In the Spirit of Eid-el-Kabir


Monday Discourse

The Sallah celebrations provide President Muhammadu Buhari with a new opportunity to put in place an all-inclusive government that will give the people a sense of belonging, writes Tobi Soniyi

Since Nigeria became independent on October 1st, 1960, even before then, one fact has always been constant: no one can successfully govern Nigeria unless the person truly sees all Nigerians as his families.


To a great extent, all coups and counter-coups, the civil war and deadly ethnic clashes across the country occurred and recurred  because Nigerians don’t see themselves as brothers. They don’t see themselves as brothers because leaders who should lead by examples and bring the people together as a people have continued to play one ethnic group against the other. They have always hidden under their ethnic identity to run the country.  When there is crisis, our leaders always pitch their tents with their kinsmen even when their kinsmen are wrong. 


In essence, Nigeria has not been lucky to have a leader that is truly patriotic and national in his approach to governance.‎ Indeed, the country has been unfortunate to have leaders who exploit divisive tendencies to govern.

Even the constitution, which we now operate was written by military ursurpers who deliberately set some booby traps in the document with the hope that the people would find it unworkable and thereby provide them with the opportunity to seize power.


‎This is why a new government is usually seen by those who do not vote for the political party that wins election as ‘their government’. Unfortunate, leaders who emerge from such elections end up confirming the suspicion of those who do not vote for them by choosing to leave them out of the new governance. So, those left out will be waiting for an opportunity to form their own government and leave out others who do not support them. Nigeria has been going this circle and today, because the Buhari’s administration has gone to the extreme in leaving out those not from his ethnic group and those who did not vote for him, the people have responded with the clamour for restructuring. 


The Deputy Senate President, Dr Ike Ekweremadu succinctly captured this when he said:‎ “All these point to the fact that there is widespread dissatisfaction over how Nigeria is presently constituted and run. The South East region, in particular, has, no doubt, been at the worst receiving end of the structural imbalances with ripples of disequilibrium in the distribution of resources and opportunities since the end of the civil war in 1970. This, as we know, are at the root of the disquiet and agitation by various groups for a sovereign state of Biafra. 


“Although the Biafra agitation has been with us even during the regimes of former presidents  Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua, and Goodluck Jonathan, it was managed, through tact and semblance of inclusiveness. Thus, after Ralph Uwazulike’s arrest and release from detention by the Yar’Adua administration, the agitation withered greatly. It was even much less noticeable under the Jonathan Administration because the South East was given a greater sense of belonging.


“Therefore, the renewed and aggravated agitations across the South East, the hero status of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the growing pro-Biafra sentiments in the South East, and the widespread feelings of alienation and disgust with the Nigerian project since after the 2015 general election can be traced to the mistreatment of the region, which graduated from marginalization to exclusion, based on the 97 percent and 5 percent policy of the present administration.”


Rather than looking elsewhere for the growing clamour for restructuring, those in government must ask themselves the question: “Is there anything we are doing that is fuelling this agitation?” An honest answer will help the president to make a u-turn by bringing everyone on board.


Red Flags at the  Beginning  


In his congratulatory message to Buhari on May 10th, 2015, the late Alhaji Maitama Sule made a passionate appeal to the president-elect to do justice to all Nigerians and to make sure that he is president for all Nigerians. Here is how he put it: ‘‘What has recently happened to Nigeria is an act of God. Nobody expected that the elections would be peaceful. Nobody expected that the elections would not lead to the disintegration of the country.

“Behind crisis anywhere in the world is injustice. The solution to that crisis is justice. The world itself can never be governed by force. Never by fear. Even, never by power. In the end, what governs is the mind. What conquers is the spirit. And the weapons of the mind that conquers the spirit are justice and fair play. Don’t compromise justice with anything.

“Mr. President, I am not asking you to, and I know you will not discriminate against any part of Nigeria, but am only asking you to do justice to all the parts of Nigeria. Justice will bring about peace. Do justice to us. Do justice to them. Do justice to everybody”


However, as it turned out, the president did not heed this advice as he left no one in doubt, right at the beginning of his administration, that he would not be able to live to the high expectation Sule admonished him to.

During Buhari’s visit to the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) as part of his state visit to the US after his inauguration, President Emeritus of The Fund for Peace, Dr. Pauline Baker, asked Buhari how he would ensure security, amnesty, peace, and inclusive development in the Nigeria Delta region. The president’s response was not only disappointing but shocking. He said: “I hope you have a copy of the election results. The constituents, for example, that gave me 97 percent (of votes) cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me five percent”.


The video of Buhari’s response to Baker went viral even as his aides made frantic efforts  to play down the gaffe or explain it away. Had the president not gone ahead to implement that statement, no one will be talking about it today.


After making his first set of appointments which largely were people from the Hausa-Fulani extraction, the president defended his decision thus when he was confronted by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Hausa Service: “If I select people whom I know quite well in my political party, the people I have confidence in and I can trust them with any post, will that amount to anything wrong?”

