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Let My People Go
DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN
Pastor Tunde Bakare is in a near impossible situation-that of balancing his personal relationship with Major General Muhammadu Buhari with the obligation of his bully pulpit as a liberation theologian and social critic. He was caught in the Buhari web when their paths crossed in the 2011 presidential election where he paired with then candidate Buhari on the platform of the defunct Congress for Peoples Change (CPC). He caught national attention lately with his biblically themed ‘let my people go’ sermon at the Citadel church.
Bakare had prescribed to Buhari the adoption of the restructuring agenda as a systemic policy response to the imploding political crisis plaguing the nation. Buhari’s response was typical and predictable-‘we don’t know what the advocates mean by restructuring’. The Pastor then reminded him of the masterplan on restructuring he presented to him in his first week in office as president. To educate the president, Bakare projected the utility of restructuring (restoration of federalism employing the 1960 and 1963 constitutions as guide and precedent) with the narrative of the regionalism enabled achievements of the leadership of Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello and Nnamdi Azikiwe in the Western, Northern and Eastern regions. As recalled by Chief Afe Babalola, “the West was doing well under the old constitution, East was doing well under the old constitution, North was doing well under the old constitution”.
The truth, of course, is that, often than not, Buhari’s stock response is the default deflection within which hostility to restructuring advocacy is masked; and not a genuine confession of misunderstanding and confusion.To prove the point, Bakare reminded the president of the embarrassing fact that the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) personified by Buhari had received a party commissioned report (el-Rufai committee report) on the advocacy of restructuring.The pastor warned the president of the potential consequences of stonewalling on doing the needful and extrapolated the biblical precedence of the foolhardy and obdurate Egyptian Pharaoh captioned with the battlecry of ‘Let my people go’. He characterised the Nigerian version of the Israelites freedom as restructuring and I agree with him. ‘Let my people go’ was the pronouncement of God and directive to the Pharaoh to set free the Israelites from the centuries old servitude, captivity and bondage of tyrannical Egypt.
The entreaty to the Egyptian king fell on deaf ears and in a carrot and stick model, God sought to intermittently persuade him with the escalation of consequential sanctions and punishment through seven stages.
Pulling his punch, Bakare understandably stopped short of drawing a full chart analogy between the reign of the foolhardy Pharaoh and Buhari whose presidential dispensation increasingly mimics the Egyptian precedent. I owe Buhari no such obligation.
Contrary to misplaced general expectations of utilitarian leadership, the Buhari dispensation has advertised itself as taking Nigeria hostage to a regime of primitive subversion of national governance. A severe health crisis was the first indication that his presidency was never going to do his welfare and the welfare of Nigeria any good. He is rapidly losing Nigeria to ungovernability but more telling is the escalating regression of the Northern half of Nigeria into a bloody and violent upheaval-in a manner that finds analogy in the graduation of the curse Pharaoh incurred on Egypt for his heedless intransigence. The more Buhari cuddles the North with self-destructive parochial generosity, the worse the region sinks into unprecedented anarchy, underclass poverty and savagery.
“So the Lord said to Moses you shall speak all that I command you. And Aaron your brother shall tell Pharaoh to release the children of Israel from bondage. And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh will not heed you, so that I may lay My hand on Egypt and bring My [a]armies and My people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments”.
And God’s judgement followed with incremental visitation of iniquities on Egypt. First with the turning of the waters of River Nile into blood, followed by the flooding of Egypt with frogs, then came the Gnats, flies, extirpation of all Egyptian livestock, excruciating boils and was finally crowned with the devastation of fire and thunderstorm.
According to the Daily Trust, “Killings, kidnapping by armed bandits and other non-state armed men have become the norm in most parts of the northern region.
Buhari rode on the electoral strength of the region to win the presidency in 2015 and 2019. Setting the tone, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) said President Buhari should resign, saying he had not demonstrated any will to bring an end to the insurgency and killings in the North. Through a statement by its Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, the forum noted, “In civilised nations, leaders who fail so spectacularly to provide security will do the honourable thing and resign.” Summing up the situation, Sultan of Sokoto and President of Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, said the North was the worst place to live in the country, in view of the escalating insecurity. Also, prominent Islamic clerics like the National Chairman of Jama’atu Izalatul Bidi’ah wa Ikamatus Sunnah, Abdullahi Bala Lau; the Secretary- General of Jamatu Nasril Islam, Khalid Aliyu; and Abubakar Gero Argungu, among others, have all raised their voices calling on the president to wake up and save the North from extinction”.
