Limitations of National Unity by Manu Militari: An Open Letter to President Buhari


Prof. Bola Akinterinwa

Our Dear President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, the uncertainty that has come to characterise the future of our country, and particularly the way you want to address it, not only has the potential to have an unintended effect, but also largely explains the rationale for this open letter to you. I am writing to you in my capacity as a Nigerian by ius sanguinis, as a compatriot, who believes in a more united, virile, and strong Nigeria that should be completely free from political chicanery, institutional corruption and ethnic chauvinism.

Excellency, no one disputes your integrity and wish to stamp out societal ills in Nigeria. In good health and sickness, your wishes for a great and functionally independent Nigeria have always been patriotic. When you were Head of State of Nigeria, your policies on War Against Indiscipline spoke for themselves. You should not also quickly forget your policies adopted to confront some exploitative European policies. For instance, you did introduce the policy of barter, exchanging crude oil in settlement for Nigeria’s needs. Your policies offended Nigeria’s economic partners but the policies were national interest-induced.

Again, as President of Nigeria, you have declared a new war on corruption in addition to the inherited war on terror. The war on terror is a special national, regional and international problem that cannot be easily contained by a single country for various reasons. Terrorism, as defined from its etymological perspective in 1789 during the French Revolution, is the use of cruel method to seek political objectives. Thus, one major criterion for defining terrorism is cruelty in design, violence in operation, and political in outcome.

A terrorist act can be conceived in one country but executed in another country. The terrorists may not be of the same nationality. The sponsors may also not be from the same place. And true enough the victims of terrorism could be the president of a country. An act of terrorism does not distinguish between ages, religion, nationality and place. Terrorism is simply to destroy without any due regard to human rights. These factors make terrorism difficult to be nipped in the bud by one country acting alone.

Excellency, if we take a look at the Boko Haram within the framework of the foregoing, it is a terrorist organisation per excellence. Its operational method is cruel and very barbaric. Operationally, it is always violent. Kidnapping, suicide, bombings, and unlawful activities are always its modus operandi. In terms of political outcome, the Boko Haram does not accept the constitutionality of Nigeria as it is today. It is, in fact, seeking the dismantlement of Nigeria and the establishment of an Islamic State of Nigeria in the long run.

Thus, while the proponents of boko haramism want to disunite Nigeria, restructure it for Islamic purposes; they should be differentiated from other Nigerians calling for political restructuring of the polity for purposes of greater effectiveness and fairness. A non-differentiation between the two cannot but be another way of saying that those calling for restructuring of Nigeria are also terrorists. This interpretation cannot be your intention. Consequently, while the approach to the containment of boko haramism can be violent or belligerent without offending international law, the approach to dealing with the agents of restructuring cannot, and should not, be by manu militari. A manu militari method has limitations that have the great potential of leading to unintended policy outcomes.

Your Excellency may wish to quickly recall the story of Japan’s attack on United States Pearl Harbour during World War II. The Japanese decided to launch the attack with the immediate objective of neutralising the naval capacity and capability of the United States with the ultimate objective of preventing the United States from entering into the war on the side of the Allied Countries.

Most unfortunately, however, the Japanese were quite myopic in their strategic calculations. They underestimated the reactive capacity of the US. They did not know that the United States had already developed atomic weapons that needed to be tested. Annoyingly, especially that the Japanese attack was unprovoked and the United States had not even contemplated entering into the war, the Washingtonian government simply decided to test its atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The rest of the story is well known.

What is noteworthy, Your Excellency, is not the military capacity of the United States per se. It is the political will to act, to retaliate, and to retaliate using a much cruel means, but within the framework of the principle of legitimate self-defence. Even though the Japanese, without doubt, have learnt their lessons with much bitterness, they again are currently discussing the review of their constitution with the objective of removing the limitations placed on their military formation by the Allied forces.

When the Japanese scenario is compared with the situation in Nigeria, it is not the question of military capacity or measure of strength that is the issue, but similarly, the issue of political will. Japanese attack was a resultant of voluntary political will. The US reaction was also a resultant from political will. In Nigeria, many, for the same patriotic reasons that Your Excellency do have, are showing their political will to have Nigeria restructured.
What is happening in Nigeria of today is the conflict of political will, that is, conflict between order and counter order. It is how the management of the resultant encounter that will eventually determine whether there will be a situation of disorder or orderliness in the long run. This is why Your Excellency will need to make haste slowly and thread with much caution, as well as refrain from speeches that have the potential for negative interpretative consequences for the people of Nigeria.

