COVID-19 Lockdown and Night Influx of ‘Almajarai’ into the South: Avoiding Disintegration of Nigeria

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By Bola A. Akinterinwa

The foundation of national unity in Nigeria has, at best, been very porous since the accession of Nigeria to national sovereignty on October 1, 1960. The first and most critical reason for the weak foundation is the use of blocks of insincerity, the cement of treachery and polluted water to build the walls of Nigeria’s national unity. As efforts are being made to build Nigeria, the walls not only crack, but are also falling apart. This is the summary of Nigeria’s political history since the time of independence.

In this regard, the British colonialists probably did well by uniting the peoples of Nigeria, but, undoubtedly, also did very poorly by ensuring that the unity is only functionally destabilising. For instance, the British tampered with the census figures of the country before political independence in 1960. When the total population of the country was only 32 million, they said it was 52 million. In fact, the population survey shortly before independence revealed that the Yoruba in the Southwest was the most populous region, but the British changed the figures to favour the North.

On the basis of the distorted census figures, national development agenda has always been adopted since 1960. On this same basis of wrong census figures, development and financial resources were also allocated. This situation was one of the main rationales for the unnecessary mutual suspicions at the level of the ethnic communities and why national unity has been far-fetched in the country. Without any gainsaying, the great extent of the mutual suspicions led to the outbreak of a civil war in 1967.

And yet, again, no meaningful lesson has been learnt from the war. National unity has always been by use of force or by manu militari since the end of military hostilities on January 12, 1970. The battle against the secessionists was won but the war against non-secession is yet to be won. Peace has been difficult to secure in spite of the various efforts at peace-making.

General Yakubu Gowon began the implementation of his national unity agenda with a war slogan, ‘to keep Nigeria one, is a task that must be done.’ The ‘task’, during the military hostilities simply meant that no secession in whatever form, should be prevented. When military hostilities came to an end, the meaning of ‘task’ was, and still is, maintenance of peaceful coexistence. For the purposes of national unity and peaceful coexistence, General Gowon, whose name was redefined as ‘Go On With One Nigeria (GOWON),’ indeed, began to gowonise Nigeria by restructuring the four regions into 12 States. Subsequent governments continued with the restructuring by carving out new States. The country is currently playing host to 36 States.

Apart from state-creation as an instrument of national unity, General Gowon and Professor Adebayo Adedeji introduced the National Youths Service Corps on 22nd May, 1973. All Nigerian graduates below the age of 30 years were to be involved. The ultimate objective was to begin to build a new Nigerian society by fostering unity and cohesion of all Nigerian fresh graduates. Inter-ethnic marriages through the instrumentality of the NYSC scheme were encouraged. As at today, there is nothing much to write home about the NYSC as an instrument of nation-building.
Most unfortunately, it should be said, the war is yet to come to an end as at this time of writing. The problem is increasingly becoming more complex, especially with the ‘exportation’ of the Almajarai from the Northern States to the southern parts of Nigeria.

The Influx as a Complication

In spite of the many other measures taken in the post-gowonian era, such as the adoption of the Federal Character Principle, establishment of a National Orientation Agency and Unity Schools, as well as the adoption of the doctrine of non-negotiability of national unity, it should be noted that national unity has remained essentially a dream. The dream has been difficult to translate into manifest destiny, simply because the governance of Nigeria is still largely predicated on political chicanery, ethnic chauvinism, and religious bigotry. And true enough, religious intolerance has become more critical an issue in the governance of Nigeria of today.

Why is it so difficult for any Government of Nigeria to address the aforementioned issues of political chicanery ethnic chauvinism and religious intolerance? As a result of Nigeria’s ethnic diversity, ethnic chauvinism should naturally be expected. However, why is it difficult to manage the country’s ethnic diversity, which ought to be a developmental asset, rather than being an underdevelopment liability? On religious intolerance, why should anyone kill another person because of God? Even if one has to kill on behalf of God, why must the killing be violently indecent? Killing softly or otherwise in an extrajudicial fashion is not acceptable in any civilising nation-state, but, most unfortunately, this is what currently obtains in Nigeria. This is most unacceptable and should not be so

In the words of Uche Ume-Uche of the Evangel University in Akaeze, Ebonyi, and Chigozie Okonkwo of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, ‘government policies and projects are narrowly conceived and implemented to favour selected groups and communities. This heightens disagreements and controversies among the diverse peoples and communities, threatening the nation’s existence and development.’ Thus, the problem of political governance in Nigeria is simply the conception, narrowly or otherwise, of government policies to favour a certain ethnic group or community. This partly explains why different ethnic groups, not only talk about a country of six nations now, but are also toying with the rule of self-determination and actual secession.

Various suggestions on what Nigeria’s main problem is all about have also been made. For instance, the late Muammar Gaddafi has it that Nigeria cannot have peace unless the country is divided into Muslim North and Christian South. With the terrorising activities of the Boko Haram, and particularly with its openly declared objective of going to war in order to establish an Islamic State in Nigeria, there cannot but be an iota of truth in the suggestion of Muammar Gaddafi.