The president went ahead to appoint only Muslims of Hausa-Fulani extraction as heads of security and military institutions. With this, the president set in motion the factors that revived agitation for restructuring.


We Have Been Here Before

But we had been here before. Just like Ekweremadu pointed out in the quote cited above, the South-east enjoyed a considerable sense of belonging under the administration of Dr Goodluck Jonathan. Unfortunate, the people of the South-west were not so lucky while Jonathan was president. Except for the then minister for agric, Akinwumi Adesina, nobody from the south-west was appointed into any position of relevance. For those who think being a minister for agriculture is a bid deal, the point is that when critical decisions about the country are to be taken, the minister for agric will not be there. This largely explained why Jonathan lost face in the south-west. His decision to bring Musiliu Obanikoro as minister of state for defence and the appointment of Jones Oladehinde Arogbofa as chief of staff to the president proved to be too little late.

Today, Buhari is playing the same game against the south-east and it behoves on all of us whether from the south-west or the north to speak out against injustice just like our beloved elder statesman, Maitama Sule said before his death.  Yesterday, it was the south-west, today it is the south-east. 

The good thing about this country is that people who truly love this country, the nationalists in the true sense of the words, are in every zone. They are many in the north and in the south. These are people Buhari should be listening to and not the sycophants in his government.


In this wise, one must commend a former governor of Kaduna State, Abubakar Umar, for warning the federal government against re-arresting the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, for flouting his bail conditions.

Umar said the move to re-arrest him is a ‘dangerous and politically unwise’ effort that could backfire. He also warned the Buhari administration to stop seeing Kanu ‘as a common criminal.’ 

According to him, re-arresting Kanu is not the smartest way out of the delicate situation.

He said: “Kanu is a bitter young man fighting for a fairer deal for his Igbo kinsmen. His seeming militant approach is the result of the strong-arm tactics with which the federal government deals with him.”

He cited a quote by Usman Danfodio in which the famed Islamic scholar and founder of the Sokoto Caliphate used to preach against inequality.

“One of the swiftest ways of destroying a kingdom is to give preference to one particular tribe over another, or to show favour to one group of people rather than another, and to draw near those who should be kept away and keep away those that should be drawn near.”

Umar said Buhari had in his words and actions kept the people of South-east marginalised, a development that contributed to the seeming popularity of secessionist campaigns across the region. 

He said: “Many Igbo genuinely feel marginalised since they belong to the category of those who gave Mr. President only 5% of their votes and appeared to have fallen out of his favour,”

Excerpts from the statement by Umar will suffice. “Buhari’s insistence that the unity of Nigeria is a settled issue is a nationalistic wish and is no surprise coming from a veteran of a civil war fought to keep the country one. 

“However, this does not take into account the mood of the nation as indicated by the growing agitations for self-determination, restructuring and many other similar demands. If indeed the president is able to ignore and silence those agitators, it will be a case of suspended animation. 

“All indications are that Nigeria has become so polarised that it requires a strong personality like Buhari to sustain its fragile unity. Needless to say that this does not bode well for the survival of the nation.

“Most Nigerians are convinced of the need to maintain Nigeria’s unity, cognisant of the enormous benefits all sections drive from a large, diverse and resource rich country. 

“The federation also provides a security umbrella to all the federating units which enhance their survivability and prosperity. It is difficult to see how any of them can fare better out of the federation. But the fact that there are growing agitations for self-determination, restructuring and other similar demands speak gravely of the way the federation is being governed.”

Umar warned that Nigeria’s unity could only be guaranteed when all its citizens feel they are getting a fair deal and when all its component parts are treated justly and equitably.


“Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, Adeyanju and other similar agitators might seem like felons or even anarchists. But as often happens over humanity’s turbulent history, appearances can be deceitful. One man’s terrorist could well be another man’s freedom fighter.

“In any event, despite what the security agencies might feel, there is nothing to fear from Kanu. He and his compatriots are people who love their country dearly and are willing to take a risk with their lives while blowing a whistle on some of our bad habits. It will be a tragic mistake to treat them as common criminals. It is evident that they are fighting a cause millions consider entirely legitimate.

“Until our democracy learns to accommodate dissent, vigorous, robust, even if inconvenient, it will be incapable of serving our common good,” he added.


People like Maitama Sule, Abubakar Umar, Balarabe Musa and many of them across the country have continued to give hopes to the youths that Nigeria will be great and they deserve commendation. 

Spiking Up Tensions 


When we commend people like Umar, we must also condemn people like the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, who shocked the world when he said that Arewa youths who gave ultimatum for the Igbos to leave the north were not arrested to avoid security breach but in the same breath asked court to revoke Kanu’s bail to pave way for his re-arrest. The AGF’s statement had left many wondering whether we live in the same country and whether we are all under the same  law. Elsewhere, that divisive statement would have earned a sack from the cabinet. Since Arewa youths can not be arrested, the federal government should apologise to Kanu for arresting him in the first instance. There is hardly anything he did that the Arewa youths have not done.

