DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA by Akin Osuntokun
“I have been asked to speak to you all on the topic Nigerian Unity and Nation Building. Under normal circumstances that would have been considered an easy task to undertake. However, given that the circumstances in our times can no longer be considered normal in the light of the level of violence, criminality and divisiveness which is now our daily experience, the undertaking becomes a challenge and a dilemma. There was a time that some of our leaders especially in the military era would glibly tell us that Nigerian unity is non-negotiable. Most people in the present situation we find ourselves will consider such an affirmation not only hollow but clearly now as uninformed and ignorant. This situation would not have arisen five, ten or twenty years ago. So what went wrong and why?”- Professor Anya. O. Anya
Whatever becomes of the spiralling inter-ethnic (mutually assured destruction) cycle of violence in Nigeria, Igangan, Ibarapa in Oyo State, will be remembered as a turning point. Symbolically, Igangan has always been associated with critical phases of Yoruba history. Those familiar with this history will recall that at the institution of the Aare Ona Kakanfo in the sixteenth century, the first title holder of the unique institution was Kokoro Igangan. The warlord was said to hail from Iwoye but my gut feeling is that the coincidence of his name with the ancient town of Igangan was not accidental. The appointment was reserved for the best acclaimed warlord of the day and could be appointed from any part of the empire.
‘It is a title akin to a field marshal, and is conferred upon the greatest soldier and tactician of the day. After installation, the Kakanfo leaves Oyo, the Alaafin’s city for his own domain; it is forbidden that the Kakanfo and the Alaafin live together in the same town. In addition, the Kakanfo is required to wage war against any peoples and territories at the behest of the Alaafin, and is expected to win, or return a corpse’. Like so many cultural innovations, the institution was a testimony to the sophistication of the Oyo Empire. And, ironically, when the empire was going to unravel, the Kakanfo (in the person of Afonja) proved to be its nemesis.
In a manner of speaking and given the rapid political retrogression of Nigeria back into its precolonial ethno national elements, the Yoruba appears to be reliving this history especially in the aspect of securing the realm against external aggression. It is what has given rise to warlordism encapsulated in the Sunday Igboho phenomenon. And we now talk more of charms than bullets as an instrument of prosecuting local wars.
In the contemporary experience of the savage humiliation to which the Yoruba have been subjected right in their regional homestead, there is not much that is exceptional about Igangan. What is exceptional was the long imagined retributory response mounted by a counter Yoruba militia spearheaded by Igboho. Hitherto pummelled and stupefied into inaction and self-pity and endlessly betrayed by a conniving (by omission or commission) Nigerian security forces, the response captured the imagination of the Yoruba community and ignited a spirit of militant nationalism. In the circumstance, the Igboho embodied rebellion was a direct consequence of this connivance (running the gamut of wilful neglect and covert complicity) of a compromised Nigerian security establishment.The Alaafin of Oyo recently lamented the futility of seeking the law and order intervention of the Nigerian police into crimes involving the fulani who appeared to enjoy a licence to impunity and would sooner be spared of any penalty regardless the severity of the crime at issue. It was a fraught situation that brought to the fore the legitimate imperative of recourse to self-help and self-defence.
General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma had captured the moment a few years ago: “The armed forces are not neutral. They collude with the armed bandits that kill people, kill Nigerians. They facilitate their movement. They cover them…If you are depending on the armed forces to stop the killings, you will die one by one,” he said.
“The ethnic cleansing must stop in Taraba State. It must stop in all the states of Nigeria, otherwise Somalia will be a child’s play. I ask everyone of you to be at alert and defend your country, defend your territory, defend your state. You have nowhere else to go,” he further added.
Taking the cue in Igangan, the compound and properties (including several luxury vehicles) of the suspected godfather of the Fulani kidnap-for-ransom-consortium, the Seriki Fulani were torched and burnt down. He was declared persona non grata and banished from the community along with his proteges and sundry field operatives. There was bound to be a reprisal attack and the surprise was that when it came, it caught both the Igboho guerilla army and the regular security forces pants down. More shocking was the disproportionate scale of the violence, in magnitude and sheer savagery, reminiscent of the Fulani militia campaign of terror and pacification in the Middle Belt region. Obadiah Mailafia sounded the early warning system.