From the perspective of Jerry Rawlings, former president of Ghana, the problem of Nigeria is the existence of neo-colonial leaders in the country. They are still implementing the colonial masters’ agenda in Nigeria. As argued by Rawlings, unless they are flushed out, there will never be any enduring solution to the centrifugal politics in the country. In this case, Nigeria’s main problem is the post-colonial mentality underlying political governance in Nigeria.

At the Nigerian level, Chief Audu Ogbe, in his analysis of the tragedy of Nigeria and how to cure Nigeria of its importation syndrome, argued that Nigeria’s problem began in 1986 with the adoption of the IMF Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP). In other words, Chief Ogbe sees Nigeria’s problem from the economic prism, and holds the acceptance of the IMF-introduced SAP for Nigeria’s ordeal.
Chief Ayo Adebanjo, the Afenifere leader, noted on April 25, 2020 that ‘the beginning of our problem in this country was the military coup of 1966. The people who want to do mischief, particularly our brothers from the North, are cheating us under the present structure imposed on us by the military in 1966.’

More important, he said that there is no true federalism in the country, and that ‘as long as that Constitution (1999) exists, those of us in the South, who took part in the founding of this nation, under our constitutional democracy, will not accept.’ And perhaps most importantly, he complained that Nigeria ‘is a country where a section is imposing its will on the rest. They are using false population to get a majority in the parliament. The return to the genuine federal structure is imperative to free the rest of the country from servitude.’ In other words, the problem of Nigeria in the eyes of Chief Adebanjo is structural and the needed solution is the need to return to the ‘genuine federal structure’ on which Nigeria was built in the First Republic.

It is against this background that the influx of both the Almajarai and more elderly people from the North, perceived to be consciously pushed out to come and settle down in the southern parts of the country, is necessarily making the already bad situation more complex. The influx should therefore be espied further and understood in terms of its implications for national disintegration.

The Influx as a Centrifugal Factor

Before the advent of COVID-19, the administration of PMB has been faced with three main challenges to which PMB has not been able to respond clearly: allegations of a Fulanisation agenda; manifestations of a quest for an Islamic State; and public belief, rightly or wrongly, of Government’s complicity in the Fulani herdsmen’s violent occupation and destruction of farmers’ farmland in the South. The problem is not simply the existence of the challenges, but mainly the public perception that PMB has consciously kept quiet about the subject-matter.

Many have argued that every Nigerian has the legitimate right to move around the country, as well as settle down in any place of his or her choice to live. And true enough, the 1999 Constitution, as amended, provides for that. However, this constitutional provision has to be understood in the context of national safety, and particularly in terms of the lockdown put in place by PMB to contain the spread of the very contagious and deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Many issues and questions have to be raised at this juncture.

First, there is the challenge of non-compliance with the President’s directive on lockdown in the FCT, Lagos State and Ogun State. The non-compliance is believed to be largely responsible for the increase in the figures of infected persons, a development that has also prompted a review of the lockdown policy on May 4, 2020. On this day, PMB not only announced the relaxation of the lockdown, but also introduced a new measure: a curfew from 8pm through 6am. Besides, he prohibited inter-state vehicular movements. Essential vehicular movements are exempted, but most unfortunately, the very exempted vehicles, that is, those providing social supplies, etc, are illegally being used during the period of the curfew to transport the almajarai and other people to the South.

Many of the almajarai are from infected States of the North, whose governors deny the existence of COVID-19 in their regions. Why is it that it is during the curfew period that the almajarai are intensively being smuggled into the South? Why are the smugglings intensified and are all taking place at the same time?

True, Northern governors are reported to have decided to do away with the Almajarai henceforth. The Almajarai will therefore need alternative place of abode. However, why is it that the Governors are unable to deal decisively with the issue in the North and they are more interested in pushing them to the South? Put differently, why push them to the South? From various indicators, it is not simply because of the fear of possible importation of new cases of COVID-19 into the South, but particularly, because of the fear of Fulanisation and Islamisation.

Even if there is no northernisation agenda, many Southern elite strongly believe that there is a hidden agenda behind the influx of the Almajarai into the South. This is why many States in the South have refused entry to all those who attempted to come to their states. The refusal is a resultant from the need to comply with the Federal Government instruction to take all necessary measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria. To allow law breakers to move freely, to frolic around with viruses in them, and deliberately or otherwise, infecting innocent compatriots, cannot but be a disservice and wasted efforts and funds. The influx is a dangerous threat to national strategic and health security.

A second challenge arising from the intensified smuggling of the almajarai into the Southern parts of the country is the perception of the almajarai as possible agents of the Boko Haram. they are seen as intelligence informants and would-be suicide bombers in the near future. Questions are therefore being raised. For instance, the almajarai are smuggled. They do not carry any luggage.

