The Diplomatic Dimensions of Nigeria’s ‘#Revolution Now’ and its Future Problems: Quo Vadis?

Muhammadu Buhari

By Bola A. Akinterinwa

If great caution is not taken now, especially with the challenge of the current #Revolution Now in Nigeria, General Muhammadu Buhari may be the last President of a united Nigeria for many obvious reasons. First, President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) is increasingly being seen, rightly or wrongly, as very intolerant of dissenting opinions in Nigeria’s democratic setting. This perception does not augur well for the quest for a collective approach to the promotion of democratic governance in the country. In fact, PMB is not only being considered more as a military Head of State than as an elected President, but also as another General Sani Abacha. This is most unfortunate, especially that PMB is not on record to have embezzled public funds in the manner of Sani Abacha. He cannot also be likened to him in terms of style of dictatorship. In terms of benevolence, PMB is a better option.

Second, PMB is also increasingly being considered as the President of the Fulanis, rather than as President of the whole people of Nigeria. In other words, emphasis by his critics is placed on his pro-Fulani policies, which most southerners have also been challenging unrepentantly. It is believed that PMB takes more interest in what concerns the Fulani people than what is of concern to the generality of the people of Nigeria. For instance, reference is frequently made to the fact that PMB has enabled and approved the establishment of a Radio Fulani to assist the Fulani herdsmen to be kept abreast on current national developments. Put differently, PMB is said to have facilitated the acquisition of an Amplitude Modulation broadcast licence for a Fulani Radio Station.

As explained by the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, on May 21, 2019, ‘the radio service will serve as a vehicle for social mobilisation and education, in addition to interactive radio instruction methodology that will be adopted to reach the very hard-to-reach segment of our target population.’ And true enough, Professor Bashir Usman, the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Nomadic Education, has also indicated that the Hausa broadcasters had been contacted to develop programmes capable of helping the Commission’s efforts in educating the nomadic herdsmen. This clearly suggests that the Fulani Radio is therefore not a child’s play.

The reaction of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), for instance, points to one of the future problems for which everyone has to be prepared. In the words of the CAN, ‘we totally reject this insensitive decision of the government. The radio smacks of hypocrisy and deception, coming from a government that has in the last four years denied responsibility on behalf of Fulani herdsmen for crimes they (herdsmen) even owned up to.’ The emphasis here is the perception of Government’s support for the Fulani by not accepting that the Fulani herdsmen are responsible for crimes which the Fulani herdsmen themselves do not deny.

Additionally, the Christian Association of Nigeria has raised many questions: why didn’t they set up a radio station for farmers too? Where is the radio station for the bandits in Zamfara, or for the Niger Delta militants? No single person has been prosecuted for the killings in the North-central. Every adult in the North listens to the radio, so why can’t they reach the herdsmen on the existing radio stations? Why do they need to set up a different radio station for them? They should stop fooling us? Many questions but few answers! Why is it so? Whatever is the case, in the eyes of the Christians in Nigeria, PMB is simply fooling the people.

Third is the issue of RUGA Resettlement project which is more serious a problem than that of approval of a Fulani radio licence. RUGA, an acronym for Rural Grazing Area, is rightly or wrongly believed to be a hidden agenda for fulanisation of Nigeria, but which the Government has vehemently denied. As explained by Garba Shehu, presidential media spokesperson, ‘RUGA Settlement that seeks to settle migrant pastoral families, simply means rural settlement in which animal farmers, not just cattle herders, will be settled in an organised place with provision of necessary and adequate basic amenities, such as schools, hospitals, road networks, vet clinics, markets and manufacturing entities that will process and add value to meats and animal products.’ As he further noted, RUGA Settlement is part of the Federal government policy. It is therefore not surprising that the Federal Government earmarked the sum of N2,258 billion for the RUGA Settlement in the 2019 budget.

