From Peaceful Transition to Political Turbulence

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‎The last two years have been turbulent for Nigeria despite a successful transition from the Goodluck Jonathan‎ administration to the incumbent administration. Davidson Iriekpen ponders what went wrong

Despite the successful transition from the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, the last two years have been turbulent for Nigeria. Since the country attained independence in 1960 and the civil war, there, perhaps, has not been any time the clamour for division has been so loud than now. So vociferous and sometimes cantankerous have the agitations become that they threaten the unity and existence of the country.

While some Nigerians are calling for a ‘true federalism’ as was practised in the 50s up to the first republic where each region was responsible for its resources, others called for outright secession citing structural imbalance which allows some states to rely on resources from others to survive.

Though the last one year of the Jonathan administration saw the north intensifying its clamour for the return of power to the region, the two years of the Buhari administration have seen a different dimension.

Though, political analysts have always known that Nigeria was established along ethnic fault lines dating back to the mid 1960s which were partly responsible for the two military coups that ended the first civilian government and led to the civil war, to them, the character of Buhari and his government may have largely contributed to the divisions being experienced today. They also castigated politicians and the elite for spreading hate and not always championing or agreeing on issues that would move the country forward.

No doubt Buhari rode to power on the back of welter of promises to Nigerians. After waiting for 16 months, those promises are yet to be fulfilled, a development that has given vent to disillusionment, anger and utter disappointment. Besides, observers believe that the country is more divided today along ethnic lines than ever due to the appointments, utterances, body language and divisive tendencies of the president.

They are also pointing fingers at the upsurge in brutal and often fatal attacks by Fulani herdsmen and a push for state governments to create grazing reserves. On many occasions, these Fulani herdsmen have not only invaded Christian-dominated regions in the northern and southern parts in the country and killing thousands, but have destroyed property worth billions of naira.

Perhaps, particularly annoying to many was the deliberate silence of northern leaders and the federal government; rather than condemning the action or take drastic action to tame the ravaging herdsmen they prefer to look the other way. This has created the impression that they are being backed by eminent persons in government.

An analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “There are many instances that lend credence to the fact that the government of today has further divided the country along ethnic and religious lines. Some people believe that the federal government is using the security agencies to protect the Fulani herdsmen while leaving farmers unprotected, a situation that has emboldened the herdsmen to plunder, maim and kill at will. Don’t forget that the president is said to be the grand patron of the herdsmen association.”

The climax perhaps was when a coalition of northern youth groups on June 6, 2017, issued a quit notice to the Igbos to leave the north by October 1, 2017. Since, then, peace seems to have eluded the nation.

The groups: Arewa Citizens Action for Change, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Arewa Youth Development Foundation, Arewa Students Forum and Northern Emancipation Network on the Igbo Persistence for Secession, in the ultimatum, stated that they were tired of the 1914 marriage. They therefore want the south-east to go its separate way as the union has collapsed irretrievably.

The northern youths’ grouse was the agitations by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), especially the May 30 sit-at-home, which was complied with in the south-east. They want the Igbos in the north to relocate from the region within three months, while the northerners in the south-east should return too.

The declaration has led to the demand for several federations by hitherto silent groups, an indication that Nigeria has all along been sitting on a keg of gunpowder and exposing the forced marriage of convenience contrived by the colonial masters for their selfish ends.

While all hope is not lost on the country’s unity, many analysts believe that the problem of the country is that of leadership. They posited that once this fundamental problem is solved and people given a sense of belonging, the agitations would stop.

Despite the agitations however, there are still a lot of Nigerians who feel when the right thing is done, it could assuage the negative feelings Nigerians presently have about the unity of the country even if temporarily.

For example, the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja Metropolitan See, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, last week said once the federal character principle is judiciously applied; it would tame anger in the country. Onaiyekan who spoke at a press conference in Abuja, said the flagrant abuse of the federal character act by the incumbent administration was responsible for the agitations and threats by tribal groups in the country, warning that the continued domination of government by a particular tribe and the exclusion of others spell doom for the nation.

The cardinal tasked the federal government to change the rules of governance in addition to yielding to call by Nigerians to restructure the country. He insisted that the anger and dissatisfaction expressed by people would continue in the country, considering that abuse of federal character principle leads to injustice and marginalisation. He maintained that lackadaisical attitude displayed by some of those at the helms of affairs would do no good for the country; rather, they should look at the agitation holistically to correct the imbalance in the land.

“We know what is causing people to be angry, and if you want to be sincere, there is no part of Nigeria where there is no cause for anger, no part. May be some people are expressing their anger more than the others, but everywhere, people are dissatisfied. And this has nothing to do with who is president and who is not the president?