Bulama Bukarti similarly agonised “From Benue to Borno, from Kaduna to Kebbi, the North is bleeding so badly. Northerners are killed like rats. Women and children are captured and violated freely. A presidency dominated by northerners keeps paying lip service. Our security agencies are clearly overwhelmed. It’s indisputable that northern Nigeria is today one of the most dangerous places on earth. While Boko Haram continues its rampage, launching deadly attacks in the northeast literally every day, criminal gangs in the northwest are operating with impunity. Attacks have become so frequent that the massacre of dozens no longer makes the headlines, much less capture the attention of those in authority. Just when you think things can’t get any worse, another incident proves you wrong. The slide into anarchy now seems inevitable. And very few of those who claim to speak for the North seem to care”
Holding the North collectively guilty, another observer notes. “Today they have one of the champions of Northern Islamic hegemony as president, they now have their kinsmen as head of all the national security units except the Navy and Chief of Defence Staff. But the bad news is; the monster they created to paint Jonathan weak with the aim of killing “it” when they eventually grab power, has now metamorphosed into monsters that have overwhelmed the entire North. When they massacre in the North-east, we call them Boko Haram. When they kill in North-west, we call them bandits. When they strike in Middle Belt, we call them Fulani herdsmen. I think we are just deceiving and confusing our already perplexed selves with these funny nomenclatures because they are the same terrorists that were created out of unquenchable lust for political power.”
I now conclude with the parable of the monkey and the peanut. I first encountered the illustration in a James Hadley novel titled “paw in the bottle” and subtitled ‘how they catch monkeys in Brazil’. The alcohol besotted Al Barney was the vintage raconteur, he of the ‘ear to the ground’ fame.
A bottle containing peanuts is hung on a tree as trap. As anticipated, on sighting the peanut container, the monkey dips its paws into the bottle to retrieve the delicacy. But the bottleneck is not spacious enough for the monkey fist (bunched to hold the nut). To withdraw its paws the monkey needs to let go the peanut. Overcome with self-destructive greed, the primate fatally loses its thinking faculties and survival instincts and immobilised itself by holding on to the nut. The monkey thus voluntarily renders itself a sitting duck prey waiting to self- destruct. In my reckoning, the Niger Delta oil is the peanut and the monkey is Nigeria- literally.
For Mrs Omotola Oyediran, Segun Awolowo
I am reminded that I grew up with two adorable mothers, Abah the one who bore me and Omotola the one who nurtured me.
I am reminded of the deep love she had for my late father, her brother whom she never stopped loving and never stopped talking about – indeed it was always “if brother Segun were alive ………”
I am reminded of this unquenchable love for her late brother which now arrogated to me the status of a young “sacred cow” that must be held guiltless’ no matter the gravity of infraction because I am Segun jnr. Thank God, Daddy and Papa kept me within the boundaries of discipline.
I am reminded of her kindness and meekness, I am reminded that she raised me to care and love, I am reminded that she was the virtuous woman described in the book of Proverbs 31, a business woman, a home maker extraordinaire and a prayer warrior. The best multitasker you can imagine!
I am reminded of the words order, grace and beauty that best described her,
I am reminded of her mild answers to every angry comment, like water cast on fire,
I am reminded of her compassion and empathy for everyone, I am reminded of her wings of charity because for her, every living soul deserves kindness, I am reminded how she would alleviate all troubles with her wise counsel and sweeten everything with her endearing personality. Love would literally shoot out of her breast! I am reminded of a mother that raised me through my helpless infancy and helped to address the forwardness of my youth, I am reminded of her prayers when demons were drowning out the better angels of my brain, I am reminded of her constant advice that being an offspring of Obafemi Awolowo means we must bear adversity with stoicism and courage. Also, to be temperate in prosperity, I am reminded that her acts of selfless generosity were the supreme moments of her earthly existence,
I am reminded that God does not correct our weaknesses, all He does is save us. I am reminded that life is the most precious gift we possess because it makes each of us an agent of Divinity.