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Nigeria On The Brink?
Against the background of the current tension across the country, following last Sunday’s killings in parts of the North, KUNLE ODEREMI presents the rising concern of stakeholders on frequent threats to national unity.
It was on Friday, February 28, 2003. Hordes of professionals, who constitute members of Island Club, Lagos, had converged on the nation’s commercial hub for what turned out to be a pulsating lecture entitled, Re-Inventing The Nigerian State. In his capacity as the chairman, Business Luncheon Sub-Committee, an erudite scholar, Professor L. Adele Jinadu, had set the tone of the discussion, explaining that the primary assignment of the day was to chart the way forward for Nigeria.
Incidentally, the guest lecturer, Chief Ojo Uma Maduekwe, who members of the club, who constitute the bulk of shakers and movers in the corporate world, described as one of them (professionals), was coming from the establishment. His 30-page paper was, indeed, thought-provoking. He kept the audience spellbound throughout the lecture as he lamented how the nation had tumbled from an Olympian height into the alley of rot with consequent frustration by the constituents of the Nigerian federation. He remarked, “Like many of you gathered here today, I look back with nostalgia at the great possibilities which Nigeria symbolized to the world some 40 or 50 years ago. I recall images of a land of diverse peoples, living peacefully under one government…a land where Nigerians held offices and traded peacefully outside their ethnic base without any systematic reminder of being non-indigenes.”
There was a pin-fall silence in the hall, though it was occasionally punctuated by long-drawn and deep sighing from the audience. To further sustain the rapt attention and suspense of the audience, Maduekwe declared, “The world stood still the day Nigeria became an independent nation. The possibilities were immense.
Nigerians were united in their anticipation of a nation where no one is oppressed….our sovereignty as a nation, our unity as a people and our commitment to unity in diversity were all embodied in the most significant national event (National Day).”
Nine years after those instructive remarks, the echoes of lamentations by many other stakeholders in the Nigerian federation are incredibly pervasive and deafening. The country is incontrovertibly on edge and at the brink of a rupture. The last seven days have witnessed a cacophony of sounds on the future of the country (described in most superlative adjectives in 1960) following the endless gruesome killings in some parts in the North through suicide bombings. And the dimension the tragedy has assumed is beginning to lend credence to speculations about the primary targets of those behind the heinous crime. The apprehension is being exacerbated by the alarm raised on Wednesday by the Joint Task Force, code-named, Operation Restore Order, that Nigerians should beware of more possible suicide bombings in the coming days.
Belligerent Boko Haram has consistently claimed responsibility for the killings, with worship centres fast-becoming their prime targets on Sundays. This has raised concern from the Christian community, with some of the leaders expressing disgust over the seeming inability of the authorities to curtail the group. Many cite three sections of the constitution, which they accused Boko Haram of undermining. The first is Chapter one, Part 2, Section 10, which prohibits state religion and Section 11 that empowers the state to guarantee public order and public security. They also claimed that activities of the Boko Haram members ran against the grains of Chapter 111, which succinctly treats the issue of who is a bona fide citizen and the conditions under which an individual could be declared a persona non grata.
According to critics, the ceaseless hostilities of the fanatical group constitute an affront to Chapter IV of the constitution that deals with fundamental rights of the citizens, which includes rights to life; personal liberty, freedom from discrimination, freedom of thought, conscience, religion, as well as expression, peaceful assembly and association and movement, to acquire and own property in any part of the federation.
The aggregate public opinion is that the group’s mission was too grave to be contemplated. It has continued to ignore entreaties from the authorities for dialogue, while the trouble-shooting missions of some northern leaders under the aegis of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and the Northern governors Forum had been everything but successful in the quest to stem the tide of suicide bombings by the group. To the Prelate, Methodist Church of Nigeria, Dr. Sunday Ola Makinde, all this amounts to an ominous signal for the federation that fought a three-year civil war to avert disintegration. He warned, “ If something serious, strategic and purposeful is not done, we may just be walking towards another avoidable war.” He felt the authorities are too pretentious about the target, intention and dimension of the bloodbath, alleging, “Every time we raise the alarm and call for action, they will say it (mayhem) has no religious colouration. It saddens my heart the more when I hear that.”
His cry was not different from what the head of the Catholic Church worldwide, Pope Benedict perceived as the obvious target of those behind what he described as news from Nigeria, where terrorist attacks are continuing, especially against Christians. But frightened by the weird dimension of the spilling of the blood of many innocent people, the Pope pleaded with all groups to “shun the path of vendetta.”
But in faraway Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, President Goodluck Jonathan, in a veiled reference to criticism over his trip when the country was hovering in the sky, warned against politicization of issues concerning the country, but rise above any narrow interest. “We now have a constitutional democracy and no one stays in office forever. It will, therefore, be best for our nation if we all support whoever is there for the development of the country instead of trying to pull him down by all means,” he stated. The Presidency also delivered deadly jabs at adversaries who indulge in negative criticism instead of offering useful advice. It said the president could render leadership from any part of the globe.
Human Rights Report
In its report on the country, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) decried the spate of killings and alleged abuses by government security forces, just as it decried that the ruling elite’s mismanagement and embezzlement of the country’s vast oil wealth had continued largely unabated. “Endemic corruption, poverty, poor governance, and unchecked police abuses have created an environment where militant groups thrive and find ready recruits in the vast cadre of Nigeria’s unemployed youth,” it alleged. According to the body, inter-communal, political, and sectarian violence had claimed more than 16,000 lives since 1999.
