Between Violence and Thuggery in High Places

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ONIKEPO BRAITHWAITE

I wept as I watched the videoclip of the reunion of the Greenfield University Students and their Parents, over the weekend. They were tears of sadness and joy; sadness because of the five children who were senselessly and needlessly killed by their abductors, and joy because the Parents were able to raise enough money to secure the release of the rest of the children, after about 40 days in captivity. We say Alhamdulillah, Praise the Lord!

As for open grazing, it must not be permitted anymore. Viable alternatives by stakeholders, must be implemented forthwith. It is not only a danger for farmers, but motorists and other road users. I saw a videoclip of a cow that with its horns, it lifted a motorcyclist whose bike stalled, and slammed down with force, both the bike and motorcyclist on the hard surface of the road. I hope the motorcyclist did not die. Coming back from Abeokuta on Saturday, on two different occasions, at high speed, the driver had to slam on the brakes as two different herds of cattle were grazing uncomfortably close to the edge of the highway, and the fear that the cows would stray into the road was real. Should Nigerians now travel at 20km/hour on the highways and risk being dealt with by armed robbers and kidnappers, because Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore and their supporters say that cattle must be allowed to graze anywhere they like, once there’s grass and water? I think not.

Undistinguished Senators and High Ranking Government Officials

“Wetin Musa or rather, Ikepo no go see for gate?” “Na sha mamaki” (I was astonished) – and not in a positive way, I might add; what a public show of shame! A video clip of Senator Remi Tinubu, just a breath away from engaging in “two fighting” with Arin Oloko, former SDP aspirant for Lagos State House of Assembly, Eti Osa Constituency II, at the public hearing on the amendment of the 1999 Constitution last week. Senator Tinubu was verbally abusive, referred to Arin Oloko as a thug, told her to shut up and respect her office (as a Senator), ºand practically physically shoved out of the way, the gentleman who tried to intercede between the “Undistinguished Senator” and Ms Oloko, who stood her ground and refused to be intimidated or cowed into submission. I decided that it would be gender discrimination against the men, if I didn’t touch on the unfortunate incident because it involves a woman, since I had discussed their own public misbehaviour in the past.

Senator Remi Tinubu’s boorish, aggressive, hubristic and reprehensible behaviour, is no different from that of her dishonourable colleague, ‘Senathug’ Abbo, who assaulted two ladies at a sex shop in Banex Plaza, Abuja in 2019, or the Chairman of the Code of “Misconduct” Bureau, Danladi Umar, who beat and kicked a security guard at the same Banex Plaza recently. What about Dr Isa Pantami? A publicly acclaimed religious extremist and supporter of Terrorists? This is the crop of rulership Nigeria has today. I certainly cannot refer to them as leaders, because they are not fit to lead anyone; they lack leadership qualities as do so many of their colleagues in positions of authority, such as civic mindedness and love for the good of the people, focus and being goal oriented, humility, simplicity, integrity, moderation, tactfulness, being measured and setting good examples.

Senator Tinubu’s behaviour is worse because she is a woman, and not only are women meant to be graceful, in a country that is still plagued by gender discrimination, especially in the area of elective positions, she should be a role model for those females aspiring to such positions. Or is that, because many of these officials have been handed their positions on a platter of gold as a result of nepotism, cronyism, tribalism and so on, they simply have no sense of appreciation of the positions they hold, nor do they understand that their roles demand much more than craving for respect and hero worship from the public.

So far, there has been no real answerability for the misbehaviour of many high ranking officials in this administration, but, yet, we expect better behaviour from the Nigerian people! How? Why? The 1999 Constitution in its preamble talks about equality, equity and fairness for all Nigerians, while Section 42(1) prohibits discrimination. By Government not holding either itself or its members accountable for its or their misbehaviour, which in some cases has bordered on criminality, it has no moral justification to demand same from the people; and this kind of disorderly environment, obviously creates an enabling one for anarchy and free for all – a situation in which people emulate the lawlessness of their rulers, and simply do what pleases them.

Luckily for Senator Tinubu, she cannot be sacked from her position since she was ‘elected’ as Senator; she can only be recalled by her constituents for misconduct through the process provided for in Section 69 of the Constitution – a highly unlikely outcome, since she has the strong backing of the political powers that be in Lagos State which she represents. And, even if she occupied a position from which she could be sacked like Dr Pantami, it is unlikely that Government will do the needful anyway. The consequences? More resentment against those in governance and the Government from the people, and more outbursts and chaos as a result of the dissatisfaction.

Violence and the South East Zone

Take the South East zone for example, while I can never condone violence, insurgency and the senseless destruction of property, it is the resentment of some groups against Government for their perceived or real exclusion and marginalisation that has ballooned to unimaginable proportions, and has attained a level rebellion against constituted authority – Terrorism – this is the only description that can be ascribed to criminals going on a rampage of wanton destruction, burning and destroying public formations like Police Stations and INEC offices.

