the country’s resources and then you come on TV and say let us pray. Pray for what?
“We must change our value system. First of all you have to ask yourself if you are a Nigerian. Do you eat Nigerian food? Do you fly your carrier? We must change the whole federal system to reflect commonsense. There are only two kinds of people in this world: producers and consumers. You must produce. In Nigeria, people lead the government rather the other way round. God distributed intelligence equally among all the peoples of the world; leaders put us in this mess because it benefits us. Everybody is talking about state police but they forget that before 1966, we had Native Authority Police. Now the Federal Government takes 50 per cent of the resources and starves the states. We must change the whole federal system to reflect what makes sense,” he contended.
Odumakin, in his own contribution, aligned with Anyaoku’s comments by pointing out that the menace of Fulani herdsmen had become intolerable, although he felt that refusing to devalue the naira amounted to playing the ostrich, adding that corruption was currently fighting the country rather than the other way round. “The fact is what we are doing right now is that we are fighting corruption on one hand and promoting corruption on the other hand. If today someone walks into the CBN and the CBN gives him $1 billion, and say he should go and use it to trade, it would not make any sense to go and do any business, at the gate of CBN, he can make over N2 billion profit. That is what we are saying when we fix it at N199 and it is going for N400 in the black market. We should allow the naira to find its level. What we are doing presently is hurting the economy.”
Deploring the declaration made by President Buhari in Egypt that those who had foreign taste should look elsewhere to fund it, Odumakin declared: “The plane that took the president to Egypt was not made in Nigeria. The parts of that plane were not made in Nigeria. Everything that was budgeted for in Aso Rock this year are not made in Nigeria. The vehicles that they are riding in the villa are made abroad. We should stop this corruption where we think we can peg the naira at N199, while the naira is on a free fall. You are only encouraging corruption.”
His conclusion: “Nigeria should either devolve or it will dissolve.”
The national question
Labaran Maku, in his own contribution, joined the earlier speakers in celebrating the programmes of the Mimiko administration in various sectors, pointing out that they exemplified the true spirit of the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who he said lifted the Yoruba above any other ethnic nationality on the African continent. He said: “Yoruba have gone ahead of Nigeria. They are collectively the most educated ethnic group on the African continent.”
Pointing out that there was still much to celebrate in Nigeria despite its various shortcomings, Maku noted: “Some people say Nigeria has problem because it was founded through crisis. But which country was founded by lovemaking? Even in our weakness, we have given strength to other African countries. Coups are no longer popular in West Africa because Nigeria has moved away from coups.”
He however observed that Nigerians needed to debate the basis of the country’s unity, saying that the debate about Nigerian nationhood was very crucial, and that the problem of Nigeria was not all about poverty. He noted that politicians continue to invest in centrifugal issues to undermine development and recalled the sacrifice of former President Goodluck Jonathan, who he noted told him personally that his choice of Professor Attahiru Jega as chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission was motivated by the need to avoid any form of influence from his government. The former Information Minister however lamented that the gains recorded by the electoral commission under Jega were fast being eroded, while also berating the attitude of the political class in deploying foreign exchange to holidays outside the country.
Maku stated: “Mobutu Sese Seko said he could not fail in an election that he organised. Today, we are seeing a different electoral scale. What Buhari needs to do is to unite the nation behind him. If we engage in recrimination, then that moment of glory is lost. I’ve never been abroad since 1999; I spend my holidays in my village.”
The roots of Nigeria’s feet of clay
Dan Iwuanyanwu, in his own contribution, pointed out that he had been party-less for a year and would therefore speak from the heart. He said: “The struggle for power at the centre is like life and death. This is so because there is so much concentration of power at the centre. Unfortunately, there has never been a single leader since independence who has selflessly and patriotically worked for the people of Nigeria. I stand to be corrected. At Independence, Nigeria had a quasi-federal system and revenue allocation at that time was 50 per cent. This enabled the various regions to explore and exploit their comparative advantages to the benefits of the component parts of Nigeria.”
It was at this period, he recalled, that Eastern Nigeria was recorded as the fastest growing economy in Africa. He added that with the advent of the military, however, the states became virtual beggars, running to the Federal Government for allocations. Hear him: “The general discontent of those who have been short-changed has contributed significantly to the inability to build a nation out of the numerous nation states that make up Nigeria, The situation has so degenerated that, given the option, the majority of ethnic groups will opt to exit from Nigeria. That is the truth. I don’t have to garnish it. Mediocre people were foisted on Nigeria in the name of federal quota. We should not compromise our first 11.”