For instance, in your address to the nation following your return home last week, you said, and I quote, ‘Nigeria’s unity is settled and not negotiable. We shall not allow irresponsible elements to start trouble and when things get bad they run away and saddle others with the responsibility of bringing back order, if necessary with their blood.’ This particular quotation cannot enable Nigerians ‘to come together to face common challenges of economic security, political evolution and integration, as well as lasting peace among all Nigerians,’ as you wanted in your concluding plea to all compatriots.

In this regard, it is quite arguable to suggest that ‘Nigeria’s unity is settled.’ Since Nigeria acceded to national sovereignty in 1960, national unity has always remained a controversial issue. National unity has never naturally emerged but enforced. When the civil war broke out in 1967, the slogan was ‘to keep Nigeria one, is a task that must be done.’

When the secessionists unconditionally surrendered in 1970, the issue of national unity still remained a challenge, along with the challenges of policies of reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation. General Yakubu’s policy stand of ‘no victor, no vanquished’ did not address the requirements of national unity beyond the restructuring of the four regions into twelve constitutive states. The notion of a region or regionalism was changed to state or statism. The truth of the matter, however, is that the war never came to an end on January 12, 1970 with the surrender by Philip Effiong. It was the battle that actually came to an end. The current agitations being witnessed by everyone now are nothing more than the continued manifestations of the July 1967 to January 1970 war of national unity.

Even when the 1999 constitution was promulgated, the opening preamble, ‘we the people of Nigeria,’ has been generally criticised on the basis that it was not actually the people, but the military, that made the constitution. In the eyes of many observers, it was a ‘military’ fraud. Consequently, it is not possible for ‘national unity’ that has not been allowed to exist, to be settled in terms of objectivity of purpose.

More important on this issue of national unity, there is the need to differentiate between ‘Nigeria is united,’ and ‘debate on Nigeria is united.’ Regarding ‘Nigeria is united,’ a fait accompli is implied. It is already a reality that is no longer possible to change, and therefore not negotiable. As for ‘debate on Nigeria is united,’ they necessarily raise the extent to which the fait accompli is still relevant in the scheme of national survival strategies.

Put differently, even if we admit that Nigeria is united, the debates on national unity are raising new questions on its functional usefulness. If our dear President says Nigeria’s unity is settled and not negotiable, he is also at the same time admitting that the societal ills and complaints should remain as they are. This point is not unaware of your admission in your address that ‘there are legitimate concerns. Every group has a grievance.’

If Your Excellency recognises that there are not only legitimate concerns but that various groups also have their peculiar grievances, what happens if and when the grievances of a group are about the conduct and management of national unity? This is the first point in the continuum of limitations to national unity by manu militari that should be addressed. National unity is a priori – a function of the heart. It must first be desired. Even when it is desired ab initio, the initial dynamics of the desire may fade away later, thus making it unwanted.

Perhaps more interestingly, national unity has never been enabled by use of force in international relations. Even when former colonial masters united people by force, the larger international community still came up with the principle of self-determination, which is also considered one of the peremptory norms of international law by many scholars.

Another point raised in your address is about ‘irresponsible elements. I re-quote you again: ‘We shall not allow irresponsible elements to start trouble and when things get bad they run away and saddle others with the responsibility of bringing back order, if necessary with their blood.’ This statement is unnecessarily indicting. It acknowledges the existence of some irresponsible elements, not to say Nigerians. What is the dynamic of the irresponsibility? It is simply that they will ‘start trouble’ and ‘run away’ when things get bad.

The main problem with this statement is that, even before the ‘elements’ would begin to foment troubles, they are perceived as irresponsible. Your Excellency, no one should be adjudged as irresponsible before they act responsible for the irresponsibility is first established. It is the evaluation of an act that can lead to the determination of responsibility or irresponsibility. Without any scintilla of doubt, by talking about irresponsibility of some Nigerians before their acts of irresponsibility are first established, you are also admitting that you are the president of irresponsible people, but of which you are not. You are certainly not, because Nigerians are generally known not to be irresponsible.

More so, those calling for a more functional national unity and progressive Nigeria through a revisit of the current political structure cannot be irresponsible. They have patriotic large hearts like you. No Nigerian, regardless of political status, can lay claim to a monopoly of knowledge of how to grow Nigeria or resolve her problems. At best, when a government listens to other views, it not only learns but also uses the learning for self-readjustment. Consequently, I am of the considered view that talking about non-negotiability of Nigeria’s settled national unity is absolutist in strategy, faulty and erroneous in tactic, as well as self-defeating in the long run because of the intrinsic factors.