And contrary to the alleged fulanisation agenda, Mr. Ita Enang, the presidential Senior Special Assistant on National Assembly Matters, has argued that the RUGA Settlement is not meant to fulanise the country, arguing that the Obudu Cattle Ranch (now Obudu Mountain Resort), in Cross River State, and the Yankari Games Reserve, in Bauchi State, are part of the first RUGA programmes.

In spite of the foregoing arguments, Government’s own understanding of RUGA does not meet well with that of the religious and ethnic groups in other parts of the country. The general public, especially in the southern states of the country, do not subscribe to the arguments of the Federal Government. Additionally, even though the Federal Government has been forced to suspend the RUGA agenda, stiff opposition is still being mounted against government’s undeclared intention to reinstate the RUGA through an alleged ‘back door’.
For instance, as put by the Chairman of the Arewa Christians and Indigenous Pastors Association (ACIPA), Reverend Luke Shehu, the ACIPA commends ‘the President, Executive Council and Council of State for the decision to rescind the outrageous Fulani Cattle breeders’ settlement called the RUGA Settlement. Therefore, we warn against any plot or ploy by government to introduce any other obnoxious back-door policy aimed at colonising indigenous peoples’ land for Fulani herders’ settlement. Apart from the herders, the governments’ cabal and other benefactors of land colonisation, every other Nigerian is against the Fulani herders RUGA Settlement.’

And perhaps more interestingly, but also most disturbingly, the ACIPA has made it clear as follows: ‘let it be on record that we shall mobilise against any further plan to impose a federal policy taking over indigenous peoples’ land for the settlement of Fulani herders.’ Government has also responded by making it clear that ‘there is no government plan to seize state land, colonise territory or impose RUGA on any part of the federation.’ However, with the renewed efforts by the Federal Government to acquire or control the immediate land contiguous to internal waters, the people have again insinuated an impending backdoor strategy to pave way for the RUGA project.

It is useful, at this juncture, to also note another major source of noisome problems which is the allegation, if not a strong belief, that PMB is unrepentantly aiding and abetting whatever the Miyetti Allah does. PMB is said to be the patron of the Miyetti Allah under which Fulani herdsmen hide to encroach on other peoples’ land and commit crimes that are militating against national unity. When the PMB administration suspended the RUGA policy, the Northern AREWA leaders issued a warning of unrest to both the Federal and State governments for suspending the implementation of the Ruga settlement policy.

On this matter, the popular position of Southerners is made clear by the ACIPA thus: ‘the northern groups’ 30-day ultimatum to southerners in the north (to quit) is not only a threat but a call to war as it was incitingly evil… We strongly believe there is a conspiracy between the Miyetti Allah Association and the Northern (AREWA) groups calling out these nefarious riot acts. The government’s silence and inability to arrest any of the Fulani or AREWA Youth leaders over past and present inciting, as well as provocative statements is culpability on the part of the security (agencies) under this government.’
If Mr. Garba Shehu believes that the RUGA Settlement policy will lead to ‘a drastic reduction in conflicts between herders and farmers,’ an overall benefit to the nation, as he further put it, we do not share his sentiments on this. It is important to note that there cannot be any reduction in conflict if the ACIPA continues to believe in the partisanship of PMB in the matter: PMB has not arrested anyone for investigation and prosecution, either for the 30-day ultimatum given by some northern elders to southerners living in the north or for the alleged attacks and rape by Fulani herders.
Perhaps what should be stressed here is not the RUGA as a policy. It is good a policy. The critical problem is its environmental conditionings. It is essentially the forceful approach adopted by the Fulani herders to seek to acquire a grazing land that is the problem. It is their wrong belief that either no one has a title to land or what is often referred to as terra nullius in international law and relations, or that they can go to anywhere fully armed, including AK 47, with impunity, that is the problem. Indeed, it is apparently because of this that the Fulani herders do not think that they are encroaching on the land of farmers, the legitimate owners of land in the south.

