A Nation Perpetually in Crisis

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SimonKolawolelive By Simon-Kolawole, Email: simon.kolawole@thisdaylive.com, sms: 0805 500 1961

If you were born in the early 1980s, it is safe to conclude that since the day you started brushing your teeth by yourself, you have only known a conflict-prone Nigeria. You are almost 40 years old now and the headlines you’ve been reading all your life are killings, kidnappings and bombings. You’ve never known an era of peace and calm. When you think one cycle of conflict has ended and you are trying to breathe easy, even shouting “hallelujah” under your breath, another cycle explodes — and it is always not less devastating than the previous one. Nigeria is a land that can flow with milk and honey but is, unfortunately, flowing with sorrow, tears and blood, as Fela would put it.

My earliest recollections of mass killings in Nigeria date back to 1980, when the Maitatsine riots overwhelmed Kano. My cousins who were living in Kano at the time regaled me tales of how trailers were used to pack dead bodies for mass burial after the crackdown on the members of the Islamic sect by the security agencies. I believed everything they told me since they claimed to have seen things with their own eyes, but a part of me felt they were probably adding a little more salt and pepper. Much later in my adulthood, though, I came across credible reports that put the death toll of the December 1980 crackdown at over 4,000. That was massive.

However, in my own rendition of history, I would say the sustained national meltdown along religious lines started with the mistrust generated by Nigeria’s membership of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1986. I would say it was a major turning point for the country. Since then, we have been tip-toeing through the wreckage of one religious conflict to the other. Christians alleged that Gen Ibrahim Babangida had an Islamisation agenda. It ushered Nigeria into a permanent state of mutual hate, suspicion and tension along ethno-religious lines. The controversy was so intense and bitter that ethno-religious sentiments began to define us as a people.

It was a matter of time for the first major religious violent conflict to erupt: the Kafanchan riots of March 1987. As we were told later, some Christian and Muslim students of Kafanchan Teachers College were having an argument which ended in a bloodbath. Newspaper reports said 19 people were killed and the ensuing destruction consumed 169 hotels, 152 churches, five mosques and 95 vehicles as the riots spread to Kaduna, Katsina and Funtua cities. That was just the beginning. The Zango Kataf riots of February and May 1992 led to more deaths and destruction. As we speak, Christians and Muslims are still killing each other in Kaduna state — 32 years after.

Other parts of the north began to catch fire — from Kano, where planned programmes by German evangelist Reinhard Bonke and South African Islamic cleric Ahmed Deedat had to be cancelled for security reasons, to Bauchi state where an argument over suya led to killings. Meanwhile, when the Justice Benedict Okadigbo tribunal sentenced Major-Gen. Zamani Lekwot and six others to death for “culpable homicide” over the Zango Kataf riots of 1992, Christians protested. The convicts were all Christians. CAN said Babangida only took action because Christians finally “defended” themselves. They said nobody was punished for the previous clashes when Christians suffered heavy losses.

In the end, the Zangon-Kataf Seven were spared the death penalty but we were still in the middle of the crisis when June 12 arrived in 1993. The annulment turned the south-west into a war zone; soldiers flooded the streets every day, killing protesters. Perhaps, sensing that another civil war was approaching, the Igbo began to leave Lagos in drove under the pretext of going home for “yam festival”. I don’t blame them; a Yoruba proverb says if a madman killed your mother, you would run at the sight of a mechanic. They knew what they went through during the civil war from 1967 to 1970. Affliction shouldn’t arise a second time.

Babangida left power in 1993 and created room for Gen Sani Abacha to take over but the political crisis worsened. Labour unions, notably fuel tanker drivers, embarked on a year-long strike that completely crippled the economy. You would queue at the filling stations for one week only to get a few litres of petrol. You would leave home for work in the morning and return midway as demonstrations would have started somewhere on your route. People were making u-turns right in the middle of expressways. You needed to display “solidarity” leaves on your windshield to avoid attacks. Economic productivity went down without fail.

Abacha’s five-year terror was so traumatic that self-determination groups began to rise up in Yorubaland. The Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) was established and this heightened the ethno-religious tensions. There was some peace after Abacha died but when President Olusegun Obasanjo took charge in 1999, OPC increased its campaign for Oduduwa Republic. An incident in Sagamu that led to the death of a northern Muslim lady (some said she was not even a Nigerian) raised the temperature and, soon enough, there was bloodbath in the south-west and retaliation in the north. Obasanjo gave a “shoot on sight” order against OPC and that seemed to have calmed them down.

In the north, some people had come up with the Arewa Peoples Congress (APC) as a counter to OPC but it did not last. Nevertheless, there were regular riots and killings as one northern state after the other started proclaiming Sharia. The Egbesu Boys in the Niger Delta as well as the Bakassi Boys and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) in the south-east later took the centre stage as if Nigeria had become a sworn enemy of peace and stability. We managed to contain these groups, but the Niger Delta militants launched a campaign for resource control and began to attack oil installations. In the background, Boko Haram began to bud.

