It is something of an irony that while Nigeria’s elected leader lies in a hospital bed in, we are told, the United Kingdom, some presumed youth of his northern half of the country have announced a plan to deny the Igbo further geopolitical presence in the area.
In previous interventions, I have expressed strong objection to President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to seek medical care abroad, particularly after he banned public officers from doing so. I have also pitched my camp with those who hold that he sets a bad example by choosing to keep his diagnosis a secret, especially given that public funds are being lavished on the medical campaign.
Presumed youth? The so-called “pan-Northern” organisations which issued the statement last week in Kaduna claimed to be youth groups. Now reportedly being sought by the security agencies, they may be no youth at all in a country in which youth wings of political parties are often unashamedly led by men over 50.
Nonetheless, they decided they would arrogate to themselves a response to the agitation of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) for a state of their own. They, these youth of the North, would rid the North of all Igbo, they said.
It is of some comfort that the federal authorities and the governors of the northern states reacted immediately, denouncing the announcement, and setting out to find the perpetrators and end the threat.
My one lottery ticket during my adult life has been Nigeria, as one indivisible and vibrant political entity.
While that hope persists, this doesn’t mean my views, or those of others, must remain static. That is, there is no reason on earth why a citizen of Nigeria should not dream of change, perhaps within the context of a different political arrangement, even an extraneous one. It is how individuals act on a dream that matters, and many are known to have died for the right to live in a political arrangement which best defines them.
How persuasive is ‘One Nigeria’?
In the late 1960s, when I hid behind my parents as a young boy as the civil war raged, the answer was: very much. “Very” is still the popular answer if you are looking strictly at the political propaganda. There are many who are eager to mouth the words, but who demonstrate no commitment in practice.
In practice, “very” is a dubious, doubtful dream because it has been betrayed by the nation’s leaders and the political elite for the past half century as we have become poorer as much of means as of spirit.
In my view, it is in this context that the return of the Biafra dream, just like Boko Haram, must be understood. Despite a lot speeches to the contrary, the truth is that in the past 50 years, the Nigerian state has worked not to unify, but to diversify; not to plant, but to harvest. When you harvest what you have not sown, you are a thief.
Our people say you cannot smack a child and yet prevent that child from weeping. You cannot stab a living being and decree that he not bleed. In theory, the civil war ended in 1970, but you cannot simply say “shut up” to someone who demands evidence of such an assertion.
The fractionalisation of Nigeria is an active, living, breathing operation. Where several nations have in the past generation liberated hundreds of millions of their people from poverty, ours is the reverse. Ours is an under-developing economy characterised by a small wealthy class built on government patronage and outright brigandage by officials and their cronies.
This is how, in 50 years, we have built a nation in which you only need to know the right people; you don’t have to know anything. Our governments are not of the best or the most suitable citizens assembled to serve, but a selection of the most available for the propagation of themselves. The police force is not for law and order, but for the protection of the allied elite.
That is how we have remained a stunted, backward democracy streaking pretentiously into the past while others soar past us into the future, or to Olympic gold. It ought to be no surprise that some people find themselves to be isolated or left behind, as the same instruments of state that are being used to protect and nurture the chosen are deployed against them.
This does not mean I support Biafra, or Oduduwa, or any of the several 1885 Berlin-style alterations to the Nigeria map now being advocated. It means that all of this is understandable because Nigeria is a house set in sand and nurtured by hypocrisy.
Politically, the Nigeria federation as currently constituted is unworkable. It is evident that she must be restructured not just so she can move forward, but to ensure her survival. Not only was the balance of powers and responsibilities between the centre and the federating components faulty to begin with, decades of irresponsible manufacturing of states and dangerous manipulation of power by military leaders has worsened the situation.
But restructuring, towards a more realistic devolution of authority and responsibility, will provide a new chance to think through the challenge before us and learn from our mistakes, and provide new hope.
The question is: how many legs, hope? For these 50 years, Nigeria’s self-centred political elite and her even lazier leadership has demonstrated a penchant for avoiding the difficult tasks, while settling for cliched speech-making and sabre-rattling. War against corruption, they say. Vision 2020. National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy. Rebranding. Transformation Agenda. Change.
Largely because conception was flaky and implementation never intended, with each new slogan has come greater poverty, corruption and division, along with less social justice and development. Read the speeches of Nigeria leaders Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan between 2000 and 2015: away from the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York, they did not mention the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the world’s development plan, at all.
During that same period, several countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, Uganda and South Africa were—through dogged implementation of the same plan—leading tens of millions of their citizens out of poverty.
Here is how well during the period we developed our infrastructure: Obasanjo’s wife died in a hospital abroad; Yar’Adua spent a good deal of time in foreign hospitals until he died; and First Lady Patience Jonathan spent a lot of time in a foreign hospital and by her own admission almost died. As we all know, Nigeria’s current leader is in yet another foreign hospital.
Take any sector and any sample size you like, and the conclusion is the same: Nigeria is a crime scene in a country where crime pays. The best criminals run the police farce, and their best achievement is to arrive at the scene and arrest the victims.
We fought a war to keep Nigeria one, only to develop amnesia not simply about the source of our tragedy, but that peace and development for all must be nurtured, and not treated as a slogan.
And yet, if we can combat our own hypocrisies and arrogance, it is not too late to start over as one, and avert real darkness.