Without any whiff of doubt, the opposition to the RUGA project is largely predicated on the belief that there should not be any basis to rob Peter to pay Paul. Fulani herders are seen to be private business people like the farmers in the agricultural sector. Consequently, Government, under the pretext of a Fulani president, should neither take their land and give to another people, nor seek to promote fulanisation to the detriment of national unity and security. This is the general thinking of people in the south as reflected in the national press.

Fourth, and perhaps most disturbingly, is the issue of #Revolution Now. It is an advanced step on the continuum of complaints against the PMB administration. It is generating a heated debate, first on what we should understand by a revolution. Secondly, on whether Government is right to have arrested peaceful protesters. Thirdly, on whether peaceful protests can constitute a treasonable felony. And fourthly, on whether Government’s handling of dissenting opinions is helpful to Nigeria’s foreign policy. These issues bring us to the analysis of the diplomatic dimensions of the #Revolution Now.

#Revolution Now and Diplomatic Dimensions

The word, ‘revolution,’ is the English word coined in the 14th century as an improvement of the French one, ‘revolucion’ which came into being in the 13th century. Revolution has a scientific and a political connotation. Scientifically, it is defined in terms of rotation or timing, completion or years, motion or celestial bodies. As defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary, a revolution is ‘the action by a celestial body of going round in an orbit or elliptical course,’ it is the ‘time taken by a celestial body to make a complete round in its orbit;’ it is also ‘the rotation of a celestial body on its axis;’ it is the completion of a course (as of years);’ it is also a progressive motion of a body around an axis or a motion of any figure about a centre or axis. Simply put, it is a rotation.

In terms of political definition, revolution is ‘a sudden, radical, or complete change.’ ‘A fundamental change in political organisation (especially the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed)’ is also considered as a revolution. Merriam Webster says an ‘activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socio-economic situation,’ is a revolution. More interestingly, a revolution is not only a ‘fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something: a change of paradigm,’ but also ‘a change in use or preference, especially in technology.’

From the foregoing politico-scientific definitions of a revolution, the scientific definition is not relevant for our purpose here. Attention will be more on the political conception of a revolution. In this regard, there cannot be a revolution if the factors of suddenness, radical and completeness of change are not present. Revolution is about change. It is about an activity and a movement. The critical thinking at this level is about the purpose of a revolution or of an activity or of a movement. Merriam Webster has it that such activity or movement is aimed at effecting ‘fundamental changes in the socio-economic situation.’ Revolution is not only about changing ‘the way of thinking,’ but also essentially about change of paradigm.

In fact, speaking stricto sensu from the perspective of Political Science, a revolution is a sudden turnaround or change in political power or political organisation, precipitated by public revolt against an incumbent government on the basis of perceived bad governance and incompetence or political, economic, and social oppression. Revolution is therefore an instrument of protest. In this regard, Aristotle, the Ancient Greek philosopher, has distinguished between two types of revolution: complete change from one constitution to another; and modification of an existing constitution.

The typology of Alexis de Tocqueville is different but he still talked about two types: political revolutions, sudden and violent revolutions aimed at putting in place a new political system or transforming the entire society. He also talked about slow, sweeping transformations of the entire society that take many generations to achieve. While Charles Tilly, a revolution scholar, sees a revolution in terms of coups d’état (a top-down seizure of power, civil war, revolt and great revolutions, the Marxists differentiate between and among pre-capitalist, early bourgeois, bourgeois, bourgeois-democratic, early proletarian and socialist revolutions. Thus, what constitutes a revolution is very complex in international relations. It is therefore normal and expected that any government can easily feel threatened by a mere pronouncement of the word, revolution, especially that people generally know the beginning of a revolution, but no one is in the right position to predict how, when and where it will end. It is against this background that the hullaballoo about the #Revolution Now should be explained and that the diplomatic dimensions should be understood.