Negative Effects Of Crisis
It is too early to believe that many aggrieved ethnic organisations that had threatened vengeance henceforth over mindless killings would heed the pontiff’s warning. For instance, a coalition of Igbo groups, the Igbo Youth Movement (IYM) declared that it could no longer guarantee the safety of any non-native living in Igbo land if any of its kinsmen that is resident in other parts of the country was mowed down callously. The spokesman of the 21-member IYM, Mr. Eliot Uko said, “We have decided to inform the Sultan of Sokoto and all the emirs that their reaction to the attacks on Christian places of worship in Northern Nigeria will decide whether Nigeria will survive or not. The continuous argument that they don’t know who those Boko Haram boys are and the argument that poverty and hunger are responsible for the killings can no longer be accepted. Any other attack on Christian places of worship, in which Igbo lives are lost, will lead to a situation where nobody can guarantee the safety of northerners in Eastern Nigeria anymore.”
Similar effusions were made by the Niger Delta Liberation Force (NDLF), which threatened to revenge the killings of Christians, especially those from the South-South. According to the group, those behind the violence are only against the Jonathan presidency. Its spokesman, ‘Captain’ Mark Anthony, said “NDLF shall be forced to direct its land force to mobilize for action to protect Jonathan’s victory and the future of Niger Delta people. For NDLF, we are ready to counter anybody or group of persons, who believe in resolving problems with violence.” The group claimed it could no longer tolerate a situation where “northern protesters slaughter Christians like goats in the northern region. We will match action for action, if the killing is not stopped immediately. The country belongs to all of us and no single geopolitical region can claim ownership of the country by holding power while milking Niger Delta oil and gas wealth to better their region for over 50 years.”
Already, most residents of Kaduna were said to experiencing untold economic hardship as a result of the 24-hour curfew imposed on the state following the latest round of bloodletting. While the little resources had almost depleted, many had ventured out to obtain cash through ATM but were disappointed as the vaults were empty of cash.
The business community in the South-East has said the crisis was taking a heavy toll on the fortunes of its member companies. The Chairman of the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN), Ebonyi, Anambra and Enugu States chapter, Chief Chike Obidigbo claimed, “Manufactured goods have continued to rot in warehouses while wares already in people’s shops are either burnt or abandoned by traders fleeing from the mass killing field that the northern part of the country has become.”
It is apparent that more members of the elite in the North are increasingly becoming apprehensive about the dimension the killings have assumed. This has informed a trouble-shooting initiative under a new group, the Northern Reawakening Forum (NRF), which declared that its primary mission is to help the North and its people regain their lost glory. The group comprises a former Minister of Defence and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Alhaji Yayale Ahmed; former Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Gali Umar Na’Abba; a leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Chief Audu Ogbeh and the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Rev. Fr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, who at the maiden outing of the group in Abuja said it was time for the North to redeem itself. Ahmed reportedly advocated a central, responsible and committed leadership to salvage the north from its predicament. “It is an attempt to acknowledge that the North is on fire, and that the North must redeem itself. One must not go outside the northern region to look for the reasons we are in this problem. We must admit that there is a failure in the North and it is the responsibility of the Northerners to redeem themselves and do the right thing with a view to making sure that they remain relevant in the nation.”
On his part, Ogbeh recalled warning the North against the current upheaval after the crisis that engulfed the Niger Delta, but no one listened. He explained that the alarm then was also because of the declining productive sector of the North and noted with regret that no fewer than 400 had closed down in Kano alone. “There were great days in this region when the Sardauna of Sokoto had an Igbo Christian as his cook for 29 years and his personal doctor was also a Christian and he saw nothing wrong in it. Some of what we do today in the name of religion is not pleasing God. Please, let’s find peace. Take on this assignment. This may be the biggest assignment you are taking on in your lifetime, but please do and pray hard. If you need any help you can reach out to some elders; if not, worse things will happen than are happening now,” Ogbe said.
Expectedly, His Lordship Rev. Fr. Mathew Kukah was also blunt and frank in his pieces of advice and observation. He noted that the prevailing situation in the North was pathetic and shameful. “I am ashamed about what happened in Zaria and Kaduna recently. We need to be brutally sincere to ourselves; running and looking for water is not the solution. Without finding the cause of the problem, we cannot quench the fire. We have to ask ourselves: how did we get here? What is happening now does not reflect who we are, whether as Christians or Moslems,” he said.
He added, “If we have a country where, Christians are talking to themselves while Moslems are talking to themselves, it won’t work. I look forward to a time when Christians will talk on behalf of Moslems and Moslems will talk on behalf of Christians. I make bold to say, about 90 per cent of Nigerians are not happy because members of the political class have not been able to deliver on the promises they made.”
This would not be the first time leaders either from the North or South would come together when the country is on edge. The issue, according to some critics, is about the pragmatic actions that are required after such frantic search to eliminate those critical issues that tend to move the country towards the precipice too often. The highly influential United States-based New York Times has also , deeply reflected on the precarious state of the country since 1999. In an article, which lists other critical challenges bedeviling the nation, including hydra-headed sleaze in official circle, the publication remarked, “Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, and its second largest economy, as well as, one of America’s top oil suppliers. Despite a return to civilian government in 1999 after a long spell of military dominance, Nigeria remains a fractious nation, divided along ethnic and religious lines.” And in the opinion of a former civilian governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande, in a lecture entitled: The Obstacle to Peace in Nigeria, the political and economic foundation of the country is at present resting on a foundation of quick-sand, which can give way at the slightest vibration.Share