About a week ago, the Oyo State Amotekun Commander, Kunle Togun, similarly raised the alarm (that the worst is yet to come) that was more remarkable for its potential to obfuscate and misdirect. There was an inherent exculpation of domestic Nigerian component in his obsessive attribution of all that is going awry in the South-west to non-Nigerians. “The foreign Fulani herdsmen have invaded South-west. There is nowhere in the South-west that they are not. They are there. “They are the Okada riders. They are the ones using wheelbarrows to sell carrots and other things. I said they are foot soldiers. They said they have come in to take the inheritance given to them by Allah and that is Nigerian land, particularly South-west. So, they will still strike. I am not just screaming aloud. So, everybody has to be ready”. The question then arises, is the Seriki Fulani of Igangan a foreigner? Are his accomplices including the notorious Wakili from Mali and Niger? To the contrary, many of those caught have identified and have been identified as Fulani with deep roots in Nigeria including, for that matter, the Yoruba society (especially Ilorin) dating back generations.
Adding to the confusion is the enactment (of the precedent of Moses and the Israelites) who were given to renouncing their liberation at the encounter of any difficulties in their journey to freedom. And so, with the savage reprisal attack on Igangan has come the criticism and strictures blaming Igboho for initiating the rebellion to begin with. In the affectation of wisdom and sobriety and beyond the specific instance of Igangan, there have been remonstrations from those who identify with the status quo that coming to terms with cohabitation in hell can be a better option than the uncertain promise of heaven. As if anyone has cultivated belligerence and bellicosity as second nature and goes around looking for war as hobby. Short of the philosophy of turning the other cheek it is difficult to see what options are left for the oppressed confronted with the perennial menace of a murderous bully. In all of this, there is the psychological injury to the victims. They are liable to wonder if it is conceivable that a group of Yoruba marauders would have the audacity to besiege Azare or Daura the way the criminal Fulani militia are running rampant over Yorubaland.
In what is fast degenerating to an unbroken chain of violence and terror, it is near inevitable that in one form or another, a Yoruba response to this reprisal attack on Igangan is on the way especially if, typically, no one is called to account. The continuous radicalisation and escalation of the cycle of violence raises the question of how all this harvest of ill-wind will end. President Buhari has announced his preferred option in a revealing tweet and it is straight out from the civil war conquistador playbook.
“Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of thedestruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in
the language they understand,”. First, the fact that the social media tech giant, Twitter, deems it fit to delete this tweet and cite it as ‘abusive behaviour’ towards the Igbo, tells a familiar story of Buhari. It corroborates his well documented penchant for violent verbiage. You will recall such bloody minded threats as the ‘dog and the baboon will soak in blood’. ‘I can die for the cause of Islam if necessary. We are ready to fight another civil war’. For those at the pinnacle of the federal alliance power structure that prevailed in the war, resort to this ‘might is right’ precedent is always a irresistible temptation. The perennial utility of the threat to ‘national unity’ has come in handy as a blank cheque on which any pretext for scapegoating a convenient victim and target can be requested. Those who like Buhari are given to hacking back to the civil war and national unity in this proprietorial manner should be asked what are the lessons Nigeria should learn from this defining tragedy. That any evil is justified in the self-serving pursuit of the distorted notion of national unity as an end unto itself? Shouldn’t we be told that prior to the declaration of Biafra secession, another group of Nigerians were openly contemplating Araba and the other verbalised the intention to follow suit if Biafra becomes a reality? I have always held the opinion that (on the template of equity and justice) if the Igbo should be blamed, it can only be for not being in a position to actualise its justified aspiration. At the end of the day what made the difference was not the moral imperative of sustaining a desirable and worthy national unity but that a protagonist was in a position to enforce its will and the other was not. If Nigeria is ever to transcend this balance of terror predicate, it would have to learn that the road to enduring national unity does not go through the barrel of the gun and the imposition of unrestrained regional hegemony.
If Nigeria is ever to transcend this balance of terror predicate, it would have to learn that the road to enduring national unity does not go through the barrel of the gun and the imposition of unrestrained regional hegemony.