National Dialogue Now More Compelling

Muhammadu Buhari

More than any time in the history of Nigeria, there are reasons for a national dialogue now, writes Shola Oyeyipo

The statement that ‘Nigeria is on the precipice,’ is fast becoming a recurring decimal among concerned Nigerians, who have been expressing fears about the deteriorating level of resentment and disunity among the various sections of Nigeria.

Already, Nigeria has had more than a fair share of militancy, terrorism, armed robbery, kidnapping and other forms of violent crimes but the situation got worse lately with the costly clashes between farmers and herdsmen as well as banditry, and the dangerous part of it has been the perception that a section of the country is perpetrating violent crimes against other parts while the national leadership is seen as looking the other way.

To really evaluate the fragile peace among the various sections of Nigeria, it is best to closely monitor the contents of statements that have been coming from groups like the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF); pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere; Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), Ohaneze Ndigbo, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and others. It was more as if these groups were beating the drums of war.

The tension between the various ethnic societies was further heightened recently, when news broke that the federal government had concluded plans to implement the Ruga Settlement programme as part of plans to mitigate the sustained clashes between farmers, whose farms are daily destroyed and herders, who are in search of greener pastures for their herds following desertification in their regions.

Looking at the matter objectively, the government is in a fix. The Ruga solution was totally unacceptable to southerners, who have not only been victims of herdsmen’s attacks in their bids to protect their farms from their animals, but who are also convinced that the project was only aimed at taking parts of their ancestral lands for the Fulani herdsmen, who are alleged to be President Muhammadu Buhari’s kinsmen.
The prevailing situation has continued to elicit various shades of opinions and outcries. While the southerners and middle belt people have vehemently opposed and protested against the initiative, CNG, which initially gave the Buhari-led administration a 30-day ultimatum to implement the suspended Ruga project, changed tactics. It called on Fulani herdsmen to depart the south and return to base in the north. All these are danger signs.

Obviously, a situation as this calls for concern among well-meaning leaders, and other concerned Nigerians. As such, not a few people have lent their voices to how Nigeria could get out of the prevailing quagmire and avert circumstances that could further deepen the division.
Former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan recently added his voice to the debate on how to get Nigeria back on track.
The former Nigerian leader, who spoke at the launching and presentation of the memoirs of chairman of the 2014 National Conference of Ethnic Nationalities, Senator Femi Okurounmu, at the University of Lagos, explained that though he could not implement the report of the conference before he left office, President Buhari should revisit it and implement the recommendations to save Nigeria.

According to Jonathan, who expressed optimism that the conference recommendations were far reaching and capable of taking Nigeria out of the woods, “I believe that the solutions to most of the problems we face today lie in our honest assessment of the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference. If we take politics out of consideration, there is every likelihood that a diligent implementation of the key recommendations of the conference will lead the nation out of the woods.”

Also bothered about the state of affairs in Nigeria, former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, in yet another open letter to President Buhari, expressed concern over the security challenges posed by the Boko Haram terrorists and the herdsmen/farmers clashes in some parts of the country.

The former president touched on various issues of national importance but emphatically stressed the need to create a platform (dialogue) where possible grievances of the Fulani and other ethnic groups in the nation could be addressed. “Whatever may be the grievances of Fulani, if any, they need to be put out in the open and their grievances, if legitimate, be addressed; and if other ethnic groups have grievances, let them also be brought out in the open and addressed through debate and dialogue.”

Obasanjo stated further that addressing the issue of security, “government should open up discussion, debate and dialogue as part of consultations at different levels. The outcome of such deliberations should be collated to form inputs into a national conference to come up with the solution that will effectively deal with the issues and lead to rapid development, growth and progress.

“Such development will give us a wholesome society and enhanced living standard and livelihood in an inclusive and shared society. It will be a national programme. We need unity of purpose and nationally accepted strategic roadmap that will not change with whims and caprices of any government.
While he canvassed for strong support and cooperation from Nigerians to ensure effective implementation of desired initiatives, Obasanjo said while well-meaning Nigerians have continued to put forward various solutions at addressing the challenges confronting the country, “the calls and cries can only continue to be ignored at the expense of Nigerian unity, if not its continued existence”.

However, when the call was made to Fulani herdsmen to return to the North from the South, another reputable Nigerian, nonagenarian former Liaison Officer to late President Shehu Shagari and a founding member, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Mr. Tanko Yakasai disagreed with the call.

While he contended that Section 4 of the constitution guarantees not only the right of any Nigerian citizen to reside in any part of the country, he so wished that the section also guarantees every Nigerian right to hold and express opinion without let or hindrance.
“I am a Hausa man not Fulani but I will defend the right of the Fulani and other Nigerian people to enjoy all the rights I and other Nigerians are enjoying. I appeal to all well-meaning Nigerians to join me in this fight so that together we shall make our country a place where our people can live in peace and enjoy peaceful coexistence with one another.

“I call on all northerners and other Nigerians to be weary of the unpatriotic elements living within our midst, northerners and non-northerners alike, who do not believe in the unity and oneness of our beloved country not to allow themselves to be misled by the antics of those unpatriotic elements, who have nothing positive to contribute towards making this country great.

“Our nation has all it takes to make it the envy of many. What we lack is good leadership. I believe we shall one day overcome this misfortune. We, therefore, need to direct our attention in creating ideal leadership that can take us to the Promised Land. Many other nations found themselves at one time in the kind of situation we are presently experiencing, they took up the challenge and overcame their problems,” Yakasai said.

The last paragraph of the Wednesday, July 17, response of top leaderships of SMBLF, to the order by the NEF to Fulani herders to leave the Southern parts of the country, and return to the North, which was signed by notable leaders in persons of Chief E.K Clark (Chairman, SMBLF), Chief Ayo Adebanjo (Afenifere), Chief Nnia Nwodo (President General, Ohaneze Ndi-Igbo) and Dr. Pogu Bitrus (President General, Middle Belt Forum), was very instructive.

The leaders wrote, in their statement titled: ‘Nigeria’s Crisis and Northern Elder’s Forum (NEF) Descent to the Fray,’ that “We appeal to the international community not to watch arms akimbo the dangerous events that are playing out in Nigeria. “It is cheaper to facilitate a peaceful resolution of the contradictions that have been deliberately orchestrated in the country as it would be more expensive for them to handle an implosion in Nigeria.”

In conclusion, every fact on the ground points to one thing, sections of Nigeria are openly divided against themselves and the leadership is not taking any serious steps to mend the cracks. If this current trend persists without a dialogue to address the issues, just as in marriages, divorce may be inevitable.