When President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua came to power in 2007 and declared amnesty for the Niger Delta militants, there was some measure of success, but Boko Haram soon took over the conflict baton and that has turned out to be the longest in our history — the death toll only second to that of the civil war. Under President Goodluck Jonathan, Boko Haram killed thousands, rendered millions homeless, destroyed people’s livelihood and turned Nigeria upside down. The crisis was initially believed to have been fuelled by those opposed to Jonathan’s ascendancy to power in 2011, but his political opponents accused him of orchestrating the crisis to frame them up.

President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015 and has waged war against Boko Haram. To a large extent, we have made progress. Boko Haram used to strike with ease in Abuja, Kano and Kaduna, but its activities are now largely limited to certain areas in the north-east. We were yet to shout “eureka” when the pastorialists/herdsmen age-long conflict escalated, as if Nigeria is destined not to enjoy peace for one minute. To compound matters, the herdsmen that went peaceful before the 2019 general election have now gone full blast, and kidnapping has been added to their portfolio. And I almost forgot: bandits have also been terrorising Zamfara and Sokoto states.

Now you have to pardon me: I have a funny theory about these unprecedented conflicts tearing at every part of Nigeria. We have never had them this widespread simultaneously: Boko Haram in the north-east, bandits in the north-west, farmers/herders in the north-central, kidnappers in the south-west, militants in the south-south and Biafra agitators in the south-east. In the past, conflicts were usually in one or two parts at a time. Now every zone is involved. I’m reluctant to say this but I will say it all the same: maybe we are getting close to the full cycle, the rock bottom? Maybe the worst will be over after the full cycle? Maybe we will rebound, start on a clean slate and move forward?

That would be a comforting perspective but peace cannot come by accident. There is no alternative to good leadership. In fact, these conflicts are more likely to end in anarchy if we do not apply short-term, medium-term and long-term strategies to pull the country back from the precipice. As first aid, we need to scale up security across the country in a strategic and effective way, deploying technological and human resources. We should ask for foreign help if necessary. However, the ultimate antidote to frequent outbreak of conflicts must involve robust economic initiatives to reduce poverty and sincere political engagement to address the ethno-religious tensions.

Finally, I must say that the current attempt to address the herders/farmers crisis through Ruga settlements was poorly conceived and poorly designed. It will ultimately fail. I am speaking strictly as a student of governance and development. Conflicts are better managed when the critical stakeholders sit down to design the strategies by themselves. In this instance, the host communities, the herders and the security agencies are the key players. There must be a consensus, a mutual agreement. Solutions cannot be decreed from Abuja. We will only end up worsening the conflict that we set out to resolve — because of a poorly managed policy process. Counterproductive.

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And Four Other Things…

RAPE AND RAGE

Busola, wife of Timi Dakolo, the Nigerian singer, has alleged that she was raped at the age of 16 by her pastor. This has led to public outrage and given birth to a movement, which hopefully will create a bigger campaign to tackle rape in Nigeria. Our society is structured in such a way that rape victims always get blamed, shamed and stigmatised. People who know nothing about how the vulnerable are exploited by those they venerate ask dumb questions like “why are you just speaking out now?” Really? Is rape a badge of honour that the victim should be displaying on their chest? It’s good Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo has denied the allegation and I’m happy he wants to go to court. Waiting…

UNSEATING SOYINKA

It has been interesting reading millions of comments and perspectives on the young man who asked Prof Wole Soyinka to get off his seat on a local flight. I may be wrong, but this incident might have been inspired by a viral Twitter thread by a humorous writer who had narrated a similar incident days earlier. What do I think? Well, I would never ask an 84-year-old man, much less Soyinka, to vacate my seat. I may politely let him know it is my seat. I wouldn’t say the young man was right or wrong. It is more about culture and personal choices. By my upbringing, I am told to give preference to my seniors, including my elder sister who was only one year older. Manners.

USELESS SERVICE

If you want to be employed by the Nigerian civil service as a graduate, you must have done the compulsory one-year national youth service. If you dodge national service, you could be jailed for one year. Not to worry though: you don’t have to do the national service if you want to be governor or president. A court of law has ruled, in the case of Ogun state governor, Dapo Abiodun, that you don’t need to do NYSC to contest for governorship. You don’t even need a school certificate to become governor or president — the law only says you must have been educated up to school certificate level. May we now do the needful and scrap NYSC and stop fooling around? Logical.

MYTH BUSTER

SLANG is derived from “short language”, right? You have been scammed! Although this is a creative way of defining what slang is, the origin of the word itself is not even English, so the idea that “s” was taken from “short” and “lang” from “language” cannot survive scrutiny. The origin of “slang” dates to the 18th and 19th centuries in the Scandinavian region. It was initially used to describe the vocabulary of “low” people, but as evolution goes, it soon became applied to usages below standard speech. Notable Norwegian words associated with “slang” are “slengenavn” and “slengja kjeften” for “nickname” and “to abuse with words” respectively. Woke.