To the former LP boss, Nigerian military’s tinkering with Nigeria’s quasi-federal structure inherited at Independence worsened the country’s problems. “There are governors who have no idea what they are supposed to do. We must go back to the report of the 2014 National Conference. Pastor Tunde Bakare, Yinka Odumakin and I articulated the massive reconstruction of the North-East that President Buhari has now adopted. It is not ideal to take just one aspect of the report and leave others,” he said. On Governor Mimiko’s stewardship, he said: “I have visited virtually all the 36 states of the federation and I stand to be corrected: there is no state in Nigeria that has what we have here. Don’t bring in a stranger. You may throw me away but don’t throw this advice away. You don’t have to try any new thing.”
The Middle Belt question
Nda Kato, who spoke on the devaluation of Nigerian life, bemoaned what she called the country’s criminal silence on the ceaseless pogrom in the North Central, allegedly carried out by Fulani herdsmen and men of the Armed Forces. She said: “ In a place like Nasarawa, people from six local governments have been shifted to only two; that shifting is not that they were moved there. Right now Kaduna State is the foster child for the abuse of human rights. On December 12 last year, over 1000 Nigerians were killed including women and children. Now, while we want to call them terrorists and people with abstract religious beliefs, there is one person in that gathering that I would like to speak for. His name was Bukhari Jega who worked with the United Nations and civil society. He was killed, his wife was killed and his daughter was killed. She was not up to two years’ old.
“What is the value of Nigerian life? See how difficult it is for us to devalue the naira. If the naira is at 400 unofficially to a dollar, the Nigerian life right now should be at a million to a dollar. We don’t matter. Prior to Chibok girls, 50 boys were slaughtered in Barkin Ladi. Life in the North Central, the region that feeds Nigeria, is too cheap. We are talking of buying Nigerian things and reducing importation, and the region that feeds Nigeria is being wiped out, and we do not see it. While we are here talking about the price of oil should rise, the people of the Niger Delta are dying of cancer. The average life expectancy there is lower than you can ever imagine. There are people where you come from that you do not even know night because of gas flaring. Nigeria ignores all these things because its people are collateral damage. We have turned Nigeria into a business entity.” Kato’s conclusion: “The only way Nigeria can be held together is for everyone to matter.”
Also speaking on the occasion, a civil rights activist and chair of the National Summit Group, Tony Uranta, insisted that unless and until Nigeria returns to true federalism, there shall soon be no Nigeria, while the national chairman of the National Conscience Party (NCP), Dr Umaru Tanko, lamented that no one cared for the almajiri, lambasted Northern leaders for failing to take care of almajiri children and giving them a new lease of life.
In his remarks, Governor Mimiko bemoaned the menace of the nomadic herdsmen, and called on Senator Sani to apply his mind more diligently to the herdsmen menace. “I just have the impression that you are probably underestimating the nomadic herdsmen’s menace. The menace is a big one. Three years ago, hardly did I have any complaints. Today, on a daily basis, our Kabiyesis from the northern fringe of this state would tell me harrowing experiences.
Last Sunday as I was coming out of church, they brought me pictures of farmers that had their hands cut, their head machete. I had to call specialists to attend to them. The young ones were mobilising to retaliate and we had to do a lot of preventive measures. I want you to take it as a challenge because at the rate this is going, there would be a conflagration one day. Farmers are even thinking arming themselves to protect their farmlands. I’m sure three mega ranches in the North would take care of all the cattle.”
He reiterated the need to stop the herdsmen/farmers clashes: “Dismissing the notion that restructuring the country would be to the detriment of some parts of the country, he said: “Restructuring is not a ploy to give advantage to any part of the country.” On his part, Publicity Secretary of the Yoruba Unity Forum (YUF), Dr Kunle Olajide, supported those who called for a return to the 2014 report.
Which way for Nigeria?
The Akure summit would appear to raise fundamental questions. If, 56 years after independence and 102 years after Lord Lugard’s amalgamation of the disparate ethnic nationalities making up Nigeria, stakeholders are still questioning the basis of Nigerian nationhood, many would wonder where exactly the country is headed. Interestingly, Senator Shehu Sani, who in the wake of President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory during the March 28, 2015 presidential election had said the then President Jonathan should take the report of the 2014 National Conference with him while leaving Aso Rock, was confronted with demands for the conference’s implementation by his co-discussants at the Akure summit.
––Adepoju wrote from Akure