They do not have any fixed or known address in the State where they are to be dropped. And disturbingly, they are arriving at dead midnight, during prohibited hours of curfew. This is why and how national unity is under a severe threat. One fundamental question now is who really wants the national unity we are pleading for now? It is not likely that anyone will prefer to have terrorists among them. Rather than have them, they are most likely to opt out of the Nigerian project. This point is made clear in some clear and direct warnings to the Federal Government.

There was the report of the Commissioner of Youths and Skills Acquisition, Hon. Signor Idiege who prevented two trucks carrying more than 120 young people and matured men without luggage from entering the Cross River State. The almajarai were turned back at the Gaken-Benue border. It is noteworthy that they were able to leave their originating states without encumbrances or denials. They also passed through several security checks and were not accosted. It is only at the point of arrival and entry into their states of choice in the South that they always have problems.

In a statement given on August 7, 2019 by the Southern, Middle-Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) to the Federal Government of Nigeria, warning it to be cautious about the pushing of the RUGA agenda, the signatories to the Statement (Mr.Yinka Odumakin for the South West; Senator Bassey Henshaw, for the South-South; Professor Chigozie Ogbu, for the South East; and Dr. Isua Dogo, for the Middle-Belt), told the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, its observations as follows: ‘we have noticed how he (Ahmed Lawan) has been trying to bring up the defeated bill through which the Executive Arm sought to take over water banks across the country in pursuit of the RUGA policy and other domination quests.’

More significant, the SMBLF said ‘the wisdom of the Land Use Act in vesting lands in Governors through whom the Federal (Government) can apply for spaces for projects, should never be violated in order not to heat up the polity… Nigeria is presently in a precarious situation and all those who are holding temporary offices should not do permanent damage to the country.’

Asari Dokubo, in a video that is circulating worldwide now, has told everyone in the South to prepare for self-defence in light of the increasing influx of the almajarai, who are aged between three and fourteen and who number about 9.5 million as at 2014 according to the UNICEF. In the eyes of Dokubo, there is a sinister motive behind everything and ‘they (Northerners) are not pretending’ about it (vide Nijaeye).

The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) also subscribes to this idea of a hidden agenda. As noted by its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, in a Radio Biafra, on Thursday, May 14, 2020, put all the communities and vigilante groups on red alert, especially at night. As he put it, ‘I want to warn you against these Fulani and others forced into Biafra land, they have built tents and at nights they will attack your villages’ More noteworthy, he said: ‘these terrorists invaded my village in Afaraukwu, but they were arrested by the police and moved to Ariam in Ikwoalu, I have not heard what they have done with them.’ He therefore pleaded with all Governors in Biafra land not to work at cross purposes with IPOB, we want to ensure our land is safe, we must all close ranks to save our land, we can resume our hostility afterwards.’

Two points are particularly noteworthy from the foregoing. The first point is the role the influx of the Almajarai is playing in nation-building, which is negative. It is, first of all, uniting the enemies. Nnamdi Kanu made this point crystal clear: let all the Governors and peoples come together, first, to confront the intruding Almajarai. Besides, the influx is serving as a good platform to unite against the Federal Government in addition to that of fighting the night marauders. It is now a case of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’

The Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council has not only kicked against ‘the continuous mass exportation of Almajarai from some northern parts of the country,’ but has also ‘urged the government to ensure the Almajarai do not enter the State’ (vide DailySun, May 15, 2020, p.26)

The second point of note is that, while the PMB administration is perceived to be working tooth and nail to impose policies of Fulanisation and Islamisation, those opposed to such policies in the South are also not sleeping over the policies. They are preparing to resist the implementation of such policies. One illustration of this point is the strong opposition to the RUGA agenda. RUGA, an official acronym for Rural Grazing Area, but which the public says it is an expression of ‘Cow settlement’ in Hausa, has generated political controversies. While Government tried to present the RUGA as a non-domination agenda but one whose origin is traceable to 1956, it is taken by the southerners as a fraudulent attempt by government to acquire land for the Fulani Herdsmen through the back door. This is killing Nigeria softly.

And true enough, the Yoruba Southwest has responded in two major ways to the Government’s non-preparedness to discuss restructuring as an instrument of building a stronger and more united Nigeria: establishment of Operation Àmòtékùn and membership of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO), which was established on February 11, 1991 in The Hague and headquartered in Brussels, Belgium. The two have become an irreversible political instrument of legitimate self-defence and agitation for future self-determination. Probably in an attempt to make a mockery of Operation Àmòtékùn, the North came up with its own Operation Shege Ka Fasa on Thursday, February 6, 2020: Mockery in the sense of Operation Àmòtékùn having a leopard as its logo and Shege Ka Fasa, having a lion as its own logo.

Mockery also, because Operation Àmòtékùn is not put in place to fight Northerners as a people but to fight anyone coming to threaten the peace and security of the people in the South-West region. Consequently, establishing Operation Shege Ka Fasa as a counterweight to Operation Àmòtékùn can only strengthen the perception of a hidden agenda being manifested in the form of Fulani herdsmen’s violent attacks on owners of titled land in their own place and in the increasing influx of Almajarai into the South. There is the need to prevent the killing of Nigeria softly and inviting a violent disintegration of Nigeria.