While the country was slowly walking back to peace, the decision by Malami to have Kanu’s bail revoked reignited the heat again. Immediately, the Igbos socio-cultural organisation, Ndigbo kicked.

 In a statement, the president of Ohaneze, John Nwodo, warned the Attorney-General of the Federation, to respect his oath of office, and beam his attention on other urgent national matters.

“I am amazed that the distinguished attorney is prepared to contest the superiority of the provisions of the constitution on fundamental human rights of freedom of movement and freedom of association over an erroneous judicial proclamation violating those rights.

“A few hours ago under the watchful eyes of the Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum and in total defiance of the Head of State’s proclamation of the rights of a citizen of Nigeria to live anywhere in Nigeria and to do business anywhere in Nigeria, the Arewa Youths, pretending to withdraw their quit notice, gave qualifications to the Head of State’s proclamation, issuing conditions for enjoyment of citizenship status.

“These same Arewa Youths are supposed to have been arrested on the orders of the Governor of Kaduna State and the Inspector General of Police for acts of treason, conversion and sedition. As the chief law officer of the Federation, the Attorney-General looks the other way. He does not go to court to seek an order of arrest or prosecution.”

Ohaneze warned Malami not to exacerbate the already tense situation in the nation by commencing a legal action which portrays him as biased, insensitive and misdirected.

IPOB also issued a furious statement in its reaction to the AGF’s decision. It described the move by the federal government to re-arrest Kanu as a dangerous path of intimidation, which smacks of ‘state sponsored terrorism designed to silence free speech and infringe on rights to peaceful assembly.’

The group noted that before the federal government decided to make a move to arrest its leader, it must first go to court to obtain a court order or else it will be resisted by millions of IPOB members.

The media and publicity secretary of IPOB, Emma Powerful, while reacting to the call said the government must also approach the courts to grant its prayers and not try to subvert the legal process by arresting without the permission of the court.

“We wish to place the whole world on notice regarding the illegal and wholesome undemocratic moves by government to re-arrest our leader Kanu who committed no crime known to the laws of the Nigerian state. This dangerous path of intimidation, smacks of state sponsored terrorism designed to silence free speech and infringe on our rights to peaceful assembly”.

“Merely asserting that Kanu is a threat to the Nigerian government is not a crime unless accompanied by legally definable crime or offence. The Buhari led administration must know that threats and more threats heaped upon intimidation after intimidation ‘do not wash’ with IPOB. Before Buhari decides to make a move to arrest our leader, he must first go to court to obtain a court order or else it will be resisted by million of IPOB members.

“Kanu is spiritually and mentally prepared for this epic battle. He is not afraid of being locked up without trial as long as his personal physician will be allowed to visit and attend to his medical needs. In dictatorial and totalitarian regimes such as we have under this APC government, outspoken critics are often imprisoned without trial, so this undemocratic and illegal approach to resolving the thorny issue of Biafra self-determination championed by IPOB is to be expected.”

No doubt Kanu has violated his bail conditions and contrary to Nwodo’s assertion, the constitution allows Kanu’s fundamental rights to be curtailed.  Nevertheless, it is unfair to subject Kanu to trial if similar threats by Arewa youths went unpunished. 


Time for the President to Walk the Talk


The president does not miss a chance to harp on the unity of Nigeria and to call on everyone to work for and uphold the country unity. Last Friday in Daura, Katsina State, the president said he was always pleased to see the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) achieving the purpose of national unity that inspired its creation since 1973.

Speaking to journalists at his country home after the Eid-el-Kabir prayers, Buhari said the NYSC scheme had over the years continued to pursue the purpose of integrating the country, noting that the diversity of cultures remained Nigeria’s greatest strength.

“I am always pleased to see corps members in Daura and other parts of the country. From the postings, we get to learn more about other cultures,’’ he said.

The president said the large number of corps members in Daura, mostly from the southern part of the country, was an indication that the dream of a unified Nigeria remained a reality.

Buhari noted that graduates from the north, who served in the southern states, also learnt a lot from the diversity that had made Nigeria a unique country.

Recalling his experience of working in various parts of the country as an army officer, Buhari said that serving in some southern parts of the country like Lagos and Ibadan were very rich experiences.

How come a president that relishes his experiences working in the southern part of the country could not come out categorically to denounce Arewa youths for giving Igbos ultimatum to leave the north?


Last Saturday, the president repeated his earlier statement that Nigerians have the constitutional right to live, work and raise their families in any part of the country without restrictions.


Receiving the Governor of Katsina State, Alhaji Bello Aminu Masari, at his country home as part of the Eid-el-Kabir celebrations, Buhari reiterated that the federal government would guarantee the security of everyone in the country, and ensure protection of all from harassments by reasons of their states of origin, tribes or ethnic backgrounds.

 The president said: “Every Nigerian has a right to live, work and thrive in any part of the country, irrespective of their backgrounds.’’


In the ears of Nigerians, such assurances are beginning to sound hollow. The president must go beyond mere rhetorics.