Within the past two years, Imo State alone has had seven attacks on INEC offices situated therein, Abia four, Enugu and Ebonyi, three attacks each, while Anambra State has had two attacks. Many of these attacks have been by arson. Akwa Ibom and Cross River States have not been spared from the attacks on their INEC offices, having suffered five and four attacks, respectively, while Osun State has suffered six attacks.

While the right to self- determination is recognised by Article 20 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Act, this right can certainly not be exercised by violence and rebellion, especially the kind we are experiencing in the South East. I do agree that in spite of Section 1(2) of the Constitution which provides inter alia that no group of persons shall take control of Government or a part of it, Section 14(2)(c) which provides that the participation of the people in Government shall be in accordance to the provisions of the Constitution, Section 14(3) which provides for federal character in the composition of Government and its agencies, and Section 42 of the Constitution which prohibits discrimination, for example, presently, the South East has been excluded from the headship of the various security agencies of the country, amongst other positions, and the security architecture of the country has been concentrated mostly in the hands of one group – the Northern zones.

Exclusion of the South East Zone

Once upon a time, in this my lifetime, the ethnic origin or religion of whoever held any position in Government did not matter, as long as the person was delivering on his/her mandate. But, today, things are different. How did we sink this low? I know that many people, especially those in Government would prefer to play the ostrich and pretend that this is not the case, but the truth of the matter is that this exclusion of the South East zone, even to the extent that it has less States than the other zones, is a known fact. This is the deliberate doing of successive Governments and Politicians; so, when Government spokespersons denounce those who discuss this issue in public or in the media as rabble rousers, troublemakers, and people with a penchant for causing disaffection or wanting to destabilise the Government, one wonders whether the Government is unaware of the fact that it is doing an excellent job of destabilising itself by itself with its actions, and whether it now qualifies as hate speech to tell the truth and let the devil be ashamed!

Missed Opportunities?

With the retirement of the erstwhile Inspector General of Police (IG), Mohammed Adamu, Government had the opportunity to be conciliatory and maybe reduce the tension in the South East, by making them feel more included and appointing someone from that zone to be the new IG, and this opportunity still remains, since Mr Baba has replaced Mr Adamu in an acting capacity only, and is yet to be confirmed as the substantive IG. However, instead of taking the advantage of this golden opportunity that has availed itself, Government chose to further embitter the South Easterners by appointing a Northerner who is not even qualified to be IG, by reason of his birth date and date of commissioning into the Police. The Police Act 2020 is quite specific about the tenure of the IG being four years, and retirement at 35 years of service or age 60, whichever comes first. Mr Baba will only do two years before he is up for retirement, and consequently, his confirmation will run foul of the Police Act and Public Service Rules. Is it that there is no other person from the South East, who is qualified to be IG?

How is it possible that Government descends to such levels of tribalism and makes unconstitutional and unlawful appointments, and expects those who feel cheated to continue to “siddon look”? It would have been better for the headship of security and law enforcement to be evenly distributed amongst the different zones in a South/North North/South arrangement, obviously picking the most qualified from the various zones. What do I mean? In no particular order, if the IG was from the South East, then the COAS should be from a Northern zone; the CNS, South, CAS, North, EFCC South, and Civil Defence North, until all the zones are accounted for and so on. This kind of even distribution and inclusion of all, would make for a better rapport amongst Nigerians, even more so than NYSC! – because the issue of ethnicity has become so entrenched in our lives, that it may be difficult at this point, to discountenance it. Ideally, what should be driving us is merit not tribe, as there is an urgent need to salvage our country now, and we need the right people to achieve this goal regardless of their tribe.

With the unfortunate demise of the COAS, Ibrahim Altahiru a few days ago, again a fresh opportunity arose for conciliation and inclusion. However, it was doubtful that anyone from the South East would be chosen to replace late Lt Gen Attahiru, because the bitter truth is that, with the level of rebellion against constituted authority that has encompassed the South East, some decision makers may have considered it to be political or governmental suicide to have an Igbo COAS. So, when the names of some Igbo candidates were being peddled for the position, and a fake announcement of one as the new COAS circulated on social media, it was not surprising that the President discountenanced and ignored the clamour, and another Northerner was selected.

Conclusion

The sum and substance of my foregoing observations is that, apart from the ongoing constitutional review process which many cynics have denounced as stage managed and a fruitless exercise that nothing will come out of, Government must as a matter of urgency, take some practical steps to stem the tide of rebellion which is gradually encircling the South East, so that it does not spread to other parts of the country, as that would be disastrous. Feigning ignorance, is no longer bliss. The first step to achieving this goal, is to sincerely examine the grievances of the South East, instead of brushing them off as if they don’t exist. As the sayings go, ‘better late than never’; ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. A word, they say, is enough for the wise (abò òrò nto òmò luabi, to ba de inu, a di odindi). The question is whether Government would be wise enough to take the necessary steps to avert further doom, since it is also said that common sense may not be that common after all!