One more important point, Your Excellency, is the relevance of one Yoruba idiom according to which ‘one should begin to recognise medicine/local juju from the level of a stick of match’ (e jeka kiyesi ogun lati ibi isana). Your anti-corruption war is elitist in design and therefore, it is not likely to succeed in the long run simply because it is focusing on corruption at the high level but not at the low levels of society.

And true enough, the pattern of growth of corruption and indiscipline is bottom-up in Nigeria. In many parts of major cities in Nigeria, motorcyclists drive against traffic lights without arrest or molestation. Commercial vehicles do not obey traffic laws in the presence of law enforcement agents. Thus, government unnecessarily condones and abets indiscipline and by so doing, it also encourages it and gives wrong signals.

You may not be unaware, Your Excellency, that political governance in Nigeria of today is largely predicated on self-deceit and insincerity of purpose.

This observation is also largely informed by my experience as a law abiding and patriotic citizen. First, how do we explain the fact that the Federal Government of Nigeria collected money from the general public for the construction and allocation of various sizes of houses as far back as 1994, and yet, as at this time of writing, no houses have been built in Lagos, where I made my own deposit for a three bed-room semi-detachable bungalow. No refund and no one is talking about it. Your Excellency, what would be your reaction if you are in my position? I paid about N165,000 in 1994, when the naira was money. I applied for land in Abuja. For whatever reasons best known to the Abuja authorities, I have not been given. What is really my offence for pursuing righteousness? Why must I first lobby to get an entitlement?

Your Excellency, I must not fail to remind you, even though you are much aware, that I already drew your attention to how the Ike Omar Nwachukwu-led Governing Council actually bastardised the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) beyond repairs. I painstakingly provided answers to the various malicious, defamatory and libellous petitions against me as Director General of the NIIA and how the Council could only note them but not able to know who was at fault. I also drew attention to how the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation directed that I should hand over to the most senior director at the institute on the basis of petitions against me but without the objectivity of purpose of first investigating the petitions. I respectfully want to ask at this juncture: where is the place of justice and fairness in Nigeria?

I left the NIIA on November 30, 2015, at the expiration of my tenure as Director General and certainly not on the basis of any malicious petitions. However, the petitioners have put it in black and white that my appointment was not renewed by you because of their petitions against me. If there is truth in the allegations by the petitioners, why is the government keeping quiet about the matter? I have asked for public investigation of the matter but no one wants to address it and yet your administration is claiming interest in fighting corruption and indiscipline.

I again want to respectfully ask why is it that I am not paid my entitlements since 2015? Why is my severance package not paid? The IGI insurance paid my entitlements to the NIIA but, the incumbent Director General, Professor Bukar Bukarambe, has said it was wrongfully paid into the Treasury Single Account of the Federal Government. Up till now, it has not been paid. The payment of my pension and gratuity, etc, remains a dream. Your Excellency, how do you expect to survive if you are in my current situation? I am talking about my entitlements?

The import of the foregoing narration is simply to let you know that your administration has kept quiet about various acts of indiscipline at the NIIA to which attention has been drawn. Your government punishes sincerity of purpose, patriotism and hard work based on my unique experience. Many Nigerians are facing this type of injustice and unfairness in the country. This is precisely why there are several agitations for restructuring. There is no policy of fairness and justice for all. I therefore strongly believe that in dealing with injustice and unfairness, the use of force cannot but be an aberration.

Put differently, Your Excellency, it cannot be sufficient to mean well. You are dealing with people who are seriously aggrieved. Removing the sources of their grievances will first reduce their anti-Nigeria sentiments. You will need to pacify those you called ‘irresponsible elements, make them responsible, and believe in national unity. If you are bent on succeeding with your lofty development agenda, again, please start with the entrenchment of policy of fairness and justice at all levels.

It will be ideal to have a special unit in the presidency to specifically monitor public complaints against government with the main objective of addressing them. Finally, it is not advisable to strategise on the basis of use of force as it can serve as a new source of strength for the opposition. Even if government wins in the battle field, what about the battle of the mindset?

May it please God Almighty to give you good health, longevity of life and peace of mind in the mighty name of Jesus Christ, Amen. Please accept renewal of assurances of my highest regards.
––Professor Bola A. Akinterinwa, inma, fniia, fssan
Director General, NIIA (2010-2015)

QUOTE: The import of the foregoing narration is simply to let you know that your administration has kept quiet about various acts of indiscipline at the NIIA to which attention has been drawn. Your Government punishes sincerity of purpose, patriotism and hard work based on my unique experience. Many Nigerians are facing this type of injustice and unfairness in the country. This is precisely why there are several agitations for restructuring. There is no policy of fairness and justice for all. I therefore strongly believe that, in dealing with injustice and unfairness, the use of force cannot but be an aberration