On Monday, August 5, 2019, the #Revolution Now planned by Omoyele Sowore, publisher of Sahara Reporters and former presidential contestant, took place. Before then, he was arrested by the Department of State Security for planning to oust the government of PMB. Government does not see the agenda as an ordinary protest but as a revolution, hence it has accused Omoyele Sowore of treasonable felony. Government gave a stern warning to intending protesters not to come out to protest on August 5 but the protests still took place in different places. Many protesters were arrested and detained. Journalists covering the #Revolution Now were arrested and some reportedly brutalised. This is where there is the need for a great caution in the handling of protests in Nigeria and where the diplomatic implications should be a source of lessons.

First, Nigeria has been on the path of gradual disintegration since the dispute between herdsmen and farmers became a national question. The Federal Government is perceived and believed not to have taken any prompt and decisive response to it. Many constituent States of Nigeria, and particularly ethnic groups, have opted for self-security measures. Some Northern elders have even asked the herdsmen to return to the North in the belief that their safety should be the first priority.

Related to this point is the issue of the #Revolution Now. The DailySun of August 8, 2019, p.39 has it that the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNGs) had demanded a review of alliance with the South West. In the words of the CNGs, as reported by Romanus Ugwu, ‘it is quite unfortunate that the South West, which has been the single major beneficiary of the Buhari administration should also be in the forefront of efforts to discredit and bring him down.’ Perhaps more disturbingly, the CNGs asked PMB, ‘if in all honesty he still considers the South Western players as true friends who are genuinely desirous of his success. He should ask himself if the treatment he is receiving from them is worth the attention he had given the South West.’

In the final submission of the CNGs, the South West cannot be a reliable ally, there is the need ‘to renegotiate its current alliance with the South West, which has never been North’s political ally. The alliance is already turning out to be unhealthy.’ True, there is nothing wrong in seeking renegotiation if that will bring about good governance, but there is nothing to suggest so. Interest of the CNGs is in the person of PMB, and not on national questions. Renegotiation cannot but harden the resolve of the Yoruba hardliners seeking an Oduduwa Republic. The CNGs, if truly they love and want the success of PMB, should assist him to address the complaints of the people of South West. The truth of the matter is that the quest for renegotiation has the potential to further divide the country.

Secondly, Africa’s Nobel Laureat, Professor Wole Soyinka, noted at the Fagunwa Study Group Second International Conference held in Akure, Ondo State, that ‘as regards the insecurity in the South West, there is an emergency. There should be a declaration of security emergency throughout the land and measures taken accordingly.’ Who says that the South West is not a terra cognita for insecurity in all its ramifications? Without jot of gainsaying, insecurity is currently a major threat to national survival.
Thirdly, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has reportedly written to the United Nations Human Rights Council to ‘urgently convene a special session on Nigeria over arbitrary arrests and repression by officers of the Nigeria Police Force and other security forces of #Revolution Now protesters, organisers, activists and journalists who covered the protests on Monday across the country.’

And perhaps more disturbingly, the SERAP has it that ‘there are serious violations of the rights of Nigerians to liberty, personal security, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association and media freedom.’ Consequently, it requested that a special session is urgently needed to help stem the attack on human rights and contribute to UN efforts to prevent further abuses, including arbitrary detention and excessive use of force.’

The implications of the foregoing cannot be far-fetched and helpful to Nigeria’s international image and status. Foreign perception of national insecurity necessarily drives away prospective investors. The abuse or violations of human rights, as reported by the SERAP, cannot but create a serious enmity between Nigeria, on the one hand, and all the western proponents of fundamental human rights, on the other. The US is a case in point: US friendship with any country is never to the extent of accepting to condone abuse of democratic values. Besides, if a war breaks out today in Nigeria, the old alliance of all Nigeria versus the Igbo in the 1967-1970 civil war, should not be expected. The likely scenario is an alliance of the South and a part of the middle belt versus the North. More importantly, many powerful countries want Nigeria dismembered in order to permanently ensure that there is no strong opponent to the West in Africa. Consequently, the many problems of unemployment, insecurity in the country, etc, cannot but be in their own national interest. PMB should therefore seek to reduce the speed of allowing the killing of Nigeria softly.