“It goes in my opinion to the rules of governance. How we governed ourselves, the whole area of justice system, equality before the law. The whole concept of federal character supposed to be that no part of the country is left behind. Federal character can not mean that some parts of Nigeria will be favoured over others. If the federal character leads to injustice and marginalisation, then, it does not make sense. We must change the way we are doing things, we cannot continue like this.

“Definitely, if we do, there will be more anger, more calls for change and we don’t know who will be able to mobilize more people to cause more problem. Don’t forget that this was one of the major positions held by the Boko Haram. The issue is, what are those things that are happening in Nigeria now, which we need to critically and effectively look at, in such that, this sense of dissatisfaction, exclusion, injustice that people are feeling will be reduced to the minimum? So, some people put it under big title of restructuring.

“Some people think that restructuring is to create more states, as far as I am concerned, if you create more states and the system remains the same, you will only have more problems. We need to restructure if we want the country to survive. The truth is that things are not organised properly and it makes the people to be dissatisfied. It is not only the Biafrans who are disgusted with this country; a lot of us are, even though we still are not thinking of that. It is like a father who is very angry with his son; you will still not throw him away.”

On his part, Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, asked Buhari to change his style of governance, saying he is responsible for the hate speeches being uttered by some sections of the country, thereby heating up the polity and creating tension in the system.

Fayose said Buhari got it wrong by his statement after inauguration that his government might not favour any section of the country that voted against him during the 2015 presidential poll. The governor while reacting to the quit notice issued to Igbos by a coalition of northern youth groups, said Buhari by his utterances, tactically emboldening the hate speech makers.

“How can a president that was just sworn-in after a tension-soaked election be saying that any section that didn’t vote for him won’t benefit from his appointments? By implication, such president was openly giving room for sectionalism and that was exactly what Buhari did after the election. We could all confirm that Nigeria has never been this divided in history.

“Every Nigerian knew that the people of the south-east didn’t vote for him, so that automatically gave those northern groups to have the effrontery to order Igbos out of their region. When a leader speaks like that, something like this is bound to happen. We can’t deny the fact that the problem has gone so deep in dividing us. But it is not beyond solution. The leaders from south-east and the north should sit down and iron out their differences in the interest of everybody,” he said.

Former Governor of Enugu State and pioneer National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Okwesilieze Nwodo, in a recent interview noted that Nigeria was becoming more polarised than ever. Lamenting the situation, he said: “One of the issues with the herdsmen is that they feel that their own man or brother is the president. It is not that the president asked them to be doing that, but the notion that ‘my brother is in charge, what you can do to me? That is the major factor fuelling this menace.

“There must be a point at which we are going to take the destiny and the responsibility of ourselves in our own hands; for the country, as it is now, is becoming more polarised. The law in this country does not allow an individual to purchase an AK47 rifle without licence, but these herdsmen carry it around without anybody questioning them; it is worrisome.”

In a report recently, Ben Durueke wrote: “Lately, the seemingly quiet Fulani herdsmen have taken to arms, killing and maiming people. They have attacked in Benue, Enugu, Delta, Niger among other states, leaving sour images of several deaths. For the fifth time in a short time, Enugu State has been attacked by Fulani herdsmen, who seem to have been given a licence to kill whoever they want to kill in any part of Nigeria and get away with it.”

Ben Nwabueze, a renowned lawyer, professor and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), strongly believes that most of the groups agitating for one thing or the other in the south-east and south-south geo-political zones of the country are purely doing so to vent their anger on the perceived marginalisation by government. Nwabueze, who also is the president of The Patriots, a revered group of intellectuals and elder statesmen campaigning for good governance, also advised Buhari not to drag the country into religious crisis hiding under fight against terrorism.

“I am not sure these agitators really want to secede. I think they are merely reacting to marginalisation by the government, especially in the appointments. Don’t make the fight against terrorism a religious issue. We are all against terrorism but don’t drag this country into one religious group because of terrorism or because we are fighting terrorism. We cannot use the war on corruption as justification for everything. We should be very careful. I have said all that I need to say on this issue of hiding under fight against corruption to do all sorts of things including assaulting the constitution,” he said.

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No doubt Buhari rode to power on the back of welter of promises to Nigerians. After waiting for 16 months, those promises are yet to be fulfilled, a development that has given vent to disillusionment, anger and utter disappointment. Besides, observers believe that the country is more divided today along ethnic lines than ever due to the appointments, utterances, body language and divisive tendencies of the president.